The politics of ‘shomer negia’
By LAHAV HARKOV
Religious politicians who do not touch non-family members of the opposite sex, navigate the issue of the handshake.
While a handshake may be an everyday gesture or a simple courtesy to some, it’s
a whole other ball game for religious politicians, as the first days of the 19th
On Wednesday, MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), the first
American-born member of Knesset in almost 30 years, gave his inaugural speech in
the plenum. Lipman referred to his upbringing in an ultra- Orthodox community in
the US in an impassioned plea for haredi parties to support employment, IDF
service and general education for their constituents.
As Lipman described
his religious background and quoted Moses and medieval philosopher Moses
Maimonides to strengthen his point, MK Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) weaved her way
through the rows of lawmakers’ seats, handing out roses to all of her party’s
No, it wasn’t an early Valentine’s Day gift.
of Yesh Atid’s MKs make a point of staying in the plenum the entire time it is
active, especially when their fellow party members speak.
speeches are followed by party leader Yair Lapid and the rest of the faction
rushing to the foot of the stage to give handshakes and hugs – Lapid’s bear hugs
are already legendary – to the new lawmaker that spoke.
Since Lipman is
what is known in Jewishly observant circles as “shomer negia,” meaning he does
not touch non-family members of the opposite sex. Calderon, Yael German, Adi Kol
and other female Yesh Atid MKs could not congratulate him according to party
Instead, they found a creative alternative, presenting him, one
by one, with flowers, until he held a full bouquet.
While the women of
Yesh Atid were sensitive to Lipman’s lifestyle, if a female does put out her
hand to Lipman to shake it, he would oblige rather than embarrass her, but he
does not initiate handshakes.
Likud Beytenu MK Moshe Feiglin took a
different tack, publicizing the fact that he shook the hands of female lawmakers
who approached him after he made his plenum debut.
On Thursday, Feiglin
posted on Facebook his response to a letter from a concerned supporter who asked
him why he would be willing to shake women’s hands.
“In the past, I did
not shake hands, until I learned that it is not forbidden. [A handshake] is
touching out of politeness and not out of affection,” Feiglin wrote.
Likud Beytenu MK added that “the walls built between different parts of the
nation, the inability to listen and connect based on the things that unite us
threaten us more than the danger in giving up on a religious
Feiglin also wrote that he sought his rabbi’s advice, and
behaves according to what he was told.
The issue of handshakes has come
up in the past, with MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beytenu) taking a path in between
Lipman and Feiglin in the last Knesset, her first term as a lawmaker.
a man puts out his hand for her to shake it, Hotovely usually won’t reject him
in order to avoid making him uncomfortable – since, according to the Talmud,
embarrassing someone is akin to murder – but she also makes sure to let him know
that, in the future, she would prefer not to touch him.
Still, in 2010,
when Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva Rabbi Yuval Cherlow released a halachic ruling
that shaking hands with the opposite sex is permissible, Hotovely said, “It’s
important to respect human sensitivities, but at the same time, it’s important
to respect those who are strict and do not shake hands.”