What’s Wrong with Shaking a Woman’s Hand?

What can be wrong with a simple handshake? Especially when it is a widespread custom? The Avner Institute would like to present a letter of the Rebbe written in 1976 to a woman who asked why observant Jews refrain from any physical display of greeting to certain non-family members. With special thanks to the Nissan Mendel Archive.

Mrs. __________________
Brookline, MA

Blessing and Greeting:

I duly received your letter of ___________ and will remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart’s desires for good. May G-d grant that just as you wrote the letter, so you should be able to write good news on the subject matter.

With blessing,

P.S. With reference to the point you mention in your letter about some people displaying definite reservations which are required in accordance with our Torah, Toras Chaim, as for instance the matter of a friendly hug and kiss that you mention, it is surely superfluous to explain to you at length that the teachings of our Torah have been given not for G-d’s benefit, but for the benefit of the person observing them. It is needless to add that when it concerns a married person, especially one whom the Torah calls Akeres Habayis, the said benefit is also for each and every one of the members of the family. Hence, of what significance in such a case can there be when someone, out of ignorance, claims that such practices, though G-d given, should not be followed because of the external impressions that they might create, etc.

In connection with the above, I would like to cite an illustration, which actually occurred recently.

Several weeks ago a delegation of Dutch Jews were officially received by the Queen of Denmark. They wished to express the Jewish gratitude to her for the help given by the royal family and people of Denmark. During the official reception, when everyone stood in line to shake hands with the Queen as customary, and it came up to the turn of the Rabbi and his wife who were with that delegation, the Queen extended her hand. The Rabbi’s wife shook hands with the Queen, but the Rabbi explained his reservation on religious grounds, which the Queen graciously accepted. There was no embarrassment, although other men before and after the Rabbi shook hands with the Queen. On the contrary, it produced admiration for the Rabbi’s convictions and principles.

I mention these details, so that you can also mention them whenever you find that the occasion calls for a better understanding of such matters.

To receive more of these Letters and inspiring stories of the Rebbe to your inbox Email: Rebbebook@gmail.com


  • 1. Michush wrote:

    According to crownheights.info, women should vote so why not shake hands?

  • 2. Nice wrote:

    Can someone explain this letter? It is a wonderful story but dose not say that it is wrong to shake a woman’s hand, just that some people refrane from doing so! Still the question is, Whats wrong with shaking hands?

  • 3. Chaya Meira wrote:

    Rabbi Krinksy just made this kidush Hashem in the New York Times article. Just like the Rebbe writes in this letter!!

  • 5. Tracker wrote:

    The heading to this does not match the content.
    The question is not answered, but sidetracked.

  • 6. chayim wrote:

    the rebbe once told a lady
    “my mother taut my not to touch what does not belong to me”

  • 7. awacs wrote:

    “Still the question is, Whats wrong with shaking hands?”

    The answer is, that it’s a step on the way to gilui arayos. Only a small step, but a step. You shake someone’s hands out of affection for them. Only a little affection, but affection nonetheless. The next step is a hug, something nor unknown in business circles. The next step ….

    What the Rebbe is pointing out is *not* the halachic issues here (therefore the article is mistitled – sorry, Webby), but that there are issues at all.

  • 8. Who Seed Watt wrote:

    Bill Clinton used to shake women’s hands, and look what happened to him!

  • 9. dilemma wrote:

    Some of the comments here are too dumb to ignore yet too dumb to answer. What a dilemma. Somebody help!

  • 10. Bocher from Morristown wrote:

    There should be an article written, about how one should deal with the situation when a lady puts her hand out to a man-bocher. And it is something which should be discussed in yeshivas, and high schools. Its very important, and this situation happens very often on mivtzoim, and people get very offended unless the person gives a nice answer! What is that answer?

  • 11. AG wrote:

    the halacha is that the opposite genders shouldn’t touch eachother derech chibah. When shaking someone’s hand, you are extending a greeting of friendship and trust, which is a definite idea of chibah (loving or showing a relationship).

  • 13. Wikipedia wrote:

    #7 – The idea (and fear) that a small step leads to a bigger step to a bigger one and implies love/relationship is inaccurate. If every human being found each other attractive and couldn’t control themselves, then I would agree, but it’s simply not true. My lack of love life would be proof of this – LOL

    #10 – I would suggest to you to politely decline and explain that religious custom does not allow men and women to touch out of respect. Be sure to keep a smile on your face and make eye contact. Not making eye contact and not smiling can indicate fear, rejection, and disrespect among other things.

    Wikipedia, people, use it!
    August 24, 2010 10:36 pm

  • 14. what to answer wrote:

    an answer could be:“I’m sorry I’m religious and don’t shake hands, please don’t get offended” with a big smile of course.
    anyone else has an answer?

  • 15. ce wrote:

    great. who else do we need to learn from more than our Rebbe.
    I heard that a girl once asked R’ Manis Friedman “why can’t we go out with boys” and he said something like: you should better ask WHAT is a boy. If you knew, then you might understand the rest…..

  • 16. #11 wrote:

    If that were the case than there would be sexual harassment lawsuit against every businessman in America. A business handshake is professional, not affectional.

  • 17. what to answer wrote:

    an answer could be:“I’m sorry I’m religious and don’t shake hands, please don’t get offended” with a big smile of course.
    anyone else has an answer?

  • 18. Unbelievable wrote:

    In this day handshaking has nothing to do with love and affection, it is a proffessional courtsey. I am not condoning nor condeming however it is disgusting and misleading how an act that is engaged in as a friendly business greeting is turned into something sexual.Believe me you do not need to shake someones hand to engage in improper behavior, and if you are not inclined to such behavior a handshake will not lead you to it. Wake up!

  • 19. Wikipedia wrote:

    Thanks to this column, I had a nightmare last night that an ex-boss shook my hand and attempted to be inappropriate. Thank you, subconscious and crownheights.info for grossing me out.

  • 20. ME wrote:

    By goyim, who have a great level of freedom and interaction between genders, a handshake is nothing – just as many other things won’t significantly excite them. Yidden, on the other hand, have a much more strict level of separation, therefore, even a small act such as a handshake can cause an arousal, and must be avoided. The same applies for many other “insignificant” things, such as magazines, billboards etc.

    BTW, from Tosafos in Sotah 19a it’s clear that there is an issue with touching a woman’s hand. (Not necessarily under all circumstances, but there is an inherent problem with regards to arousing the Yetzer Hara).


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