As an Orthodox Jew living in Jerusalem, it constantly strikes me that Judaism’s teachings are not just for Jews - at least they shouldn’t be.
Judaism is wisdom for living; anyone struggling to figure out life can benefit from it. And because Christians aren’t obligated to follow most Jewish precepts, they are free to examine Jewish wisdom, extract what speaks to them, and make it their own.
Judaism has a radical approach to handling relationships that works brilliantly (it certainly did for my husband and I!). While Christians needn't follow all of these guidelines, they can still benefit tremendously. This Jewish approach is known as "cherishing touch".
"Cherishing touch" means recognising that the physical side of a relationship is far more powerful and meaningful than most of us appreciate. Rather than spread it thin or squander it, we want to cherish it - by saving it for our ultimate relationship. Religious Jews have no physical contact before marriage. We don’t touch until after the wedding ceremony.
“Yikes!” you may exclaim. When I first heard about this at age 22, that was my initial reaction too. But I was intrigued enough to want to look into it. Because I didn’t then believe in God, I didn’t ask myself, “What does God want from me?” I simply asked: “Could no touching before marriage actually make any sense?” This is some of what I discovered. (For more, see my book Hands Off! This May Be Love.
Keeping your head on straight
When people experience the bliss of romantic touch, they often can’t see clearly. We have the hormone oxytocin to thank for this: triggered by physical closeness, oxytocin causes (particularly in women) loss of critical judgment, bonding, and trust. A rose-colored screen descends, filtering out the negative and letting only the positive through - the result being that you see what you want to see and not the rest.
This rose-colored screen will eventually lift - usually after you get married. Then you’ll find yourself suddenly seeing your new spouse very clearly. In the best case scenario, there’ll be some unforeseen idiosyncrasies you’ll have to get used to. In the worst case scenario, you may discover some serious deal breakers. One of the best ways to preserve objectivity while dating is not to get physically involved. You’ll be far more likely to marry the right person for the right reasons.
Filtering out the losers
When you tell someone, “I'm really enjoying getting to know you, but I don’t want to get physical,” essentially one of two things will happen. Either he or she will say, “Oh. Well, it’s been nice knowing you. Bye.” That’s someone who’s interested in you for what he or she can get from you, and someone with whom you shouldn’t want to waste another minute of your life.
Or he or she will say, “Really? Well, I’m really enjoying getting to know you too, and I’d like to continue doing so.” That’s someone who’s interested in you for you. Saying you don’t want to get physical is the acid test for sincerity.
Achieving true love
Getting physical feels great - and it’s so easy to mis-translate that head-spinning feeling as love. However, loving how good someone makes you feel is not love of another. It’s actually narcissism because it’s all about you.
True love requires focusing on, appreciating, admiring, and respecting the other person. It’s far easier to ascertain if this is what you’re experiencing when touch isn’t in the picture. When you don’t get physically involved, you’re more likely to know if what you’re feeling is the beginning of genuine love for the other person - the basis of an enduring relationship.
What can Christians take from this?
I’m guessing that few Christians will be willing to refrain from all touch before marriage. But there are two ways in which you can still strongly benefit from the Jewish idea of "cherishing touch".
First, the most powerful expression of touch is obviously sex. You can still maintain more objectivity, filter out more undesirables, and be more likely to know if what you’re feeling is real love if you avoid sex before marriage. And that is a tenet of Christianity as well.
But beyond that, let me suggest the following: In your next relationship, don’t touch for the first month. With every date that you don’t get physical, you’ll be doubling your chances of knowing if you’re with the right person. And when you do get physical, it will be more likely express the beginnings of a genuine spiritual bond, something that can last.
So do yourself a favor: try it. And let me know how it works!
Gila Manolson is an Orthodox Jew and the author of Hands Off! This May Be Love: God’s Gift for Establishing Enduring Relationships, available at gilamanolson.com