Monday, November 14, 2011

The Frum Woman’s Handshake

"Shake my hand." I say to my husband

"Huh?" he replies. We don't usually shake each other's hand as a greeting.

"I need to practice" I say. "For the interview."

He looks worried.

"Because it's a woman who’ll be interviewing me." I explain. “They said her name is Ilana. I"ll actually be able to shake her hand, so I want to check my handshake is ok”

He still looks rather confused. "What's the big deal?"

"Everyone knows there's a lot they learn about you from your handshake. It's very psychological." I should know, I’ve been reading enough online posts about how to prepare for an interview. (Tip: don't say your biggest weakness is hating routine boring work.)

I’ve shaken hands with someone perhaps once in my life. I've spent my last thirteen years making excuses for why I can't shake hands with men, an art form mastered by most Frum women.

We know the hold cellphone/drink/notebook in each hand trick, the sneeze into your hand and hold dirty tissues trick, the nod and smile before he has a chance to stretch his hand technique, and when all fails the " I'm sorry but I don't shake hands with men" explanation. But that's a last resort that risks offending; we try not to let it get that far.

Basically we Orthodox women are adept at how not to shake hands, but unfamiliar with how to actually shake someone's hand, should we so wish. ( Maybe that should be my excuse next time. "I'm sorry, but I don't know how to")

Being interviewed by a woman is a new occurrence. ( And perhaps reflective of the state of women's career paths in the Israeli workplace?)

I stretch out my left hand. My husband reaches out and holds it. We shake.

“How was I?” I ask

“Fine”, he says.

“Not too limp? Not too firm?”

“Maybe a bit too strong. You shouldn’t be trying to move my hand.”

“Oh.” I say. We try again

“How was that?”

“You're fine,” he says, “can we have dinner now?”

“Hi, I'm Ilana.”

“Pleased to meet you" I say.

We both smile. I wait.

“Would you like a drink? Or shall we get started"

No hand appears on the horizon. Maybe at the end?

"It was a pleasure meeting you, FNF."

“Same here.” We both smile. Again I wait.

“Here, I'll show you out.”

I don't believe it. After all that. When I finally can.

Maybe handshaking doesn't even happen anymore? Maybe it’s an archaic custom of a bygone era, sustained in only by orthodox female paranoia?


  1. Your LEFT hand????

  2. Before I started interviewing for grad schools, my father insisted on practicing handshakes with me. I initially erred on the side of dead-fish, so it was good practice. At least here in the US, plenty of handshaking goes on at interviews.

  3. I like this post a lot.

  4. Soon after reading your post, I read this . I Thought i would share...

  5. In the US hand shaking definitely goes on, and I've had my fair share of needing to shake women's hands for grad school interviews, etc. I think that it could be that Orthodox women are so accustomed to not shaking hands, and have in fact developed different forms of affection and greeting - even among family/friends - that it is not a typical exchange. I, for example, shake many mens' hands in shul on Shabbos - even my father shakes my hand and wishes me good shabbos and shakes me hand. It's just a standard thing. I don't see any women shaking hands in shul, maybe hugging, or putting a hand on the other's forearm or something.

    At any rate, shaking hands was initially developed as a fact-finding gesture to make sure the other person (this was generally male-to-male) was not concealing a weapon and thus had friendly intentions.

  6. My (former) Chabad rabbi said shaking hands with the opposite sex is enough of a halachic gray area that you you can arguably do it.

  7. you should shake hands with your right hand!

  8. tell your chabad rabbi so is shaving.

  9. @ Anon. Lets try not to start on chabad bashing, aye? Shaving is not a grey an area as yu may think. There is a wonderful sefer called hadras panim zaken some 1000 pages all about shaving and you know what, it has letters from your gedolim, like shach, the chofetz chaim etc all writing against shaving. Hmmm. I wonder why....

  10. Look at pictures of rav shach in his youth and you will see a nice clean face (they used cream back in his days). the chofets chaim didnt have electric shavers. within the yeshivish world, 99 percent of people shave. so yea, i would still say its a gray area. (and using a random big book as a proof doesnt say much, there is a guy that wrote a very heavy book (easily over a thousand pages) arguing that we should all be nazirim you gonna stop cutting your hair also?

  11. Simply because I respect the "proprietor" of this blog and dont care to get into a major spat on her turf, I will refrain from answering. What I will tell you is, do some research before you make sweeping statements. Oh, and an area which isnt "gray" is loving a fellow jew (even a chabadnik). Keep that in mind, will ya?

  12. Dear FNF,

    It's really good that you're back. Hope all is going well. I hope you appreciate the spirit in which I am writing this comment (not on this post in particular, just cos it's the most recent). I was an avid reader of your's when you were single. You had some outstanding posts, the yeshiva auction and the made to measure shidduch, to mention a few. I miss that kind of fantasy writing, oh and whatever happened to Brachy?. You were good at it. Also, you have ranted about a few things since you got married, and it just feels, well, kind of, ungrateful. Everyone's life has its ups and downs. The hardest thing about being single is that you're just left in limbo, in an indefinite waiting period, on your own and everyone thinks that you're a nebach. Well, now you are living your life. You're not waiting anymore. OK, so one mikva lady was not so sensitive, and haircovering has its issues, but if you are hopefully happily married this is all small fry. I would like to see more of the fantasy/imaginative posts or something a bit more optimistic. Married too, you will have challenges, just like everyone else, but B"D you will have your hubby at your side. That is life. It's kind of disappointing to read you still "ranting" for want of a better word.

    Cheers, Anon.

  13. Hi Anon,

    I don't see myself as ranting, rather as taking note of the funny and difficult things in life, which happen even when I'm married.