Our question is about modesty of parents. How private should the affection be between parents? For instance, is it acceptable for a wife to greet her husband with a hug and a kiss on the cheek in front of their children when he returns home from work?
Renat & Vaida
Dear Renat and Vaida,
Our guess is that some readers are scratching their heads saying, “Why is this even a question?” We agree with you that the topic does deserve thought, but we’d like to start by explaining why we believe that to be so.
Through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom, the Bible emphasizes the difference between humans and all other creatures on the planet. The first two chapters of Genesis help to make this distinction clear. One difference is that animals operate on instinct; let’s call it their operating system. They are not making judgment calls with respect to the spiritual consequences of their action. For humans, even the fundamental act of eating carries with it moral consequences that resonate down through the ages.
We discover the Bible using modest and refined terms when it comes to all physical activities that we share with animals. Furthermore, it emphasizes how we distinguish ourselves from animals when we eat, excrete waste, and reproduce.
Above all, there is modesty involved. Even in today’s diminished culture the concept still exists, though it is usually called manners. We are taught to chew with our mouths closed in order to lessen our resemblance to animals. We are taught to relieve ourselves in private, unlike animals. Likewise, we are taught to be reticent about acts of intimacy.
We are, of course, each born into a certain time and place. When Prince William married, his wife Kate was widely admired for dressing in a classy and conservative style. Move Kate’s outfits to 16th century England, and she probably would have been arrested for indecent exposure. A woman’s exposed ankles do not cause men to blush today, but there was a time they did.
Similarly, today we are surrounded by public displays of affection. So common is this that it has its own readily understood acronym: PDA. Couples, some of whom only met a few minutes earlier, embrace in public in a way that would have not been viewed as appropriate for women sending their husbands off to battle a century ago.
Your question is whether something that is extremely common in the 21st century, shows of physical affection between spouses in front of their children, is a trend that should be encouraged or not. What timeless Biblical wisdom sheds light on this matter?
God created physical contact between a man and a woman as a powerful force. There is non-sexual contact between close family members (mother and son or father and daughter for example) However, there is also a strong sexual urge that powerfully strikes men and women in slightly different ways and at somewhat different ages. The unique relationship called marriage combines both non-sexual and sexual aspects. We should relate with physical desire to our spouse and we must also relate with respect and affection that is not dependent on sexuality.
The sexual relationship between parents is an intimate one that belongs to them. Many parents wisely keep their bedroom off-limits to the children. A few years ago we published a Thought Tools in which we confessed our discomfort when friends, eager to display their new home, proudly walked us through the entire house including the master bedroom. Battered as our children are with unhealthy relationship messages and with premature exposure to sexuality —even if it is not in the house but on a billboard or in a store—we prefer to let them see the sweetness of innocent affection between their moms and dads. Whether it is a welcome home kiss, holding hands while walking, or a tender brush of the cheek, in our day we think that it is important to be an advertisement for marriage in a way that wasn’t necessary a few decades ago. It’s been quite a few years since the Beatles song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” was flirtatious and, while holding fast to ideas of privacy and modesty, we do have to live in the world in which we find ourselves. There are so many harmful messages out there that modeling loving and innocent touch to our children becomes necessary.
Wishing you a loving marriage and wonderful children,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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