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Submitted by Kloos on


Hi there,

I have a dilemma and need some advice.  I have an interview coming up with the interviewers being male and female.  Not a problem you think, just remember the web to web handshake etc.  For the man that's fine, but for the woman that's not so easy.  Let me explain...

I am an orthodox Jew and because of modesty laws am not allowed to touch any woman who is not my mother, wife, sister or daughter.  Normally in meetings, when confronted with an outstretched hand I hold both my hands up and say “I’m really sorry but I can’t shake hands, it’s a religious thing”, points to skullcap, “it’s nothing personal, ha ha”.

This tends to work, but in an interview with both male and female, what is the best way to deal with this.  Do I shake the man’s hand but apologies to the woman?  Do I apologies to both of them even though I can shake the man’s hand?

If you search on-line you will find Jewish ‘experts’ who say that these laws don’t apply in the business environment.  There is a simple response to this.  They’re wrong.  It does.

Your help and advice would be gratefully received.

Many thanks


pucciot's picture
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It sounds like you are a very pious and scrupulous person. 

It sounds like you have deeply considered where you need to draw the line between simple observance of cultural tradition and clear moral action behaviors.

Everyone needs to find that balance for themselves.

--- so I will not attempt to argue against how you have determined it for yourself.

So going forward ... here is my recommendation.

When approaching a woman in the businss environment --- I think you should

Fold your hands in front of you at your stomach/waist | Smile kindly | Keep eye contact | slightly bow your head | and bend slightly at your waist | and say clearly without hesitation and great energy in your voice |  "Hello, very pleased to meet you".

Make sure you are smiling 

Make sure you say it with enthusiasm

Make sure you keep eye contact

Keep your hands folded at your waist.   -- This sends the message that you are intentionally not extending your hand to her for some kind of cultural/religious reason - it is not personal.

** Don't explain anything unless you are asked.  

You do not have to justify your behavior unless you are confronted.

** Do not bring your religion up at all, unless asked.  That could be interpreted negatively.

** Do not apologize for being who you are.    That may come across as admitting that it is just a cultural thing you are observing and that you don't "truly believe" in it.  And that is obviously a lie.

Be calm, friendly, humble, and still confident about who you are.

The fact that you intentionally folded your hands ---  and -- that you made a friendly gesture of smiling and bowing should be enough to convey respect and friendly greeting.

You are required to do nothing more than this.


Now - keep in mind that there might be consequences.  She may be offended or think bad things about you.  

And your fellow male and female colleagues may feel the same way.

Even if you try to explain it is your religion ... that doesn't matter to many people.  Many people don't care that you are more concerned about your religion than your business manners.

You can not control what other people think about your business manners or what they think about your religion or the way that you express your pious observance. 


You can only control your external behaviors ---  

Others may judge you harshly ... and that is the risk that religiously pious people take when they enter the secular business world.  

Do your best to seek justice, have mercy, and walk humbly with your G_d.





Kloos's picture
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Thank you so much for your kind words and detailed answer.   I am always worried that a wordless response this might elicit negativity due to a lack of understanding whereas a few words of explanation up front might alleviate this.  There is of course no correct answer to this problem and I am immediately into damage limitation at the start of an interview. 

I really do like the ideas that you have suggested as they make a lot of sense.  I will definitely work on some variations on your theme before the interview to find one that works for me (practice makes perfect).

You are quite correct that others may judge me harshly, but I would prefer to find this out at the interview stage rather than six months into a post.