Jewish Educational Media publishes a series of videos about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The series is called Living Torah. enter image description here

Disc 34, Program 135, contains an interview with Rabbi Chatzkel Besser, [about whom more here]. In the interview Rabbi Besser tells the following story. (Where the story mentions "the Lubavitcher Rebbe," the reference is usually to Menachem Mendel, although the story took place when the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe Yoseif Yitzchok was living, and Menachem Mendel had not yet become the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe.)

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When the Belzer Rebbe came to Berlin to see an eye doctor, so the Lubavitcher Rebbe told Itzche Meir "You know what, I hear the Belzer Rebbe's here. I would like to see him." And, uh... so they went, they knew where he was staying, they went, the two of them went up and the [Belzer] Rebbe was standing with closed eyes because he couldn't, he had problems with his vision and the people were in line giving Shalom one after another and he had on his hand a towel and that's how he gave Shalom, with... through the towel. And one of... Itzche Meir gave Shalom; then the [Lubavitcher] Rebbe gave Shalom. When the Rebbe gave him Shalom he looked up, maybe opened his eyes, and he took off the towel and he gave him Shalom with the hand. Everybody there was astonished: he made an exception here. So they started to ask Itzche Meir "Who is this? Who... who is he?" So he said "He's the eidim [son-in-law] of [the sixth] Lubavitcher [Rebbe]."

My question is, what is this towel for? Was it related somehow to Tumah and Taharah? If this question is not too personal, what is it that everyone else was doing, that the Rebbes in the story were not doing, that explains that the one would shake the hand of the other directly? The fact that Menachem Mendel normally shook the hands of other people is no objection? And why a towel rather than a glove?

  • possibly related judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/20279/… – Double AA Apr 29 '18 at 20:08
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    It might have been to avoid germs. I know some older people who won't shake hands for this reason. – Heshy Apr 29 '18 at 20:16
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    @Heshy I don't think that Rabbi Besser told the story to illustrate the Lubavitcher Rebbe's reputation for hygiene. – Chaim Apr 29 '18 at 20:16
  • If you shake enough people's hands (which will happen if you're the Belzer Rebbe), chances are one of them will be sick, either (a) without knowing it, or (b) knowing it and being insensitive to other people's health. Maybe the Belzer Rebbe felt that (b) was not an issue in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's case, and that the chances of (a) for a single person were small enough to risk it in order to shake hands with someone that special. – Heshy Apr 29 '18 at 20:23
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    I guess for the purpose of this question I should be thinking like a Chasid. Let me rephrase: ...and that (a) was not an issue either because no harm can come of shaking hands with a tzaddik. – Heshy Apr 29 '18 at 20:30

The previous Belzer Rebbe [R' Aharon Rokeach Z.L.] had many stringencies in maintaining a very high level of the taharah (ritual purity) of his hands. He once told his personal Gabai "I have very high standards concerning Taharas Yadayim, thus if you even just touch your nose, your head or even any child under the age of three years, please wash your hands before servicing me". [Heard from a Belz chasid]

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    Could you cast this in more halachic terms? For example, what sort of tumah is present if a gabbai touches his nose, is that tumah transmitted to the Rebbe by shaking hands, is that tumah removed by immersion in a mikveh, what are the halachic implications for someone tamei… Does the conceptualization of this practice as a "stringency" remove it from halachic analysis completely? – Chaim Apr 30 '18 at 15:17
  • @Chaim The particular stringencies were based on the halachos which require one to wash his hands [no need for mikvah - it is just Ruach Ra'ah] when touching the inside of his nose or sweaty hair. To the best of my knowledge, halachically this Ruach Ra'ah does not transfer from one person to another through touch. That is where the high standard stringencies of the Rebbe came into play, as also in extending it to even just touching the nose or head. I am not clear about the issue with the child under the age of three. – RibbisRabbiAndMore Apr 30 '18 at 15:45
  • Sorry, that was dense of me. Obviously the story means that by washing his hands the gabbi purified himself, if he instead shook hands with the Rebbe he transmitted the taint, so presumably the Rebbe would then be able to wash his own hands and purify himself as well, but he preferred to remain pure rather than undergo that cycle. Still, what halachic categories correspond to all of that (shayni, shelishi, communicating by touching nose and then hands, removing by washing hands, etc.)? – Chaim Apr 30 '18 at 15:46
  • And I guess that what he 'knew' about the Lubavitcher Rebbe is that while he did shake the hands of careless people, he would then wash his own hands before shaking the hands of the Belzer Rebbe? – Chaim Apr 30 '18 at 15:46
  • @Chaim The implication was that the Belzer Rebbe sensed/perceived that the one standing in front of him was also on that level of taharah. Another of the things that taharah effects is perception. This is linguistically the connection of taharah to tehirah which means clarity like the clear sky at midday. – Yaacov Deane Apr 30 '18 at 17:32

Maybe similar to the Chofetz Chaim's practices:

"I noticed that whenever the Chofetz Chaim saw a fly or some other pest that he wanted to chase away he would hold the corner of his tallis or his handkerchief, but he would never use his bare hands. Also he never touched his face with his hands.

"For many years I could not understand the reason for this; the face is considered a naturally-exposed area of the body which one may see and touch. Recently, after having read the stories written by his son, HaGaon HaRav Leib zt'l I finally understood. Rav Leib told about the time that the Chofetz Chaim fled with the yeshiva and his family from Poland to Russia. It came time to daven Mincha and they entered a shul. Before davening,' Reb Leib said, `I washed my hands as prescribed by the Shulchan Oruch but I noticed that my father began davening right away. Afterward I asked my father about this and he answered, "I guard my hands at all times!" '

"Now the reasons for the Chofetz Chaim's holy actions finally became clear to me," Rav Farber says. "The Chofetz Chaim was simply cautious that his hands remain tohor at all times and therefore he did not touch anything. Just as he guarded his tongue [from evil speech] he guarded his hands! Therefore, when he had to chase away a fly he would use something to cover his hands.

"From this we can gain an inkling of how the Chofetz Chaim became what he was; just as he guarded his hands he guards his eyes, his tongue-- everything!" http://www.chareidi.org/archives5761/balak/BLAKfeatures.htm

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