The Handshake

Refraining from shaking hands with the opposite sex: bias vs. belief

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Comments (97)

(97) Anonymous, June 25, 2017 9:02 PM

Good fences make good neighbors

As a baa'l tshuva I don't have a problem with handshakes. However, I have a BIG problem with being forced to hug a person of either gender. I have recently decided that if I don't want to hug an acquaintance in a social situation, I will refrain from doing so.

(96) Omar Abdul-Malik, January 15, 2015 3:53 PM


Peace and greetings to you sir! This is a very sensitive issue. I am so glad you are addressing it! I didn't know this was part of the Jewish faith. I am an observant Muslim and thus REALLY try to avoid shaking hands with non familial women (non-mehram in Quran Arabic ). I work in medical and health education field with many females. I try different things like informing staff members in advance. Also, I have found that keeping my hands behind my back and giving a little head bow/nod (with an accompanying nice smile) and, apologies/explanation ("sorry, I'm Muslim and don't shake hands with women...etc.), usually is fairly well received by most women. I've only had a very women appear deeply offended. Wearing a beard and kufi helps identify as Muslim also (like you guys and the yamkha). Hope this helps. Peace

(95) Gavi Meyer, February 28, 2014 12:17 AM

Explaination aleiviates misunderstanding

If I know and understand why a certain custom is kept, I am not likely to be insulted or awkward. A quick good-natured one-liner explanation would probably cause me to blush and grin, and thank the person for cluing me in. So, I naturally presume I can try to do the reverse as well. . . . (in most cases). Be prepared to shrug off an occasional rebuff from someone who insists on being offended (no matter how polite you have been) because that is just "people". But, you know, this was not something that used to be a problem, so long ago. I am only 70 years old, yet I can remember when this hand shaking business was strictly a guy-thing. Deals and introductions, etc, were shaken upon by men to men. A handshake was considered a man's custom, and a woman doing it wound be seen as man-ish or brazen. Ladies, on the other hand, might gently take the hand of a newly introduced woman, or a long-time-no-see relative or girlfriend. What I am saying here, is that this hand-shaking problem pretty much rode in on the "women's lib" horse! Besides, a perceptive person can usually/often sense a potentially inappropriate hand-shake coming. (then is when you reach for you supposedly snotty tissue!)

(94) Anonymous, February 27, 2014 9:28 PM

Unintentional Hurt

Unintended Harm

It is MOST difficult. To this day it hurts my heart. Many years ago I was visiting schools in Israel with other senior government officials. The tour of one particular school and the presentations by faculty were superb. I was very impressed and posed several questions. My visiting male colleagues were clearly disinterested. They did not ask one question and could not appreciate what I was seeing and experiencing. After the tour the men all made a dash for the bus. I, however, stayed back to express my truly heartfelt gratitude.

As I extended my hand to the school Master, the gentleman threw his hands in the air; jumped away and shouted "I cannot touch a woman!" I was mortified. Never should I have put the fellow in this position. I should have known better. I was embarrassed beyond anything I can say here. What was even worse was that my colleagues witnessed the event from the bus. As I returned to the bus they said "Well, Valerie-Dawn,
what do you think of Jewish/Israeli hospitality now? It was all I could do to stay composed. By not remembering what I knew and not being totally aware of my behavior and speech, all this happened. People who know me would suggest that I am a feminist yet I feel responsible for the entire unpleasant event. To this day, it is a sorrow. It was a learning experience of great value

(93) Chaya Sarah Stark, February 27, 2014 9:24 PM

I think religious beliefs trumps everything else

I've been in this situation many many times. I consistently say "please don't be offended, but as an Orthodox Jewish Woman, I don't shake hands with men. Nothing personal"/ I've had the gamut of responses running from extreme anger to extreme respect. Witlhout sounding self -righteous, I feel that if I'm doing Hashem's will, I can be courteous, but don't have to be concerned about the outcome. One final caveat, If this statement were coming from an Amish person or someone from another gentile group, the response would be a lot less vociferous. We Jews are a passionate and chosen people. Our behavior gets noticed and commented on more frequently. There isn't much we can do about it except make sure our intentions are honorable.

(92) JD, October 2, 2012 8:06 PM

Be informed - respect & adjust your 'sale'

As a gentile woman I had to learn this practice in business, now I am very comfortable nodding instead of handshaking. It makes me feel good that my counterpart can relax - he knows.... i get it!

(91) Anonymous, July 18, 2012 6:05 PM

Follow up for suggested text for personal greeting card to send or HAND them

Suggested text to print on your personal greeting card to HAND them when they extend their hand to you or to send them in advance. I'm happy to meet you, though your hand I cannot shake. Your acquaintance, however, I'm very glad to make! It's nothing personal - due to religious reasons, which I carefully follow in all of the seasons. Please do not be offended. No offense is intended. Thank you for your understanding and respect. Next time, too, you'll know what to expect! Nice to meet you! It's still good to keep your hands occupied just in case they didn't get your message, forget, or don't have their reading glasses with them. Advance planning can really help in such situations! Pray for success!

(90) Anonymous, June 27, 2012 7:13 AM

Advance notice and other helpful suggestions to help to avoid uncomfortable situations.

A very effective way to avoid an on-the-spot uncomfortable situation, is to notify the hand-extender in advance, before the meeting (or family gathering, etc.), that you will not be shaking hands. Or,keep your hands occupied. For example, in one hand carry, tissues that you wipe your nose with, and in the other hand carry a drink, papers, food, your pet frog or snake, preferably something not easy to put down (i.e. not a briefcase) Or, when they extend their hand to you, HAND them a business card, personal greeting business-size card, pen with your business logo on it, paper with meeting outline, kiruv card, etc. while you quickly explain that you don't shake hands for religious reasons. Another suggestion is to cover your nose with both of your bare hands and sneeze. Give about seven quick sneezes in a row with both of your bare hands over your nose. (Yes, your allergies are acting up - your soul's allergy to shaking the hand of the opposite gender.) Pull a tissue out of your pocket or sleeve and wipe off your hands in front of them. Mumble something about your allergies (to hand shaking). Other suggestions include: coughing all over your hands,picking your teeth, wearing a wrist brace, or carrying in an open, tray of cookies, candies, or free samples, explaining that you can't shake, but you're happy to meet them and offer them to help themselves to something from your tray.

(89) Anonymous, April 8, 2011 1:44 AM

Minhag and Halachah

I think that there is a lot of confusion in the community when it comes to matters of shomer nagiah ("guarding the touch"). I would be interested to find out if anyone knows whether this observance is technically a minhag that has become powerful and meaningful for people, or whether it is actual halachah (Jewish Law) - I have heard different things from different people. If it is the case that shomer nagiah is in fact halacha, then I think it is best to risk a little bit of social awkwardness for the sake of observance. On the other hand, if it turns out that shomer nagiah is minhag - albeit a powerfully entrenched and meaningful one - then I believe that it is best to shake the hand of an individual of the opposite sex if they initiate a handshake. As long as it is not breaking the law, it is more important that you be a little uncomfortable by a situation than that you knowingly make someone else uncomfortable.

(88) Anonymous, August 28, 2010 7:18 PM

As someone converting, I have been aware of this tradition and I approve of not shaking hands. I am an older woman, but I still don't want to be touched. I leave the rest to Hashem. If Hashem wants me to have a husband and I would want only an observant Orthodox or Chasidim man, then I believe that man would want to know that I am very careful about being touched. If Hashem wants me to be a single woman, I will still not shake hands and I will cover my hair. I have to ask my Rabbi, but I think that I can cover my hair even as a single woman in her early 60's. Marriage certainly would not be about being fruitful and multiplying, however, the touching in any way between a man and a woman that are not married to each other is, to me, a big NO NO. Thanks Rabbi Salomon for this video and the opportunity to comment.

(87) , July 2, 2010 6:16 AM

tell them politely i'm feeling a little under the weather - believe me they are happy not to shake my hand , and thank me for it

(86) robert Almroth, May 8, 2010 8:09 AM

The sex and the handshake

I think that rabbi Salomon is right. If religion is the sole reason, then it should be respected. BUT. As a observant person you have to understand that there are consequenses as well. Maybe there are some jobs you are unfit to do. For example, a teacher who meet a lot of people. I show respect this way, because it creates a positive bond between me and the children and parents. So as an orthodox (and this is observers of all religions), we should respect this way of life, but also respect the fact that it creates consequenses for you.

(85) Amy Mager, April 26, 2010 8:53 PM

Some things are just private - touching is one of them....

I'm working really hard on this one. I usually say that I don't touch men other than my husband - so they hear that it's not about them being a man, but me protecting and guarding the holiness of my relationship with my husband. Recently, my 16 year old daughter told me she was taking on shomre negia, guarding touch because she wouldn't want her husband to be upset that she hadn't, and she'd prefer her husband to have been. It's all in how one says it as well - not that "I don't touch women" that can make women feel less than - but "touchins is a precious gift I reserve for my wife" - whoa - that will make any woman stop and think....

(84) Sonie, March 9, 2010 4:06 PM

Religious beliefs trumps gender issues

There's offending humans and offending God. Personally, I would rather offend a human than God. I learned this lesson tangibly when given a statue of a foreign god as a gift by a new friend who happened to be from Japan. For fear of offending our new friend we accepted with plans to, in the future, quietly get rid of it. I hid it in a closet thinking if he asked about it, this way we wouldn't have to lie to tell him it was upstairs and we rationalized that to us it was "just an object". We owned the statue for 2 months total. In that two months my family was involved in an unprecedented amount of auto accidents, two which by all rights should have been very serious; the last should have been fatal but my husband walked away without a scratch...though his car was totalled. Needless to say the statue went into the trash can as soon as he called and informed me of the 5th ( and most serious) auto incident. I believe with everything in me that God's response was to just lift his (ongoing) protection of my family just slightly as a warning. At that point I didn't care about our friend's feelings and as soon as we threw the thing in the trash everything that had happened was arighted completely and even miraculously. I'll never do THAT again! Sheesh!

(83) Anonymous, January 18, 2010 10:54 PM

I make it a practice to let the female extend her hand as an offering to shake! T his I learned from my father! Some women, other than orthodox I have kearned perfer not to shake hands! This has always worked well!

(82) Sahrah, January 18, 2010 6:48 AM

I shake at the thought of no hand shaking...

B" H As an "observant unorthodox Jewish woman", I didn't mind shaking hands with either men or women. Now G-d has blessed me with arthritis in my hands and I'm not arguing with him any more. It's simply too painful for me to shake hands any more and if I should fall into this old habit, I soon get a reminder why it dowsn't work for me.

(81) Devorah, January 10, 2010 12:08 AM

While I htink religious beliefs are important, NOT offending people and having a lack of a handshake is even MORE important. We are not supposed to offend people, or embarrass people. That comes above and beyond. What is the person going to think or feel about Jews when they leave us, after wee have embarrassed them? that should be the determining factor

(80) Anonymous, January 8, 2010 1:05 AM


Interesting. Yes, respect one's belief. I agree. However the spontaneity/habit is --expressing gratefulness, warmth, and acknowledgement of the other person with great respect. (Maybe that's why the Queen of England wears gloves!!-- no matter what--- her hands ae clean!) Remember the saying, 'it's all in the eyes' or 'the eyes are the window to the soul'. So if people do have ulterior motives it can be read. It's not essentially ALL in the handshake. Not everyone walks the 'path of the righteous so to speak, and has God's ways/laws of protection IN their hearts.

(79) Anonymous, January 6, 2010 10:39 PM

Anyone should be able to choose when NOT to be touched

*A man my husband knows professionally is very "touch-y Feel-y" One day at the maket he came up behind me and put his hand on the small of my waist. I jumped a mile and said: You scared me; I thought some strange man was touching me." He moved his hand and has kept it to himself since. *My grad school advisor was Orthodox (I am not) but I was always careful not to reach out a handshake or close the office door. The parralell is clear: People should have their physicals boundaries respected.

(78) Anonymous, January 3, 2010 11:42 PM

On the Job!

I've been a nurse for many many years, and my work has frequently brought me into close emotional and physical contact with people iexperiencing intensely challenging tmes. Not infrequently, they express their thanks with not only handshakes but embraces. men and women. I usually accept them in the spirit they are given as I have felt it would be too hurtful to seem to reject people expressing spontaneous gratitude and these times. At other times I am able to tell people that I do not touch other men than my husband, except in my role as a medical professional. I try to speak warmly and with a smile and eye contact, to take away from any feeling of awkwardness or rejection. My difficulty is in relating to my lovely and spontaneous non-Jewish relatives whom i do not see often!

(77) Susan Schmidt, December 21, 2009 7:39 PM

I am in favor of any gesture that helps a man or women decrease the temptaion especially if they are married.

I am in favor of any measure of distancing oneself from the opposite sex to help decrease the temptation of betrayal of the best for ourselves and especially for those in who choose to be married.

(76) Leah, December 18, 2009 9:39 AM

When you see a woman/man walking towards you who might be ready to shake your hand, cough or sneeze into it. That usually scares people away pretty far. Or have both hands full. Say at a party, have coffee in one hand and a plate of food in the other. Shabbat Shalom!

(75) Anonymous, December 17, 2009 12:28 AM

shaking hands

i agree that a peson should stand by his/her religious belief when it comes to shaking hands. explain and people will understand-it's a morality issue that we follow. i confront this challenge weekly if not daily--you have to stand for what's right.

(74) Anonymous, December 16, 2009 4:10 AM

Funny way to respond

I once heard a Rabbi state to a woman who stuck her hand out to shake his, " Sorry, but I already gave my hand in marriage to my wife. I can't give it to anyone else." I thought this was a humorous and nice way of saying it

(73) Jonathan Shopiro, December 15, 2009 7:58 PM

Freedom and consequences

Exercise your freedoms as you choose: refuse to shake hands, wear a yarmulke or a burkha, whatever. If you have religious reasons, explain them to whomever will will listen. But then be willing to accept the consequences, be they good or bad.

(72) amy heyman, December 14, 2009 6:01 PM

can understand

I have a friend who won't shake hands because she is afraid to pick up the flu. People accept that reason and don't seem to be offended. I guess that anyone has the right to not be touched by someone else for whatever reason, so a religious reason probably justifies declining to accept someone's hand. I don't like it however when a religious man pulls back as though I am some sort of evil temptress. It has happened even where I would have had no reason to suspect that offering my hand would be unwelcome. Politeness is an important value too. And I also agree with #65 that avoiding embarassing another person in certain settings might override the general belief that religious men and women prefer not to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. As, always common sense and reasonable accomodation should prevail if we are too live peacefully in a multi-cultural world.

(71) SOSY, December 14, 2009 3:45 PM

Sorry you're uncomfortable.

Ive been in situations where a non-jewish man stuck out his for a shake. Picking up both hands, palms out I would say "Sorry, I don't shake, It's an orthodox thing!" Most of the time, the response would be "Ok. I can respect that!" But even if it was awkward , I always kept my head high and proudly to say I never gave in. It's really miDoraisa...

(70) David Wolf, December 14, 2009 3:30 PM

What I've SEEN and HEARD on the subject

Firstly, I attended Reb Simcha Wasserman's yeshiva in L. A. for several years, and OFTEN saw him respond to a lady's outstretched hand with his own, albeit, I'm sure, relunctantly. Second, Rabbi Yakov Hopfer here in Baltimore has, more than once, told us of a class for executives in which the instructress told her students that they should respect Jews' decisions not to shake hands, since it's part of their religion, and not a form of disrespect. In fact, generally speaking, those of us who "stick-up" for our religious rules are usually more highly respected and trusted, since we're clearly G-d-fearing people. My personal feeling is that, when it's a one-time, formal, quick handshake, then it's not really an issue. Much more important is to set the standard for yourself in your own work environment, where, once you allow certain laxities, you're really stuck, and then the inconistencies will cause you nothing but grief. DW

(69) Anonymous, December 14, 2009 7:05 AM



(68) tzipporah, December 12, 2009 7:01 PM

hard to find right words to not offend anyone

Everyone gets offended by something different, often times anyway. It is difficult to always know what will offend someone and what will not. I think all you can do is do your best to humbly, politely and respectfully explain the reasons for not shaking someone's hand. We each have to do our best to stand up for what we know is right.

(67) Mordy Neuman, December 11, 2009 3:50 PM

protecting the woman's privacy & dignity

While some females in the corporate world may feel offended by religious Jewish men refusing to shake their hand, it should be noted that he is merely following a law that was created to protect her privacy & dignity. There is an attraction between men & women by instinct, and so, basic instinct dictates vulnerability between the two. A woman being more refined by nature may succumb quicker to a charming man when fatal attraction strikes. A simple handshake may in some cases be the ice breaker. “Don’t believe in yourself till the day that you die,” warn us our sages. Unfortunately, the circumstances doesn’t always allow for many words to be shed when faced with an handshake, and therefore the white-lie of ‘I have a little cold, I’d rather nor shake hands’ sometimes seems more appropriate for the moment, as not to create a scene. But if only religious Jews would have the ‘chutzpah’ to explain themselves properly, maybe more people would respect it, rather than feel offended.

(66) Anonymous, December 11, 2009 3:14 AM

Another reason some will not shake hands

Some people will politely refuse to shake hands with anyone due to the fact that due to medical reasons it is painful to do so. They meet with similar responses - most people are okay with it, a few are not. I personally do not ascribe to the religious reasons behind not shaking hands, but can understand that to another person it may be psychologically uncomfortable. To me that has as much validity as physical discomfort in declining a handshake. Personally, i've always prefered a warm yet polite smile to a handshake anyway.

(65) Anonymous, December 11, 2009 1:54 AM

I always thought, and I remember discussing this with teachers in my school when I was younger, that when a member of the opposite sex extends their hand to you you should shake it. If they are a person that you are likely to see again than that is one thing, but lets say this is a one time thing? Is it worth it to risk Chilul Hashem?

(64) Anonymous, December 10, 2009 6:13 PM

"I only touch my wife"

I once heard a great story about a rabbi who dealt with it this way - "I only touch my wife"...said (very importantly) with Love and Respect.

(63) agnes csato, December 10, 2009 4:38 PM

Would be considered offensive in Chile by non jews-

agnes December 10. Yes, I was there when my daughter whi is an arquitect tryed to make business between the buyer a Raby and the chilean woman who sold her land. She was shaken that her hand was rejected by the Raby and HE didnt bother to explain her a thing. My daughter tryed to speak but it was to late. They didn't do business and the synagogue wasn built on that land. The Lady turned away offended, and everybody left in silence. SHould the Raby have said something? Or silence was just as good, but then again who should explain something completely unknown in CHILE???

(62) Yisroel Aaron, December 10, 2009 1:45 PM

It all starts from here !

A Rabbi I know who is extremely respected and widely travelled on behalf of kashrut organisations around the world once shared with me this anecdote : He once met a CEO with the view to producing a a particular product for the kosher market. She offered her hand to him, at which point he respectfully informed her that the jewish religion forbids contact between a man and a woman unless she was his wife. She responded " Rabbi - what a great religion you have ! It all starts with that first handshake ! " In other words once the initial contact is made,breaking the ice,then anything is possible between a man and a awoman when no-one is around !!

(61) , December 10, 2009 1:32 AM

..."not out of disrespect for you, it is out of respect for you."

As a male Orthodox Sales Manager calling largely on non-jewish professional, educated clients, I won't disagree that things can be awkward. Here are a few things I've learned and use in my travels. 1) When meeting with a female client, always have a business card in your right hand. It is terribly awkward when they have their hand extended for you to "leave them hanging." Hand them a card, smile, and gently explain that you can't shake for religious reasons, and it is a pleasure to meet/work with/do business with them. Most understand and leave it at that. All appreciate that you have handed them a card, maintaining their dignity and respect by addressing their outstretched hand. Often things will progress well from there without additional comment. Occasionally more explanation is needed. In that case, a wonderful explanation which was told to me by a well-respected community advocate and friend can be given as follows. Say "I am sure that you can understand that in many cultures it would be considered improper for, say, a husband to kiss another man's wife. Orthodox Judaism is so respectful of women, I can not even touch a woman who is not my wife or immediate blood relative, and when I can't do that, it is not out of disrespect for you, quite the opposite it is absolutely out of respect for you!" I know that this is a bit one sided from the male point of view, and I am sincerely hopeful that it will help some of your readership. best of luck and happy Chanukah!

(60) Talia, December 9, 2009 11:03 PM

Just as we are not supposed to shake hands we are also not to embarass people in public.

I think it depends on the circumstances. I work in a hospital and a doctor went to shake the hand of a woman. She blurted out "I don't shake hands with men." He was very obviously embarrased and taken back. First of all he didn't know what her religious background was and he was simply trying to be professional. I think in that circumstance it would have better not to embarrass him in front of his colleagues. When there is an ongoing relationship or you are constantly dealing with the same professional on a regular basis you can explain to them your customs, but when someone meets you for the first time and they don't know anything about you it is good not to embarass them. At a more appropriate time you can explain the custom and that you do not care to shake hands and why.

(59) Donna C., December 9, 2009 9:29 PM

This is to me a time to respect the other person's religious beliefs. I woud just say sorry and put my hand down. No problem.

(58) Aaron, December 9, 2009 7:42 PM

Prepare them in Advance - "CHOCHAM ENAV BEROSHO" & Be Sincerely Polite

I have been a Baal Tshuva for 24 years and have avoided handshakes with women (business, friends, or relatives) since I was told by my Rabbi 20 years ago that the Chazon Ish Zt"l held on this issue "Yehareg U'Bal Yaavor." I was then a college student and now an attorney for over 14 years, and have never regreted my decision to strictly follow the Daat Torah. Yes, there have been many awkward moments, and many female attorneys and executives have not responded well to it, but the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY have been respectful of it. I believe the key to my success has been (1) Be SINCERELY polite about it and (2) whenever possible GIVE THEM ADVANCE WARNING. When possible, I explain to them over the phone before we meet, or my receptionist (no, she is not Jewish) explains to them when they arrive at my office. When you take away the awkward element of surprise, they have a chance to process it without their emotions clouding their judgment. In most cases, we have the opportunity to speak before we meet them, why not implement the advice of "CHOCHAM ENAV BEROSHO." People respect a Principled but polite person. Are we going to stop Brit Millah,just because most gentiles find it offensive?!

(57) Rhoda, December 9, 2009 5:46 PM

Shaking Hands

I am not an orthodox person however in this case I do respect the belief of more religious people besides nowadays it is becoming more accepted not to shake hands due to sanitary conditions that are prevalent.

(56) Susan, December 9, 2009 5:40 PM

Hand Shake

We hired a contractor to do a good amount out work on my house. After the contract was written and the contractor was ready to leave he shook my husband"s hand and told me he could not shake mine due to his regilous beliefs. I respect that and understood, even though as a Reform Jew I was taken back by his words. One of his workers was a fellow from Israel. He did the job and proceeded to shake both my husband and my hand. Very confusing!!

(55) Beth, December 9, 2009 5:33 PM

different rules for different communities

If you choose to work in a secular community, handshaking goes with the territory. I understand shomer negiah and try to follow the customs of the community I’m in (meaning no handshakes when in a religious community), but when a business man shakes the hands of the men at a meeting and ignores mine, he essentially tells me that I am not as serious a business colleague as the others. If a woman ignores the outstretched hands of the men, she essentially tells them she will be forming closer business relationships with the women and not the men. All of this impacts on business, business relationships, etc. It’s the same as when the VP of a company only shakes certain hands – the rest of the group feels excluded, dismissed, and unimportant. If you choose to work in a secular community, you have to respect the general social rules. I’d love to avoid shaking hands due to sanitary reasons (#33, #37) but people think I’m rude. And the handshakes happen too quickly to explain I am getting over a cold.

(54) Judith, December 9, 2009 4:21 PM

body language and forms of showing respect

Touching hands by using the handshake is strictly a western custom. There are other customs used for many centuries that not only show respect between people, but also have the potential to raise each person to a higher level in the minds of each. Significantly, touching the other person is not necessary. Consider the namaste used in the East. When the hands are brought together in front of the heart it is a confirmation of sincerity like a handshake and there are no doubts in the communication/agreement. When the keter (crown of the head) is pointed to the other person, one acknowledges the sacredness of that person's neshama as a show of respect.

(53) irvb, December 9, 2009 3:41 PM


In the world in which we live where women have equal status in the market place and the usual conclusion to any business deal is a handshake, it is insulting to reject the outstretched hand of person. Sometimes being a mensch is more important than some evil inclination that you should not have in the act of a hand shake.

(52) Howard Cohn, December 9, 2009 12:59 PM

Respect one's customs.

It is important that one is aware of the social and religious customs of others. The fact that some men or women will not shake the hand of a member of the opposite sex must be respected. It is also important to explain why this is not done so that in the future this situation can be avoided. I am not orthodox but when introduced or meet an orthodox woman I will wait for her to extend her hand. It is a matter of respect not competing "rights."

(51) MOSHE, December 9, 2009 12:37 PM

Not to shake is actually "respect".

R’ Avigdor Miller Zt”l was asked once what to do when a handshake with a woman is called for, he responded (humorously) “tell her that you shake hands with non pretty women only”... The point: Denying the chemistry that exists in men when coming close to women is unrealistic.

(50) Phil, December 9, 2009 10:24 AM

origin of handshake; technique

Jack, in comment 45, writes: "The custom of shaking hands, with the right hand, has its origin in medieval times " Perhaps a perusal of would've been in order. Besides, it's irrelevant, since the concept of physical contact with 'arayot' is already discussed by Maimonides. See wiki/negiah for somewhat nuanced viewpoints. How about this novel approach to avoid shaking hands? Tell him/her: "I'm sorry, but I have a really strong libido. You don't want me to go over the edge by shaking your hand, do you?"

(49) Anonymous, December 9, 2009 10:14 AM

Shaking hands

What is the big deal - so you shake someone's hands - religious or not - never ever embarrass the other person by not shaking his/her hand. I live a very secular life, but work for an Orthodox Organisation and see both sides of the coin.

(48) Yael, December 9, 2009 9:08 AM

Very conflicting

there is a close friend of the family who has been shaking and giving us kisses since our childhood. I have grown up orthodox but y mother is not and she never made a big deal out of it. when I finally mustered up the courage at age 16 to call him up and tell him that i don't want to "touch" him anymore because I'm a religious girl, he said to me that he was told it's just a jewish custom. I really didn't want to be mean about it so I said all right but now that I'm almost 30, I'm still really upset about it. What should i do? I only see him once a year but that doesn't make it all right.

(47) , December 9, 2009 8:41 AM

I agree with Jack on the prevention of drawing side weapon, but I thought that befor paper legalism the hankshake was the way of closure on a contract between the parties.

(46) chaim d, December 9, 2009 7:50 AM


keep a handkerchief in your pocket and say excuse me I just came over a cold or I am afraid of the viruses going around.

(45) robertpo, December 9, 2009 6:27 AM

Social touching

I think that touching between men and women in this social context can be a prelude to feelings that may be more intimate than intended. I personally defer to the woman's preference. And I try to remember that it is entirely a business relationship. It is not a friendship. But there is also the issue of not embarassing someone. It seems this really is something to think about.

(44) Anonymous, December 9, 2009 5:26 AM

do what your rav suggests

When i was being m'karev'ed by Aish, my Rav told me that if a man sticks out his hand, I should shake it to avoid embarrassing him. I also was told this by a community leader a couple of years before this in a different setting; that he shakes a hand held out to him though he is FFB! Since I spent the majority of my life in the secular world, I don't get excited by a handshake, or even a social hug, though i would not hug a man nowadays. Maybe that has something to do with my rav's decision. But times have changed, and I have changed with them. And maybe it's time to revisit this topic with my current Rav. Thanks for a great discussion of a tricky situation.

(43) Elana, December 9, 2009 4:32 AM

agree with #1

Not at all is this issue sexism. A man cannot shake a woman's hand and vice how is that sexism? Also, you really aren't supposed to cause a hillul hashem and embaress someone else. So, if it is someone you will probably not meet again, you could say "I may be coming down with a cold; don't want to get you sick." (Not even a could be coming down with a cold, since different viruses have different incubation periods). If it is someone you deal with on a constant basis, explain yourself before the uncomfortable situation arises.

(42) Jack, December 9, 2009 4:31 AM

the author's logic is specious

I happento have wrote the author in question and questioned his logic. The custom of shaking hands, with the right hand, has its origin in medieval times of preventing the other party from drawing his sideweapon, rather than as a show of respect. I also posed to him the situation -if the "discriminating" real estate agent were offering the offended client a huge profit, would the author be so glib as to agree with her sense of sex discrimination at the expense of her self-interest.

(41) DACON9, December 9, 2009 3:43 AM


(40) Dasha18, December 9, 2009 3:41 AM

Out of respect for my husband

That last time iIwas lenient and shook the eye doctor's hand, he then asked me out to lunch, even though he knew I was married. I am back to my response, which is that there are many reasons in my religion but most importantly I do not shake hands out of respect for my husband, and that is received very well.

(39) Anonymous, December 9, 2009 3:29 AM

The lesser of 2 evils

The choice between 1) risking to embarrass someone by not returning the hand shake and hope they are understanding of your religious choices and 2) returning the hand shake at the cost of fulfilling Shomer Nagia, is a tough choice and a lot is based on the individual and the repercussions of that desicion. As for myself, I would be doing MORE DAMAGE by refusing the hand shake than just casually shaking their hand if there was no way of preventing it. In today's world, where the line between freedom of religion and destructive fanaticism is usually drawn by how anti-life or destructive that religion is. By refusing the hand shake, I am viewed not as a compassionate Jew who keeps his marriage holy, but put in the category of the fanatics (suicide bombers) who want to convert or kill everyone.

(38) Laura, December 9, 2009 3:23 AM

I've been in sales for years and now own my own company, never shook hands with men. I find that men have less of a problem with women not shaking hands with them than a women who are told by a man that he won't shake hands with them. for the most part, men don't take it personally, though they may think your crazy. I like Shulamit's lines, i've used lines like that, too, telling people it's one of my religious hangups. once they hear it's a religious thing, most people respect it. They also don't forget you, you become the woman who doesn't shake hands with men, not a bad thing at all!

(37) Anonymous, December 9, 2009 3:15 AM

H1N1 practical advise for not hand shaking at all??

Hello, I also agree with people not wanting to touch someone else other than their spouse. I am becoming more religious and I am also married, so I see the point in the instruction to not touch the opposite sex. In my area of the U.S.A. recently, we have had many people not shake hands based on the transmission of the H1N1 virus. This makes it much easier when someone of the opposite sex extends the hand for a shake in a greeting to keep my hands clasped and smile really big and say "hello" instead of having to touch them. Most men and women I know get the point!!

(36) annie, December 9, 2009 3:12 AM

to refuse a handshake and let the other person with an offered, opened hand as you nicely explain your reason for not seizing it, might make sense in term of religious observance but it mostly translates as a rejection for the one who was greeting you.In the western world shaking hand, as meeting eyes and smiling, is body language for welcoming the other... not some unhealthy sexual contact! Loving your husband, believing in God and respecting yourself have nothing to do with it.

(35) Pesha, December 9, 2009 3:03 AM

Is this your major worry?

If you are newly religious, I believe this is a worry. If you are FFB, just go with the flow. You will get through this one,

(34) Anonymous, December 9, 2009 2:41 AM

something to think about

I think people do respect those who will not shake hands due to religion. I have been in this scenario many a time, and I find it hard to understand why this women took it in the wrong way. This is something we have to be proud of doing (or not doing), not apologizing as we hold our hands behind our backs! Thank you for bringing up these sensitive topics to the public and share the right haskafos as this is something really needed in this day and age.

(33) Anonymous, December 9, 2009 2:31 AM

Another View

My reason for not shaking hands is not strictly religious. I am a registered nurse and have taken care of many male patients. They have to be cared for and lets face it most nurses are female. The main reason I do not like to shake hands with men is for sanitaty puropses. I have observed that many men do not wash their hands after they urinate. Do the math ! Anyway If you have lust and impure intentions in your heart and mind you can definately make that know without any physical contact.

(32) Yaankel, December 9, 2009 2:17 AM

3 easy steps

I've had a success with the following, baruch H-shem: "I'm sorry, but our custom is that I only touch my wife; I'm very pleased to meet you though, etc etc." As you see, I start by apologizing - don't YOU feel bad; this was my call, and you did nothing wrong. I call my practice a "custom" - in the post-modern, mutlcultural world, no one's supposed to question your customs! And I phrase it in the positive - not "I can't," rather "I only touch my wife." I even gain points for fidelity! If you want to be cute, try: "...I only shake my wife's hand. Come to think of it - I don't think I've ever shaken her hand either!"

(31) Andy Tryon, December 9, 2009 2:15 AM

We must respect religious belief

Torah always is the final answer. If we don’t want to touch or be touched by others due to religious conviction that should be respected. If the Realtor gracefully explained his position of Orthodoxy it should be enough, otherwise she is the insensitive one. Several times on flights to and from Israel I have gladly traded my seat to an Orthodox man so that he would not have to sit next to a woman. It is just an issue of respect of others religious observance, especially if it does not bring harm to others.

(30) Avi, December 9, 2009 1:57 AM

Embarassing People

If meeting someone for the first time, one must be aware of the situation. If one is offered a hand to shake one should accept that hand no matter the sex of the offerer especially if it is in mixed (Jewish & Gentile) campany. Not to do so is to embarrass and maybe even offend the one who is making the gesture. It should be remembered that for a man to shake hands with a non Jewish man is also contrary to Halacha but 99.99% of even religously men will do so if the person making the gesture is male. Halacha says that we must not bring shame or dishonour on Judaism, so we have a puzzlement (King & I). How do we get around it? Wait and see, if the person (woman) offers their hand, if they do then accept it, shake their hand and then release it and not linger with it in yours, we must remember at all times many people do not understand our ways. Yisroel's idea would work but only in very limited ways but has one large drawback how does he eat the food on the plate? Place the glass on the plate and eat if so then he would be expected to do so when he is meeting someone if one is going to use this or similar methods you have becareful that you are not seen shaking someone else's hand by the person you have previously snubbed, bringing dishonour on Judaism is a far greater averah than shaking someone's hand.

(29) ester leah, December 9, 2009 1:54 AM

smile and explain nicely

When i was an executive my Rabbi told me to shake hands to avoid embarrasing someone and costing my employer money. Now as a stay at home mom, i smile and say i am very glad to meet you and i don't shake hands with guys. I know of a young woman who was a shoe in for an executive position until time for the handshake at the end of the interview. She just ignored the hand making the interviewer uncomfortable. It was felt that if she would do that to a possible employer she would make clients uncomfortable too and she did not get the job. If one is not going to shake in a business community a warm smile and immediate explanation are a must to avoid discomfort. Just ignoring the hand makes observant Judiasm look bad and the non-shaker like a jerk. If my local high school had adressed this then a young lady would be an executive instead of unemployed.

(28) Lisa, December 9, 2009 1:38 AM

Hanukkah 5764

I had just gotten back into Judaism and needed a menorah so I went to the Danbury Fair Mall in CT.As I got out of my car and found a plain white envelope with $1500 in it and took it to the lost and found,there a Rabbi and his wife where looking for said envelope after lighting the Menorah.I turned it over and they gave me a free Menorah.Being a reform Jew and Americanized, I shook the Rabbi's hand and his poor sweet wife nearly fainted ,but they said NOTHING...Only latter I found out my HORRIBLE MISTAKE,and wished I had never done it,but I was so glad for the 2 miracles,I didn't think,or even know....and I still cringe about it to this day...I think if something is done in ignorance,it should be pointed out so that one could learn ,and not suffer embarassment of it later on....BY the way if anyone knows them,tell them I didn't know and am SO sorry for it.!!!..Shalom

(27) Anonymous, December 9, 2009 1:31 AM


So practically how do I handle the situation? If I am in the secular work place I shake hands regardless of gender. I am not shomer negiah. If I am amongst Orthodox Jews in my community, I do not shake hands with males because I assume the man is shomer negiah unless the male person tells me otherwise. I respect the cultural and religious wishes of the other person so, therefore, this is why I shake hands with the non Orthodox Jewish or non Jewish person who believes hand shaking is ok and do not shake the hands of the Orthodox Jewish person who believes in being shomer negiah. On a personal level, although I am an Orthodox Jewess, I do not believe in the concept of being shomer negiah. I was once married and now am a divorced mother and I have chosen to be celibate. All person who know me are aware of my choice. I have no problem sharing this information with people that I meet. I am very clear about this choice. Handshaking is an American formal greeting and has no sexual implications; and I feel handshaking is appropriate in the work place. If I felt a male was being inappropriate in anyway, I would not hesitate to verbally discuss the matter with him or with his supervisor if he did not respect my boundaries in order to have an appropriate relationship.

(26) Aaron Katz, December 9, 2009 1:14 AM

hides an underlying problem

This is a very complicated situation. In the story given in the video, it is found that the real estate agent will not shake the hand of the client. This is not a big deal. But what is a big deal, is that this will make it awkward between potential buyers and the real estate agent. This can make it harder to sell the home. This is why that moment was awkward. On another level, I personally do not shake hands with people. But I think it is because I am autistic, and I so I am unable to emotionally discriminate between touch in business with touch as in love. So, would it be justifiable for me to claim I do not touch for religious reasons? That is easier to claim than some underlying personal condition I personally have. But it does not feel right to use religion in this way.

(25) Anonymous, December 9, 2009 1:09 AM

Don't like it

My son has become religious and it has built barriers between my son and people who love him. I feel it is against human nature to ban showing affection with hugs and handshakes. It is a bitter pill for his aunts and cousins to swallow. Before his change, he was outwardly very affectionate. I know this comment is in the minority of other comments. But there it is.

(24) Chana Leah, December 9, 2009 12:38 AM

It's hard

I am pretty much shomer mitzvot, but this is one instance where I have, on a few ocassions, shaken hands when I would prefer not to. When I have done it, it has always been to relieve someone else of acute embarassment, but in my effort to make them feel better, I have always ended up kicking myself for not standing up to my own convictions, worrying instead about someone else's feelings and reactions.

(23) Josh, December 9, 2009 12:06 AM

Being a religious Jew myself, I've been in this situation many times. I have reacted differently in different situations. If it was just me and a fellow female employee, I would refrain from shaking her hand and explain my reason for doing so. If I was with a few other people and a woman wanted to shake my hand, I would to avoid embarrassment for her or even myself.

(22) Bellarose, December 8, 2009 11:59 PM

over-grown toddlers

I would much prefer to not be "shook" or hugged :) but i live in a community w/ lifelong friends and acquaintances who look like wounded, rejected puppies if they are not greeted through the dreaded handshake or quick perfunctory hug and peck on the cheek. These men are like toddlers in grown-up bodies and few grasp the reason behind the reason....intellectually perhaps, but emotionally it's like this: "if you don't greet me w/ the standard physical gesture then it means you don't like me". Immature yes, but is it worth the effort to scrupulously keep your distance every time? Me? I just cough into my hands as I'm approaching...and Everyone stays far away! :)

(21) Anonymous, December 8, 2009 11:52 PM

yes shake hands

It is more important to be respectful to people and shake hands until they know you are not comfortable with such greetings. then they will no longer reach out to you. But do not insult people and say you are unable to "topuch" them since most people do not think shaking hands is "touching in a sexual nature or any nature".

(20) Debbie Litwack, December 8, 2009 11:47 PM

"consider yourself"( hugged)

My Rebbitzin/friend in Pittsburgh is a very huggy warm person. Her line to the men she wishes she could hug warmly is "consider yourself" which she shortened from the "consider yourself hugged"!

(19) Davida, December 8, 2009 11:21 PM

the decision of the extended hand is either to be offended or resceptful. Easy!

another time to choose your battle. To give respect(not shake hand) makes more sense than to insist the man go against hie beliefs. Just a hardy "thank You" says as much.

(18) Barbara, December 8, 2009 11:17 PM

it's difficult

As a newer Baal Teshuva, I find it difficult to refrain from touching members of the opposite gender at times. Not at all because I am thinking of them sexually, but because I am an affectionate and warm person who is accustomed to touching people on the shoulder or hand to share a warm feeling. However, I think it is extremely important to respect the beliefs and feelings of others, so I refrain from touching anyone whom I know is religious. I am finding that I like having more "space" and not being touched by others, but a hug now and then sure would feel good.

(17) Michael, December 8, 2009 11:10 PM

Many Aspects

It seems there are several aspects to this complex issue. First there is the idea that shmirat negiyah is 'sexist.' While there may, arguably, be some areas of Halachah that could be construed as sexist, this is surely not. I should think that women's rights advocates would welcome this. Then there's the whole issue of what a hanshake really means in our society at large. In the business world it is a way of doing business with no other overtones. There are many times that Chazal are lenient when it comes to livelihood. The social arena of course is different and one should try to be gracious without touch, but we need to be able to quickly analyze each situation to decide the best course of action so as not to be offensive.

(16) Yisroel Pollack, December 8, 2009 10:52 PM

A Binary Resolution

I don't understand. What is there to discuss or "think about." It's not a matter for personal decision or following one's own conscience. It's an either-or. It's mutar or asur (to use the Hebrew halachic terms for permitted and prohibited). Go ask a rav - a rabbinical authority. On the one hand, as is well known, the halacha tells against it. A man is not allowed to make physical contact with a woman (to whom he is not properly related, etc). On the other hand, hand-shaking is a conventional formality that - maybe - doesn't fall within the purview of this prohibited category. No sensual significance attaches to it, even when a man and a woman are involved. So which is it? Only a competent rabbi can say. What room is left for philosophizing or independent thinking -- on the part of the laity?

(15) shoshana, December 8, 2009 10:42 PM

credit to those who are willong to say "no"

I personally do shake hands w/a man who sticks out his hand. II would feel uncomrfortable religious people seeing me do that thinking I am not strict about the laws of negiah. I am the quiet, afraid to say "no" type, in general. I'm not saying that makes it right not to stick up for your religious beliefs. Although I feel aquard not sticking out my hand, I give full credit to someon who is able to stand up to his/her belief and say "sorry, but that is against my religion".

(14) Rich, December 8, 2009 10:35 PM

Is it halachically prohibited?

I'm missing something. Is the practice of shaking hands wtih the opposite sex halachically prohibited? If so, what question is there? Is Rabbi Solomon simply asking people for suggested lines to excuse the practice? Or is there leeway, and he is asking whether or not shaking hands is the better practice. I know observant people, including Rabbis, who do shake hands with the opposite sex, and I find this a far better practice when interacting with someone who is not familiar with the practice and might develop a negative impression of the person he/she is speaking with, or, worse yet, of Jewish observance.

(13) tsouris, December 8, 2009 10:32 PM

How far do you take it.

Rabbi you say if a person really holds tight onto his religious belief you have to understand. Where would draw the line. Burkahs,no schooling, arranged marriages, female circumcision. I know this has nothing to do with the handshake which was explained in a polite manner, but you didn't draw a line.

(12) Anonymous, December 8, 2009 10:26 PM

Agree with #7- It is not against Halacha given the circumstances

I had previously asked the same Q of my family's Rav for 40 years, a highly respected Halachik authority, and was told that if someone of the opposite gender in a business or social setting extends a hand to shake hands, rather than embarrass him by not returning the handshake, it is indeed appropriate & proper to shake hands.

(11) Dan, December 8, 2009 9:54 PM

What's the problem, anyway?

I agree with the Rabbi that people must accept your religious beliefs, if they're not being foisted on others. Such acceptance teaches tolerance and understanding. When I refuse to shake hands with a woman, I say "Sorry, we orthodox Jews only touch our wives". The "sorry" is essential, as it asks forgiveness for any embarrassment that may be caused. If the person involved can't accept both your apology and your beliefs, it's his/her problem.

(10) Anonymous, December 8, 2009 8:30 AM

The decision not to shake hands with members of the opposite sex is based on the idea that touch between men and women is powerful and sacred, not on any notions of gender superiority. If anything, the woman and the advice columnist, in automatically attributing the man’s decision to misogyny, were guilty of discrimination against religious Jews. I have personally chosen to not shake hands with men. I always smile and very politely say, "I'm sorry, I don't shake hands with men for religious reasons." I have found that gentle reassurance generally minimizes anyone's embarrassment. I have had occasional moments of discomfort because of my decision, including people who are downright rude to me and mock my religious convictions. Over time, however, I have come to realize that such people generally have other issues beyond my refusal to shake their hand, so I don't let it bother me.

(9) Shulamit, December 8, 2009 3:31 AM

"I Don't Touch Men I'm Not Married To"

As I became religious, the physical 'contact' with, well, basically strangers, began to bother me. Some clients (even first time clients) would shake my hand and some, as I live in a widely Hispanic area, would lean forward and kiss me. For the Hispanic community, it is the way you greet a lady. Nothing deeper to it. But I felt uncomfortable. I decided I can't do it anymore and I came up with this great line. I also figured, I'll be the first to take the step. So if a client (or at a social event somebody) steps up to me, I am the first to introduce myself, and say 'please forgive me for not shaking your hand, I don't touch men I'm not married to'. You can also say it with a glint in your eye and a smile on your face which makes the mood less serious. Then, if they ask, I go ahead and explain that it's my religious view. When I see long time acquaintances, who didn't know I've become more observant, I go ahead and tell them I'm sending them a mental hug, but I'm keeping my body for my Hubby. Humor helps. And if you don't feel like giving people the big rabbinical shpeel, especially if it's somebody your likely to never see again, you can shrug it off by saying something to the affect of 'you don't hand an alcoholic a drink'...

(8) Kalman, December 7, 2009 8:11 PM

Missing the point

Rav Salomon I think you missed an important point - the refusal of the handshake was the opposite of sexism. In today's world there is very little respect for a woman's personal space. She may be "forced" by etiquette to accept a kiss or hug. We are a light onto the nations and the world would be a better place if everyone was Shomer Negiah.

(7) Yisroel Tepper, December 7, 2009 3:47 PM

it depends

I know that there"s alot of contraversy over this in halacha.But I think that since a hand shake has become the regular way of greeting someone it's nothing more than a hello.The same way you can take change from a cashier for its not in a suductive manner.I moved into a secular area to do kiruv and gently refused to return a hand shake.It started to become uncomfortable in social setting's.I then spoke to a prominent Rabbi and he told me that it's okey to shake a women's hand.If I go to a social gathering i will try to avoid the "SHAKE" by holding a drink in one hand and a plate in the other.But I return a hand shake otherwise!

(6) Anonymous, December 7, 2009 10:52 AM

TO TIKI Isn't embarrassing someone, also against the Torah?

(5) tiki, December 7, 2009 5:33 AM

to david abrams

if someting is agaisnt the torah, then you cannot do it, no matter if it will embarrass someone or not.

(4) Anonymous, December 6, 2009 6:38 PM

My experience

I am an orthodox girl and I attend university and work in a secular environment. Knowing that I would have to contend with the "handshaking question" was definitely a source of worry at the beginning. I mentally prepared myself, knowing that there was no way I could avoid the outstretched hand. The first time few times I had to deny a hanging hand was difficult, yet each time I realized that the one feeling most uncomfortable was myself. I am the one second-guessing myself, while the person opposite me usually respects my lifestyle and admires my resolve. The process is pretty simple: a man sticks out his hand, I smile and tell him it is a pleasure to meet him but for religious reasons I do not shake hands with men. What usually follows is the accommodating, "OK, cool" or "oh, I hope I didn't offend you." Sometimes people inquire further and sometimes they don't. No one I have ever met was offended. I have found that people respect my religious commitment and are usually fascinated by my beliefs when they inquire further. I try to make the other party feel comfortable and to make myself approachable. Ultimately, I know that when I stick to my decision in a friendly and approachable manner people respect me, and if they don't, there is a high likelihood of past resentment or misunderstanding. In the liberal-minded society we live in today, criticizing someone's religious commitment is reverse discrimination; there are many different types of lifestyles today that are demanding respect and accommodation, my lifestyle should not be an exception. Telling someone I can't shake their hand (in a courteous and tactful manner, of course) is difficult, but because I know I am doing what I deem is right according to my religious beliefs, I know that I have only to gain in sticking with my principles.

(3) Anonymous, December 6, 2009 6:17 PM

Discrimination View One-sided

As always, Salomon's brought up an interesting issue. I was always taught to avoid shaking hands w/a member of the opposite sex, unless it's a business transaction in which would cause awkwardness/embarrassment. I still tend to disagree with that. Why do people find it necessary to shake hands anyway? It doesn't change the outcome of anything. The lady mentioned refers to an Orthodox Jewish male's refusal to shake hands with her as sexual discrimination. I feel this is a selfish way of looking at things when, on the other hand, one who doesn't respect another's religious observance is committing religious discrimination. Is that acceptable just to avoid what someone else views as sexual discrimination? I don't know about everyone else, but I don't think so. What about germophobes, who also refuse to shake hands? If the person on the other end just happened to be of the opposite sex, I wonder if they'd still consider it sexual discrimination. I'm thinking probably not.

(2) david abrams, December 6, 2009 3:47 PM

The Sages say: If you embarrass someone in public, you lose your reward in the Next World. My question is: Who in Heaven will be upset, if you refuse to embarrass someone, and shake hands with the opposite sex? I admire you as a person, and your views in this columnl

(1) Anonymous, December 6, 2009 3:47 PM


If a religious woman refrains from a handshake with a man, would anyone accuse her of being anti-masculine? No way. This question can be posed to the supposedly offended side to show that it's not an issue of sexism, but of mutual avoidance of physical contact with non-relatives of the opposite gender.


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