Negiah - Biblical Prohibition and Subsequent Exegesis

Biblical Prohibition and Subsequent Exegesis

The prohibition of negiah is derived from two verses in Leviticus: "Any man shall not approach (קרב qarab) his close relative to uncover nakedness; I am God" (18:6), and: "You shall not approach a woman in her time of unclean separation, to uncover her nakedness" (18:19). Although the verses speak in the masculine gender, women are equally bound by these commandments, just as they are obligated in virtually all negative commandments.

The former verse is viewed by the Tannaim of late antiquity (70–200 CE) as referring to an expansive prohibition against "coming near" (קרב qarab) any of the arayot, or biblically prohibited sexual relations, which includes most close relatives. The latter verse is viewed as referring to the prohibition against "coming near" any woman who is in Niddah status (menstruating) . The same actions are forbidden under both verses.

The prohibition against physical contact with arayot is codified by Rishonim including Maimonides (Hilchos Issurei Biah 21:1) and the Moses ben Jacob of Coucy (Sefer Mitzvos Gadol 126), who note the consideration of whether the contact is done derekh taavah (דרך תאוה) in a lustful manner. The biblical etiology of Maimonide's prohibition is disputed by Nachmanides, who refers to the derivation from Leviticus 18:6 as an asmachta (a rabbinic prohibition with a biblical allusion) and not true exegesis.

Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch formulate this prohibition as "hugging, kissing, or enjoying close physical contact" ("chibek venashak veneheneh bekiruv basar"). They do not indicate that mere touching is forbidden.

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