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Rambam and Ramban on not touching

10 November, 2004


I have read that there is some dispute among Rishonim about whether the prohibition on kissing, hugging, and any touch that brings pleasure is d’Oraita or d’Rabanan. I know it makes no difference in practice, but from a historical standpoint it is interesting. Is it true that while the Rambam regarded the prohibition as d’Oraita, the Ramban regarded it as d’Rabanan? Also, if this is the Ramban’s position, are there any other Rishonim or any Acharonim who follow him in this?



The basic dispute is as you stated it:

The Torah’s words ‘lo tikrav legalot ervata’ (Leviticus 18:19) mean that sexual relations with a niddah are forbidden and punishable by karet (excision). The Rambam states that a prohibition on hugging and kissing, and on touching that brings sexual pleasure, is also derived from the words ‘lo tikrav’ and is d’oraita (although not punished by karet). The Ramban states that only intercourse itself is forbidden by Torah law, while any other affectionate touching is forbidden by rabbinic decree. Most, but not all, rishonim (medieval authorities) rule in accordance with the Rambam, and the acharonim (later authorities) agree that the prohibition against touching is considered at least a safek d’oraita (a possible Torah prohibition). This question is discussed in the context of taking care of a sick spouse, and in modern times in the context of socially mandated contact such as a handshaking.

There are three approaches to explaining the Rambam:

  1. Any bodily contact at all is prohibited by ‘lo tikrav.’
  2. Only affectionate contact is forbidden.
  3. Only contact which typically precedes sexual intercourse, such as hugging and kissing or other foreplay, is a Torah prohibition, but any contact at all between a husband and his niddah wife is rabbinically forbidden.

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