When a handshake is not a handshake

At the conclusion of a recent exam exiting students shook the professor’s hand, but only some.  Those without handshakes were women.  Men left and gave their appreciation and a hearty professional handshake to the professor.  Women who extended their hands were left only with an air of awkwardness and no handshake.  The professor kept strict distance from women and would not even touch the same paper at the same time.

Malicious bigotry on the part of the professor?  Doubtful.  One can not speak for him, but given his garb and yarlmulke his gesture (or lack of them) has more to do with his religion.  Some observant jewish men choose not to touch spiritually unclean women.  Since he has no way of knowing if a woman other than his wife is spiritually clean, rules guide him to not touch any women.

Some may understand the traditions driving this professor’s behavior, but I imagine many do not.  Explaining oneself probably won’t help much either.  Shaking everyone’s hand would run contrary to his beliefs and shaking only the hands of men runs contrary to fairness and egalitarianism that the institution cherishes.

Diversity is prized, as it should be, at Baruch.  However, what is the approach when parts of the that diversity run contrary to our accepted secular and cultural norms as institution?  What are your experiences?  What approach would you like such a professor to take?

2 Responses to “When a handshake is not a handshake”
  1. Emily Rotella says:

    Just a quick note of correction: Religious Jewish men are not restricted from touching “unclean” women. They are restricted from touching ANY woman who is not their wife. Some religious Jewish people follow the rule that after the age of 13, neither men and women are not allowed to touch people of the opposite sex/gender outside of their immediate family.
    I had this Professor and I understood his background, so when I went to him to thank him for class, I did not extend my hand, but thanked him in words only.
    However, there is also a Jewish requirement of respect, and some religious people will break the rule of not touching others to not appear disrespectful. It is a complicated issue.

  2. Lemuel Morrison says:

    Understood and the clarification is much appreciated. It’s a challenge of diversity. The more discussion the better.

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