Yosef Silfen
A young man hoping to fix his flaws

Shomer Negiah: To be or not to be?

At modern orthodox high schools and camps, teenagers get asked the following question. Are you shomer? This phrase shomer, refers to being Shomer Negiah. The question, are you shomer, asks, do you keep this law? Years ago, our rabbis instituted and codified the law of Shomer Negiah as follows. “All boys and girls men and women cannot touch members of the opposite sex.” This law forbids high fives, hugs, and other forms of touching practices between opposite sex members. Disregarding one’s parents and grandparents.

Instead of addressing adults, I want to reach teenagers. Yeah, you, Mr. 13, 16-year-old boy; Ms. 12, 17-year-old girl. Odds are, someone will soon pop you the question, are you shomer? By this article’s end, hopefully your answer will be yes. Or, at least, open to saying yes. Instead of laughing at the question.

Although I am not married nor a scholar, I would like to topple this issue. Often, people from our community deem topics like Shomer Negiah too touchy and sensitive for discussion. This article does not hope to create drama or controversy. Its purpose serves to offer insights on an overlooked law. For the sake of argument and education, I would like to present the immense benefits our teenagers would glean from living a Shomer Negiah lifestyle. 

For starters, observing the law of Shomer Neigah allows our teenagers to fully embrace their high school years. Instead of wasting time searching for teenage girls or boys to meet up with, teenagers can take their little brothers out for pizza. Invest their free time and youthful energy into school color war. Attend an exercise class at the local gym. Train for the Jerusalem Marathon. Learn Krav Maga. Go out with friends for a motzi shabbat ice cream outing. Volunteer at Yachad, and Shalva. Sign up to be an EMT for Hatzalah. 

Babysit for the neighbors. Get involved with your school’s extra circulars. Take your sister shopping at the mall. Visit your grandparents. Hang with your cousins. Putting thoughts of romance aside permits teenagers to build sustainable friendships and memories. By the time college or army service comes around, you will wish for this time back. 

So many people waste their youth trying to impress or pursue teenage girls or boys for romance; and 99 times out of 100, it leads to nothing. Spend these golden years of high school exploring hobbies and finding your passion. Dance, basketball, theatre, writing, drawing, karate, learning Torah wherever your interests lie. Romance will be there for you in 6 years, trust me. Down the road, plenty shadchans—matchmakers will help you find that special someone. 

Second off, observing the law of Shomer Negiah grants us the best possible marriages. Without being able to touch, members of a romantic relationship first connect via their emotions and conversations. This restriction allows two humans to form a genuine emotional connection with each other way before any physical embrace occurs. Every great relationship needs a strong emotional foundation. Being shomer will automatically grant you this foundation. 

Third of all, doesn’t it sound special to say, the only girl’s hand I touched is my wife’s. The only girl I danced with is my wife. According to leading psychologists, touch is an important way married couples express their love to each other. If possible, shouldn’t we try to make it special and meaningful? 

A few readers might consume this article and think, Stop it with the mussar. You don’t know what’s it like to be a teenager in 2022. You probably grew up in an all boys school and never struggled to be Shomer Neigah? Go read a Gemara and leave me alone

First, I was a teenager four years ago. Times haven’t change too much. Secondly, I attended a modern orthodox high school and camp. Within these environments I saw awesome boys and girls forfeit their youth for teenage romance. So many of my friends wish they never attended prom; wish they never dated people in high school; wish the first person’s hands they held were their wives. Talk to any 23, 26, 28-year-old, they will all tell you the same thing. I have yet to meet one married person state, I enjoyed being not shomer in high school. 

Last and not least, Observing the law of Shomer Neigah prevents our community’s youth from living a party lifestyle. A lifestyle many western teenagers crave and glorify on various forms of social media like Snapchat. Viewing images of happy partiers via Instagram or Snapchat convinces teenagers to think. “If they are having an awesome time partying, I should do it too and become happy like them.” Hence, some of our teens seek out partying and nightclubs to find excitement. But does more excitement equal more happiness?

Last year, Rabbi Netanel Weiderblank explained the problem behind constantly seeking excitement. ‘Some people always want to go cliff jumping, skydiving, and do other extreme sports to achieve memorable thrills. Some people always purchase the market’s newest gadgets and gizmos to glean high levels of entertainment. Both thrill and entertainment seekers think new toys and extreme sports will bring them satisfaction. However, after every purchase or thrill ride, these seekers have one thought. What’s next? How can I get this feeling again? 

Real satisfaction doesn’t come from thrill rides, parties, or fancy purchases. It comes from finding meaning in your routine, day to day activities. Embrace your current stage of life and soak up its opportunities.”

To quote a psychologist from New Jersey. “Nothing on the outside can make you feel good on the inside.”

So, are you Shomer?

About the Author
From the suburbs of North Jersey, hails 24-year-old Yosef Silfen. As an undergraduate, Yosef studied English and Talmud at New York’s Yeshiva University. Following his May 2020 zoom graduation, Yosef taught English at Breuers High School and Judaic studies to the special ed students of Makor College Experience. Long term, Yosef hopes to enter a psychology doctoral program and become a clinical psychologist. In print, Yosef has published several op-eds for the Times of Israel and The Jewish Link of New Jersey. If you want to check out his spunky writing style, search up Zach Pollack, One in a Billon. Beautiful not Pretty: The Inspiring Bracha Etzion. During free time, Yosef likes to swim the breath stroke, perform amateur improv, study Torah, and visit his nearby grandparents. His favorite books are Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albon and A Tzadik in our Time, by Simcha Raz. His favorite movie quote is. “You got a lot of stuff kid” (Doc Hudson from Cars).
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