Halakhic texts relating to this article:
Torah: Leviticus 18:6
Babylonian Talmud: Sabbath 13a
Mishneh Torah: Kedushah (Holiness), Issurei Biah (forbidden sexual relations), 21:1-7
Shulchan Aruch: Even HaEzer 20-21
* Not meant as a definitive ruling. Some observances may be rabbinical, customs or Torah based.

Negiah (Hebrew: נגיעה‎),[1] literally "touch," is the concept in Halakha that forbids or restricts physical contact with a member of the opposite sex (except for one's spouse, children, siblings, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents).[2][3][4] A person who abides by this Halakha is colloquially described as a Shomer Negiah (one who is "observant of Negiah").[5]

The laws of Negiah are typically followed by Orthodox Jews, with varying levels of observance. Some Orthodox Jews follow the laws with strict modesty and take measures to avoid accidental contact, such as avoiding sitting next to a member of the opposite sex on a bus, airplane, or other similar seating situation. Others are more lenient, only avoiding purposeful contact. Adherents of Conservative and Reform Judaism do not usually follow these laws.


Biblical prohibition and subsequent exegesis

The prohibition of Negiah is derived from two verses in Leviticus: "Any man shall not approach his close relative to uncover nakedness; I am God" (18:6), and: "You shall not approach a woman in her time of unclean separation, to uncover her nakedness" (18:19).[6] Although the verses speak in the masculine gender, women are equally bound by these commandments, just as they are obligated in virtually all negative commandments.[7][improper synthesis?]

The former verse is viewed by the Tannaim of late antiquity (70-200 CE) as referring to an expansive prohibition against "coming near" any of the Arayot, or Biblically prohibited relations, which includes most close relatives.[8] The latter verse is viewed as referring to the prohibition against "coming near" any woman who is in Niddah status (menstruating) [whether or not she is otherwise one of the Arayot].[9] The same actions are forbidden under both verses.[10]

The prohibition against physical contact with Arayot is codified by Rishonim including the Rambam (Hilchos Issurei Biah 21:1) and the Sefer Mitzvos Gadol (126), who note the consideration of whether the contact is done "Derech Taavah" - in a[n affectionate or] lustful manner. The Biblical etiology of Rambam's prohibition is disputed by Ramban, who refers to the derivation from Leviticus 18:6 as an Asmachta (a Rabbinic prohibition with a Biblical allusion) and not true exegesis.[11]

Rambam and Shulchan Aruch formulate this prohibition as "hugging, kissing, or enjoying close physical contact" ("chibek venashak veneheneh bekiruv basar").[12] They do not indicate that mere touching is forbidden.

Contemporary formulations

The prohibition has been further elaborated on by many contemporary Halachic authorities. For example, Negiah is the subject of a series of four important responsa by Rav Moshe Feinstein.[13]

R' Moshe's elaborates the two prohibitions underlying the laws of Negiah. The first law is derived from a Biblical prohibition against close contact with Arayot, as described above. Because all women above the age of 11 are presumed to fall into the category of Arayot due to Niddah,[14] it follows that the Negiah prohibition extends to all women above that age,[15] not only to the other Arayot prohibited by the Biblical text. The second derives from the notion of Hirhur, a prohibition against having inappropriate sexual thoughts. R' Moshe prohibits such acts as hugging, kissing, and holding hands. With regard to shaking hands, see below.

Like most laws, these prohibitions are waived to save a person who is in life-threatening danger, e.g. for a man to save a woman from drowning.[16] In such cases, the prohibitions are waived even if the male rescuer is certain that he will experience improper thoughts (Hirhur).[17] Furthermore, medical practitioners and other professionals such as hairdressers may touch members of the opposite sex in the course of their professional practice.[18]

Shaking hands in Halacha

Whether halacha permits a man to shake a woman's hand is a matter of dispute. Opinions range from saying that it is prohibited for a man to even return a woman's handshake even if doing so would embarrass him or her, to saying that returning a handshake is permissible to avoid embarrassment but not otherwise, to saying that handshaking is entirely permissible.

Some authorities prohibit returning a handshake, even to avoid embarrassing the other person. For example, the Chazon Ish has been quoted as stating that shaking hands between men and women is "absolutely forbidden" [implying that it is forbidden under all circumstances].[19] This is also the opinion of Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky,[20] Rabbi Moshe Stern (the Debretziner Rav),[21] Rav Yitzchak Abadi,[22] the Ben Ish Chai,[23] and Sefer Chassidim.

R' Moshe Feinstein gives the benefit of the doubt to those who return a handshake, stating that they apparently hold that doing so is not Derech Chiba v'Taavah, but concludes that such leniency is difficult to rely upon.[24] Although R' Moshe did not address the mitigating factor of preventing the other person from being embarrassed, and fell short of stating outright that returning a handshake is forbidden, it is commonly assumed that R' Moshe prohibits returning a handshake even to avoid embarrassing the other person.[25] One publication states this in very strong terms.[26] Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky has also suggested that there may be room to be lenient in this situation.[27]

Rav Aaron Soloveichik has been quoted as giving a novel basis for permitting handshaking, based on the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) and the ruling of the Rambam (Maimonides).[28] Likewise, Rav Yehuda Henkin holds that it is permissible to shake a woman's hand according to "the basic halacha" (the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch), and that those who feel otherwise are stringent.[29] Rav Hershel Schachter quotes Rav Chaim Berlin as saying that shaking hands with women is strictly speaking (me'ikar haddin) permitted, particularly if to do otherwise would make the Torah look bad,[30] and indicates that he agrees with this position.[31]

According to Halichos Bas Yisrael, only German Rabbis have traditionally permitted returning a handshake;[32] and a man who is stringent about shaking hands may be lenient and shake hands with his sister (and vice versa), since we find other leniencies concerning brother and sister.[33]

The Career Development Center at Yeshiva University, a Modern Orthodox institution, informs its students that "Shaking hands is a customary part of the interview process. Halacha permits non-affectionate contact between men and women when necessary. A quick handshake can be assumed to be business protocol. Since failure to shake hands will most likely have a strong negative effect on the outcome, it is necessary non-affectionate contact, which is permissible."[34]

Shaking hands and relations with non-practitioners

The Lubavitcher Rebbe has written[35] that refusing to shake hands with a woman engenders the respect of the non-observant. In contrast, some people view the practice of those who follow the stringent view and do not shake hands with members of the opposite sex as offensive or discourteous. Some even view it as a manifestation of sexism. The case of a woman whose offer of a handshake was politely declined by her real estate agent is discussed by New York Times "Ethicist" Randy Cohen.[36] Orthodox legal scholar Michael Broyde, Rabbi of the Young Israel of Toco Hills and Professor of Law at Emory University, has opined that in the case discussed by Cohen, the values of gender equality and of religious freedom are in conflict.[37] However, others argue that the "intent [of the practice is] to elevate and sanctify the relationship between men and women, which is all too often trivialized."[38] They further state that, rather than showing a lack of respect for the opposite gender, the laws of Negiah recognize the inherent sexual attraction between the sexes and the need to avoid viewing members of the opposite gender as objects of sexual desire, except in the marital context. Moreover, the practice is not discriminatory because "strictly observant Jewish women also do not touch men, so the prohibition clearly does not confer 'untouchable' status on one sex or another. Rather it proscribes physical contact between the sexes equally."[39] Cohen, on the other hand, likens this argument to the "separate but equal" status rejected in school desegregation cases.

See also

  • Jewish view of marriage
  • Niddah (menstruation laws)
  • Shalom bayit (peace and harmony in the relationship between husband and wife)
  • Tzniut (modest behavior)
  • Yichud (prohibitions of secluding oneself with a stranger)


  1. ^ Earlier sources do not use the word "Negiah," but use the word "K'reiva" (coming near) or one of its grammatical variations. See, e.g. Sefer Mitzvos Gadol 126; Rambam Issurei Biah 21:1.
  2. ^ Even HaEzer 21:7 and Beis Shmuel 14; Halichos Bas Yisrael by Rav Yitzchak Yaakov Fuchs, vol. 1 p. 108-109 (English edition, Targum Press 1985). With regard to grandchildren, the term used by the Poskim (Halakhic authorities) is "Bas Bito" - literally "his daughter's daughter." However, this is assumed by most authorities to include all grandchildren. See Halichos Bas Yisrael, cited above; see also Otzar HaPoskim Even HaEzer 21:52, paragraph #2. [The Poskim do not appear to explicitly discuss great-grandparents and great-grandchildren. However, the Hebrew term for grandchildren (B'nei Banim) can also be more broadly interpreted to mean direct descendants, no matter how many generations apart].
  3. ^ Siblings should avoid forbidden physical contact (defined below) where both have reached puberty. Halichos Bas Yisrael vol. 1, 7:20 (p. 110 note 31); see Tractate Sabbath 13a; Rambam Hilchos Issurei Biah 21:6 and Magid Mishna; Even HaEzer 21:7 and Chelkas M'Chokek 8. According to Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, this is, at most, a Rabbinic prohibition. See Otzar HaPoskim Even HaEzer 21:51.
  4. ^ All physical contact between spouses, even when not done in a "Derech Chiba v'Taavah" (defined below), is prohibited when the wife is in the status of Niddah. See Yoreh Deah 195:2 and Badei HaShulchan at 14. For a perspective on the benefits of such monthly separation, see Marital Intimacy by Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman, p.p. 27-42 (Compass Books 2005).
  5. ^ The term is somewhat controversial; see, e.g
  6. ^ Translation follows the Stone Edition of the Chumash (Mesorah Publications 1993).
  7. ^ See Mishna Kiddushin 29a, and Rambam Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 12:3 (stating that women are obligated in all negative commandments, with only three exceptions, not pertinent here). See also Rashi to Leviticus 18:6, who states explicitly that women are bound by the commandment found in that verse.
  8. ^ Sifra Acharei Mot (13,2), cited in Sefer Mitzvos Gadol 126 and Shiurei Shevet HaLeivi (3rd edition 1998) p.1. For a list of the forbidden Arayot, see Leviticus 18:6-23, and 20:10-21
  9. ^ Sifra Acharei Mot (13,2) cited in Sefer Mitzvos Gadol 126 and Shiurei Shevet HaLeivi p.1.
  10. ^ See Sifra Acharei Mot (13,2), cited in Sefer Mitzvos Gadol 126 and Shiurei Shevet HaLeivi p.1; see also Tractate Sabbath 13a (stating that the same acts that may not be done with someone else's wife [or any other of the Arayot], such as sleeping in the same bed, may not be done with a woman in Niddah status).
  11. ^ Ramban, Hasagos to Sefer HaMitzvos, Negative Commandment 353
  12. ^ Hilchos Issurei Biah 21:1 and Even HaEzer 20:1, as explained by Be'er Heitev 2.
  13. ^ Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 1:Q113, Even HaEzer 1:Q56, 2:Q14, 4:Q32
  14. ^ Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 1:Q26
  15. ^ Physical contact with a woman in Niddah status is forbidden whether or not the man and woman are husband and wife. Remah Yoreh Deah 183:1; see Shiurei Shevet HaLeivi 183:7.
  16. ^ Talmud Bavli Sotah 21b, stating that a man who does not save a woman from drowning is a Chasid Shoteh (so to speak, a “pious fool”), cited at [1]
  17. ^ Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:Q56, page 143, 2nd column, 1st full paragraph
  18. ^ Audio responsa from Rabbi Zev Leff; see Halichos Bas Yisrael vol. 1 p.p 106-108.
  19. ^ [2]; see also Kreina D'igrsa 1:162; Moadim Uzmanim Vol. 4, section 316 n.1 (p.p. 130-131); [3].
  20. ^ Kreina D'igrsa 1:162-163
  21. ^ Be’er Moshe 4:Q130
  22. ^ As quoted by his son. See [4] and [5]
  23. ^ Od Yosef Chai, Parshat Shofetim n. 22
  24. ^ Igros Moshe Even HaEzer 1:Q56 (last paragraph); Even HaEzer 4:Q32, paragraph #9. For a translation of R' Moshe's three Teshuvos (responsa) on men shaking hands with women, see [6]
  25. ^ See, e.g., Halichos Bas Yisrael, vol. I, p. 110 n.33; see also
  26. ^ Nine to Five - A Guide to Modest Conduct for Today's Workplace by Rav Shmuel Neiman, p.14 (Safra 2001) ("[i]t has been rumored that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, ruled that it is permissible for men and women to shake hands. Nothing could be further from the truth! In his responsa, he agonized over this unacceptable practice and repeatedly stated that it is forbidden and infringes on giluy arayos" (emphasis in original)). This book has been criticized as containing many Chumros (stringencies not required by Halacha) that, while perhaps practiced in certain insular communities, are unrealistic to impose on all Frum (Orthodox) Jews in today's workplace; this opinion is shared by Rav Yehuda Henkin in the October 4, 2002 edition of Hatzofeh. See [7]. Cf. Rifka Schonfeld (March 2008): What Do I Say? What Should I Do? Challenges for the Ben Torah and Bas Yisroel in the Workplace, The Jewish Observer, p.17 (stating that there are "a number of excellent publications [about workplace interactions between men and women]," and that she recommends, in particular, Rabbi Neiman's Nine to Five - A Guide to Modest Conduct for Today's Workplace).
  27. ^ Emes L'Yaakov on Tur and Shulchan Aruch, p. 405 n.4 (translated from the original Hebrew: "Regarding returning a handshake to women when they extend their hand first in greeting, not in an affectionate manner, this is a very serious question and it is difficult to be lenient. However, in circumstances where the woman may come to be embarrassed, perhaps one could consider being lenient. This requires further study").
  28. ^ Shaking Hands with Women; the Yerushalmi is in Tractate Sotah 3:1, and the Rambam is in Hilchos Sotah 3:15.
  29. ^ "Is Handshaking a Torah Violation?" Hakirah, vol. 4, 2007.
  30. ^ "Gender Separation in Halacha", at 5:35 ff.
  31. ^ "Gender Separation in Halacha", at 8:45 ff.
  32. ^ See Halichos Bas Yisrael vol. I, p. 110 n.33.
  33. ^ Halichos Bas Yisrael vol. I, p. 110 n.32, citing Sefer Taharas Am Yisrael p. 44.
  34. ^ Tips For Orthodox Students, Yeshiva University Office of Career Services.
  35. ^ Shaking a woman's hand?, The Avner Institute.
  36. ^ Cohen, Randy (2002-10-27). "THE ETHICIST; Between the Sexes". The New York Times Magazine (The New York Times Company): pp. Section 6, Page 20, Column 3. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  37. ^ Mail-Jewish Volume 37 Number 70
  38. ^ "Introduction" (Reprint). The New York Times Magazine (The New York Times Company). 2002-11-17. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  39. ^ Rosenblum, Jonathan (2002-11-10). "The ethicist of the NY Times gets it wrong". Aish HaTorah. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 

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