Litzman’s Adherence to Halacha Riles Female Belgian Minister


litzmanBelgium’s health minister said she was “profoundly troubled” by the behavior of her Israeli counterpart, Yaakov Litzman, after the charedi minister refused to shake her hand at a conference.

Rabbi Litzman is Israel’s deputy minister for health.

“My hands are clean!” read a text that appeared on the official Facebook site of the Belgian health minister Laurette Onkelinx. “This is the second time a minister refuses to shake my hand because I am a woman. The first was Iranian. The second one was the Israeli health minister here in Geneva. This kind of fundamentalist attitude, connected to a certain perception of religion and women, profoundly troubles me.”

Rabbi LitzmanĀ and Onkelinx met Wednesday at the annual World Health Assembly. Onkelinx belongs to the Francophone Belgian Socialist Party, the party of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

“The minister’s childish reaction demonstrates her ignorance,” said Michael Freilich, editor in chief of Joods Actueel, Belgium’s largest Jewish publication, which reported on the story. “Mr. Litzman’s refusal to shake Ms. Onkelinx’s hand had nothing to do with any view on women or impurity. Ultra-Orthodox women are also forbidden from touching members of the opposite gender. It’s the custom. A more seasoned politician would have been aware of this sensibility in advance.”

{Jewish Journal/ Newscenter}


  1. Shame on litzmans camp for not explaining this beforehand. Female politicians in the US dont have this iissue because the aguda etc explained it long ago.

    Where are peoples brains?
    Eizehu chacham haroeh es hanolad. ….

  2. It was the first time with this “minister” she refused to accept such and specifically stated she has issues with his beliefs.

    I guess roeh Ed hanolad should have been not greeting her at all.

  3. This lady is obviously very ignorant.
    Every knows certain modesty rules

    Dr. Laura Shlesinegr, in one of ehr tekufos, famously said she couldn’t wait to be Orthodox so she wouldn’t have to shake men’s hands.

    People know about it. This Belgium lady should stick to Belgium chocolates and be quiet

  4. All you need to do in the situation is tell them that “in our religion we reserve physical contact to be solely between a husband and a wife……and besides wouldn’t all women be happier if men just kept their hands to themselves!”

    This works EVERY time and usually gets a good laugh from the female. 99 out of 100 she will have no argument with this line.

    Iv’e used it all the time in business and have always come out ahead for it.

  5. It’s amazing how they think that ‘their norm’ is ruler streit, and they arn’t ready to open their minds even a crack to accept anyone elses.

    …and then they think that they are the ‘open ones’… amazing!

  6. #1:
    Female politicians in the US don’t have this issue because the Agudah explained it long ago. True.

    Female politicians in Israel also don’t expect R’ Litzman or any other chareidi to shake their hands.

    I highly doubt, though, that the Agudah – or anyone else – makes sure that every foreign government where a female official might come in contact with a chareidi male official is aware of this issue before the meeting.

    Nor should they feel that they have to.

  7. When I was a salesman in NJ, I had a non-Jewish sales manager. When we used to make sales calls together and the female client stuck out her hand to shake my hand, my sales manager would grab her hand and shake it twice (doing it an obvious manner) and say, “I am shaking your hand twice — once for me and once him (referring to me) because he doesn’t touch ladies other than his wife.”

    This would make a joke out of it and lighten the scene a bit.

  8. It is not a “custom”, it is Jewish Law, which is held higher than the laws of the state.
    She should not do that type of work if she is
    “profoundly troubled”

  9. Most observant Muslims, Shia and Sunni, don’t shake hands with women, they also refuse to do plenty of things they consider against their beliefs and observance, and no one bats an eyelash, they are accommodated and that is it. Incidentally there is a very strong Muslim minority in Belgium, so I am confident the Minister is aware of the sociocultural diversity (if we must use a word they like) and of the imperative of utmost sensitivity to foreign cultures and lifestyles. (That there are charedi jews in Antwerp, looks like she did not notice.)

  10. The Gemara in Sota 19a speaks about the Cohen putting his hands under the woman’s hands when bringing the mincha. Tosafos cites the Yerushalmi which seems to conclude that there is NO issue at all. Look at the Sedei Tzofim on the daf.

    Having said that. As a Rabbi and representative of religious Jews, he (or his entourage) should have made it clear to the Belgian delegation that as a Rabbi he does not shake women’s hands. And he is perfectly within his rights. The Belgian diplomat should show some more tolerance and respect.

    Good Yom Tov to all

  11. It should always be explained that as Kovod(and fear) to his own wife is the reason he doesn’t shake other women’s hands.

  12. While I agree that the Belgian minister was indeed acting “childish” and “ignorant,” it should also be pointed out that shaking a woman’s hand is acceptable Halachically in some frum communities. ( not being one of them as the subsequent comments on this site will no doubt prove!)

  13. Lonkelinx:we’ve come a long way !Just 75 years ago men of your ilk would not even let a Jewish man touch them let alone shake their womens’ hand;Today their women are insulted by a Jewish man declining to shake their hand.