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What's the story: Can a man shake hands with a woman (or vice versa) in a business setting?

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Related non-duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/7531 –  msh210 May 23 '11 at 3:14
Can I ask? I am an unmarried frum Jewish women who would LIKE to be SHOMER NEGIAH, but working among goyim I cannot get them to keep from always touching me. Or it is some disparaging comment to their friends as I leave that infringes on my Tznalus. Also, if a certain Jewish man keeps touching my hand, the back of my hand; is this interest? But he talks to others people in front of me about getting fixed up with other girls. He wouldn't do that if he was interested? Or is he trying to see if I am immodest or is this meaning he thinks I am not up to his standards? Maybe he thinks I don't merit –  chaney Dec 27 '11 at 2:20
@chaney, welcome to Judaism.SE! Please consider posting a follow-up question as an actual question, if the link in the above comment doesn't already address your issue. Keep in mind, though, that this site offers generally-applicable information rather than personal guidance; for the latter, I recommend that you consult your Rabbi. –  Isaac Moses Dec 27 '11 at 2:46

4 Answers 4

up vote 20 down vote accepted

There's a prohibition against touching any member of the opposite gender other than your spouse or close relatives. Many opinions say that's only "affectionate" touching, "such as hugging and kissing." Others say no, it includes all touching. (Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin, in Hakira Journal, discusses these opinions and their sources; he strongly believes that the former is the majority opinion.) So we have three questions:

A.) Is the prohibition all touching, or only "affectionate" touching?
B.) What is the Halachic definition of "affectionate"? (See above article for more on this)
C.) How to interpret a business handshake?

Depending on how you answer A, B, and C, the modern-day opinions will literally range from "it's absolutely fine, even in a social setting" (as had been the practice among Orthodox Jews of German ancestry not that long ago) to "not even if your life is at stake!" (R' Chaim Kanievsky). There's also the distinction between you offering your hand first, and responding to someone else's outstretched hand. (If the other person isn't looking for a handshake, do you need to go there?) R' Moshe Feinstein noted that many people do it, though he wasn't crazy about the idea.* It's said that the Bostoner Rebbe would shake a woman's hand if she offered it; Rabbi Dovid Cohen of Brooklyn quotes his mentor, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, that a handshake isn't about affection, it's about basic human respect ("derech eretz, not derech chiba"). On the other hand (pun intended), many Orthodox Jews have long worked with the assumption that it's prohibited (which also avoids slippery-slope problems), so be prepared to meet people with that practice.

  • Note: Rabbi Hershel Schachter (in his Issues in Nursing mp3) cites several students of Rabbi Feinstein who said he was more lenient on the subject when asked in person.

For those who don't shake hands, it often helps to explain that the practice is 100% gender-symmetric and is not about Judaism disparaging women. Another way to say it is "I'm sorry but as a religious policy, I don't touch any woman/man other than my spouse." (This may get the response "gee I wish my spouse had the same policy ...")

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hey, did you just Ask, Answer, and Accept a question? Is that how you get such a high rep:)? –  Jeremy Mar 16 '10 at 18:09
Accepting your own answer doesn't get you either the bonus for accepting or the bonus for getting accepted. There's nothing wrong with asking and answering your own question, as long as you're contributing Jewish knowledge that people will find useful or interesting. –  Isaac Moses Mar 17 '10 at 14:03

The main Charedi Rabbis forbade it, though others more MO Rabbis permitted it where necessary. From http://doseofhalacha.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Shomer%20Negiah

The question of whether it is okay for a non related man and woman to shake hands largely depends on whether this contact is classified as a דרך תאוה וחיבה, a ‘way that is based on attraction’.

Lenient authorities have quoted the Shach (R' Shabbatai HaKohen 1621-1662, YD 195:20), who, quoting the Rambam, writes that it is (only) forbidden for a man and woman to touch in any manner that causes attraction (chibah). Where touching yields no pleasure, it would be permissible (YD 157:10). Thus, R’ Moshe Feinstein paskens (EH 2:14) that one can sit on a tram next to a woman even if they are accidentally touching. R’ Chaim Berlin (Netziv’s son, 1832-1912, Nishmas Chaim, EH) writes that today, shaking hands is a regular way of greeting people. One has to bear in mind what reputation such a refusal will leave Religious Jews with. Rather shake hands than give others the impression that we’re crazy and are lacking Derech Eretz. R' Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg also allowed it in extenuating circumstances. (Halichos Yisroel, p282)

R’ Moshe Feinstein maintains, however (EH 1:56), that it is difficult to claim that shaking hands is not considered an expression of affection. In another responsum (OC 1:113) he wrote that doing so is forbidden. Likewise, the Steipler (R’ Yaakov Yisroel Kanievski 1899–1985, Kreina Deigresa 162) defines hand shaking as touching with chibah, and therefore a most severe prohibition.

Even the lenient authorities only allow shaking hands in extenuating circumstances. As leading Poskim have forbidden it, one must try their utmost to avoid it.

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I've never heard Rabbi Chayim Berlin called "MO" before that I recall. –  msh210 Mar 20 '14 at 23:37
fair enough! I stand corrected.. –  Zvi Mar 23 '14 at 11:22
... I mentioned that only because he's the only rabbi you mention as permitting it in other than extenuating circumstances. –  msh210 Mar 23 '14 at 20:40
I don't have sources for the more MO Rabbis, though posted the link that most Charedi Rabbis forbade it.. –  Zvi Mar 23 '14 at 21:34

I've been turned away from an interview for not shaking hands. Subsequent to that incident, I called a posek who permitted it, but only for the interview. If I were to be subsequently hired, I need to explain that I don't shake hands with members of the opposite sex for religious reasons.

My personal experience may be due to inadequate communication. If you're good with words and your hand-withholding comes across as easy-going and friendly (as opposed to holier-than-thou or zealotry) you may never have an issue.

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Observing different standards during an interview and subsequently with the same people could look bad. Regarding communication skills, I wrote some advice once here: cross-currents.com/archives/2010/01/03/… –  Isaac Moses Mar 16 '10 at 16:31
I have had a similar issue with not wearing a Kippah to an interview and then showing up on my first day on the job wearing one. I owners though I was being untruthful from the start. –  Ken Mar 21 '10 at 2:45

This is good information. In fact, it would be helpful if this was communicated to the world. Personally, it is something I have never even heard of.

When you walk into an interview and give a religious reason for anything, but the interviewer has no knowledge, it makes the whole situation uncomfortable. The interviewer is now sitting there wondering what else they don't know and how do they keep from offending you. Not a good way keep the concentration on your qualifications for the job.

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@sean: if you live in america YOU ARE WRONG. corporate america has huge respect for religion. its one thing to tell them that you don't shake hands with women because you believe it has spiritual ramifications that can affect another jew in the opposite part of the world, and it's another if you tell them that you do not shake hands because you are a religious jew. –  avrohom Oct 27 '10 at 22:48
avrohom, Some people in America may have a lot of respect for religion, but all of them, including the ones with respect, will automatically be seriously weirded out if you refuse to shake their hands. It's basic human nature. –  Isaac Moses Oct 28 '10 at 2:10
@isaac if you are weird then anything that you do will weird anyone out. shall we start shaking hands then? whats next? lets go to a restaurant with them because they will be offended if we dont? lets drink with them? –  avrohom Oct 29 '10 at 14:47
intermarriage.....this is why we have fences –  avrohom Oct 29 '10 at 14:48
@sean i still dont understand what you are suggesting. –  avrohom Nov 17 '10 at 19:56

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