|Halakhic texts relating to this article|
|Babylonian Talmud:||Sabbath 13a|
|Mishneh Torah:||Kedushah (Holiness), Issurei Biah (forbidden sexual relations), 21:1–7|
|Shulchan Aruch:||Even HaEzer 20–21|
The term negiah (Hebrew: נגיעה), literally "touch," is the concept in Jewish law (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). A person who abides by this halakha is colloquially described as a shomer negiah ("one observant of negiah").
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 follow these laws.
Biblical prohibition and subsequent exegesis
The prohibition of negiah is derived from two verses in Leviticus: "Any man shall not approach (לקרב lekarev ) 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). 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.[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" (קרב qarab) any of the arayot, or biblically prohibited sexual relations, which includes most close relatives. 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]. The same actions are forbidden under both verses.
The prohibition against physical contact with arayot is codified by Rishonim including Maimonides (Hilchos Issurei Biah 21:1) and the Moses ben Jacob of Coucy (Sefer Mitzvos Gadol 126), who note the consideration of whether the contact is done derekh [chibah v']taavah (דרך [חבה ו]תאוה) in a[n affectionate or] lustful manner. The biblical etiology of Maimonide's prohibition is disputed by Nachmanides, who refers to the derivation from Leviticus 18:6 as an asmachta (a rabbinic prohibition with a biblical allusion) and not true exegesis.
Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch formulate this prohibition as "hugging, kissing, or enjoying close physical contact" ("chibbuk venishuk veneheneh bekiruv basar"). They do not indicate that mere touching is forbidden.
The term negiah
Rabbi Feinstein elaborates the two prohibitions underlying the laws of negiah. The first law is derived from a Biblical prohibition against close contact (קרב qarab) with arayot, as described above. Because all women above the age of 11 are presumed to fall into the category of illicit relationships due to menstruation, it follows that the negiah prohibition extends to all women above that age, not only to the other illicit relationships prohibited by the biblical text. The second derives from the notion of hirhur, a prohibition against having inappropriate sexual thoughts. Feinstein 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. In such cases, the prohibitions are waived even if the male rescuer is certain that he will experience improper thoughts (Hirhur). Furthermore, medical practitioners and other professionals such as hairdressers may touch members of the opposite sex in the course of their professional practice.
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 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]. This is also the opinion of Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, Moshe Stern  Yitzchak Abadi, Yosef Hayyim, and Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg in his Sefer Chassidim.
Rabbi Feinstein gives the benefit of the doubt to those who return a handshake, stating that they apparently hold that doing so is not derekh khiba v'taavah (דרך חבה ותאוה), but concludes that such leniency is difficult to rely upon. Although Feinstein 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. One publication states this in very strong terms. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky has also suggested that there may be room to be lenient in this situation.
Ahron 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). Likewise, 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. Hershel Schachter quotes 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, and indicates that he agrees with this position.
According to Fuchs, Halichos Bas Yisrael, only German Rabbis have traditionally permitted returning a handshake; 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.
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."
However, nonetheless, it has been said in the name of prominent Yeshiva University rabbis that one shouldn't engage fully in a handshake, but rather, one shouldn't hold a tight grip. His hand should be "helpless" and as if the other person is initiating and completing the full action, with his hand being the innocent bystander. Acting as such prevents embarrassment and or loss of a business deal, while at the same time allows one to stay in the framework of halacha (Jewish Law).
Shaking hands and relations with non-practitioners
The Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson wrote that remaining firm in one's convictions when it comes to shaking hands with a woman can engender the respect of the other party. 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. Orthodox legal scholar Michael Broyde, founding 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. 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." The exact same phenomenon is seen in all religions that segregate by gender such as Islam. 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." Cohen, on the other hand, likens this argument to the "separate but equal" status rejected in school desegregation cases.
- 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)
- 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.
- All physical contact between spouses, even when not done in a "derekh khiba v'taavah" (Hebrew: דרך חבה ותאוה 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).
- 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.
- With regard to grandchildren, the term used by the poskim (halakhic authorities) is bas bito (Hebrew "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].
- 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).
- The term is somewhat controversial; see, e.g
- Translation follows the Stone Edition of the Chumash (Mesorah Publications 1993).
- 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.
- 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
- Sifra Acharei Mot (13,2) cited in Sefer Mitzvos Gadol 126 and Shiurei Shevet HaLeivi p.1.
- 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).
- Nachmanides Hasagos to Sefer HaMitzvos, Negative Commandment 353
- Rambam (Maimonides) Hilchos Issurei Biah 21:1 and Even HaEzer 20:1, as explained by Be'er Heitev 2.
- Moshe Feinstein Igros Moshe 1959, Orach Chayim, 1:Q113, Even HaEzer 1:Q56, 2:Q14, 4:Q32. All four responsa have been republished at HebrewBooks.org.
- Moshe Feinstein Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 1:Q26. The responsum's full text begins on this page.
- 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.
- 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 
- Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:Q56, page 143, 2nd column, 1st full paragraph. Free full text is available at HebrewBooks.org.
- Audio responsa from Rabbi Zev Leff; see Halichos Bas Yisrael vol. 1 p.p 106-108.
- ; see also Kreina D'igrsa 1:162; Moadim Uzmanim Vol. 4, section 316 n.1 (p.p. 130-131); .
- Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky Letters of Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky - The Steipler (1899-1985). 3 vols Karyana D’Igarata 1:162-163
- Moshe Stern of Debrycin (1914-1997), "The Debretziner Rav" Be’er Moshe 4:Q130
- Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi, Lakewood, NJ/Har Nof, Jerusalem. As quoted by his son. See  and 
- Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad, author of Ben Ish Hai. Od Yosef Chai, Parshat Shofetim n. 22
- R' Feinstein Igros Moshe 1959 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 
- See, e.g., Halichos Bas Yisrael, vol. I, p. 110 n.33; see also
- 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 . 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).
- 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").
- Shaking Hands with Women; the Yerushalmi is in Tractate Sotah 3:1, and the Rambam is in Hilchos Sotah 3:15.
- "Is Handshaking a Torah Violation?" Hakirah, vol. 4, 2007.
- "Gender Separation in Halacha", at 5:35 ff.
- "Gender Separation in Halacha", at 8:45 ff.
- See Halichos Bas Yisrael vol. I, p. 110 n.33. translation A Woman's Guide to Jewish Observance, Targum Press
- Halichos Bas Yisrael vol. I, p. 110 n.32, citing Sefer Taharas Am Yisrael p. 44.
- Tips For Orthodox Students, Yeshiva University Office of Career Services.
- Shaking a woman's hand?, The Avner Institute.
- 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.
- Mail-Jewish Volume 37 Number 70
- "Introduction" (Reprint). The New York Times Magazine. The New York Times Company. 2002-11-17. Retrieved 2007-01-04.
- Rosenblum, Jonathan (2002-11-10). "The ethicist of the NY Times gets it wrong". Aish HaTorah. Retrieved 2007-01-04.