Q. I am working in a lawyer’s office. The lawyer is frum, but on the modern side. There is a client that came in and the lawyer shook hands with her. Afterwards, the lady extended her hand to me. My practice is never to shake hands with any lady under any circumstances, with no exceptions. What should I do, to avoid embarrassing my boss? It is obvious that we are both Yidden, so I cannot say that for religious reasons I don’t shake hands. I also don’t feel like giving this lady a lecture on how there are different opinions in Judaism.
A. On question 1336 in regard to returning a handshake to a non-Jewish lady, who is the CEO of the company, when she introduces herself to the prospective frum worker, and extends her hand to him in greeting, we wrote: Most Poskim prohibit returning a handshake. One of the first was Od Yosef Chai, (P. Shoftim 22) who quotes the European practice of clenching the hands of the host and hostess when arriving in a person’s home, and states that because this expresses mutual feelings of friendship and affection, it is considered derech chibah or an affectionate act and therefore forbidden. Igrois Moshe (O. H. 1: 114) maintains that the modern handshake is likewise proscribed, even though it has become the standard greeting for men and women alike. Many other Poskim likewise rule that one may not shake any woman’s hand, Jewish or not: (Oz Nidberu 2:73, Be’er Moshe 4:130,, Rivevos Efraim 8:596:8, Avnei Yashfei 2:89:1. Emes Le-Yaakov Even Ha-Ezer 21, footnote 4; Beis Avi 2:121. et. al.). There are some dissenting opinions, specially when causing embarrassment or kavod habrios is involved. It also should be mentioned that in modern times, a refusal to return a handshake is not anymore considered by many as embarrassing someone. This is due to the fact that this is constantly done by observers of other religions and individuals afraid of disease contamination).
In your particular case, foreseeing what is about to happen, one may just quickly take out a tissue from one’s pocket and pretend to clean one’s nose.
Horav Shlomo Miller’s Shlit’a opinion is that one should point to an imaginary wound or pain in his hand. (See next questions).
Rabbi A. Bartfeld as revised by Horav Shlomo Miller Shlit’a