Sunday, November 08, 2009

R' Moshe Feinstein on Platonic Relationships

Dan wrote me an email and very respectfully inquired as to what halakhic basis I have to be friends with guys. He pointed me to Igros Moshe Even HaEzer Part 4 Siman 60. You can see it below.

R' Moshe Feinstein on Platonic Relationships


I read the Igros Moshe and entirely see R' Moshe Feinstein's point. There is no question that when a girl and a guy become very close to each other and intimate in their language and behavior that can lead to engaging in things that are forbidden, even if this was never their intention. Is this enough of a reason to forbid all relationships between men and women until such time that the two are of marriageable age? I don't think so. But can I find a place in halakha where it explicitly states that my friendships with men are totally permissible? I am not sure.

I believe with all my heart that it is entirely possible for men and women to be friends at the intellectual level without that leading to anything more. I think it is the exception rather than the norm that it would lead to something beyond that. But it is also possible that I speak only for myself, and even if I do not agree, I will admit that I see where, based on this Igros Moshe, people are coming from. The Shulchan Aruch and the Rambam's subsequent points I cannot entirely credit seeing as I'd like to meet the man who beats his wife (Rambam said he could) or the brother who doesn't kiss his sisters before I take that at face value. But R' Feinstein? I hear. I don't agree, I cannot agree, but I do see the basis in halakha of those who forbid these friendships, even if I think the way this has been practiced nowadays is very flawed. It would be much better to teach boys and girls to interact respectfully from their youth than cage them away from one another lest they fall to temptation. There is much that is lost in the non-coed classroom and a million things you miss if you've never been friends with someone of the opposite gender. Nonetheless! I see the Igros Moshe; I see your source.

21 comments:

A. said...

I am not very familiar with Orthodox practice. It is my understanding that R Feinstein is the decisive halachic authority for our generation. Now that you have been made aware of this ruling, are you required to follow it? If not, is your recourse to ask for a ruling from your 'personal' rabbi? Are you allowed to do nothing and maintain the status quo in your inter-gender relationships?

How does this work?

Chana said...

A.,

There are many prominent figures throughout the Orthodox world and many of them are halakhic authorities. They disagree with one another on various points and so long as what I do is within halakha, I can follow one of these points. This disagreement is termed 'machhlokes' and originates a long while back. You can read 'The Dynamics of Dispute' by Zvi Lampel for a rundown.

While R' Feinstein is an important halakhic authority, there are others. Now, I happen to know that there are teshuvos regarding men and women singing together at coed youth groups (including someone who permits it.) Obviously if it is a coed youth group, whoever permits that is implicitly permitting friendships between guys and girls. I would assume the reasoning behind this is to further their Judaic growth. In that case, my remaining friends with guys is entirely fine seeing as they serve to further my Judaic growth (and vice versa, I would hope.) I just have to find the teshuvos and/or do further research into the matter.

I would also point to the Deborah/ Barak model. They certainly had much to do with one another. Obviously some will say they were married but there is also the idea that they were *not* married. In that case, it is my assumption that people will permit their dialogue only because it was a time of war, they were leaders, she was a prophetess, etc, but to me it still seems that when you are working together for a cause (like saving the Jews in a battle against Sisra) such relationships are permitted. Since I strive to create friendships permeated with meaning- and something we are both striving to accomplish- I think this fits my model as well.

So now that I have seen this ruling, what I have to do is do further research into the matter. I do not think that every single coed school (Ida Crown, HAFTR, Hillel Torah, Frisch, etc) is sinning due to the fact that it is coed and obviously allows boys to socialize. Thus I just have to find out whether these institutions and friendships are permitted because of common sense (which would suffice for me, honestly) or some sort of halakic ruling I am currently unaware of.

DYS said...

Let me at the start say that I find the whole discussion almost comical. You should be friends with whoever you want to be friends with. You are an adult.

But if we do take halachic opinion into the equation, you should also be able to take into consideration the context of these halachic opinions. In many societies, friendships between boys & girls were not the norm. And upon reaching adulthood, these young men & women got married. The longer years of staying single wasn't that common. For the most part, these rabbanim didn't live in a society (or even if they lived in, didn't understand) where young adult men & women were friends.

Therefore, I suspect that most of these tshuvot were written with teenagers in mind, when they have hormones flowing and don't have the maturity of adulthood to resist their feelings successfully.

As to yourself, ask this question: Can you be friends with a man your age who you might find objectively attractive and not end up in bed with him? And would you even be friends with a man your age who wasn't able to control himself sexually? I assume the answers to these questions are yes and no, respectively. If that's the case, why shouldn't you be friends with whoever you want?

One last question - who are these people sending you pleas to drop your male friends? Are they friends of yours? If so, either you have a lot of charedi friends, or charedi thought has become much more pervasive at YU than I thought. If theyre not friends, but merely random people who read your blog, they're obviously not of your hashkafa and probably wouldn't approve of many other things in your life as well.

The Talmid said...

"There is much that is lost in the non-coed classroom "

as crazy as this sounds, when I got to college and my first dose of a co-ed class since kindergarten, the biggest distraction was the girls doing (fixing?) their hair. Had I always been in a coed classroom, this probably would go unnoticed; as it was, it was very distracting.

EJB said...

The question at hand is
inter-gender relationships appropriate l'chatchila, b'di eved, or never.
Rav Moshe clearly is of the opinion that they are never appropriate.
Sridei Esh, who Chana alludes to as the one who permitted mixed youth groups/kol isha for z'mirei kodesh, believes that they are appropriate b'di eved (note that this is a huge generalization, and he repeats over and over that his t'shuvos were written for a specific circumstance and should not be used in regards to other similar circumstances).
Or alternatively, there is no problem at all with inter-gender relationships, even l'chatchila. I have not seen a t'shuva that specifically advocates this position, but I'm assuming most MO coed high schools agree with this approach. Or, alternatively, they think a MO coed environment is better for these kids than the alternative non religious (or even non Jewish) environment.
My personal opinion on this issue has changed at least once each year over the past 4 years.

Anonymous said...

Chana,
IMHO the guts of R' Moshe's opinion is the following statement:

וזה ברור שקשרי רעות עם נערה הוא מצד חבת אשה ולא רק רעות בעלמא שלזה יותר היה ניחא לו עם חבריו הבחורים ולמה לו הנערה לזה

IMVHO one must consider the applicability of theis statement in different societies. BTw- it would also apply to the workplace & BTW imvho I've learned things from female friends.

KT
Joel Rich

Moshe said...

Great set of posts

Crawling Axe said...

My rabbi’s father once made a dry joke: the only platonic relationship that can exist is that between a husband and a wife.

Meaning, that even though in the vast majority of times, close interaction and non-romantic friendship (at least in its official “status”) between frum men and women will not lead to violation of halacha, very-very often it will lead to romantic feelings, from one side or another. And it seems that such feelings themselves, when existing not between a husband and a wife, are not considered appropriate amongst frum Jews.

One may say that this may be impossible to avoid completely. True. But avoiding something undesirable completely is not what “fence around Torah” is about — it’s about minimizing it.

So, if I cannot find a job appropriate for me, where there will be no women to interact with, at least I can minimize interaction at my job and keep it focused on professional topics. As far as having female friends — is the advantage of their friendship really greater than the danger of inappropriate (in this context) feelings appearing between us?

Let me at the start say that I find the whole discussion almost comical. You should be friends with whoever you want to be friends with. You are an adult.

Why didn’t you start with saying that it is comical to discuss what one is allowed to eat or not? You are an adult; you should eat whatever you want. Wear whatever you want. In general, do whatever you want in life.

To me it seems that being an adult is not doing whatever you want, but doing what’s right. For a frum Jew, “right” means “what Hashem wants”.

Crawling Axe said...

I would also point to the Deborah/ Barak model. They certainly had much to do with one another. Obviously some will say they were married but there is also the idea that they were *not* married. In that case, it is my assumption that people will permit their dialogue only because it was a time of war, they were leaders, she was a prophetess, etc, but to me it still seems that when you are working together for a cause (like saving the Jews in a battle against Sisra) such relationships are permitted.

Do you really think it’s appropriate to apply their standards to us? There used to be times, men were allowed to watch women dance (15th of Av) and sing. There used to be times, when it was enough to say Shmah. And nowadays, we start with Psukei D’Zimra.

Anonymous said...

וְשַׁבְתֶּם וּרְאִיתֶם בֵּין צַדִּיק לְרָשָׁע בֵּין עֹבֵד אֱלֹקים לַאֲשֶׁר לֹא עֲבָדוֹ

non mouse said...

it boils down to, is your practice of judaism social or halachik. if its social then there is now right and wrong, muttar or assur, just my feelings. if we recognize that we are bound by halacha, we must question social standards ti see if they are up to the torahs standards.
what the torahs standards are, I leave to you to ask your personal rav, the same one you would ask if you stirred your chicken soup with a dairy utensil. following your personal rav leaves a person above reproach, for unless the argument can be made that the rav is incompetent, you can disregard all other opinions.

non mouse said...

check your local jewish bookstore for a pamphlet titled "9 to 5 a guide to modesty in the workplace"
sit down with your rav and review it with him. it will be a very enlightening experience.

Anonymous said...

it boils down to, is your practice of judaism social or halachik. if its social then there is now right and wrong, muttar or assur,
==========================
A very boolean view of the world - does halacha allow for any shades of grey? (hint- bein hashmashot, koy as paradigms)
KT
Joel Rich

non mouse said...

the grey matter in halacha is dileneated as such

Larry Lennhoff said...

As far as having female friends — is the advantage of their friendship really greater than the danger of inappropriate (in this context) feelings appearing between us?

As a 50+ year old man who BT'd in his 40s, I will unequivocally answer that based on the experiences of my life the advantages of platonic friendship with women overwhelmingly outweigh the dangers of inappropriate feelings for me.

Crawling Axe said...

Based on what concept in Judaism do you give this answer?

Larry Lennhoff said...

Based on what concept in Judaism do you give this answer?
Chai Bachem.

Larry Lennhoff said...

Or darchei noam if you prefer.

Dave said...

Who cares whether you agree or not?

Do you agree it is prohibited to eat pig? If you don't agree, who cares?

Crawling Axe said...

Chai Bachem
Or darchei noam if you prefer

That’s your justification? You would have no way of keeping mitzvos without female platonic friendship?

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