For donations Click Here

Awkward situation at work


A Jewish man is sitting at his desk at work. He just said “Baruch ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech” of Birkas Hamazon when his gentile boss walks in, accompanied by an entourage of distinguished gentiles in the company, who desire to greet him and ask him certain questions. The head of the entourage, a non-Jewish lady, introduces herself and extends her hand to the Jew while he is in the middle of Birkas Hamazon. What should he do? He may not speak nor may he shake her hand. He is bentching by heart, without having a siddur in front of him, so he cannot even point to his siddur so as to indicate that he is in the middle of bentching.


You are portraying an awkward situation. First of all if he is bentching with kavana, they will all see that he is praying, and they will respect him for that. He can also say the words louder so they will understand that he is doing something religious. in this case he would also be allowed to motion to them that he will be with them shortly, because he is doing it in order to help himself concentrate better on his bentching. After he is finished he can politely explain that he was praying, and thanking G-d for the food that he just ate, which is one of our commandments. Other than that we have to know that there are times that we will have nisyonos, and we will be rewarded for it… and it might also cause them to respect him for it more.

I know of a story of a man that was in negotiations with a big company in Japan over a million dollar deal. When he got to Japan he met the vice president of the company, a woman, who extended her hand to him, and he politely explained to her that it is against his religion to have physical contact with any woman other than his wife. after the meeting he was told that the company will give him an answer in two weeks. He thought, “That it after all of that I blew it” and he was all dejected. Two weeks later he got an answer from the company that they want to double the original order. Their reason was that if this man can stand up to his ideals even in an awkward situation, that means that he is a man of principles and values, and therefore they want to do business with him!!:


Join the Conversation


  1. It makes sense to me that in the situation described above one may not speak, nor may he shake the lady’s hand, even if he knows for certain that it will cost him his job (such as if the CEO is an avowed feminist and atheist who will take great offense at being ignored).

    In any event, it may be that he is forbidden to continue bentching (as the rav suggested) in the presence of the lady (or ladies) if they are dressed immodestly, as one may not say words of holiness in the presence of erva, unless he turns his whole body away.

    1. True. This is what we daven for each morning v’lo liday nisayon”!!
      as a side point, I once heard that R’ Avigdor Miller zt”l said that when soneone is in such a sticky situation he can say it in a way that the woman won’t be insulted. Such as saying, “for religious reason I don’t shake hands with beautiful women”. Of course he doesn’t shake hands with any woman, but this will repair any ill feeling.

  2. I had the zechus to pose this shaila to Rav Shlomo Miller, a posek in Toronto. Rav Miller indicated, similar to the response here, that the person should point to his mouth while he is pronouncing the words of benching to indicate that he is praying. Or, if necessary, he could write a quick note saying that he was praying and would speak with them shortly. In the event that he feels that there is no alternative, Rav Miller ruled that he could be mafsik b’dibbur, in as few words as possible, to say that he was praying and would speak to them shortly. (I did not understand this last point, as it seems in my humble opinion that if one is mafsik b’dibbur in a bracha of SE or benching, he has to start over from the beginning of that bracha, and here that would involve repeating the Eibeshter’s name.)

    Also, it is worth noting two stories from the life of the great oved Hashem and baal mesiras nefesh, and probably one of the lamed vav tzaddikim whose merit sustained the world, HaRav HaTzaddik Yitzchak Zilber, who was moser nefesh for Yiddishkeit and mitzvos in a Russian gulag in ways that we cannot even imagine. Once, an anti-Semitic lady started talking to him while he was in the middle of SE. Halacha states that one may not interrupt even if there is a snake wrapped around his heel, and even if a king greets him. So Rav Zilber pointed to his chest and made motions that indicated that he was r”l having a heart attack and could not speak. By the time that medical assistance was summoned, he had finished davening and indicated that now he was feeling much better.

    Another time, a lady put out her hand to him. According to the Chazon Ish, one should die rather than to shake a lady’s hand. So Rav Zilber purposely tripped and fell, thus the lady grabbed him by his elbow instead of shaking his hand.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *