Leah Vincent: It’s All About Perspective

I wanted to jot down a quick thought about the sad story of Leah Vincent. Leah Vincent was recently interviewed on the Katie Couric show about her escape from ultra orthodox Judaism:

From accounts of those who knew her, Leah Vincent was a bright girl who was full of fun. As a precocious child, she was sent to a post high school girls seminary in Israel at the young age of 16. It isn’t surprising, with those accounts, that Leah went on to obtain a Master in Public Policy (MPP) from Harvard University in her secular life. Apparently, the yeshivish family she comes from is considered fairly mainstream and not extreme in their viewpoints. She apparently has a few siblings who have gone on to college, and reportedly has a brother-in-law who is a lawyer. Why then, if other family members had gone to college, were her parents so adamant that she stay within the frum community and not pursue goals within the wider secular world?

Obviously, those of us on the outside don’t know all the specifics of what happened between Leah and her parents. However, from the vantage point of my surface view, my guess is that her parents fell into the reactionary trap of upping the ante. What do I mean by this? Simply that when a parent fears that they are losing their child, they will take an increasingly strict position on matters beyond what they would normally hold in order to stop their child’s behavior.

Those that are familiar with Leah Vincent’s family say that while they are a solidly yeshivish and frum family, they are also pretty chilled, laid back, and accepting of Jews on all levels of frumkeit. They have trouble reconciling the easy going rabbi and rebbitzin they know, to the ultra orthodox parents who yanked their daughter Leah out of her Israeli seminary and brought her home for wearing a sweater that was too tight. They have trouble imagining the compassionate torah leaders of their shul and community kicking their daughter out of their home so that she wouldn’t taint her siblings with her heretical ways.

I think that the answer is that fear leads people to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t. For whatever reasons, again we are not privy to all the details, Leah’s parents feared that she would abandon her orthodox Jewish faith. They knew they had a bright, creative, and precocious child and they fought to keep control over her curiosity. Instead of trying to keep a tight lid on a boiling pot, they would have been better off telling her, “Hashem has given you both a gift and a challenge. Your gift is your intellect and your potential to do wonderful things in this world. Your challenge is to go out into the wider world to hone your talents and yet still stay true to who you are as a Jewish woman. We want to help you navigate this path so that you fulfill your potential as both a scholarly professional and as an observant Jew.”

By trying to squash Leah’s dreams, they ultimately drove her away from the torah observant community altogether. Listening to Leah speak, I feel sadness as an orthodox Jewish woman. Sad because our community needs intelligent, compassionate, and well-spoken women like Leah Vincent. How many more women will be turned away from the orthodox Jewish community because they don’t conform to the strict societal expectations of how a Jewish woman is supposed to behave? We need to nurture souls like Leah Vincent, not drive them away because of our own expectations. Not take a harder line than we would with non-family members because having a child who is going off the derech is a bad reflection upon us. Making decisions out of fear or shame can never have a positive outcome.

I would posit that many of our “at-risk” youth who question Judaism, society, rabbanim, halachot, chumrot – those young people who are having a crisis of faith – they are among our best and brightest. Why? Because they have the ability to question. They have the capacity to think outside of the box. They have the vision to know that there is more than one valid opinion on how to do things. They have the courage to step out of line and say they don’t agree. I would suggest that those young folks going off-the derech have the capability of being the future leaders of klal yisrael. The difference between going off the derech and remaining frum depends on how they are guided, how their concerns are addressed, the freedom they are given to question, and the amount of love they receive in the exchange. As parents, teachers, rabbis, and friends, we have a tremendous amount of power to turn a teen away from yiddishkeit forever, or to broker a lasting commitment that will benefit an entire people. It’s all about perspective.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Managing Abusers From Within The Community

Rabbi Gedalyah Dov Schwartz, is the Av Beis Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council and the Rabbinical Council of America.  He is a big advocate of the concept, “If you know something, say something,” when it comes to reporting child abuse to the police.  If someone knows or strongly suspects a child is being abused, Rabbi Schwartz emphasizes that it is not loshon horah nor mesira to report the abuse to authorities.  Hear his no-nonsense views on the subject in this video:

A number of years ago, Chicago became the first American city to develop protocols for dealing with abuse within the Jewish orthodox community. Rabbi Schwartz, along with Rabbi Avraham Chaim Levin, Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Zev Cohen, Rav of Adas Yeshurun Anshe Knesses Israel, and Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, Dayan, Agudath Israel of Illinois set up a special Beis Din to rule on cases of child sexual abuse within the orthodox community.

One of the important elements of this special beis din in Chicago, is that its goal is to incorporate different viewpoints from within the orthodox community.  This inclusive perspective is the result of the beis din being led by both Rabbi Schwartz and Rabbi Levin. Both of these men represent different factions of the Chicago orthodox community.  From my own layman’s perspective, Rabbi Schwartz serves more of the modern/centrist orthodox communities, while Rabbi Levin serves the more yeshivish or haredi members of the Chicago community.  Rabbi Cohen and Rabbi Fuerst also represent a more haredi viewpoint, although people from all walks of orthodox life are counted among their followers.  Although the special beis din is touted as containing a variety of voices from the spectrum of the frum community, in my opinion, Rabbi Schwartz is the only varying hashkafic viewpoint represented.

A number of years ago, I attended a community meeting that talked about the establishment of this special beis din, in response to the publicity of a few horrifying cases of child sexual abuse occurring in the Chicago community.  The concerns I had with the concept were:

1. Creating a beis din to handle abuse cases perpetuates the habit of not reporting such occurrences to the police.

2. The beis din is the body that determines whether or not authorities need to become involved.  While the rabbis do have professional social workers and therapists advising them on a case by case basis, the ultimate decision is still in the hands of non-mental health professionals who might not understand the extreme rate of recidivism among pedophiles.

3. The beis din not only has the ability to prevent authorities from being aware of potentially dangerous individuals, it also prevents the community from being made aware of them.

4. The beis din attempts to protect the identity of the accused individual (thereby also protecting the privacy of the victim) by managing them on their own.  For example, if someone’s level of threat is not determined to be severe enough to contact police, but enough to put controls into place, they will set forth rules which stipulate that the person cannot go places where they will encounter children (e.g. mikvahs, schools, shuls, playgrounds).  Apparently certain community members (shul rabbis, school principals, etc.) could be informed about the alleged perpetrator.  However, these rules, for the most part, are to be self-enforced by the accused individual.   There was no mention of a shomer being assigned to suspected abusers.

The issue of whether or not pedophiles or other abusers can be managed within the frum community is a perplexing one.  On the one hand, it is not unheard of for false allegations to be made toward innocent individuals.  Day care sex abuse hysteria is a phenomenon that first came to light in the 1980s and early 1990s, where convictions for mass abuse in homes, day cares, and babysitting facilities were eventually overturned when victims admitted to lying or being coerced into pressing charges.  Of course none of the lives of those falsely accused will ever be the same again.

The other side of the coin is that if someone really is guilty but not brought to the police, they are roaming the community free to perpetrate another crime.  Recently, another report of an alleged orthodox abuser came to light in the Chicago Tribune.  Many people in the Chicago community are angry to find out that the alleged incident happened six years ago, and was apparently brought to the attention of the special beis din.  The family decided not to press charges, and the man has been living freely in the West Rogers Park community.  Now that the victim is old enough to press charges on his own, he is doing so.

The general public in our community never knew that this man posed a potential threat.  One has to wonder how many other folks are walking freely through our streets, having gotten a pass from the beis din.  As parents, do we have the right to information that could protect the well being of our children?  In the secular world, those charged and convicted of sex crimes are required to report their whereabouts to authorities, not live within a certain distance of schools, parks, or other areas heavily populated with children, and be registered in a publicly accessible nationwide database.

It’s interesting to note that in the revelation of abuse cases within the community, there are always people who are “in the know” through the community grapevine.  When stories come out, there will be people who nonchalantly say something like, “Oh, yes! We’ve known about him for ages.  We always tell our kids to stay away from his house.”  Obviously, the grapevine is a very inefficient way to garner useful information.  If you ask those people why they didn’t say anything, they will usually respond that it was just “generally known,” and since they didn’t have any first hand evidence, it would be loshon horah.  Being weird isn’t a crime, is it?

Living in the United States, everyone is innocent until proven guilty.  I understand the horrible ramifications of accusing an innocent person of child abuse.  However, if it is determined that the person in question is guilty, even if the family does not want to press charges, there has to be a better way to protect the community from further crimes this person may commit.  Apparently, under Illinois state law, rabbis are mandated reporters.  That means that they have a legal obligation to report a crime that a congregant confesses.  Social workers, psychologists, and physicians are mandated reporters.  Presumably, the mental health care professionals that provide guidance to the special beis din would also be required to report all cases to the authorities.

The issue of mandated reporting of abuse and adherence to halachah differs among the groups represented within the special beis din.  The RCA, which Rabbi Schwartz heads, says that Jewish mandated reporters need to comply with the law and report known cases directly to the police and Child Protective Services.  The Adudath Israel position, of which Rabbi Fuerst represents, says that even Jewish mandated reporters must first consult with a rabbi before reporting a fellow Jew.

I know that the issues involved are incredibly complex and potentially life threatening to all parties in many ways.  However, as a mother, I don’t feel like the community has a grip on the behavior and whereabouts of the child abusers in our midst.  I can understand the parents of victims who don’t want to put their children through the pain and exposure of a lengthy trial.  Unfortunately, many times there isn’t enough concrete evidence to result in a conviction (I learned this years ago from a friend who worked with the sex abuse prevention group, Project Shield).

Even if families victimized by sex offenders choose to walk away from the situation and move on without seeking retribution, they are still leaving other children open to becoming the next victims.  For that reason alone, even if the chance of conviction is minimal, it’s worth the time and tears to report the crime to police and prevent another child from being hurt.  To me, preventing child abuse is a case of pikuach nefesh, and what other halacha could be more important than saving a life?

When Herschel Met Sari……

Many people have seen the 1989 movie, When Harry Met Sally. One of the main conversations that takes place in the movie is the subject of whether or not men and women can be friends. See this pivotal conversation below –

The basic premise is that Harry doesn’t believe that men and women can just be friends, because men always have an ulterior motive, while Sally believes this is ridiculous and platonic friendship is certainly possible between the two sexes.

Two young independent film makers seemed to prove Harry’s theory in their Youtube film interview survey, which is entitled, “Why Men and Women Can’t be Friends.”

Basically, every girl who is asked if men and women can be friends answers, yes. Every guy sort of guffaws, and sputters, “No!” Interestingly, the women do admit they feel that their guy friends would be interested in dating them if they were willing.  It seems the conclusion is that women can be friends with men that they have no intention of dating, but the same doesn’t really hold true in the reverse.

In “When Harry Met Sally,”  Harry adds an addendum that if a man is already in a relationship, then he can be platonic friends with another woman.  In other words, if he is already taken and not out looking for a partner, he can have a friendship with no other expectations. However, he talks his way around this theory in the next breath, by saying how the man’s current partner will be jealous of the platonic friendship and accuse him of being attracted to the friend, which in the end, Harry admits, is probably true. Hence, men and women can never be friends.

Coming from a non-religious background, I went to co-ed schools throughout my elementary, high school, and college education. I did have many friends who were boys, and in all those years of schooling, I can only recall three times when a friend expressed interest in dating me. For myself, the guys I was platonic friends with were firmly in the “friend zone.” I have no idea if any of my other guy friends secretly harbored feelings beyond friendship, but they didn’t seem to.

In the years since becoming religious and getting married, many of my old friendships, both with men and women, have fallen by the wayside. This is due to a variety of factors, but mainly just life – kids, busy schedules, location, etc. The male friends I have now are always also connected to my husband in some way – either relatives or “couples friends.” I have no idea if secular married couples continue to have individual friendships with members of the opposite sex – as in going for coffee, talking on the phone, that sort of thing – but in the frum world, this isn’t done. In fact, some segments of frum society even frown on couples hanging out with other couples.

I do miss the easy going interaction I used to have with guy friends when I was younger. In the frum community, everything is so sexualized, that any interaction between boys and girls is suspected to have an ulterior motive. In many ways, I’m glad that I grew up being able to see members of the opposite sex as people and not potential sex partners. That really isn’t the message my kids get from their teachers or rabbis.

In my opinion, the result of keeping kids segregated from the opposite sex during their formative years is that every peer interaction is about mating or finding a potential mate. Men and women view each other only in the context of familial relationships or marriage partners. Friendship doesn’t play a role. Men and women aren’t taught to carry on conversations with each other as people. Each side is taught stereotypes about the other, and then are expected to relate and fumble for things to say on dates based on those limited stereotypes. There can also be misreadings of social cues or body language. A smile can mean an invitation for something more to a man who isn’t used to being around women.

It seems that if men and women learned to communicate with each other in a safe neutral friend zone before marriage, perhaps communication after marriage would be better. Then again, there is no hard proof of this theory, the same way there is no proof that couples who live together before marriage have a lower rate of divorce.

Although I think that platonic friendships can be a great thing, I wound up marrying the last platonic friend who admitted to having a crush on me.  I felt that there could be worse foundations to start a marriage on than friendship.  So in the end, my experience has proved Harry’s theory that men and women can never just be friends – there is always the potential for something more beneath the surface.

I conducted a totally unscientific and informal survey at the main online hotspot to find frum men from all different walks of orthodox life – Craigslist! The problem is that I didn’t get any responses from women, so the survey didn’t reflect a complete picture.  To help balance the scales, I posted the same questions on a site for orthodox women. The women had a lot to say on the subject! Their answers follow the men’s responses.

Men’s Responses:

Do you think orthodox men and women can be friends?
No

Possibly

Why not? sure! but frum orthodox wont speak to women just to be friends, since it can bring to unholy thoughts

I do think men and woman can be friends but I believe much of the time and I’m not talking 51% there is an underlying unsaid aspect that can easily compromise what had started off as a strictly platonic friendship. And compromising is the better scenario.

Men and woman can be friends.

Yes

Yes

Yes

i “personally” think so. not the rabbeim in the community

Yes, it’s possible. It’s harder than for non-frum people because judaism sexualizes all male-female encounters.

I think platonic relationships are definitely possible. It’s for sure harder for a frum person who has almost no contact with the opposite gender because even the slightest flirtation will get a reaction. Our excitement is very much bound to levels of exposure. In a nudist colony people don’t get excited seeing a naked woman.

Do you think men and women have different opinions on this subject?
Don’t know! ask the women and compare the answers

No

Depends on the person

I do not think men and women have dif opinions on the matter I think where you come from and what experiences you have had will define how you feel on the subject.

Men and woman have different opinions on this? Depending where they are from, grow up but no men woman should not have different opinions if they both come from and grew up the same place.

You’re kidding, right?

No it all depends how frum you are

What subject Platonic? Yes

Yes

Do you think those raised in a segregated society would have a harder being platonic friends?
ABSOLUTELY !

Yes – because those in segregated society would misread signals.

Yes

I do believe that men and women raised in a segregated society have a harder time just being friends

Those coming from a segregated society definitely have a harder time being platonic friends.

No

No

Yes

No. they may be a bit more shy

Would someone who grew up in a co-ed environment have an easier time being platonic friends?
PROBABLY

Maybe

Yes

someone who was raised coed will prob have an easier time.

yes someone growing up in a co-ed environment will have an easier time being platonic friends.

No

No

Yes

im not sure

Can men and women have platonic friendships in the workplace, school, or professional settings?
You mean work relationship , yes

Yes

Yes

I don’t really call workplace school professional relationships friendships. They’re basic makeup is different.

Men woman may have co-workers and be friends with them from school work or professional setting because its a work type of friendship not plantonic friendship.

Yes

Depends how personal the friendship gets I have work friends

Yes I work chasidic people and they are Platonic friends but they won’t compliment or say something nice. If I compliment her guys tell me that I’m crazy but they like it and tell me thanks.

Yes

Can men and women be platonic friends as two couples?
It is so by some even frum once the guys are close the women get to know each other and so the couples for a friendship

Yes

Yes

Married people will have an easier time being just friends but then again the stakes are much higher and compromising that situation is that much worse so once agains you have pros and cons.

Being platonic friends as couples? Not sure what that means.

There will always be an underlying sexual tension. I agree it is the most common (and the safest), but it is not completely foolproof.

Depends

Yes but depends whom. From Williamsburg I would say 90% not

Yes

Would a married person have an easier time being platonic friends?
In a way

No

Not necessarily

Yes …but jealousy from spouses and rumors would probably prevent the friendship.

Married men may have plantonic friends easier if their wives are friends as well. Meaning a married man can make a platonic friendship easier and his wife will be a part of the friendship.

No

No

Definitely yes

Yes

Would people pick better marriage partners if they knew how to be friends beforehand?
I dont know, but hassidic frum marriages hold longer and stronger then the secular type i think

No I do not believe they would pick a better partner.

If men and woman know and spend time together before so they can learn of they are the right partner. That is a though question. Personally I don’t think so because unless you live with your partner together you won’t see their bad side so to speak.

Yes, but that has nothing to do with being platonic

No

Not necessary because their parents investigate alot before they even meet

No

What orthodox group do you identify with?
I wont tell you that yet!

I am jewish orthodox.

Where I fall into? I grew up chassidish and now live in a modern orthodox community. So yes I see it both ways.

Modern orthodox

Chassidish

Orthodox

Satmer

Open minded frum jew

Hasidim

Women’s Responses:

Can Orthodox Men and Women Be Just Friends?

Yes 18% [ 35 ]
No 50% [ 94 ]
Maybe-depends on the situation and people 30% [ 56 ]
Total Votes : 185

Responses to the individual questions –

Do you think orthodox men and women can be friends?

I believe that opposite genders can be friends, but should refrain from close (even 100%) platonic friendships, because that can affect a marriage.

Some women and some men can be friends. Some people, for whatever reason cannot manage a platonic friendship with the opposite gender.

I grew up in a mixed environment. I am FFB (frum from birth). I think a lot of this is determined by how attractive the people involved are. I can make friends with even chassidush men although there is always the underlying sexuality.

Absolutely not. Whenever I had a friendship with a co-worker or otherwise, it always turned out that the guys privately had feelings for me. I was just their friend but that is not how they saw it. Even the married men who spend a bit too much time talking to you, it’s because at some level there’s an attraction, it’s not just because you both like exchanging recipes.

I grew up just JPF (just plain frum) and I always believed in platonic relationships. I think I was naive though. My one, favorite platonic relationship was with a guy I went to college with. Inevitably (as in many cases), one of us became more interested in the other and that became very painful. We only became real friends again after we were both married and even now, we don’t ever socialize without his wife present.

when I was in seminary (I’m ffb, right wing MO) the teachers were trying hard to convince us to give up our boyfriends and guy-friends, and the most effective tactic was to teach primary sources and more contemporary she’elot v’teshuvot etc on the topic. It seems pretty clear on the part of the Shulchan Aruch: me’od me’od hitrachek min ha’isha, and pirkei avot: al tarbeh sicha, etc. In earlier cultures, casual relationships bw opposite genders were not really done. I think the reason is b/c while it can work, more often it’s one sided. It’s almost impossible to ignore s/o’s gender when relating to them. (think: when harry met sally:) the best romance books and movies take a supposedly “platonic” rel, and have it end in love. In terms of how far ppl go to avoid these interactions and relationships- that varies by community and culture. I think there’s a spectrum, and ppl w integrity and maturity will feel their natural boundaries kick in when it becomes even subtly inappropriate. (Ppl w/o integrity will find a way around all the externally imposed gedarim anyway.) But I like the structure and sensitivities that help me avoid potentially uncomfortable situations. So I’m friendly towards my husband’s friends and friends’ husband, but not friends. Just my 2 cents- good luck w ur research:)

Some can but that doesn’t change the fact that they shouldn’t.

I’m imagining myself in a situation of having a friendship with a guy. Maybe this is me, but if I personally liked someone, and really liked the way he thought, that alone would be attractive enough to me to start finding him attractive. I don’t mean to say that I start to have crushes on any person I have to interact with, but I really wouldn’t do so on a social level.
Now as far as the reverse goes – do I think any guy would start to find me attractive under similar circumstances? People are wired differently. I won’t speak for men. But I will speak for me.

One of my oldest friends is a male. He’s the one who, when he met my DH when we were first dating (friend was single at the time) said, “This is the guy for you.” So I feel certain he doesn’t have any underlying feelings for me. I set him up on dates, talked to him after dates, and helped him design his wedding proposal to his wife. I feel certain I don’t have any non-friend feelings for him. We danced at each others’ weddings.

I am sure there are exceptions to the rule (such as one friend is gay/lesbian or perhaps people who grew up together from when they were young… etc) but as a general rule I think the answer is no. I don’t think men and women can have completely platonic friendships. It may seem platonic but there is always an undercurrent, however minor, but it is still there.

It didn’t work out for me. I was trying very hard to prove that men and women can have a platonic relationship. Still didn’t work. In my case, even though I was not attracted to this guy at all, I grew to love his personality, and consequently became attracted. We cut off right at the point before it got seriously physical.

I have always had male friends. My first best friend in the world was a boy, and all these years later, I still adore him, and there has never, ever been anything sexual about it. Even my teenage son is able to have platonic friendships with girls.
I’d just hate to write off half the world, who have interesting ideas and perspectives.

you don’t have to “write off” half the world. its not all or nothing. You can still discuss interesting ideas and perspectives but keep barriers in place to avoid the natural course of events- that most of the time non platonic feelings will develop by one or both parties involved.

ABSOLUTELY!!!! I’ve been friendly with a boy… well, now he’s a man of 50, since we were 16. I NEVER had anything but platonic feelings for him and still don’t. He had girlfriends come and go but we were just friends. He’s been married for 30 years, I’ve been married for almost that long… not an issue. At all. I mean, you can’t POSSIBLY be sexually attracted to every guy with equipment, can you?

In my vast life experience , I have to say that marital status and age is everything. If you are in high school or single in your 20s, IMVHO, don’t fool yourself . Yes, it’s possible if you set very strong barriers in place , but why . Life is hard enough as it is, without driving your hormones insane. If you are over 50 and happily married, almost 95% of the time it’s as easy as breathing if you were raised in s healthy co-Ed environment . If at that stage of life, you still can manage it, I truely feel bad that your school and upbringing gave you such neurotic and psychological issues.

depends on the situation

Sure they can be, if it’s considered normal a priori.

Well, with my “friend boy” I LOVED his thinking and his logic and his vast knowledge but his body repelled me. Then I met my DH (at about the same age BTW) and loved the whole package. Totally different feelings! Growing up in a Bnai Akiva environment in the 70s-early 80s, being together with the boys was totally natural and fun. We had our limits. In fact, I recently attended a reunion, the second in as many years. I wasn’t at the first one so can’t comment on how emotional it was for nearly 100 childhood FRIENDS to meet, some after ~30 years of more. But that second reunion… we had a Rabbi who is the head of a prominent religious school in Jlm, a CHAREIDI guy with 8 kids and 15 grandchildren (no one of us 50-51 year olds could beat that) who could not resist the charming memories and so on. It was ALL platonic besides, of course, for the two married couples from our group, each married for around 30 years now. I guess this is like describing earth life to Martians: you have to live it to know it!!!

my answer is yes ~ don’t know why people have become sexual objects … we are not animals

For me, it’s an absolutely silly question. I grew up secular, and all of my current friends grew up Orthodox, but none in a totally gender-segregating community. I have quite a few married and single Orthodox male friends. I hang out with them. Recently, I had one over in my apartment while my husband was out. Nothing remotely happened. It is laughable to think it even would! That said, I don’t think I’m really the demographic you are looking at for your “study”. I live in a mixed community where it’s very very common for men and women to be friends. I am sure that it is much harder for those who live in more segregated communities to have male friends — isn’t that the point of the community? I do not live in one of those types of communities, though, and have never felt weird about having male friends. I don’t think it conflicts with my religious values, either…

I also grew up totally co-ed except for high school, and I have a bunch of really close guy friends for ages and ages and ages. They are all secular because frum guys seem to have a bit of a problem with the concept here in EY if they are really frum and if they are not, well then, they aren’t “orthodox” even if they wear a kippa. So go define orthodox….. Did I ever have “feelings” for them? Not since getting married, that’s for sure. There is no man in this universe who tops my DH , no one more handsome, smarter, kinder etc. Why in the world should I take second rate while I have first rate at home? Did they ever have “feelings” for me? Sure they did but not the kind to jump into bed with me lol! Feelings that they adored and still adore me as a friend, for my brain, for my personality, for my kindness. They were there in the crises in my life and I was there in their crises. With only one did we become friends as a couple but that is because this was the only guy, and he is 70 today, whose wife never feared their relationship with me. She is really straight and yekke and could never imagine that her husband would even for a moment stray, even in his mind (and he doesn’t, he’s definitely a father figure for me in a sense). Took a very very very long time until the other wives (they were all married when we met and much older than me, I was still single) got the picture and stopped being scared. They didn’t realize that FRUM meant that it was not an option for me to even think in that direction. Only when one of my friends had a life threatening medical crisis and I used my powers to intervene and get help fast, did she realize that I was on “their side” and not just “his side” and when three years later there was a problem and she was abroad, she called me to drive to their house and force her husband into the hospital and I stayed there with him for 24 hours so he wouldn’t be alone until her plane landed. That iced the cake and since then we are all buddies.

So I think the problem could more be the wives of these guys who might get scared rather than the guys and you…at least that was my experience.

If neither is attracted -and it’s not like everyone is attracted to everyone- why not? Extreme example: if you befriend an old person at the retirement house.

There is always an underlying attraction, or the thought of there being one. The mature and important thing to do is to be aware of this constantly. That way you can set and maintain boundaries (spoken or unspoken). I’m not suggesting getting into this situation, but sometimes life creates situations for us.

Yes

it really all depends on what you believe. if you believe you cannot be platonic friends with a guy, then you can’t. if you believe men and women CAN be platonic friends, then you can. if you start out believing you can, but then change your mind in a specific situation or with a specific friend, then you can’t be platonic friends with that particular person. I personally believe that men and women can be friends without feeling the need to become romantic or otherwise involved. however, sometimes feelings develop beyond our control, and I still believe that us humans have the ability to control our actions, words, and even thoughts. so when you are in a platonic friendship with a guy, and you start noticing that you are both feeling all warm and fuzzy towards each other, I believe you still have the ability to not do anything inappropriate. this might mean spending less time together, or taking a break from each other, whatever. nothing even needs to be said. but the point is, you CAN be platonic friends, until you aren’t anymore, and then you can use the superpower called Self Control to remain a moral human being even while you socialize with the opposite gender. On the flip side of that, I think teaching men and women that we cannot be platonic friends is giving the message that we have no self control, that we automatically want to sleep with anyone we find remotely attractive, and that we act on every base desire that pops into our animalistic heads. sorry, but I think a bit too highly of myself to accept that.

some people can, some people can’t. growing up, most of my friends were guys. (the nerdy math guys.) one by one, after college, each met the woman they’d marry and each began to exclude me. once, I wasn’t invited to a dinner party because “there weren’t enough chairs.” likely, all of this, because I was not attached at the time. as an adult, when I was still single, the only male friends I’ve had were gay. the ones with wives made sure I was exceptionally unwelcome. it’s a little better now that I’m with DH, who is very cool with my having male friends. but, honestly, I just stopped trying after one too brunch invites got turned down. it hurts. it’s been clear to me that the wives are jealous. that’s obvious. I’m pretty/thin/wry/smart, but I’ve never received throngs of attention from men–it’s not as though I look like angelina jolie. a group of us from HS are friendly on FB, and one of the guys works near where we live. we keep making coffee dates, they never happen. his wife’s fault. now, I need to be frank about this: this guy was SO cute when we were kids, and we were in the temple youth group together (conservative, obv). if I’d wanted him, I’d have had plenty of chances. now? middle aged and 50 pounds overweight? she can have him. I just wanted to have coffee with an old friend. I don’t know why I’m so threatening.

I voted yes but it really depends. I wouldn’t call myself friends with any men really but when I see or speak to certain men we do have a nice conversation. Be it family members, in laws etc. I think you have to know your limit and their limit. Like there are certain things I would say to my brother in law and that is fine but if I would say it to my husbands brother he would dis-own me, if you could use that term. I am a very chatty, friendly person by nature so I am sure that does have a weight to my side on this. Sometimes I see myself chatty to a point it is almost flirty or the other side could take it as such and I back off. It’s about using control. There are certain men from my childhood who I would hug if I met again but totally not be interested in them in any s-xual sense at all! All people can be friends…although funnily enough whenever I see a group of girls with some guys on the subway or bus etc, the guys are always gay! 😉

I grew up in Yeshivish out of town home. as a kid I would have told you its impossible. I still remember when I was in 6th or 7th grade and my older brothers friend came over to play some game and we all were playing then my bro had to leave so I was finishing the game. Then some friends came to visit me and so I ended the game to go to my friends and my bro’s friend left my house angry at me cuz he waited all week to see me….! That was my first bang into reality. But as an older teen I had to get involved in situations where I needed to deal with men at times and was able to see that it can be possible. Even on a closer relationship (not inappropriate but ery involved in dealing with things together) As a young single I had some shocks – like one man I worked with on a day to day basis for a month or so had seemed so “work minded” and our relationship was always accomplishing the set tasks. One day when nobody was around he told me I have beautiful eyes. I stood shocked and then just walked out of the room and told my boss I will not come back and work if that guy is anywhere around cuz I was scared stiff.
As a bit of an older single I had to deal with many men of different ages and really almost had a “friendship” with some of them as we shared common situations and had to touch base often. I rarely had any situation where I was aware at least of any underlying thoughts going on. I often was even involved with setting some of these guys up on dates and I spoke to them quite a few times regarding their dating parsha. Never did they get inappropriate. I had some guys that I knew from before they were married that were involved and setting me up on dates (the real yeshivish ones had their wivees talk to me as a via point of communication but many spoke straight to me. Actually my shidduch happened via a friends husband that I used to hang out with both of them and he got to know me. I don think he had any underlying thoughts but you never know.) And then when I got married – I work mainly with men and my dh laughs abt that I have lots of guyfriends but he is ok with the situation and knows that if I feel anything inappropriate going on I tell him right away and ask him for advice. Like the other day I was assigned a new guy to work with that was so overly friendly and I just couldnt take it cuz he talked to me like I was his best friend or wife and I finally told the guy straight that I feel he is being inappropriate and I cant work with him unless he changes the way he talks to me from then on. And he did. In my work situation – I am very involved with the ppl I work with and some of them really are like friends. They all tell me I need to be at their fam simchas (which can get awkward cuz Im there for the man and barely know the women in the fam if even!) I often tell them I want to meet their wives so that their wives can be comfortable with the situation. But the truth is – some of them really are friends and really help me out when I need and when I need to take care of things they are there to help. Many of them are older than me by much and many are in the same age range but its kind of weird because I feel like in most cases it could be a bad situation but it just isnt. Then again – they dont tell me if it is…. so I cant tell you what they really think. I wouldnt be surprised if one or two of them are silently attracted but I really try hard not to be too close to anyone that I feel may be a problem. I’ve seen very often though – the platonic relationship thing not being platonic and can get messy too. My advice – dont make friends with guys if you dont have too. If you have too – then dont do things that will attaract the maleness in them (I.e. flicking hair, body language etc) And be ready to pick up on anything that may be a sign of attractiveness and then be smart about. Many marriages are ruined from carelessness… gotta be careful cuz a guy is a guy. Not an animal but a guy with the physical natural attractedness to a woman in general.

yes in theory. in practise not so easy. I have a friend who I’ve known forever and a day and we are still friends.
was it always platonic ? No. But the not-platonic part was a short aberration in a lifetime of friendship. he is like the brother I never had but with incestuous over/undertones. as we now live in different countries we just skype from time to time. as we know each other so well we can use each other as a sounding board. I’ve always had male friends, but you have to be careful with your boundaries and set them really well or one or other of you can step over the line. I think it’s easier to be platonic friends in the workplace as most companies have very strict guidelines for this as they don’t want to get slammed with sexual harassment suites.

I grew up yeshivish and still consider myself that way. Even though I went to Bais Yaakov, I unfortunately was not such a good girl and did stuff with guys. I will say that as a TEEN, it is hard to have a platonic relationship due to hormones, lack of seeing consequences, the need for freedom and fun, and many other things. many of my friends that started out just “talking” to guys went further without ever wanting to. they just got too close and deep down I think kind of did want it – these were girls who knew their limits, very frum families, etc. Now I am married to a BT. He does not think men and women should have any contact. He was in public school and always co-ed. He said guys were always talking about and thinking about other girls. Maybe they wouldn’t do anything but they sure were thinking it. He felt all the underlying attraction in normal conversations and saw that many guys were very into girls. Even after he wasn’t a teen, as a married man he said that men still check out and talk about women. They all notice that X’s wife is so hot, etc. I know for myself that as a married woman, I am extremely unlikely to get into any physical relationship with another man because I love my husband and feel obligated to him. As a single girl, there was nothing holding me back or tying me down. I would never, ever want to hurt my husband. Even if I ch”v did not love my husband, I believe that I wouldn’t get physical out of fear of being discovered. The embarrassment of an affair where everyone at work knows, your kids know, your family and friends are all talking about you is much worse than a teenager who will eventually straighten out and people look the other way.
My husband is very particular about this area. I dress very, very tzniusly and am extremely separated from men. I work in a girl’s school so only women – no men. He does not want me to ever work in an office with men or a boy’s school with rabbanim. Everything we do is separate – we never have couple over, no socializing parties or anything. It gets lonely since we don’t take part in these things but that is how we do it.

I think it depends how you define “friends.” Casual friends, where you talk about how work is going and how studies are going and how the kids are doing and the books you’ve read recently, etc – sure. Even that much could be an issue if either of you finds the other wildly attractive, or if either of you is from a society where that kind of interaction isn’t the norm. But in general it works out OK, IMHO. Friends-friends, where you talk about the above but also about emotional stuff, eg. how you feel about a sibling’s divorce, or a parent’s death, or anything related to marriage, or where you regularly spend one-on-one time together – not so much. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. I’m sure there are straight men and women out there who’ve had long-term friendships where they discussed the deepest emotional issues and neither was ever attracted to the other or overly invested in the relationship to the point where it interfered with their marriage. There are also people who’ve driven drunk regularly for the past 20 years and haven’t crashed their car yet. It’s possible. I just don’t think it’s advisable. Some people are able to make it work – but you have no way of knowing ahead of time if you’ll be one of that group, or in the I-can’t-stop-thinking-about-my-friend (/”I didn’t mean to have an affair, it just kind of happened”) group. Whereas if you draw lines, you can be more sure. It’s hard to fall in love with someone without deep conversations or one-on-one time. (Which brings up another question – does “platonic” mean “never had any kind of romantic/sexual contact,” or “neither has romantic feelings for the other”?) Regarding singles – I think male-female friendships between singles are more likely to lead to one person or both wanting more than are friendships between married people. But since they’re single, that’s often not a bad thing.

One of my best friends in the world is a guy. I would say he knows everything about me and I probably know everything about him. I do not discuss my husband with him because they are friends too and I would not embarrass my DH by discussing him with a friend of his. I have know him since I was 15 and we have been through it all together- IF on both sides, marriage, (now he is getting divorced), sibling issues, grandparents deaths, business partnerships, we daven for each other.. EVERYTHING. Never remote attraction on either side, just really enjoy each others company, thoughts and debates on things. I consider him as my brother and he thinks of me as his little sister.

The question shouldn’t be whether men and women CAN be friends, only whether they SHOULD! People CAN do whatever they want; it doesn’t mean that it’s right. It is against Halacha to be friendly to a man. I understand that it can be hard to ignore friendly overtures from a man especially when you are involved in his life one way or another, such as family friends or Shabbos guests. But keep in mind that in the long run it is worth the s’char for being careful.

This is a very interesting discussion. I have changed my mind about this topic quite a few times over the last 15 years. I used to think that there was such a thing as platonic relationships until I received a very blunt explanation from a guy about how guys think. I felt so disgusted by what I heard. I was so upset. I strongly felt (and still feel) that girls are not educated enough (or at all) about the opposite $ex. We were just TOLD that we were not allowed to talk to boys. Some listened, most did not. And a lot of us suffered the consequences. My friends and I all married high school boyfriends. All the couples got together every Shabbos (for meals), sundays, etc…. We knew everything about each other’s personal and private lives. To the extent that we went to the mikva together on occasion. I know this is digressing off the main question, but what I am trying to prove is that inter-mingeling (is that a word?) and being super comfortable with other couples and members of the other $ex is not good. Things can and do get inappropriate. Once I was divorced (or actually separated) a lot of the husbands became much friendlier. They started sharing things with me that they didn’t want their wives to know. I continuously told them that I was friends with their wives first. Fast Forward a few years and there I was “friends” with guyz again. I was no longer in a structured married life or “frum” community. I found even the gay guys I met to push the boundaries and most men I met behaved inappropriately. I will admit that I behaved in a poor manner as well (alcohol was a main contributor.) I became “friends” with a married man. We had a very strong emotional realtionship, which I recently ended because I realized how harmful it was to his marriage and how even more harmful it was to myself. I am not proud of what I have done but I choose to look forward. You may say that I am a more $exual person or that my specific circumstances caused me to behave in terrible ways with “friends” or any guy I met. And I would probably agree with you. But I would caution any young impressionable girl to keep her distance from casual friendships. They are dangerous.

I will say this much I was a very attractive teenager and I never had a platonic friendship, all guys I was friends with would end up asking me out or making a ‘move’ and I did actually have a guy best friend for many years whom I felt I had a platonic friendship with, however in the end I developed feeling for him and discovered he became my friend initially in the hopes of something happening between us, in case you are wondering no it did not work out between us.

I’m BT and every boyfriend I had started out as a good friend. So NOPE I don’t think men and women should be friends, I think it’s pretty naive! Sure be pleasant and friendly, but don’t overstep those boundaries. You never know who’s feeling lonely in their marriage.

I think men and women can be platonic friends–but it’s much harder if you’re single. When I was single, every time I was friendly with a guy I was evaluating them as relationship/marriage material, and I know for a fact that at least some of them were thinking the same about me. That elevates every conversation into potential flirting, and makes the friendship fraught with s-xual tension whether you intend it or not.

Do you think men and women have different opinions on this subject?

I think that gender doesn’t determine opinion.

I think different opinions on this subject are based on individuals, not by gender.

I think men are more willing to admit this fact (that there is always an undercurrent for something more).

of course!

It depends on how they grew up and/or their individual personalities. There are men of all different backgrounds who will eye every woman they see, and there are men who will respect women and see them as people–not just mating material, no matter what their religiosity level is.

We are women, so we’d like to think the answer is yes. Talk to the men about their feelings. They can have self-control, they could block out those feelings, but bottom line: It’s something they really can’t help feeling. Emotions aren’t ruled by logic. We can choose not to act upon those emotions, but I believe, and this clip shows, that the emotions are always there.

Only men who have not been brought up around women and can see women as friends and not just members of the opposite sex.

Do you think those raised in a segregated society would have a harder being platonic friends?

Yes, even though they may have experienced strong sibling relationships with the opposite gender.

I think people raised in segregated societies would have more difficulties, but I don’t have that personal experience.

I don’t think growing up more segregated makes a substantial difference.

yes because people in a segregated society ONLY associate male/female interactions as being for marriage.

In general, yes, but personality also comes into play.

Yes

Would someone who grew up in a co-ed environment have an easier time being platonic friends?

Yes, of course, our sense of what is possible is often shaped by our experience.

Yes, that is my experience, raised in a co-ed society.

I think it’s probably easier for females who grew up around males. Who learned the boundaries early on. Not every boy wants to **** you and you don’t want to **** every boy you meet. Particularly if you are religious and not into touching boys anyway. Maybe that’s a plus: the negia thing. Keeps inyanim in perspective.

yes! I definitely do. Im a BT , and I had male friends growing up and in college, and there wasn’t anything wrong with it. of course now being frum and married I have way less male friends, but im not socially awkward around males as are some FFB women I know.

Most likely yes, but, then again, there is always that pig in every group who look at all women as potential sleeping partners.

Most definitely.

Can men and women have platonic friendships in the workplace, school, or professional settings?

The term “platonic friendship” can have a wide variety of meanings. I believe that many people have positive feelings about a colleague, mentor, protege, teacher, or student. But when those positive feelings lead to an interest in confiding personal lives or spending too much time together, there is a risk to anyone, Jew or non Jew, male or female, sheltered or not, of developing an “emotional affair”, where more attention can be paid to the friend than to the spouse.

Yes, men and women (some) can have platonic relationships in school, work. professional settings. Actually, especially in work situations where time together is limited by definition.

In a professional setting it may be a bit easier because its more formal and structured.

yes. its a matter of knowing boundaries. for example, a male friend I have at work. we really only socialize AT work, not outside of work, unless it is with other coworkers. there are no texts / emails etc.

Yes. Most professional environments demand that.

Yes. I would say I was friends with my boss who was a Rabbi for a professional youth organisation. We joked around, I was close friends with his wife and we were a team.

Can men and women be platonic friends as two couples?

Platonic friendships as couples can work nicely, but it is wisest to limit the more personal exchanges to spouse or same gender friend.

Couples where both men are friends and both women are friends are great – and hard to find. Couples where the wife is friends with the other DH and vice versa – probably wouldn’t work well.

I’m FFB and never had platonic guy friends, but I do have to say this:
My husband and I are part of a group of couples in which all of us women are very good friends and so are all the men. Most times when we all get together our conversations end up divided by gender, just based on the things we like to talk about Smile. Of course when we’re all sitting at the same table our conversations overlap sometimes, but I don’t think any of us have ever crossed inappropriate lines. If I saw one of their husbands we could have a friendly conversation, and vice versa with my husband and one of my friends, but I don’t think that affects our marriage. We LOVE that we can get together with a few other couples and both have a great time!

I used to socialize with a group of couples just like this, until my friend’s dh decided to have an affair with her best friend. I’m not against couples getting together for meals and such, but couples dating is disgusting un Jewish behavior in my opinion, and asking for trouble.

I have seen first-hand how couple’s dating turns into couples divorcing. So I answered maybe (men and women can be just friends).

In a couple setting it may also work easier because your spouse is there to limit the friendship

depends on the community, but for me, yes. most of my male friends at this point are my husbands friends, and im closer with their wives. we spend time together on shabbos etc

We generally get together for Shabbos meals or Chanukah parties etc. When our friends are in town, yes we will get together in a restaurant so that I can catch up with my friend and he can catch up with his. Generally when it’s just two couples we end up with two separate conversations.

Yes! This question makes it seem like humans are animals with uncontrollable sexual urges who will try to mate anything of the oppoiste gender!

Yes, of course. My DH loves my BFF and her DH and I love my BFF and her DH too!

Would a married person have an easier time being platonic friends?

Single or married can both be susceptible to crossing lines. The only Platonic friendship I feel truly safe about is one with an old childhood family friend who is gay, and even there, limits are wise.

I have an old platonic guy friend, since we are both married, I do make a point of always telling my husband when I speak to him or when we email, just updating DH about what is going on. And DH has become friends with my male friend and I have become friends with friend’s wife. I think that trust and respect is necessary. I would never have anything private with my friend that I didn’t tell my DH about.

yes. being committed to my spouse means that I wouldn’t really be alone with the male friend, it would more often than not be a couples gathering, which we are okay with

Not necessarily. A person in a good marriage would, though.

No, why would they?

Now that I’m happily married and have been for many years, I find it a lot easier to be friends with guys. I’m no longer evaluating them as potential life partners, so we can just be friends.

Would people pick better marriage partners if they knew how to be friends beforehand?

I have seen no evidence that having had cross gender friendships before marriage makes one a better marital partner. As mentioned above, those who grow up in more sheltered homes may have learned how to understand and relate to the opposite gender via siblings or cousins.

Don’t know if people would be better marriage partners if they knew how to be friends first.

I don’t think it helps you pick a better marriage partner if you are friends with men beforehand.

not necessarily

I don’t think one has anything to do with the other. There are happy marriages and problematic marriages in all circles.

Yes, I think so.

What orthodox group do you identify with?

I call myself Just Plain Frum (JPF). husband is modern orthodox, my kids tend yeshivish. All have influenced my thinking.

I’m an MO (modern orthodox) FFB (frum from birth)

modern yeshivish … BT (baal teshuva)

Sephardic

FFB LWMO (left wing modern orthodox)