Shaking Hands with the Opposite Gender
“The courteous and competent real-estate agent I’d just hired to rent my house shocked and offended me when, after we signed our contract, he refused to shake my hand, saying that as an Orthodox Jew he did not touch women.
As a feminist, I oppose sex discrimination of all sorts. However, I also support freedom of religious expression. How do I balance these conflicting values? Should I tear up our contract? J.L., New York” This question was addressed to Randy Cohen, New York Times Magazine’s “The Ethicist.” His response made it clear that he found the Orthodox real estate agent’s refusal to shake his female client’s hand “an offensive action.” He wrote, “Though the agent dealt you only a petty slight, without ill intent, you’re entitled to work with someone who will treat you with the dignity and respect he shows his male clients.” He felt that the real estate agent’s behavior was an affront to the client. “I believe you should tear up your contract,” he wrote. Why did this real estate agent refuse to shake his client’s hand? Is any and all contact with a member of the opposite sex forbidden by the Torah?