I received some good feedback from yesterday’s post about shaking women’s hands. The following is in response to some of the feedback.
Importantly, I did not mean to imply that most or even many rabbis who work at the OU will shake a woman’s hand. I have no idea what the status is or whether the OU has a policy on it. I was told that R. Yisroel Belsky wrote a paper in which he prohibits it while someone wrote in the comments that his friend saw R. Hershel Schachter do it and, upon questioning, said it is preferable to making a woman feel bad. I have no independent knowledge of R. Shachter’s position on this.
I wrote that “It might lead to improper thoughts, which are rabbinically prohibited.” R. Yehuda Henkin pointed out to me that I was being too presumptive by referring to the prohibition as rabbinic. He is entirely correct. It is, in fact, a major dispute over whether it is of rabbinic or biblical origin. See Otzar Ha-Posekim 23:3 and She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah on Avodah Zarah 20b.
III. Derekh Hibah
An important question that I did not address is what “derekh hibah” means. I waffled a bit and alternately referred to it as “touching that yields no pleasure,” “enjoys,” “yields no pleasure, and is so quick that it cannot even warm a cold hand,” “indicates no closeness between the two parties.”
A perusal of the massive work Otzar Ha-Posekim (20:3:1) yields three positions on what, according to the Shakh’s position, is prohibited. The Shakh himself writes “derekh hibas bi’ah” which I would translate as “in a sexually desirous manner.” Others, however, refer only to “derekh hibah,” “in an affectionate manner” or receiving “hana’ah,” “pleasure.”
The last, which seems the most difficult to justify in the sources, is the strictest. It would imply that a handshake that warms the other’s hand is prohibited because there is non-sexual pleasure derived.
The middle position might include non-sexual but friendly touching. The first, though, would only prohibit obviously sexual behavior, i.e. what used to be called petting.
R. Yehuda Henkin advocates this first position, which the Shakh writes explicitly. See his Bnei Banim, vol. 1 nos. 37:7-9, 39; vol. 4 (available for purchase here) nos. 11, 13:2.