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I am not Shomer Negiah. However, I have been in mixed social situations where I was unsure if the person I was meeting was Shomer Negiah. I don't want to offend anyone, so I'm wondering if there is a polite way to ask if someone would prefer not to shake my hand. I don't want to automatically assume either way.

Perhaps in a social situation, I could simply refrain from offering my hand, but in a business situation, it might benefit the person if I were to raise the potential. (Saving them from the requirement to Tell Someone About Shomer Negiah or help them Tactfully Circumvent Opposite-Gender Handshakes.)

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Hug them and see if they melt... –  avi Dec 24 '11 at 18:59
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+1. The challenge of always assuming they are and thus being diligent yourself "in public" is that people will then assume you are, which while not bad on its own can lead to misunderstandings later (they see you touch in another setting and think you're a hypocrite or just making trouble at work or something). –  Monica Cellio Dec 25 '11 at 0:17
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@H'Gabriel - Not to be confrontative, but I fail to see what that has to do with this question. If you want to discuss this, let's not do it here. –  neilfein Dec 25 '11 at 2:12
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I'm with @neilfein on this one. The question of exactly what is permitted or forbidden (about which there are, in fact, multiple opinions) is worthy of a separate set of questions. This question, as it is, is legitimate and useful. –  Isaac Moses Dec 25 '11 at 2:25
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@IsaacMoses Nice and appropriate re-tag. –  Double AA Dec 25 '11 at 2:27
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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Always assume the person is shomer nagiah until they give you a hand, or you see them touch another person who isn't their spouse.

I do this even with non-Jews, because you never know if they don't like to be touched or don't like to touch people.

http://isitnormal.com/story/i-dont-like-to-be-touched-29913/

From this summary of the research of touching:

Also, research has identified a small proportion of people—both men and women—who don't like to be touched at all during everyday social interactions. These people are not likely to respond positively in any of these situations.

Apparently, someone has felt so strongly about this, they set up a website.

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Of course, one also has to take the setting into account. While one can't be absolutely certain, one is more likely to run into observent Jews in, say, a non-Kosher restaurant in Kansas, than in a Hillel in Manhattan. But your point about some people simply disliking touch is well-taken. –  neilfein Dec 25 '11 at 2:59
    
Ah, re: my last comment - swap those, please. :) –  neilfein Dec 25 '11 at 19:05
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There was already an accepted answer, and a very fine one at that. Since I am female, and the individual asking the question is female, I wanted to provide some additional input.

This is what I would suggest. If you think there is even the slightest likelihood of one or more persons in a group of people being Shomer Negiah, don't initiate hand shaking with anyone. You won't cause offense, as long as you are consistent with that group of people.

I have 20+ years work experience of not initiating hand shakes with men. I smile, and indicate with verbal enthusiasm that it is a pleasure to make the person or group's acquaintance. I never had a man indicate surprise or take offense that I didn't initiate a hand shake. Job interviews (both ways, for employer and candidate) are the most challenging situations. Again, charisma and enthusiasm can be communicated verbally.

How important is it to you to shake hands with people in general? For men, it is a long established social protocol in many cultures, so a means of dealing with the matter of Shomer Negiah is imperative. For women, much less so.

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