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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


 

In today's world, corporations spanning a variety of fields have placed a much greater emphasis on proper conduct in the workplace. One individual whose behavior has recently come into the spotlight (for good reason) is actor Keanu Reeves. The following article, written by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller, draws a parallel between Reeves' behavior and Jewish law, demonstrating how Judaism demands each of us to respect the opposite gender and avoid objectification. I invite you to read it and let me know what you think! 

Actor Keanu Reeves “ain’t taking no chances”. That’s the text of a Twitter post that’s gone viral, garnering hundreds of thousands of likes and comments within hours, as well as other posts that are taking social media by storm. The internet is suddenly agog by an unusual quirk in Reeve’s behavior: in photo after photo, the star poses with women – but never touches them.

One Facebook page shared several recent photos of Reeves with an array of women: in each picture, instead of placing his arm around a woman, he held his hand up instead, clearly standing near but not touching his companion. His hand can be seen dangling behind the women, instead of placed on their waists or shoulders.

Reeves hasn’t commented about the reason for his non-touching pose, but plenty of his fans have speculated that the 54-year-old actor doesn’t want to risk giving women unwanted attention or physical contact. A typical comment was “A true gentleman”, supposing that Reeves is deliberately not touching women in photos order to signal respect his female co-stars and fans.

The world has woken up to the seriousness of sexual harassment due to the “Me Too” movement. Reeve’s no-touching stance signals that maybe it’s time to re-think the way we expect men and women to behave in public.

This behavior has ancient precedents. Judaism has long recognized the power and problems that can come with physical contact – and has advocated Reeve’s type of behavior for thousands of years.

Many observant Jews live by a rule called “shomer negiah”, which means that men and women who are not married or closely related to each other don’t touch each other, at all. So when they pose in photos with members of the opposite sex, like Keanu Reeves they’ll refrain from draping an arm around each other or placing their hands on each other.

The ramifications go further than the occasional awkward photo. It limits many of the behaviors that have led to accusations of sexual impropriety in recent years. There’s no hugging or cheek kissing. No awkward embraces or pats. When men and women have one-on-one meetings, they make sure that they do so in a room where the door is open and their behavior can be easily observed. It’s a dignified way of relating to people that fosters an environment where people are focused on each other’s minds and words – not on each other’s bodies.

Based on the viral Twitter post, it seems that people admire Keanu Reeves’ decision to refrain from touching women. From a Jewish perspective, no matter what his reason is, such conduct is a sign of respect of the opposite sex. In a world rife with the objectification of women (and men) we can all learn from his example.