Should a married man be alone with another woman?

July 17, 2019 by Rabbi Chaim Ingram
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Dear Rabbi.  I was intrigued to read the story last week about a US politician refusing to have a female reporter accompany him alone on his 15-hour ‘ride-a-thon’ campaign.  Is society finally catching up with Halakha? Yours, H. J.

Rabbi Chaim Ingram

Dear H. J.

Yes, it was a great story, wasn’t it!

For those unfamiliar with the news piece, Robert Foster, a Republican campaigning for election as Mississippi governor, has refused to have a female reporter shadow him by riding alone with him on his 15-hour road-trip, citing his Christian faith and declaring he “had made a vow to his wife not to be alone with a member of the opposite sex”. He cited as precedent the similar practice of the late evangelist Billy Graham as well as USA vice-president Mike Pence who has said he would “not eat alone with a woman other than his wife”.

Of course he could also have cited normative Jewish law (halakha)as a more ancient and established precedent.Halakha(Shulchan Aruch E.H. 22:1-2) prohibits a man and a woman to whom he is not married or blood-related from being alone together in a private room or space unable to be accessed by others. (yikhud).  Kitsur Shulkhan Arukh (152:2) declares that if a man needs to meet with an unrelated woman one-to-one for whatever reason, the presence of his wife (or, for that matter, her husband) very nearby is the best safeguard!

It is a sobering thought that if the halachic principles of yikhud were adhered to in general society, there would have been no need for a #MeToo movement!

Of course, the adverse reaction from the feminist wing was predictable.  The reporter in question called Foster’s principled moral stand “sexist”. This loaded word sums up everything that has gone morally awry in society in recent times Any suggestion that a healthy male or female relates differently to the opposite sex than s/he would relate to his/her own sex is viewed as sexist.  This has paved the way for the lamentable gender confusion that exists today in certain noisy and intellectually vacuous left-wing education circles intent on raising a “brave new generation” where boys and girls are discouraged from referring to themselves as such, school uniform must not be “sex-discriminatory” and pupils of the male gender are allowed – or even encouraged – to experiment with coming to school in skirts! Sadly all this is a product of an ideology which places the perceived needs of a small minority of individuals above the good of society.

In a landmark work Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore? written in 1990 but more relevant than ever, Rabbi Manis Friedman cites the story of a group of teenagers who asked him to advise them on keeping kosher while on a canoe trip. The group consisted of four boys and four girls. Rabbi Friedman, taking the word ‘kosher’ in its broadest sense, asked about the sleeping arrangements.  They replied “rabbi, we’ve been going away together as a group for years and we don’t ever misbehave. In fact we even share sleeping-bags sometimes!”  Rabbi Friedman looked at them aghast and replied: in which case you don’t need to see a rabbi so much as a psychiatrist!  You’re in big trouble!

What did Rabbi Friedman mean by that provocative remark?   Simply this.  The sexual drive between men and women should be among the strongest drives we have.  In Friedman’s own words “A man and a woman together is a sexual event – even if nothing else happens”.  And yes, of course a person is expected to resist temptation if it occurs no matter how strong or irresistible, as Joseph resisted the amorous advances of Potiphar’s wife.  But why deliberately put oneself in a precarious situation?

The attitude of these teenagers is sadly played out today all over Western society where distinctions between the sexes are purposefully blurred and the lack of difference is regarded as a virtue.  Just as a man or woman of normal drive is now termed a “heterosexual” as opposed to a “homosexual” – two equally “valid” lifestyles – so now, you are no longer a regular male or female, you are “cisgender” as opposed to “transgender”, the latter regarded as equally normative.  All this regularising of behaviours and conditions other than standard male-female classifications is a political tool wielded to undermine the traditional family unit and has served to unleash a tsunami of social and sexual confusion. Men no longer know what is expected of them behaviourally when interacting with women. True they need to come to terms with new perceptions after years of perhaps unfair entitlement. But the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Women are brought up to think they can “have it all ways”. One thing above all has been lost – mutual respect between women and men based upon healthy difference.

The Robert Foster story illustrates that there are still pockets of moral sanity in the world.  And he isn’t the only one.  Some weeks ago on the ABC’s Q & A program, (Australian) Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, advised men to avoid “taking on one-to-one mentoring” of a woman in a private setting and interact instead “somewhere where there were other people around, not just an environment where there are two people”.  She would have done well to offer the same recommendation to women to avoid one-on-one mentoring of (particularly younger) men.  But her perspective is particularly striking coming as it does from a secular standpoint.

So is society finally starting to catch up with halakhain this regard? Just possibly!  But let’s not hold our breath.  There is still a long way to go!


3 Responses to “Should a married man be alone with another woman?”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    I agree with you Morri Young. Also, there is such a thing in human relations as strength of character involving capacity for loyalty, also innate dignity, emotional intelligence and personal morality. We do not need religion, either Jewish or Christian, to monitor or over-protect adult behaviour by imposing chaperones or separation of the sexes.

  2. Yossi F says:

    Great article. And Rabbi Friedman’s book has been impacting, changing and improving lives for nearly three decades! Even here in Alabama!

  3. Morri Young says:

    Is it any wonder that young people are leaving Jewish practice, if this is the sort of guidance they will get. It could have been written in 1950 and would be considered irrelevant to most young people today who live and work in Sydney. Especially Jewish young people. I have read that intermarriage is the tragedy we face… I think the greater tragedy is that those who should be a source of guidance for our young people demonstrate irrelevance and being out of touch with what is now important for young people.
    The author provides no answers for the real issues young people deal with today.

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