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Handshake with Women

Dear Rabbonim Shlita

What is the halocha when a woman stretches out her hand to you, can you shake it or is it oser? If oser is it dooraisa or derabonon?

These are my thoughts.
Avos DeRav Noson in Perek Sheini tells us of the isur of Lo Sikrav that even hugging and kissing is oser. The Rambam in Isurei Biah Perek 21 says that any such act gets malkos min hatorah. He also lists it as one of the Torah Mitzvos as lav 253.
On the other hand the Ramban on Sefer Hamitzvos holds it’s only derabonon.

Now the Shulchan Aruch in Even Haezer 20:1 quotes the Rambam, though the Shulchan Aruch just says that the punishment is malkos, but doesn’t say what isur it is or not. It is mashma from the quote almost verbatim that the Shulchan Aruch is paskening that way, see the Chelkas Mechokek there who indeed learns this way.
Also The Beis Yosef in Yoreh Deah discusses the case of a married woman who is niddah and is dangerously sick and no other doctors are around, whether the baal can check her pulse. He says that according to the Ramban it would be mutar, but according to the Rambam who holds that even touching a niddah is de’oraisa, perhaps even where it’s pikuach nefesh it would be oser.
The Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah 175:16 and 17 paskens that it is oser for the husband to help her physically and even to take her pulse, mashma that he’s paskening like the Rambam.
The shulchan aruch even goes further to oser not only hugging and kissing, but even touching. And so paskens the Levush.
But the question is raised if the Shulchan Aruch meant that only by a niddah or every arayos. Nevertheless he certainly paskens like the Rambam that Lo Sikravu is an isur dooraisa.So says the Gra there in seif katan 20.

Now the Rema there argues on the Shulchan Aruch that if no one else can help her or she’s dangerously ill and there aren’t other doctors, the baal can take her pulse. But it isn’t clear what the reasoning of the Rema is, whether it’s because he holds like the Ramban or because such physical contact is not included in Lo Sikravu.

Now the Rema in Yoreh Deah 157:7 brings the Ran who hold that even a lav in arayos (and avodah zorah and shefichas damim) meaning lo Sikravu is yehareg ve al yaavor. The Pashtus of the loshon is that the Rema holds that it is a lav doraisa. And the Shach learns this over there as well. He just qulaifies that that lav is only by way of “chibas biah”. This would explain the Rema by 175, that taking a pulse or helping is not chibas biah.
And this is very similar to how the biur Hagra learns the Rema in 175 seif katan 21.
Furthermore the Shach paskens in 175:20 like the Rambam but only when by way of chibis biah.

The Igros Moshe in Even Haezer siman katan 14 says “and even hugging and kissing with an eishes ish is an isur doraisa”. We see that R Moshe also held it to be an isur Torah.

Now what is unclear is what exactly is the geder of this Isur Torah. The Shach says “chibas biah”, the Gra says if “mechavein bishvil ervah”.
Now the Teshuvas Chavos Yair in siman 182 brought in the Pischei Teshuva in 157 says a gevaldike chiddush. He comes out that in a case of Eishes Ish Niddah where there is a great financial loss involved, the baal can kiss her to save himself the loss as long as he has no intention for hanaah and does so with a sad heart as if a sheid took hold of him, it would be mutar.
This is because to kiss with such intention is only an isur derabonon and in such circumstances they weren’t gozer.
We see from the Chavos Yair that even an act that is by nature loving, is only oser min hatorah if done with the intention for kirvah or biah. This could be pshat in the Gra but questionable if this is the shita of the Shach.

Now we meet 2 questions:
1) Lulei the pashtus Shulchan Aruch and Levush, is there an isur derabonon to touch an arayos?
2) Is shaking hands considered the de’oraisa chibas biah/mechavein bishvil arayos or not?

1) This is unclear, the Sdei Chemed brings shitas either way here, but we don’t see such a thing mefuresh in the Poskim in Shulchan Aruch.

2) The Igros Moshe in many teshuvas says that to stick your hand out first is poshut oser. That that we see yirei Hashem who do shake hands back, he says to judge them favorably they must hold that a hand shake is not by way of chibah and taiva, but lemaaseh it’s hard to rely on this.
We see that the Igros Moshe holds that shaking hands is a mistaber an isur Torah, but does seem to concede that were it not derech taiva etc, it would be mutar, mashma no isur derbanon on touch.

Now I’ve heard that some say that in order not to embarrass, there is a heiter to shake, but in sefora this doesn;t make ay sense, if someone makes you a kosher chicken and milk sandwich, it it mutar to eat it so as not to embarrass? See the Mishnah Halachos in Chelek Vav, teshuva 223 who says such words are oser to hear and goes on to totally dismiss that. Rather he says much like R Moshe’s tzad, which is that those who are meikel hold that this is not the isur Torah (and nor is there an isur derabonon).
(As to whether shaking a goy’s hand is different, see Even Haezer !6:1 that biah with a goy is also chiyuv kareis from divrei kabballa and the Shach in 175 brings that Jewish doctors treat eishes isha and goyim, mashma that there is an isur Torah of lo sikrav with goyim, but tazrich biur).

Lemaaseh, based on the Chavos Yair, I heard that Rav Schwab z’t’l was matir in cases of financial loss to shake back with negative intentions in mind. Also I heard that Teshuvos Melamed Lehoil was matir to shake, but I haven’t seen it and its reasoning.
Also I heard that some matir to shake with a glove.
Lemaaseh it would seem that pashtus one is running into a chashash isur Torah to shake hands and only beshas hadchak al pi horaas chacham can one be meikel.


Concerning hugging and kissing, there is a dispute concerning whether the prohibition applies only to derech chibah (as implied by the Rambam), or not. See Beis Shmuel 20:1, and see Shach 157:10. However, with regard to taking a pulse, the ruling of the Shach is virtually unanimous, and therefore where the touch is not derech chibah, there is no concern for any prohibition.

The Shach maintains that for derech chibah there is a Torah prohibition, but for touching that is not derech chibah there does not appear to be a special rabbinic prohibition.

This is the “room for leniency” in cases of embarrassment or extenuating circumstances. If there would be a rabbinic prohibition, of course there would not be any room for leniency, but because a handshake (in the context of a business or similar meeting, such as an interview) is perceived as nothing but a formal way of saying hello, there is no chibah involved, and therefore no prohibition.

On the contrary, in today’s age, a handshake is perhaps more an expression of keeping distance than derech chibah, for which kisses are the norm.

Nevertheless, as you mention, Rav Moshe writes in three places that this is prohibited (this could be out of concern that there is an element of chibah involved, and could also be as a geder).

Therefore, one should not be lenient in this matter, and under extenuating circumstances one should make a she’elas chacham.

By way of advice, it often helps when one explains in advance that handshake are off-limits for religious reasons. Once the lady in question has stretched out her hand, explanations help less.

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1 Comment

  1. I mentioned that the ruling of the Shach is virtually unanimous, but after looking deeper into the matter, I see that a number of poskim do dispute the ruling of the Shach even concerning taking a woman’s pulse (see Dagul Mervavah; Beis Yaakov 80. However, Tosafos Yom Hakippurim, and many others, side with the Shach, and the Shach is ruled by many teshuvos sefarim (such as Igros Moshe, Even Ha-Ezer 2:14) and others.

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