Why I don’t shake hands with the opposite sex

I received this in one of the many spam emails I get from any number of friends of mine who run shuls and chabad houses, once in a very rare while do I open them. I liked this one and even though I do tend to shake hands with the opposite sex, I think that anyone who can give over the practice not to shake hands while teaching a valuable lesson ought to be listened to.

I won’t shake your hand, ask me why?

By Rabbi Yossi Grossbaum

I have many practices that, as an observant Jew living in Folsom, raise eyebrows. But the one that takes the cake is the standard of avoiding any type of physical contact with women. Many times when I meet women I put them in an uncomfortable position by declining to shake their outstretched hand (and you should see the expression on some men’s faces when my wife does the same thing to them!). I explain that observant Jews reserve physical contact between genders for husband and wife.

Although occasionally there are women who take offense, most people are respectful and some even appreciate the custom. One woman told me that she would sleep much better at night if she knew that her husband held himself to such a standard…

But, why?! is the real question. Isn’t that a little extreme? Well, perhaps. I can see why you could think so. And we can discuss the pros and the cons. But one important point is this: It creates a real exclusivity to the husband-wife relationship.

Judaism’s idea on the relationship between men and women is diametrically different than the prevailing attitude that basically anything goes. Judaism views the relationship as something spiritual and holy, even G-dly. It is for this reason that the Torah places such an emphasis on the parameters of the relationship.

Another important difference in perspective can be gleaned from the Hebrew word for love, Ahava. Today the attitude is what can I get from this relationship? What’s in it for me? Ahava – love is connected to the word hav – give. It’s not about what I can get from this relationship, it’s what can I give.

Read Rabbi Grossbaums Jewish Folsom blog

Find out more about shomer negiah on 4torah.com

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Izzy (1)

    That’s a fairly reasonable answer. I like it.

  • G*3

    > But one important point is this: It creates a real exclusivity to the husband-wife relationship.

    Except that it isn’t about husband-wife exclusivity. It’s not about making physical contact a special thing, something reserved for one’s spouse. That’s just spin. It’s about avoiding any and all possible eroticism, because of the assumption that people are incapable of controlling themselves. So one can only have physical contact with one’s spouse and immediate relatives (parent, child, sibling) that one wouldn’t be tempted to have sx with.

    > Another important difference in perspective can be gleaned from the Hebrew word for love, Ahava. Today the attitude is what can I get from this relationship? What’s in it for me?

    This really bugs me. The bit in every vort where we compare “us” to “them” to show how virtuous we are. The problem is that the “them” used for comparison is a group that doesn’t exist. Who exactly are these people who are only interested in love for what they can get out of it? Yes, I’m sure such people exist, but the implication of “Today the attitude is…” is that this is the default position of the general culture. It’s not. Most people are giving to those they care about. Even pop culture is full of movies and songs about altruistic love.

    • A. Nuran

      You tell the window-shoppers one thing.
      You tell the ones under contract another.

    • AK

      “. It’s not about making physical contact a special thing, something reserved for one’s spouse.”

      Not sure what the intent was orignially, but to me it is exactly that reason I am so meticulous about shomer negiah as a new BT actually.

      Even looking at girls in the eye can be erotic now, and I like it. I can only imagine what it will feel like with my wife.

      That and the fact that right now girls would be an expensive drain of time and money in college :).

    • Yochanan

      I hate the us vs. them mentality. But to be fair, maybe he thinks all Goyim act like they’re at the Folsom street fair.

      • baal teshuv-ish

        Yeah I wasn’t a fan of the anything goes comment. It suggested a false dichotomy. In general though, I liked the post. Maybe one day I’ll make the leap and I can drop the “ish” from my name.

    • Anonymous

      You can say all you want, but when you’re talking to one of these holy rollers, you’re just wasting your time. They’re committed to their way of life, and that’s it.

  • Anonymous

    Long time subscriber/lurker here. Slightly off topic but I’ve been wanting to ask for awhile…

    I work in orthodox Jewish schools pretty frequently. I am a female. Twice now Jewish women have refused to shake my hand. I notice none of them ever initiate the handshake when introduced so I stopped doing it, but forgot the other day and the woman just totally left me hanging. So awkward. The first time I did it, the woman outright said, “I don’t want to want to shake your hand” and shook her head like I would somehow contaminate her.

    I know I am not supposed to shake men’s hands, and that I understand. But is there an unwritten rule somewhere that Jewish people should not shake non-Jewish people’s hands even if they are of the same gender? Or maybe these two were just germ freaks or something? Thanks for any insight you can provide.

    • CK

      Nope.

      There is nothing in Judaism that says that. In fact, there are tenets of Judaism that oppose their dispicable actions.

      Please don’t judge us all by the actions of messed of few.

      • Person

        I second this comment.

    • tesyaa

      So weird… Having not heard of this practice in 3+ decades of being “frum”, I’d assume they’re germophobes (and rude, because even when I suspect someone else has a cold and I don’t want to shake hands, I usually make up a story that I myself have a cold).

      • batsheva

        ^^Yup. What she said. I’ve never heard of this either, but up until recently I’ve never heard of frum women wearing burkas. Small sects and individuals seem to be making up their own rules all the time. It’s pathetic. So maybe they have some belief that gentiles will contaminate them, but it sure as heck doesn’t come from Judaism. The germophobe thing seems more likely to me. That is pretty common these days.

    • T

      That is just horribly wrong on many levels. Unless you have the mark of Cain on your forehead (not really), refusing to shake someone’s hand can be a real Chillul Hashem. Not shaking a person from the same sex? Inexcusable. Please don’t think that the rest of us are like that rotten apple.

    • Yochanan

      Maybe they see handshaking as a “masculine” thing.

      • Michael K

        If it didn’t happen in the gemara, we don’t do it now. It’s too modernish.

        • Anon Again

          Ok, thanks for the replies. I figured it was probably a germaphobe thing but wanted to make sure there wasn’t something else I was missing. 95% of the staff I’ve encountered in the bais yaakov schools have been wonderful to work with. These two strange incidents with the handshaking were minor.

    • Gefilte Fish

      Perhaps they were aiming for a hug and were offended by your handshake?

    • OTD chick

      They are probably stupid. They hear, “I don’t shake hands” and miss the implied notion that it’s with men.

  • T

    Touch between the sexes, not genders. Sex is genetic. Gender is an expression of sexual characteristics.

    I am going to guess that transsexuals are still considered by their chromosomes and biological underwear area. Unless the male has undergone transition early enough, they are often still looking “in between”. Now the female to male trannies are truly a connundrum bc after a few testosterone shots, they are quite indistinguishable from “born-males”.

    • Dan

      wut is this I don’t even…

      • T

        Rabbi Grossman writes, “I explain that observant Jews reserve physical contact between genders for husband and wife.” I’m just nit picking over the use of the word gender. If he is going to suggest that gender is the issue, then the ball game just got a lot more complicated. Just a little pet peeve of mine.

    • http://betweenjerusalemandtelaviv.blogspot.com/ Michael

      With Reagard to tansexuals, I remember reading about a tshuva from Rav Ovadia about the Israeli singer “Dana International” who was born male, but has gone through a full geneder realignment.

      If I recall correctly, Rav Ovadia ruled that according to halacha, Dana is still male, therefore there is no prohibition listening to him/her sing, and s/he could be counted for a minyan. Even though s/he looks and identifies as female.

    • Sarah

      Interesting question. Would someone in transition not be allowed to touch anyone at all? Would they switch over to the other categorization as soon as they identified themselves? Or only after surgery (how would people know)?

      Realistically, I don’t think the Orthodox community is welcoming enough to transsexuals for this to ever be an issue, unfortunately.

  • http://yeshivaforum.wordpress.com OfftheDwannaB

    Because my hand is strictly reserved for jerking.

    • http://www.frumsatire.net Heshy Fried

      Yes but if you use your other hand, it’s a shinui and therefore allowed.

      • Yochanan

        *Thumb dip*

  • dkbrk

    I explain that observant Jews reserve physical contact between genders for husband and wife.

    not true, there are plenty of observant jews who would – and have a halakhic basis for it.

  • JG

    >”Judaism’s idea on the relationship between men and women is diametrically different than the prevailing attitude that basically anything goes.”

    Right. All my non-Jewish and non-religious friends believe that anything goes. S-x with anyone, any time, any place, regardless of who’s married to whom and who isn’t. That’s the prevailing licentious attitude that explains why they will shake hands when meeting someone of the opposite gender.

    Assuming you get your facts about the world from Artscroll mussar books.

    • Izzy

      That’s a crock and atypical….maybe you ought to recosider which non Jewish friends you pal with

      • JG

        Er…that was supposed to come across as sarcasm (hence the “assuming you get your facts about the world from Artscroll mussar books). Whoops.

        Obviously, I know nobody like that. My non-Jewish friends and non-religious friends are mostly happily married, and/or devoted parents, or else dating normally, etc.

        • Guest

          JG, the sexual mores in general society are much more loose than in orthodox society. The fact that your friends aren’t literally having sex in the street does not strengthen your argument at all.

          Of course it’s a waste of time debating this, because people like you will always cherry pick according to their biases. You’ll tend to pick the scummiest orthodox jews, and compare them to the most virtuous gentiles, and thereby make specious comparisons between the two communities, in favor of the gentiles, when the reality is in fact as I have described above.

          Get a clue.

          • OTD chick

            You should get a clue because there are so many FFBs who are sleeping around and going to bars and so on. In fact my FFB friends at college all go out partying and my non Jewish friends are virgins and stay home and spend their time with family. There are loose people in the secular society but it’s not like everyone in the Frum world is adhering to the rabbis recommendations. How many guys here have screwed the goody two shoes FFB girls? I”m sure they have.

        • Izzy (1)

          JG….ooops, you’re right. Sorry I missed the sarcasm but I was depressed after the Clippers lost to Dallas! :)

  • Yochanan

    Easy for him to say. He’s already got a job as a Chabad Shaliach. If he had a job interview with a woman (who wasn’t an observant Jew), would he pull this crap with her? Maybe, if he’s REALLY QUALIFIED, he’ll get the job.

    • baal teshuv-ish

      Didn’t YU say one could shake a hand on a job interview? Crazy kofers.

    • tesyaa

      I interviewed a young frum guy and I deliberately DID shake his hand, not to make him feel uncomfortable but because I felt it was important to treat him the same way I treated the other candidates. If he had refused I would have held it against him, since it doesn’t work in the corporate world to never shake a woman’s hand.

      • Guest

        “not to make him feel uncomfortable but because I felt it was important to treat him the same way I treated the other candidates.”

        You’re a scumbag. This was completely gratuitous. If he’s going to get in trouble in this way, it shouldn’t be at the hands of a Jewish woman who should know better. You were basically fishing for trouble with this guy, however you want to spin it, which no gentile woman (except for an antisemite) would have done.

      • Bearcat

        “it doesn’t work in the corporate world”

        I’ve heard people say this about a lot of things, including things I’ve done myself or seen other people do, and I’m not just talking about Jewish things. Most of the time it’s not true, at least not as a blanket statement across all of the “corporate world.” Even relatively old-school corporate cultures can be very open-minded on a case-by-case basis.

      • OTD chick

        That’s silly, when I was frum I used to just make an “I’m sorry” face and tell them I don’t shake hands for religious reasons.

  • Dan

    I don’t even think this is correct. I don’t believe it is about exclusivity in the husband and wife relationship.

    If was, it might not apply if you were single, and might not apply to a married man and a single woman since he can marry her as well.

    It is about keeping the halacha of “lo tikrivu l’galos erva.” The reason you cannot touch a woman who is an erva to you, is that it is on the path to a relationship. This is a halachic issue.

    Now, the halachic question of handshaking is debatable, and I have no wish to take sides in it. In my yeshiva, they used to say it is ok if she will be embarrassed publicly–which seems to say that we really held it is really permitted but we want to be machmir not to do it anyway, but are willing to not be machmir if she’ll be embarrassed.

  • Critic

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe was once faced with a situation where a woman extended her hand to be shaken,smiled at her and said “My mother taught me never to touch that which doesn’t belong to me”.

  • Mendy

    To Anon, these women might be lesbians, which in that case it would be prohibited to shake your hand. I can’t think of any other explanation to give, sorry.

  • JG

    Did he also not shake hands with men who didn’t belong to him, or were women the only ones who can “belong to someone” to begin with?

    • batsheva

      *Applause*

    • Critic

      “or were women the only ones who can “belong to someone” to begin with?”
      Something that doesn’t belong to me doesn’t necessarily “belong to someone else” so I don’t know what your gripe is.It just was a polite and humorous way way of avoiding a ticklish and potentially embarrassing situation rather then bluntly stating “I don’t shake hands with women” .It’s called diplomacy.

      • JG

        It’s offensive because it insinuates that women can and should belong to men (there’s one woman out there who belongs to him and others who don’t and/or who belong to someone else).

        Men are never considered as belonging to someone or not, so he shook hands with men. Pretty straightforward. Personally, were I female and in that situation, I would much rather have heard him bluntly say “I don’t shake hands with women.”

        • Critic

          “It’s offensive because it insinuates that women can and should belong to men”.It insinuates nothing of the sort unless you insert your own religious or political views or biases into the equation.Saying that I don’t touch something that doesn’t belong to me does not imply that it/her/him belongs to someone else.Your trying to make a pilpul and split hairs out of something that was not meant as such.I feel that the Rebbe,who was anything but a male chauvinist, dealt with a difficult choice of having to balance Halacha ,not chumra, with the mores of society, chose a diplomatic way of defusing the issue.If you feel that a blunt approach would have been better then by all means follow what your heart or mind dictates.

          • JG

            *Sigh.* And yet, he touched men who didn’t belong to him.

            If someone said to me, to be cute, “I won’t touch you because I don’t touch things that don’t belong to me,” I would: 1) think that’s pretty weird and patronizing, 2) think “I don’t belong to anyone, buddy, I’m an autonomous agent who can decide who I want to touch and who I don’t want to touch.”

            It’s not a cute story that makes shomer negiah look clever; it’s a patronizing one.

            • Guest

              JG, the problem is that you are a moron.

              • JG

                Oh, thanks, I see that now.

                I thought the problem was that I think it’s nice to treat other people the way I’d want to be treated, rather than rationalizing archaic religious practices with cutesy but dumb and condescending stories. My mistake.

                • Critic

                  “rationalizing archaic religious practices with cutesy but dumb and condescending stories.”
                  I’m not the one that’s calling you a moron but in view of your negation of Halacha as being “archaic religious practice” with your above flippant and insulting remark reveals your true agenda and is quite revealing of exactly where your coming from.Your critic of the Rebbe’s response is not really based on what you opine it infers or doesn’t infer but is in reality an attack on the validity of Halacha. You should have said so in the first place.

              • OTD chick

                I’m with JG, it’s offensive and chauvinistic.

                • Critic

                  Yeh! Exactly!Because you say so. Another words your’e also of the school of the thought that subscribes to the idea that Halacha is “archaic religious practice”.With the moniker OTD chick that doesn’t surprise me.Get on the bandwagon and also write a book on the evils of Orthodox Judaism. I’m sure that you can get some religiously liberated publisher to print it.

                  • Critic

                    Your’e obviously free to believe whatever you want but as the owner of this blog identifies himself as a observant Orthodox Jew it would have been nice and respectful to post your “educated” comments after Shabbos was over. Respect is something any rational human being can identify with.

    • Sarah

      Badum-TSSSS

  • Izzy

    Who are qe really fooling, in reality, eye contact is a lot sexier. I’m a believer that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Thus, the handshake may provide a temporary tactile thrill, the eyes tell much about a person. I don’t know how many women gaze’s have intrigued me. I suppose in the ultra Frum communities, long intriguing stares are also discouraged….but being not even marginally Frum, I’m just guessing.

  • Ralph

    I recently got into an argument with a sales clerk, a woman. I was about to slap her when I realized that such contact is reserved for the special relationship between husband and wife.

    • T

      touche

  • http://Twitter.com/marksofla Mark

    If the handshaking thing has to to with s*x then a man shaking another man’s hand should also be assur. Because some percentage of men out there are homos*xual.

  • http://Twitter.com/marksofla Mark

    Besides, isn’t it chukas hagoyim in the first place?

  • http://nerdwithavoice.blogspot.com Talia

    One could hardly call this piece substantive. Shomer negiah is halacha, not a “custom,” and if it’s all about marriage, why does it apply to unmarried people, as well? His reasoning is nice and fluffy, but very weak and flawed. There is no real content here – the writing is bland, the perspective is immature, and not a single pasuk is quoted. If Rabbi Grossbaum wants to try to explain this area of halacha to others, he needs to know what he’s talking about!

    • Dan

      This is the credited response.

  • Yochanan

    Regarding the “anything goes” canard that I often hear Kiruv people use to describe general Western culture:

    I wouldn’t have a problem if they said that Western culture is more leniant and Judaism sets up strict boundaries.

    For example: It’s perfectly acceptable to dry hump someone at a nightclub and have a one-night-stand. Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am! Way less commitment than the sex only in marriage view of Judaism.

    However, saying it’s “anything goes” makes it sound like they have orgies in Times Square.

    • G*3

      > It’s perfectly acceptable to dry hump someone at a nightclub and have a one-night-stand.

      Well, it’s acceptable in that you won’t get in trouble for it. But most people will look down on people who have one night stands. Promiscuity (rightly or wrongly) still carries a stigma. And most people don’t go to nightclubs often, if at all.

    • OTD chick

      Not everyone in the secular world acts like this and plenty of supposedly frum people (who keep Shabbos and kosher) do. They just lie and pretend they aren’t like that-especially the girls.

  • Rabbi nachman

    HEre is a story that proves the point. In my office there was once a man who can by to meet with someone. When he was leaving, he shook the women’s hand. Five min later they were banging under the conference table. Now you see why you need to be careful….

    • Anonymous

      Oh yeah, that just happened to me too.

  • Moshe

    I just say I don’t want to shake your hand because it’s dirty and I don’t want to get your germs. Keeps it simple and usually no further questions are asked (Actually there is no further conversation at all).

    • Dan

      I just say because it’s dirty and I don’t want to catch your cooties.

  • purple

    The other question is where to hermaphrodites(those who have both genitalia) fit in?
    do they shake or not? does the presence of a penis overide a vagina in lieu of testicles?????
    Should we be asking people such personal questions????
    I hear all the reasons about keep the touch between husband and wife yet nothing about the reality around which we live.

    • Anonymous

      Sick individuals