Orthodox Jews and Shaking Hands

Orthodox Jews and Shaking Hands

For us ultra-ultra-ultra (ultra) Orthodox Hasidim, handshaking with the other gender was prohibited. No handshakes, no hugs, not even passing a paper to my boss directly into his hands. I’d put it down on a table, and he’d pick it up.

Now that I’m secular, I shake hands – not big deal. (I’m not so big on hugs though; they are a recipe for far too much awkwardness.) I am always humored when I meet a Jewish person with a kipa. My instinct is to not hold out my hand. My mind says ‘Orthodox person; handshakes not allowed’. But these orthodox people see in me a regular secular woman in slacks and a t-shirt, and they hold out their hand. The result is a pathetic, awkward, hilarious reversal.


I see the realtor from a distance and wave. He has a velvet yarmulke and I can see tsitsit dangling at the side of his black pants; his shirt is white but short sleeved. My mind goes ‘ah, so he’s Orthodox.’ I come up to him and say “Hi, I’m Frieda.”

“David,” and he stretches out his hand. I’m like, ‘woah! woah, he is giving me his hand! Ring the caught-you-red-handed alarm, quick.’ Then I think of ways to explain it. ‘Ah, this isn’t transgressive! He is offering his hand because he thinks… I’m not religious!’

Oh, right. I’m not.

My hands are in my jean pockets. I quickly pull ’em out. Ulp. Should I shake? I hear a voice inside scream ‘NO! It’s verboten!’

I think this: he is giving me his hand only on the mistaken assumption that I am expecting it.

I ask myself, ‘so? Therefore? should I say “sorry, don’t shake hands with religious men — It’s my – I mean your – religion?”’

Goodness this is messed up.

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