Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Kissing Children in Shul

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Among the many halachic regulations concerning one's conduct in the synagogue sanctuary is the prohibition against kissing another person. This is especially true regarding one's children. The ban on kissing one's children in the synagogue was instituted in order to remind ourselves that the love we must feel for God should exceed even that which we feel towards our children.[1] It is argued that if one was permitted to freely kiss one's children in the synagogue, it would blur the role of the synagogue as a place where one is to focus exclusively on God.[2] It does not matter whether one's children are young or if they are adults.[3]

It is permitted, however, to kiss the hand of one's parent or rabbi should that be the local custom, as doing so is a sign of honor and respect rather than affection.[4] In fact, the practice of kissing the hand of an elder in the synagogue is one which dates back to Talmudic times.[5] As such, we see that giving a kiss in a religious context is often more of a ceremonial gesture than an affectionate one. Indeed, although physical contact between men and women is generally forbidden, there have been rabbis in the past who have permitted a woman to kiss a man's hand, such as the hand of a great sage, as doing so is considered to be a sign of honor rather than affection.[6]

According to a number of authorities, the prohibition against kissing in the synagogue applies exclusively to kissing one's children and not to others. This is because the feelings that one has for one's children are unlike those for any other person.[7] Consequently, the widespread practice of a father kissing his son following the latter's Bar Mitzva aliya is halachically problematic according to all opinions. Conversely, kissing any other person following an aliya or other synagogue honor, as is the custom in many Sefardic congregations, would be permissible according to this approach.[8] Among the reasons for the custom to kiss one who has received an aliya is because such a person is said to be imbued with an added measure of holiness. It is taught that kissing such a person immediately following their aliya can impart some of this holiness onto oneself.[9] Others, including many Sefardic authorities, discourage kissing even in such circumstances.[10]

Nevertheless, it is permitted to kiss one's child in the synagogue if necessary in order to calm him down after getting hurt, or the like.[11] One is also permitted to kiss one's child in order to make the child feel important, encouraged, or as praise for something positive the child has done, such as asking or answering a sharp Torah question.[12] This is similar to the custom of the Talmudic sages who would kiss one who has delivered an impressive Torah discourse. This was practiced both in the synagogue and even in the Beit Hamikdash.[13]

Finally, there is a view among some halachic authorities that the prohibition against kissing one's children in the synagogue applies only while services are being conducted, but is permissible at all other times.[14] This innovative ruling is based on the observation that the halacha which forbids kissing in the synagogue is codified in the Shulchan Aruch under "The Laws of Prayer" and not under "The Laws of the Synagogue".


[1] Rema, OC 98:1
[2] Sefer Chassidim 255, Binyamin Ze'ev 163
[3] Binyamin Zev 163, Sefer Chassidim 255
[4] Yechave Daat 4:12, Kaf Hachaim 151:6, Or L'tzyion 2:45:35, Ishei Yisrael 11:footnote 64
[5] Avoda Zara 17a;Rashi
[6] Od Yosef Chai, Shoftim
[7] Kaf Hachaim, OC 98:10
[8] Ben Ish Chai;Vayikra 11
[9] L'david Emmet 5:34
[10] Yechave Daat 4:12, Ben Ish Chai;Vayikra 11
[11] Rivevot Ephraim 2:61, Veharev Na;Shemot, Aleinu Leshabeiach p.579
[12] Veharev Na;Shemot
[13] Avot D'rabbi Natan 6, Nedarim 96, Kalla 1:21. See Piskei Teshuvot 98 note 70
[14] Piskei Teshuvot 98:7

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