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As a general rule, it is forbidden to kiss another person in the synagogue, especially one’s children. The reason for this is that we must remember that our love for G-d must even exceed the love that we have for our children.1 Similarly, it is explained that if it were permitted to kiss one’s children in the synagogue, the function of the synagogue as a place where we focus exclusively on G-d would be compromised.2 Although there is an opinion that the ban against kissing children in the synagogue only applies to one’s little children,3 most authorities rule that it applies to one’s children whether they’re little or grown-up adults.4

A number of authorities are of the opinion that the prohibition against kissing in the synagogue only applies to one’s children and not to other people. This is because the feelings that one has for one’s children are unlike those one has for other people.5 According to this approach, it is permitted to kiss someone (other than one’s children) following his aliya or other synagogue honor, as is the custom in many Sephardic congregations.6 The reason for this Sephardic custom is because someone who receives an aliya is said to be imbued with an added measure of holiness. It is taught that kissing someone immediately following his aliya imparts some of this holiness to oneself.7 Others, including many Sephardic authorities, discourage kissing even in this instance.8

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Nevertheless, it is permitted to kiss a little child in the synagogue if doing so is necessary to calm him down, such as if he is hurt, and the like.9 One may also kiss one’s child if one feels it is necessary for him to feel important or encouraged, as the situation might warrant. So too, it is permitted to kiss one’s child as a sign of praise for having done something impressive, such as asking or answering an excellent Torah question.10 This is similar to the Talmudic-era custom of kissing someone who had delivered an impressive Torah discourse. Indeed, this was practiced in the synagogue as well as in the Beit HaMikdash.11

There is a widespread custom, especially in Sephardic communities, to kiss the hand of one’s parent and rabbi when greeting them. As this is an expression of honor and respect, rather than affection, it is permitted to do so in the synagogue.12 In fact, the practice of kissing the hand of an elder in the synagogue dates back to Talmudic times.13 It is interesting to note that although physical contact between men and women is generally forbidden, there were communities in the past where it was customary for women to kiss the hand of great rabbis when greeting them. This, too, was permitted on the grounds that doing so is an expression of honor and respect rather than affection.14 Kissing a great person’s hand might even have the status of a ceremonial ritual, distancing it even further from any concern for inappropriate contact.15

There is an opinion that the prohibition against kissing one’s children in the synagogue only applies when prayer services are taking place, and not at any other time.16 This novel approach is based on the observation that the prohibition against kissing one’s children in the synagogue is found in the Shulchan Aruch under the “Laws of Prayer” and not under the “Laws of the Synagogue.” There is also a passage in the Zohar that seems to imply that the prohibition only applies when prayers are taking place. This position might better justify the custom of kissing someone, including one’s own son, following an aliya. This is because the Torah reading service is not considered a “prayer service.”17 So, too, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was known to kiss his grandchildren in the Beit Midrash of his yeshiva.

It seems that kissing in the synagogue is the only issue of concern. There is no mention in halachic literature of any prohibition on hugging someone in the synagogue and certainly not on shaking another person’s hand and other common greetings. This might be because a kiss is the highest display of affection between two people. Therefore, we refrain from kissing in order to demonstrate that in the synagogue our highest level of affection is reserved only for G-d.

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  1. Rema, OC 98:1.
  2. Sefer Chassidim 255; Binyamin Ze’ev 163.
  3. Or Yitzchak, OC 42.
  4. Binyamin Ze’ev 163; Sefer Chassidim 255.
  5. Kaf Hachaim, OC 98:10; Shemesh U’magen 1:39.
  6. Ben Ish Chai, Vayikra 11.
  7. L’David Emet 5:34.
  8. Yechave Da’at 4:12. See also Ben Ish Chai, Vayikra 11.
  9. Rivevot Ephraim 2:66; Veha’arev Na, Shemot; Aleinu Leshabei’ach, p. 579.
  10. Veha’arev Na, Shemot.
  11. Avot D’Rabbi Natan 6; Nedarim 96; Kalla 1:21. See Piskei Teshuvot 98, n. 70.
  12. Yechave Da’at 4:12; Kaf Hachaim, OC 151:6; Or L’tzion 2:45:35; Emek Yehoshua 3:18; Beit Yisrael (Landau), OC 9; Ishei Yisrael 11, n. 64.
  13. Avoda Zara 17a, Rashi.
  14. Od Yosef Chai, Shoftim 22.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Piskei Teshuvot 98:7.
  17. Or Yitzchak, OC 42.
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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: rabbiari@hotmail.com.