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Wikipedia's article "Negiah" begins:

The term negiah (Hebrew: נגיעה‎), 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). A person who abides by this halakha is colloquially described as a shomer negiah ("one observant of negiah").

I'm a guy in my late twenties. My aunt is non-frum and very physically affectionate; so are her kids. Her youngest daughter seems to always crave both attention and touch. When hanging out with my aunt and my cousins, I want to know if it's forbidden for me to touch my cousin. You see, the negiah laws will eventually restrict me from touching her.

According to R' Yosef Karo and others, "negiah" means "any touching at all". According to the Rambam and others, "negiah" means "affectionate touching". Whichever opinion is correct, the prohibition will start once she reaches a certain age, or a certain developmental stage. When will it start?

Please cite sources.

For help choosing among the conflicting views, CYLOR.

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Related: the YWN Coffee Room thread "Touching one's nieces". –  unforgettableid Jul 5 '13 at 17:03
    
To find other related articles, try Google searches for things like [ halacha hug niece ] or [ negiah age ]. –  unforgettableid Jul 5 '13 at 18:59
    
Shalom, thank you for your answer. I have now edited the question and adapted some material from your answer into my question. –  unforgettableid Jul 15 '13 at 20:14
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2 Answers 2

First let's clear up the "touch" vs. "hug" business.

As has been discussed many times before, some say the prohibition is "any touch whatsoever"; others "only affectionate touch." In some circles I'm shomer negiah means "I follow the stricter opinion and won't even do non-affectionate touch (as opposed to those who do business handshakes)"; in other circles I'm shomer negiah means "I don't do affectionate touch (as opposed to my HS/college classmates who keep shabbat and kashrut but hug and kiss their boyfriend/girlfriend").

A previous revision of your question included the phrase:

touch her in any way whatsoever: I think even a friendly touch on the shoulder in greeting will be forbidden.

I'm reminded of the Snake's discussion with Eve: Touch the tree, eat the fruit, whatever all the same. "A friendly touch on the shoulder" could very well be considered "affectionate." An example of "any touch whatsoever" would be a business handshake, or taking someone's pulse.


Okay, let's try this again. The prohibition on "negiah" is "affectionate touching", and according to some opinions, "any touching." At what age would that begin, according to either opinion?

(Rabbi Neustadt is quoting a novel piece from a student of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach about age 3; I don't think that's common practice. Rabbi Mordechai Willig cites it for theory's sake in an mp3 on tzniut, exclaiming his surprise.)

Well, the prohibition is based on avoiding people who are erva (prohibited relations). Your cousin is not a prohibited relation per se, however once she (or any other unrelated woman) reaches menarche that changes. So around 11 seems quite reasonable.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein elsewhere wrote that with regards to extended families that do lots of hugs, we view it as gross, but not risque, for a grown brother and sister to hug and kiss. We still prohibit it, but there's some more room for leniency in cases of non-observant family who will be offended, or how much the rabbi should protest such behavior.

As Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik famously said, halacha is a floor not a ceiling; all halacha aside, there will be dictates of good judgment and taste regarding what forms of touch are appropriate, in what contexts, with what age of cousin under the age of 11. It appears that Torah.org says "find a good publication that goes into all sorts of detail on that"; it doesn't surprise me that various contemporary rabbis have tried to record guidelines for every situation, but at some point we hope the answer is simply "use good judgment."

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Dear Shalom: Thank you very much for clarifying the "affectionate touching" vs. "any touching" matter. I don't think I quite understood it until you clarified things. I have removed the text you quoted from my question; edited some of your clarifications into the question; and merged my hugging question into this one. Dear Shalom and dear all: Please feel free to freely and unreservedly edit the question and/or any answer, in order to make any changes you like. –  unforgettableid Jul 5 '13 at 18:43
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  • R' Doniel Neustadt writes that the negiah prohibition begins when my cousin turns three. To trace this statement back to an earlier source, follow his footnotes.

  • An entry in the Torah.org Knowledge Base says that, technically, the negiah prohibition begins when my cousin turns three, but that certain kinds of touch are permissible even after that, such as holding a six-year-old cousin's hand. The entry elaborates with other examples. It concludes, "Issues of modesty can be very complex. It may be worth purchasing one of the many publications available on the subject to get more of an in-depth understanding." I recommend that you read the entire entry.

  • Wikipedia (citing R' Moshe Feinstein) holds that the negiah prohibition begins when my cousin turns 11. You see, further on, the Wikipedia article continues:

    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 (Igros Moshe O.C. 1:26) 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.

(This post is community wiki. Please add other views to this answer.)

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