It was a wonderful surprise to find a review copy of Rabbi Moishe Dovid Lebovits’ latest installment: Halachically Speaking 3. As with the previous volumes, Halachically Speaking thoroughly tackles about twenty five different halachic topics providing readers with lesser-known information and sources on each one. Many of the newer and more novel rulings in the sefer are the opinions of the noted posek Rav Yisrael Belsky.
I’d like to take this opportunity to comment on one of the many practical and relevant topics covered in this volume. Among them is a section on “Kol Isha and Other Tznius Issues”. Included in this unit is shaking hands between men and women. While Rabbi Lebovits almost always brings dissenting, lenient, and alternative opinions, he seems to take a very stringent and unapologetic stance on the issue of shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex. He writes:
In the business world a handshake is considered the standard greeting for both men and women. Since one is not allowed to touch a woman as an expression of affection, a question arises if shaking hands with a woman in a business situation is permitted. Horav Moshe Feinstein zt”l maintains it is difficult to say that shaking hands is not considered an expression of affection. In another teshuva he wrote that doing so is forbidden. This is also the opinion of many other poskim. This issur still applies even if by refraining from shaking hands one will cause the woman to be embarrassed. Some poskim say it is better to be killed than to shake the hand of a woman. Sources for all statements in this paragraph are provided in the original text.
Although I certainly encourage one to endeavor to avoid shaking hands with the opposite sex whenever possible, I am somewhat uncomfortable with Rabbi Lebovits’ presentation of the issue. I am also unsure if it is wise for a contemporary English halacha sefer geared to the working orthodox public of all backgrounds to include something like “Some poskim say it is better to be killed than to shake the hand of a woman.”
Although there are indeed many halachic authorities who deem any contact whatsoever between members of the opposite sex to be categorically forbidden, Kreina D’igresa 1:162-163, Be’er Moshe 4:130 other contemporary authorities have ruled leniently with regards to shaking hands. See Rabbi Henkin’s dissertation on this issue in Chakira, Vol. 4, Winter 2007, available online here-PDF Yet other authorities distinguish between initiating a handshake with a member of the opposite sex (which they discourage), Igrot Moshe, E.H. 4:32 and returning such a gesture. It is also noted that declining someone’s outstretched hand may cause them some embarrassment and, as such, many authorities encourage one to shake hands in such a situation. Oral rulings of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky
Among the interesting arguments for a lenient approach is derived from the Talmud. Sota 19a In describing the procedure for examining a “sotah” a suspected adulteress, the Talmud notes that the Kohen is required to place his hands under those of the woman being examined. He then lifts their now joined hands and waves them together in the prescribed manner. The commentators question the propriety of this procedure, deeming it improper for a Kohen to touch a married woman in this way. Yerushalmi Sota 3:1
There are a number of answers which are offered in order to explain this seemingly inappropriate practice. Among them is the suggestion that it is unlikely for one to be sexually aroused by such brief contact with a woman. Pnei Moshe. See also Az Nidberu Y.D. 51 This idea is extended to permit handshakes, as they last a mere few seconds and are unlikely to stir up any sexual thoughts. As such, many authorities permit routine professional contact with the opposite sex which does not arouse sexual pleasure. Shach Y.D. 157:10 It is for this reason that one is permitted to sit next to a stranger of the opposite sex on a bus or subway without hesitation. Igrot Moshe E.H. 2:14, Salmat Chaim 4:17. See also: Minchat Yitzchak 7:73, Shevet Halevi 3:186, 4:167, and Az Nidberu 10:33 Nevertheless, if one would be aroused from shaking hands with a woman it would certainly be forbidden. Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:113, E.H. 1:56
While this issue remains controversial with no clear resolution, perhaps the ideal approach to the issue may be as Yeshiva University advises their graduates regarding job interviews:
Shaking hands is a customary part of the interview process. Halacha permits non-affectionate contact between men and women when necessary. A quick handshake can be assumed to be business protocol. Since failure to shake hands will most likely have a strong negative effect on the outcome, it is necessary non-affectionate contact, which is permissible. Cited here-PDF. Update: This page seems to have been removed.
It is interesting to note that there have been societies in the past in which authorities permitted a woman to kiss a man’s hand yet not shake it, as the former was merely considered common decency while the latter was deemed affectionate. Od Yosef Chai, Shoftim
Whether you agree with Rabbi Lebovits’ rulings or not, Halachically Speaking is a valuable resource for many relevant halachic issues, making it a valuable addition to every home.
|↑1||Sources for all statements in this paragraph are provided in the original text.|
|↑2||Kreina D’igresa 1:162-163, Be’er Moshe 4:130|
|↑3||See Rabbi Henkin’s dissertation on this issue in Chakira, Vol. 4, Winter 2007, available online here-PDF|
|↑4||Igrot Moshe, E.H. 4:32|
|↑5||Oral rulings of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky|
|↑7||Yerushalmi Sota 3:1|
|↑8||Pnei Moshe. See also Az Nidberu Y.D. 51|
|↑9||Shach Y.D. 157:10|
|↑10||Igrot Moshe E.H. 2:14, Salmat Chaim 4:17. See also: Minchat Yitzchak 7:73, Shevet Halevi 3:186, 4:167, and Az Nidberu 10:33|
|↑11||Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:113, E.H. 1:56|
|↑12||Cited here-PDF. Update: This page seems to have been removed.|
|↑13||Od Yosef Chai, Shoftim|