Another question for religious Jews . . .

I sat next to this fellow on the train this morning—I was in the aisle seat, he was in the window seat. I noticed he was reading a Hebrew text softly to himself, and occasionally kissing somthing he took out of his pocket.

I soon became immersed in my own Good Book (an excellent new biography of 19th-century burlesque star Lydia Thompson!). I eventually noticed my seatmate was standing up, gazing down at me expectantly. “Oh, I’m sorry, did you want to leave?” I asked. He nodded, and I stood up so he could go.

Now. Is there some religious reason why he couldn’t talk to me or tap me on the shoulder? Or was he just mute?

This is just a SWAG… he may have been observing some modesty rule of a strongly Orthodox branch. I’m sure Zev will be along soon with a better answer.

And what was he kissing? Most likely he was kissing the fringes of his Little Tallit (a garment having fringes on its four corners, worn under the shirt).

He was probably reading Psalms, or saying some other prayer. Or possibly, he may have been learning a Talmudical tract (usually such tracts are studied orally [as in, they aren’t read silently, as you would normally read a book]).

It is possible that he was kissing his tzitzis. The tzitzis are kissed during the recitation of the shema in the morning prayers. If he was reciting the shema, he may have been doing so.

Orthodox Jewish law forbids contact between men and women who are not married. As such, that is probably why he could not tap you on the shoulder. However, I don’t see too much of a reason why he couldn’t say “Excuse me, please.”

Zev Steinhardt

I agree…if he was occassionally kissing something from the general region of his pocket, it was probably his tzitzis, and he was probably doing so in the course of saying his morning prayers, which should not be verbally interrupted. I guess he woke up to late to go to a synagogue this morning.

Zev, I hope you won’t be offended if I giggle like a little schoolgirl at that . . .

Yeah, I thought he’d pulled something out of his pocket, but it may have been from under his shirt. I couldn’t tell what he was reading, as my Hebrew-reading days are, ummm, 32 years behind me. And I had heard the “can’t touch women” rule, but the “can’t talk to women” thing was a new one on me.

Maybe he just had laryngitis.

No, Chaim is correct. If he was saying the Shema he would not have been able to verbally interrupt his recitation. However, if he were simply studying or reciting Psalms, he would have been able to verbally ask you to move.

Zev Steinhardt