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

  • Related non-duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/7531
    – msh210
    May 23, 2011 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, 2011 at 2:20
  • 2
    @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, 2011 at 2:46

4 Answers 4


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 ...")

  • IMHO affectionate is highly misleading, and IIRC against the point that R. Henkin makes. חיבת ביאה would more appropriately be translated as "sexual" rather than affectionate; more akin to דרך חיבה, a term arising, at least according to his presentation, from misunderstanding.
    – mevaqesh
    May 15, 2016 at 5:33
  • 1
    It's said that the Bostoner Rebbe would shake a woman's hand if she offered it could you please provide a source for this? Having been very close to to HaRav Levi Yitchok ZTKL"V, I know it to be untrue. Or where you referring to another Bostoner Rebbe?
    – Mord Zuber
    Aug 15, 2017 at 15:42
  • @MordZuber it is debated, unsurprisingly. tzvee.blogspot.com/2009/12/…
    – Shalom
    Aug 15, 2017 at 17:21

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.

  • 1
    I've never heard Rabbi Chayim Berlin called "MO" before that I recall.
    – msh210
    Mar 20, 2014 at 23:37
  • fair enough! I stand corrected..
    – Zvi
    Mar 23, 2014 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, 2014 at 20:40
  • 1
    I don't have sources for the more MO Rabbis, though posted the link that most Charedi Rabbis forbade it..
    – Zvi
    Mar 23, 2014 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.

  • 1
    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, 2010 at 16:31
  • 2
    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, 2010 at 2:45
  • Most jobs I have had have started around summer. Come a certain time of year I inform them I'm going to be leaving early every Friday.
    – CashCow
    Apr 15, 2015 at 16:30

Saifer chasidim 1090

A Jewish man can not slap hands with a non Jewish woman

And a Jewish woman can not slap hands with a non Jewish man

Even when the hand is coverd with clothing

(The commentaries explain that if they are both Jewish it is OK when the hand is covered with clothing (but only if it is not done for the man to be able to see the woman for a longer time))


The commentary on bottom brings more sources on the subject

  • I believe the translation is simply "shake hands", not "slap." (The root appears as in "to pitch a tent." We talk about kinyan T'kiat kaf, a deal executed by handshake.) Sefer Hassidim reflects the viewpoint of what is pious, not necessarily what is required by the letter of the law. (And let's not get started on whether a cross-gender handshake had the exact same context in Germany a thousand years ago as it does in today's corporate America.)
    – Shalom
    Sep 7, 2015 at 0:50
  • @Shalom it seems to be an Halacha here. Seyag is a loshon of Halacha
    – kouty
    Nov 20, 2016 at 9:26
  • Chafetz Chaim notes that he has to be careful quoting Sefer Hassidim because some of what's in it -- even if described as -- "you must do this!" -- is intended for those who are hassidim, i.e. extra-pious.
    – Shalom
    Nov 20, 2016 at 18:11

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