Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dating - On Ice!

We find ourselves in the midst of one of the coldest, snowiest, iciest, and (in my opinion) most unpleasant winters in recent memory.

One traditional winter dating activity has always been ice skating.

In many ways, ice skating is a paradigmatic winter dating activity, since it takes advantage of a winter-only event that induces companionship, can spur conversation about memories of winters past, provides some decent exercise, not to mention that it’s one of few dating ideas that make you go outside instead of staying cramped indoors (a few of these points are to the exclusion of year-round indoor ice skating rinks, but the rest of the post will, keep reading). In the New York area, many guys will take dates to Rockefeller Center to indulge in this sport. One of ASoG’s friends once went on an ice skating date that lasted for 7 hours and enjoyed the experience the entire time.

However, there remains one major problem with this particular dating activity: What do you do if your date falls?

Gentlemanly Behavior 101 dictates that the guy should offer his date a hand and help her to her feet. The issur of having physical contact known as shemiras negiah says otherwise. Is this enough of a “dangerous” situation or one that lacks chiba (emotional closeness) that would give reason to permit such assistance? Or is the inconvenience of asking the nearest female skater a mandated course of action – wherein the girl (assuming she’s properly mitzvah-observant) would understand the need to forgo acting in as a gentleman in according to halachic standards?

One friend, while recently planning an ice skating date asked Rav Simon here at YU, citing the teshuva from Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD 2:14, for those who want to check it out) about riding on subways despite the almost unavoidable contact physical with women as a possible source to be lenient. Rav Simon suggested it was probably better to avoid ice skating for this reason. The friend replied, “Well, what else can you do on a date in the winter?” Which drew a smile from Rav Simon.

As much as this is usually posed as a guy standing/girl fallen scenario, I’m sure the reverse could easily happen if the girl is the more experienced skater and the guy is a newbie, perhaps combined with some clumsiness thrown in for good measure. The only question that would make a real difference is if she were substantially shorter/smaller or weaker than the guy, thus preventing her from attempting to help him up unless she too wanted to join him sprawled out on the ice.

After discussing this with my friend, I remembered something I had learned in Rav Simon’s hilchos niddah shiur regarding harchakos. Among the rabbinically problematic activities for the husband and wife while she is a niddah, such as passing and throwing things (the latter for Ashkenazim only), is holding an object together. However, none of this applies to a man and woman who aren’t married.

Parenthetically, I remember first learning the details of these harchakos with Rav Simon during our one-on-one chosson classes. Afterward, I thought about what I had learned and came to a startling dilemma, wondering if I should have been observing these sorts of distancing behaviors to prevent further emotional closeness while engaged. I frantically asked Rav Simon the next time I saw him, and he replied that the harchakos apply only to a married couple, thankfully.

So, the good news is that I think I’ve figured out a solution to the falling-while-ice-skating conundrum. Namely, the guy should carry some sort of rod or grabber that would allow him to reach out and offer a means of support for the girl to get up. This indirect manner of contact would be totally permissible for a dating couple.

Then I recalled that there is already a jokey video about a fictional product called the Shomer Negiah Stick:

While the intentions of such a product are focused on finding a loophole to conduct some rather hashkafically (though not exactly) anti-halachic behavior, my idea would have a far more noble purpose and fulfill a practical need. The actual device would have to be modified a bit from the standard “grabber,” with reinforced construction that could support a person’s weight without bending or breaking – I know I went through a few of them in my younger years, presuming that they were stronger than they actually were.

Perhaps the device would come with a hand-like attachment and look similar to this:
Or better, it could be a wearable hand/arm extension akin to this:

I used to have one of these - they are SO much cooler than the pole-type grabber.

Anyway, back to reality for a moment. Has anyone gone on ice skating dates before, and if so, what did you do? I’d love to hear from both guys and girls on the subject. My aforementioned friend told me one practical solution, he inquired about his date’s skating abilities/experience before agreeing to go on the date. Turns out she is a veteran and has very little issues with falling or getting up on her own. I’m sure that not everyone lucks out like that.

Please tell me your stories in the comments!

Note: While this post is ostensibly practical , it was written from a theoretical perspective since I’ve never gone ice skating on a date before or since I got married - yes, married folks go out on dates, too, just with their spouses ;-) Aside from that, I'm quite bad at it, which probably explains why I never tried an ice skating date in the first place.


  1. Or, the upright person could extend their scarf for the fallen person to haul themselves up.

  2. But is the scarf structurally strong enough not to rip?

  3. I'm sorry I don't have a source to site so I'll just have to go with my experience- which is what I mostly use for these blog comments.

    It is my experience that girls are uncomfortable to go ice skating on a date for this particular issue. It's funny, because the "ice skating" date means, among the girls I date, that you are close to getting engaged.

    I think that, while this may be true in reality, theoretically, this is absurd and should not be. You know what ice-skating means, all you girl who are reading this? It means...ICE SKATING! That's it. It doesn't mean I love you. sheesh.

    If only there were more girls who didn't shrivel up in the cold like the wicked witch did when wet.

    There's no reason why winter dates should all be indoors. If you need a good down parka, I can recommend a good one.

  4. See SternGrad's related post here:

    The Debrecener has a famous responsum about these sorts of situations:

  5. I love ice skating. I've never been on ice skating on a date, but I have skated with friends before -- and if I recall correctly, I didn't need their help to get up. However, I do remember my friend falling and a gorgeous guy stopping and asking her if she needs help to get up.

    Hypothetically, If I would go on a date with a guy I'm not married to yet, then I wouldn't be upset at all that he can't help me up.
    Simply put: keeping halacha is attractive. Breaking halacha is unattractive. :D

  6. lawschooldrunk - the 7-hour date I mentioned was date 2 or 3.

    Yitzchak - thank you for showing me the Debrecender. We saw in Rav Simon's shiur a few soures that discuss similar issues with helping a spouse while the wife is a niddah and one of them is physically disabled.

    I don't have the exact citations on me right now, but the SHUT Pri HaSadeh quotes a Yerushalmi in Sotah in the context of answerinng a question regarding a woman helping her blind husband walk around for reasons of parnassa and other necessary things. The Yerushalmi has a mishna that mentions the Kohen helping the woman do the waving which he would have to support her hands. The Gemara says this in inappropriate because of the contact and starts off by suggesting using a piece of cloth in between as a barrier, but that gets rejected because of chatzitza, then it suggests getting an old kohen who won't have taivas, or even a younger kohen since the touching is only momentary and the yetzer hara won't get him.

    The Pri HaSadeh elaborates from there that touching directly would be a problem, and even touching through clothing is a problem since the wife will be helping her husband get around town and that requires extended, not momentary touching - and we're more machmir for a wife who's a niddah anyway. In the end, he suggests using a stick or something (which inspired my idea in the post), which is normally not good for a wife who's a niddah since that is a form of hoshata (passing) but it's okay here.

    The SHUT Minchas Yitzchak talks the case of a husband and wife who are ba’alei chessed and are going to help a paralyzed person walk, with her on the right, him on the left. The Ma’adanei Asher says that the Minchas Yitzchak holds this isn’t hoshata, but it isn’t worse than safsal hamisnadneid (a moving bench) – even though not touching each other, but feeling each other via the other person’s weight. The Minchas Yitzchak cites the Pri HaSadeh who wrote about holding onto the common object like a stick, and was matir l’tzorech parnassa or choleh, and concludes that that would apply here as well. He says the paralyzed person needs it, so he thought we can use these sevaras to be maykil.

    Combine all this with what the Debrecener wrote, I think there is room to be maykil if the girl did fall while skating, cannot get up, and that there may be a chilul HaShem in public with everyone around wondering why he can't help her. I think it'd be very different from the hand-shaking thing which a lot of gentiles are familiar with, since this isn't a mere social formality, but physically assisting a "damsel in distress."

    So Sefardi Gal, it wouldn't be an unattractive breaking of halacha after all. If he offers to hold her hand from the get go and teach her how to skate/maintain her balance, etc - that'd be an example of what you're talking about.

  7. maybe rabbi simon did not suggest going ice-skating because the guy doesn't know how to read a teshuva. R' moshe says there that its not a problem to sit next to a woman who is not your wife, and then goes on to explain if the woman is your wife, it would be a machlokes whether such innocuous touches while she is a nidda is problematic according to the shittah we do not pasken by. (the end of the teshuva rips on the guy for being aroused by sitting next to a woman on the bus/subway)
    also lack of chibbah in the action is not a reason especially since this is a young woman who you are trying to encourage chibbah/affection with. The shaking hands heter comes from same heter that a doctor can inspect a woman who is his patient.

    or the more realistic way of doing it, is to only go skating if she is experienced skater (as well if she is experienced in recovering from a fall)


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