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Ask the rabbi Family and Society Negia

Shomer Negia Age

Rabbi David SperlingTishrei 26, 5780
At what age is a niece too old to touch? (not intimately) Are there sources that say 3 years old? Thank You
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The laws of “negi'ah”, or refraining from affectionate touching between the sexes, such as hugging and kissing (and including all signs of affection, including hand shaking according to many opinions), are an important part of the laws of general modesty. I assume your question relates to the widespread practice of young nieces giving their uncles an innocent kiss or hug as a sign of respect and friendship. There are sources that these laws apply to young girls from the age of three (and to boys from the age of nine) (See the Biur Halacha of the Mishna Brurah, 75, “tefach”, where he rules that from the age of three a female child's body needs to be covered according to the laws that apply to a mature woman. Based on this many rule that all the more so in relation to touch – see Hilchat Shlomo, Tefillah, chapter 20, 9, where Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach zt”l is quoted as saying there is no leniency from the age of three to kiss and hug a female child). However, the Chazon Ish, in relation to covering the body of a young child, argues with the Mishna Brurah (quoted above, who holds that the law applies from the age of three), and believes that the law applies from when the child begins to mature physically, and is not dependent on years (see Chazon Ish Orech Haim, 16, 8, “K'tav HaMishna Brurah”). Based on this some opinions want to be lenient in relation to giving a young girl (of say 6 or 7) a hug (see the hebrew Yeshiva site, the response by Rav S.Y. Wietzen). When it comes to a niece, there is an additional factor. The exact level of stringency with blood relations is a point of debate. Some hold that hugging a niece is not forbidden by the Torah, but rather Rabbinic (Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, Igrot Moshe, Y.D. 2). Others understand that it is even less than that – being the correct thing to refrain from, but not directly forbidden as such. Based on this some hold that one may hug a niece up to nine years of age (Rav Wietzen ibid). However, others hold that here too it is forbidden from the age of three (Rav Aurbach ibid). In short – while there are opinions that hold one should refrain from the age of three, those people who are more lenient and hug or kiss a young girl (- or a blood relative, or the more so), while they are still little (6-7 or perhaps even a bit older for a relative) have on who to rely. Of course, one should respect the parents wishes, as well as local practice. But, in places where a niece will give a kiss or a hug to her uncle, and making an issue out of it will cause strife – one can certainly continue their lenient practice. Blessings.
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