Shomer Negiah

Interviewer: Do you have any Jewish customs that you are familiar with that you could share with me? 

SS: Yes have you ever heard of Shomer Negiah?

Interviewer: No I have not, could you explain it to me?

SS: Yes it is the practice of refraining from touching people of the opposite sex. Shomer negiah translates in Hebrew to observant of touch. 

Interviewer: You cannot touch any one of the other sex, even family? And does this apply in all situations?

SS: It depends how you practice it, mostly everyone who practices it can touch family and can touch others in very casual manners such as shaking hands or bumping into people. But people differ on how seriously they practice it.

Interviewer: Is this a custom that stems directly from religious texts and beliefs or is it of a social origin?

SS: I believe it comes from some verses in the Torah but the meanings were interpreted into these social customs. 

Interviewer: Is this something that is widely practiced in the Jewish community you are familiar with? 

SS: No not really, it is usually only practiced buy very religious individuals, I have some relatives that do it and they are all much more religiously devoted than me and my immediate family. 

Interviewer: Have you seen people physically practice this custom outside of your relatives?

SS: Yes I lived in Israel for a year during high school and it became more apparent to me during my time there that it was more widely practiced than I had thought. 

Interviewer: What are your thoughts on the practice? How does it affect your understanding and opinions of jewish customs?

SS: I think its a pretty interesting one because like a lot of other jewish customs it differs in how seriously people practice it and if they do at all. I also think its pretty interesting because its something that I don’t practice but people and my culture do and its a pretty radical difference in our everyday lives. I couldn’t imagine have to avoid almost all physical contacts with women not in my family. 

Context: I received this explanation of a Jewish folk custom from an 18 year old male Jewish from Los Angeles. He practices Judaism and been raised in a Jewish household his entire life. This interview was done in person at the USC Leavey Library. 

Analysis: I find this custom to fascinating primarily because it is a religious practice and a social custom that has quite a bit of multiplicity and variation. The actual practice seems to be pretty black and white, not touching members of the opposite sex, however the manner and extent of whether or not people of Jewish faith practice it is fascinating. It is also something that affects everyday activities pretty largely for those who practice it yet they are still apart of the same community as those who may not.