Physical Contact on Subway


What are the laws about sitting next to someone of the opposite sex on the subway? I just moved to New York City this week to start a new job and I barely know anyone here yet. I don’t have a car and the subway and buses are the only practical way of getting around. I have rarely used public transportation before. The subway trains and stations are almost always crowded, and it’s impossible to avoid physical contact with women. I have always scrupulously observed negiah and been careful not to touch a woman even accidentally, but this is impossible.

The other day, I sat down in a seat with a vacant adjacent seat when I got on. Not too long after, a young non-Jewish woman wearing a tight-fitting sleeveless short dress got on and took the seat next to me. She acted friendly in a flirtatious manner and engaged me in conversation. I responded to her friendliness and chatted with her for about half an hour until my stop because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I couldn’t get up because I was surrounded by standing riders, also mostly female, squeezed in like sardines.

I see lots of Orthodox Jews ride the subway, although I don’t know any personally yet, and I don’t know what they do about this. I will have to use the crowded subway almost every day for the foreseeable future.



  1. First, please accept my Brachah that you have a Yishuv Kal in New York and that you are successful in your new job.

    It is permissible to travel on crowded subway trains even though some physical contact is unavoidable. It is permissible because it is not something that you want and it causes you discomfort. I do think, however, that it would be better in the future not to get involved in conversations with members of the opposite gender. I would suggest that perhaps you have shiurim loaded up on your phone and you can listen to them. When people see that you are listening to something, I would hope that they will leave you alone.

    Best wishes from the Team

  2. I do not consider socialization with women to be forbidden. I went to a well respected co-ed orthodox day school. There it was permitted and normal to be friendly with girls. I learned about negiah from my parents who follow it strictly. But they too supported my friendship with girls. I learned just not to touch or be isolated in a locked room with a female.

    I was also taught by a well respected rav in the community where I grew up that returning friendliness toward someone who acts friendly is a great mitzvah, and failing to return a greeting is as if you have robbed them. I keep that in mind when anyone is friendly to me.

    My biggest concern was this non-Jewish woman was interested in marrying me. But she didn’t ask for my number and I didn’t ask for hers. Contrary to what I heard before I got here, many New Yorkers are very friendly with strangers.