Sunday, June 6, 2010

Slipping up

I am a klutz. I have proved to be capable of tripping over my own two feet, bumping into walls, and knocking over cups filled with various liquids, luckily most often water, which is not nearly as difficult to clean up as soda, which gets sticky. The reason I mention this is because a while back I was on a date and we were walking some place slippery.

I always make sure to wear comfortable shoes on dates, ones that I can walk in for hours if need be. This is partly because I never know how much walking I will end up doing, but also because I enjoy walking and one of my ideal date ideas is just walking around and talking, preferably in the park on a nice, sunny day. I say this as a preface to the rest of the story, so that you don’t blame it on the lack of traction on my shoes, but the fact that I’m clumsy combined with the fact that where we were walking was slippery.

If you’re thinking, “Oh she probably slipped and fell down,” well, Baruch Hashem that did not happen. What happened was that I slipped, lost my balance for a second, and almost fell, but managed to regain my balance. The interesting part, though, was the guy’s gut reaction, which was instinctively to reach out his arms to catch me. Remember that this happened in all of about 3 seconds- me losing my balance, saying “whoa,” his arms in a split second reaching out, ready to catch me, and me regaining my balance, so there was no need.

But I always wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t regained my balance. Would he have caught me and would we have touched? Would I have instinctively grabbed on to the closest thing to help me regain my balance, meaning, him, and then quickly let go the second I was back on my feet? That would have been so awkward, so I’m glad it didn’t happen. But the alternative would have been to hope that he didn’t stretch out his hands, and just let me fall, so as not to touch me, which could be viewed as halachic or as rude, depending on how you look at it. He also came from a background where he had not been shomer negiah for his entire life, which I think was part of the reason why his impulse was to reach and not to refrain.

Here’s the question: Should he have stretched out my hands to catch me or shouldn’t he? I remember being shocked that his gut reaction was to reach out like that, instead of to panic and stand there motionless as I struggled to maintain balance. My immediate reaction was, “Hmm, was he really about to touch me?” I think if a guy I was on a date with lost his balance, my guy would be not to reach out, since it’s touching, and it’s been so ingrained in me to refrain from touching males.

I know of a girl who is dating a guy who was a trained EMT and certain circumstances arose where she needed medical attention and he was there and he did what he needed to do. She commented how strange it was for him to be touching her, but of course it was necessary so she was glad he intervened. That still doesn’t negate the fact that on some level it’s a bit odd.

So, what do you think? Should he have reached out to help me, and should I have taken this as a sign that he has good middos, and is a kind person for not letting me fall? Or should I have been concerned about the fact that he was so quick to abandon the laws of negiah? What would you do in this situation/ what would you expect your date to do in this situation?


  1. This post is begging for a psychoanalysis.

  2. He absolutely did the right thing by reaching out to catch you if need be. The fact that he reached out most likely has nothing to do with the fact that he wasn't shomer in the past. If he wouldn't have reached out instinctively, than that would have been a problem. Perventing a person from falling and hurting himself or herself is more important than shomer negiah at that moment. A friend of mine was on a date and she and her date were attempting to cross a busy road. Her date started crossing without realizing that a car was approaching. She quickly pushed him back saving him from a terrible accident. This is a boy and girl from bais yaakov background. Would you have questioned the girl's integrity? Never!! Whoever the boy is that you went out with, know that this is a very postive reflection on himself.

  3. Or should I have been concerned about the fact that he was so quick to abandon the laws of negiah?

    Do you really think that? If so you should re-examine the laws of negiah, most specifically the halakhot in the Shulhan Arukh, and not some overly humradik sefer.

    Most specifically whenever there is threat of injury, the laws of negia are negated. Quite frankly according to the various sources, even the laws of negia are simply a humra to keep people form getting too familiar with the opposite gender.

    If the contact occurs without intention of deriving pleasure of some sort, then the laws of negia have not been broached. My instinct was that when he reached out his arms to catch you he wasn't thinking, "Oh boy I get to touch a girl." He was probably thinking, "Oh gosh I don't want my date to break something."

    Yeah it was a sign of good middot. Nothing less, nothing more.

  4. I agree with the other commenters, it was the right thing for him to do, even if it would have been awkward had he caught you. If he didn't have that instinct, you should be worried.

  5. He absolutely did the right thing. First of all, human instinct is to help someone else in distress. This was not a case of shomer negia being overruled, but an instance where someone needed help and he has there to provide it. I don't even think his past has anything to do with it - he just reacted to a potential harmful situation in front of him. I would have done the same and I have been shomer negia my entire life, including with my then-kallah and now wife when required by halachah.
    Second, the rules of shomer negia are to prevent touching b'derech chiba. In this situation, clearly there was nothing chiba. Do you get up on the subway/bus or other mode of public transportation because your leg is touching a guy? If so, you are giving ip your seat for nothing.
    Lastly, the rules of negia are there to protect us from our instincts. While this kind of contradicts my first point - I'll point out that it is to protect from out sexual instincts. We are not supposed to put ourselves in situations that will lead to improper touching. So we do not got into a member of the opposite sex's room alone, or start a physical relationship that may lead to sex. I don't think his preventing you from breaking a bone will do that. Only if you both start taking it to the next level is it a problem.

  6. Wow, I'm glad to hear this is one issue that everyone agrees on. :)

    As you all guessed he was a very nice guy with good middos, although it didn't work out for other reasons.

  7. A Halachic perspective:

  8. Yeah he definitely did the right thing. Any guy who would let you fall to the wayside would have no sense of decency. I mean seriously, just b/c we all have this idea that saving "a damsel in distress" is romantic, in real life, saving someone from harm is just necessary. Good post!

  9. Yizhak- interesting! Thanks for discussing it!

    Coral- thanks! :)

  10. Yitzhak, interesting. Rav Kaduri used to place his hand on a woman's head when she came for a Berakha, I would like to see what this Rav would say of that.

  11. While it's my instinct to do the same, I've been told by plenty of girls that they expect to be allowed to fall (i.e. during ice skating). Go figure.

  12. What your date did does not question his religiosity at all. The laws of negiah did not mean to let another human being get hurt. The halachos are never about that. One is allowed to be mechallel Shabbos to help others! (I have a Hatzolah member in the family). Shabbos is one of the big 10. To make sure you don't get hurt, one of the 613 could be tweaked.

  13. If it matters to you, R' Schechter has paskined in the past (I havent' asked him in years...) that it's muttar (or was it mechuyav?) thing for a guy to catch a girl if she's falling on a date.

  14. tnspr569- that's why I know girls who prefer not to go ice skating on dates. If a girl knows that she's a bad ice skater, it's inevitable that she's going to fall, putting the guy in a situation where he will have to touch her.

    Bookworm- you can't always be mechallel shabbos to help others- I think you meant to save a person's life or assist them if they are injured or sick. Let's say if the girl fell, it wouldn't be very harmful, and she'd just say "ouch" and get back up and be fine?

    Anonymous- good to know what R' Schechter says. Thanks for sharing.

  15. SternGrad: Thanks, great blog.

    Mekubal: I have no doubt that there are different perspectives toward our topic; I carefully wrote "a Halachic perspective", as opposed to "the Halachic perspective".

    ISTR hearing of a great Sephardic rabbi who would wear gloves when receiving visitors, because of women who would kiss his hand, as per the Sephardic custom.

  16. One is permitted to err on the side of caution. He can assume that you fall like a ton of bricks and the pavement is hard and your spine could strike it at a bad angle and who knows, chas v'chalilah, how you could be injured.

    Let the man be a white knight.

  17. The guy did the right thing.

    I have always been shomer negiah and I would have caught my date, not reflexively, but consciously.

    For doctors, it's "first do no harm."

    For Jews, it's "first be a mentsch." A faker would have let his date fall when he could have stopped it from happening. It doesn't mention saychel in shulchan aruch, but it's the first "halacha" people should learn!

  18. The guy was a gentleman and was doing the polite thing by trying to help prevent you from falling.

    BTW, I do not understand the concept of not having friends of the opposite sex. I have male friends from work and college and feel richer for the experience.

  19. Ellyn- I agree he was being a gentleman.

    In terms of having friends of the opposite sex, I don't believe that one approach works for everyone. If having male friends enhances your life, that is great. I think that for others it can sometimes get tricky because one person ends up developing feelings for the other and things get complicated.

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