The Zionist Conspiracy
Monday, September 26, 2005
Negiah and High-Fives
A while ago, Gil Student had several posts about shaking hands with women.
In the professional world, most observant Jews shake hands with women, despite Jewish law's general prohibition on touching women. Indeed, I can only think of two people I have known who have declined to do so; both would explain to the other party that for religious reasons they did not shake hands.
As I believe Gil's posts explained, there are (at least) two basic halachic reasons for shaking hands to be permissible. First, shaking hands is seen as not being derech chibah - usually interpreted as affectionate touching, but at times interpreted as touching that is (or can potentially lead to something that is) sexual in nature, or alternatively, touching that is in any way pleasurable.
(While touching that is derech chibah is seen as forbidden, it is not clear that touching that is not derech chibah is necessarily permissible, but that matter is beyond the scope of this post.)
The other reason for shaking hands to be permissible is not to cause a chilul hashem - a desecration of G-d's name - by rudely embarrassing another person who puts out her hand. This combined with shaking hands being seen as not derech chibah are the primary halachic basis for shaking hands.
In professional situations, I always shake hands with women. In social situations - such as recently at my wife's graduation from her medical residency program - I will shake hands with women if the woman puts out her hand first, or if the situation otherwise calls for it, but generally I don't put my hand out first.
This gets me to the current post. At yesterday's Jets game, the crowd was going wild early in the 3rd quarter when James Reed returned a fumble for a Jets touchdown. The fans in my row were all excitedly high-fiving. After high-fiving the two male fans to my right, I instinctively high-fived the raised hand to my left, before remembering that the fans on my left are ladies. Well, not exactly ladies, but members of the female gender who consume lots of alcohol and are as big as some of the Jets players. Before I could catch my breath, the other females seated to my left also raised their hands for high-fives.
My quandary, for which a decision was needed in a fraction of a second, was whether to execute the high-five, or to ignore the women who I am relegated to sit next to. My decision was to somewhat awkwardly avoid actively high-fiving these women, while instead lifting up my hand for them to high-five me if they so chose, which they all did.
Did I do the right thing? Are the concepts that allow (at least according to many) shaking hands with women applicable to my situation? Once I mistakenly high-fived one of the women, should I have refused to high-five the others?