I grew up Modern Orthodox and as such never spared a thought to hugging uncles, shaking hands with parents’ business associates etc, slapping a male playmate who took my toy… But the world I now live in is vastly different.
We are not supposed to touch members of the opposite sex. Period. Ever. Unless we are married to them or directly related. Even in business, we are not supposed to shake hands with the opposite sex.
I don’t know that I agree with this. If someone is unaware of this rule and he puts his hand out for me to shake – it looks awful if I don’t shake it. It’s rude and makes us look bad. I know a person who would say “sorry I don’t shake hands” – and I would always cringe every time she said it.
We are not supposed to touch opposite sex people in an affectionate manner – derech chiba. Is handshaking affectionate? It’s business. But, wait, I am starting to hear whispers of the slippery slope argument. If you permit yourself to shake hands, maybe if they want to kiss you hello, you will have no problem with it. It IS business after all. Next thing you know you will be dancing at their weddings – even if it’s only business.
My rule of thumb is that if someone extends their hand to me I always shake. Sometimes when I feel the situation warrants it, I will proffer the hand, but that happens rarely. The problem becomes more serious when you live in a place like Montreal, where the two cheek kiss is as acceptable as a handshake in certain business settings. Obviously only people you have worked with or met before will greet you this way – and having an exisiting working relationship you are able to explain that it’s not acceptable to you for religious reasons. But that’s easily explained ONLY when there already is an exisiting relationship. Meeting someone for the first time – and rudely ignoring that hand, well, that’s just plain ridiculous in my view.
There are those that call handshaking negiah and would be scandalized to see a male / female handshake in our world. I disagree. It’s a terrible aveirah to embarrass someone or have him think us Jews are standoffish.
So all things considered, I shake (I do not stir).