Torah For Today: this week… Hugging and holding hands
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Torah For Today: this week… Hugging and holding hands

 Rabbi Naftali Schiff takes a topic from Jewish texts and looks at an Orthodox response. Here, he focuses on social interaction in times of Corona

Rabbi Naftali Schiff

Rapid Covid tests could mean care home visitors could finally hug or hold the hands of their elderly relatives once more. What does the Torah say about the importance of physical touch?

We British are renowned for being a bit stand-offish. We don’t kiss and hug strangers in the same way our continental neighbours are accustomed to doing at the best of times. 

However, whatever our level of tactile preference, one of the effects of the Covid pandemic is that boundaries and personal space are more strongly defined than ever before. 

“Innocent” touch, such as the simple handshake, is decidedly off limits, let alone anything more intrusive than that.

Family intimacy and the close camaraderie of true friendship are hallmarks of healthy and normal Jewish life.

The curtailment of such manifestations of deep relationships has had wide-ranging ramifications, with perhaps the most painful of them being that elderly people are unable to hug their loved ones.

Hugs and kisses are essential forms of non-verbal communication; they show that we are present and, most importantly, that we care.

Physical contact deepens connection. Fascinatingly, to make the sign language for “friend”, hold out both of your index fingers hooked in a curved or ‘C’-like shape. Holding one hand with your hook index facing up, hook the second index into the first. Then reverse the position for the hands and do it again. It is like your fingers are best friends and giving each other a hug. 

The idea of a hook is represented by the Hebrew letter vav, which both means a hook and is the letter of connection, the vav hachibbur.

Human touches are essential to brain growth. A young child needs a lot of different sensory stimulation for normal development. Skin contact, or physical touch such as hugging, is one of the most important stimulations required to grow
a healthy brain and a strong body. 

Touch communicates love and breaks down boundaries like nothing else. Perhaps it is because of this that the Torah places great emphasis on the power of intimate touch, preserving it for those who matter most.

  •  Rabbi Naftali Schiff is the founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures
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