Thursday, May 6, 2010

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.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a unique Photo that was taken in the winter of 1973 during the visit of President of Israel Zalman Shazar, who shared warm relations with the Rebbe. With special thanks to Rabbi Levin and Yechi Ezagui.

Good Shabbos

Mrs. __________________

Brookline, MA 02146

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.