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Shaking Hands With a Woman

If a woman extends a hand to a man, can a man shake the hand in cases where the woman may be embarrassed? What about if the hand is offered in a job interview?

Answer:

It is forbidden to shake hands with women.

Sources:

In principle, a person should seek to avoid this circumstance.

Halachah is very meticulous in ensuring that distance is kept between the sexes (see Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-Ezer 21), and shaking hands is a form of ‘closeness’ that must be avoided.

The question of whether the handshake is formally forbidden or not depends on whether it is defined as a “manner of affection” (derech chibah or derech ta’avah) or not. The Ben Ish Chai (Od Yosef Hai, Shofetim 22) records the European practice of tightly grasping the hands of the host and hostess upon arriving in a person’s home, and states that because this expresses mutual feelings of friendship and affection, it is considered derech chibah and is forbidden.

In one place, Iggros Moshe (Orach Chaim I, no. 114) writes that the modern handshake is likewise forbidden (even though it has become the standard greeting for men and women alike), and in another place he writes that it is difficult to say that this is not considered affection. Many other authorities likewise rule that one may not shake a woman’s hand: See Be’er Moshe 4:130; Az Nidberu 2:73; Rivevos Efraim 8:596:8; Avnei Yashfei 2:89:1.

Mo’adim U-Zemanim (4:316, in a footnote) goes so far as to cite from the Chazon Ish that shaking a woman’s hand falls under the category of yehareg ve-al ya’avor!

From Sefer Chassidim (1090), which is quoted by the Ben Ish Chai, it is clear that this will apply even when both parties are wearing gloves. Although Sefer Chassidim discusses a non-Jewish woman, the same will apply to a Jewish woman. See also Minchas Yitzchak 5:27.

The prohibition applies even if by refraining from shaking hands the woman will be caused embarrassment (see Avnei Yashfei 2:89:1; see also Emes Le-Yaakov Even Ha-Ezer 21, footnote 4; Beis Avi 2:121).

However, to avoid causing embarrassment, one should of course explain that one’s refraint from shaking hands is not by any means personal, but only a facet of Jewish law. From experience, the situation can always be neutralized, so that no harm or ill-feeling is caused.

For an interesting discussion of the subject, see http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%205%20Letters.pdf. In practice, as noted above from many contemporary authorities, one cannot be lenient even under uncomfortable circumstances.

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