Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What's in a (Jewish) Handshake?

I've been meaning to post this for a while, and Mirty's posting was the final push to write it. However, she stopped blogging for the summer, and took down all her links so I can't even link to her post about it. Instead, here's a link to AskShifra's posting on not being judgmental. You'll need it before reading this post.

My kids and I have discussed the idea of the handshake and how important it is to provide a firm, solid handshake. It broadcasts self-confidence, assurance, and confidence -- and a good handshake leaves the recipient with a sense of security and a positive image of you.

When shul is over on Friday night, I routinely experience a wide range of handshakes -- and some of them are downright pathetic.

The worst of the yeshivish "dead fish" handshake. You extend your hand to give a good, firm shake of the hand, and their hand is limp. This is the worst possible handshake to receive. I don't know if this dead fish handshake is intended for people "less frum" than the dead fish handshake provider...but the impression you get as a recipient of this handshake is one of revulsion. Like, What did I do to deserve this? If someone could PLEASE explain the rationale behind this, I would greatly appreciate it. (And you all know exactly what I'm talking about). These people need the Handshaking for Dummies Frummies Handbook.

We have a certain friend in our yishuv who carries enough ammunition on him to take on a small army. In addition to his wicked looking M16, Glock, survival knife, walkie-talkie, beeper, cellphone, 30-bullet magazines for his Glock pistol -- this guy is built like a truck. There's only one word for his handshake: The Bone Crusher. He always smiles and makes eye contact when he gives you the handshake...but it's always just a tad too you hear the crunch of the small bones in your hand when he gives you the grip of death. He should leave the weaponry at home, his bare hands are more than enough.

The "never-let-me-go" handshakers definitely have their issues. Their grip is usually decent, and has lots of potential. You usually notice about a second too late that their hand may be a bit clammy...but it's already too late. They keep shaking your hand, pumping it up and down, and DON'T. LET. GO. Three to four seconds is plenty of time...yet they don't get the hint and just keep on going. Think "Energizer-Bunny." It ends up feeling like an eternity and you just wish their hand would fall off so you can run away. These people usually don't know how to tell a joke, overstay their welcome, and have a poor sense of timing (perhaps saying inappropriate statements at the wrong time).

Who can forget the "Running for President of the Shul" double-handed handshake? It starts out with a regular handshake, and then the person's other hand sandwiches-in your own, leaving you totally at their mercy as they ask you about your wife, kids, shidduch prospects, business, school studies, all the while saying, "great, that's great." Before you know it, they've dropped your hand and are off in search of their next potential voter at the kiddush. (hat-tip: Mike's the Man)

And then...there's the whole issue surrounding shaking hands with women. In my business environment I have to shake hands with women all the time, though it's not something I grew up with. A Yeshiva Background and being Shomer Negiya make it difficult to make the transition from no contact at all, to shaking hands in the business environment.

Usually women have 2 types of handshakes -- a decent grip, which is fine.

The other is a spin-off from the dead-fish, but can be written-off as a girly-girl excuse of a handshake.

It's sort of like girls who don't know how to throw a baseball.

Some know how to just fine...and some just "throw like a girl."

(I'm sure someone's gonna kill me for these pics...but they were too good not to post)

However, here in Israel I have yet another issue to deal with. If growing up in a RWMO/LWY house in the USA meant feeling a bit funny about shaking hands with women, here I have to deal with "kiss on both cheeks" relatives. And not only from women...but from men as well. Not trying to sound homophobic, but it's totally foreign to me that after a good, solid handshake the guy opposite you goes in for a kiss on either cheek. Yow! That's just something I'll never get used to...

Of course, there's also the super-secret-Muqata handshake, but we can't discuss that here on this blog.

Somethings are just best kept...secret.

Post-thought: I just found this important handshake trivia tidbit that's worth noting as well from Wiki (these are the sort of important factoids one can also find at Jack's blog)

A study found that handshakes are a greater source of germs than: week-old coffee mugs, public laundromats, bottoms of a shoe, money, urine on a toilet seat, sweaty gym benches, hotel bed linens, dogs, poorly washed restaurant tables, communion chalices, public food groped by others (such as pretzels), public swimming pools, fish tanks, convience store coffee areas, public pay phones, public restrooms, kitchen sponges, public bathroom urinal handles and faucets and doorknobs, home-canned food, water fountains, and public baby-changing stations.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


Pragmatician said...

Interesting post, I'm amazed at how you can fill up posts on any subject.
If you ever crossed a guy refusing to shake your hand (using some lame excuse like a tissue in both hands) then we may have met.
I don’t like shaking hands, probably a trauma incurred as a kid when old men with dotted hands and hairy fingers shoved their hand into mine, I've always wondered how and where it has originated from.

Jerusalemcop said...

it's a good advertisement for LIttle League.


Jerusalemcop said...

is Jameel the president of his shul?

Sarah Likes Green said...

interesting post. i'm not a fan of the handshake but if i must, then i will to be polite (like at an interview today) but that last post-thought is just ew and this is where anti-bacterial gel comes in handy.

i think that there's another type of handshake for the 'women's section': the older lady (yiddishe mama, with sheitel etc) who at shul wishes you good shabbos or at a simcha is wishing you 'soon by you' or mazal tov or whatever who grabs both hands and holds you captive while she goes on and on. it's somewhere between "The Bone Crusher" (you'd be amazed at these ladies' strength) and the "Never-Let-Me-Go." nightmarish really! :P

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Prag: Got any idea for something new?

JCop: Or it could be a good ad why women shouldn't be combat soldiers.

Mike: You got your hat-tip! Thanks ;-)

Sarah: LOL - didn't know about the old lady handshake, but you described it perfectly!

Anonymous said...

Hate the handshake. Way too many potential issues, especially the germs.

Know why Asians as a culture bow to one another instead of handshaking? It has to do with the origin of the handshake. Europeans wore their swords in their belts, so extending the hand in greeting was a way to express a peaceful hello, as opposed to extending the hand with a gripped sword on the other end!

Asian cultures fought without swords, using martial arts. Therefore there was no need to shake hands in the first place. Maybe that's why they live longer - less germ issues!!

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Ari: How pervasive? I refuse to aswer on the grounds it may incriminate Israel. This week is parashat Shlach (for you in chutz laaretz) -- not the best time to say bad things ;-)

Yonah: Maybe Asians didn't handshake because they were afraid of the germs?

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Very humurous. I don't do handshakes for obvious reasons.

Irina Tsukerman said...

But handshake is at least better than the constant social kissing/hugging here in NYC. Ugh. I can't stand doing that with random strangers - and yet it's expected, especially in colleges, etc.

... Is the Window to Our Soul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
... Is the Window to Our Soul said...

i feel the same way about hugs. I hate the limp hug. I don't neccessarily like to give hugs to people I don't know but just met, or to folks that I don't really care about, but if I do, a real hug is what they will get. Not a fake, barely touching stuff.

I don't mind the kissing on the cheek, but it does get a little embarrassing when you only give one, and they reach for the other cheek, or like my neighbors do, who are from Eritrea, three kisses.

Yonah - Germs, Really. Get over it. Germs are good for you.

kasamba said...

LOL!!!!!!How BRILLIANT!!!!!

The worst is when someone spits in their hand first!

(Aw come on! Tell us the secret handshake!)

Aliza said...

Brilliant! I once gave a presentation in a university class on the importance of body language and dedicated 15 minutes to the importance of a handshake, the message it imparts, etc.
And yes, you will burn in hell for the nasty pics you posted about women not being able to throw.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Aliza: Thanks. (And hell is 11 months anyway, so it won't matter that much)

Kasamba: Sorry! You can only learn the secret handshake in Israel. Don't worry - you'll read more about it in an upcoming chapter of my excellent aliya adventure -- the muqata code.

Irina and Sweettooth: Social hugging in college? We never used to have that at Yeshiva College! :)

(Though its totally acceptable in the macho IDF...guys hug each other all the time)

Socialworker: handshakes to no one? Not even other females?

I'm Haaretz, Ph.D. said...

I hope Jameel doesn't ban me for posting a little pornography of the handshaking type here. Germaphobes, watch this!

Great post! And I admit, I throw like a girl.

A Frum Idealist said...

Very Funny!
The truth is, in many circles and arenas, the handshake means so much and there is so much meaning behind it.
The way you described the dead fish was perfect. The Rav in the shul where my father used to daven used to "shake" like that. It turned me off from going there.

bec said...

okay, that was just hysterical. when i was teaching high school and the parents would come up for open school night, many of them would introduce themselves with a handshake. i couldn't stand it because of the germ potential (i'm not a germophobe, but i'd very often get forty or so parents in to see me in one night, yuck) so i would always bandage my hand "oops, i sprained my wrist" kind of thing to discourage the handshake. worked like a charm.

Orthonomics said...

So true, so true. The worst is the dead fish shake, I think.

Ayelet said...

I have a hard time with the one-kiss -on -the -cheek routine when the "partner" goes for the wrong cheek. So awkward!

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

I knew that comment would be coming. I realized that after I wrote it. Yes I will shake females. How often do females shake hands? lol

Anonymous said...

Handshaking is one of those neurotypical rituals that I don't use unless I have to. Not from sanitary considerations, but simply because "hello, how are you?" seems entirely sufficient on its own. But I was trained by my parents that a firm, but not bonecrushing, handshake is the only proper handshake. And when meeting females, (not myself being frum), kissing the hand is the gentleman's way. (Which actually means kissing the air over the woman's hand, so it may be entirely halachic for all I know.)

You did forget one type in your listing of demonic handshakes--the finger tips only shake, in which you find yourself shaking the fingers and not the full hand, as if the other person thinks you're a commoner not worthy of shaking his aristcratic full hand.

rockofgalilee said...

I was at a sheva brachos (all religious people) and an older (french) woman stuck out her hand to me. I had something in both hands at the time, so I lifted my hands to show they were full and hopefully she would get the message, but she just grabbed my wrist instead and smiled.

Jack Steiner said...

I never shake hands without reaching into my pants first. Just kidding. ;) You forgot to list the sweaty palm handshake. That is an all time favorite.

Anonymous said...

apalled at ur chauvanism. im with aliza. and nice chayal.

JJ said...

OK, this is gross- but after seeing how most Israeli men occupy themselves while waiting at a stoplight, I try to avoid shaking hands if at all possible.

I can't remember where I read this, but someone wrote an article suggesting we do away with handshaking and start rubbing elbows instead. I'm up for that- as far as I know, no Israeli has ever picked his nose with his elbow!

Anonymous said...

To add a Torah touch, there is a discussion of the Jewish methods of handshake in the sefer 'kol atzmosai tomarna.oF course with different opinions.

ifyouwillit... said...

Is a man's handshake like a books cover? Sometimes a decieving message can be portrayed, either too friendly or too cold, and it turns out you have completly misjudged the person.

The best is the firm, up-down-up-down shake, quick, polite and warm. If you're good friends with the person it can move into the hi-five/hug thing too.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing like a good old firm handshake... even if a large amount of bacteria is exchanged. :)

FrumGirl said...

You update your posts at such speed, i dont have the time to read them and another is up... anyway I only looked at the p[ics of these and the bolded stuff but I thik I got the just of it and... lol your so funny! Its true though. Even the part about throwing like a girl which I must admit, t hose pics are hilarious, but I'll never admit I said that ;-)

Anonymous said...

Some study just came out that showed that mice which were restrained so that they couldn't shake paws actually had lower levels of germ-busting antibodies than mice which were allowed to shake paws at will. Which would explain why hand-shakers are prevalent in society: it's simple Darwinian evolution.

Studies to determine if kissing on both cheeks causes normal mice to exhibit homosexual tendencies are still underway.

Anonymous said...

Just remembered something-- there's an '80's movie called The Wizard of Speed and Time, by and starring Mike Jitlov. Jitlov, who doesn't shake hands in real life, says to another character (I'm paraphrasing here), "why you need to hold on to a part of my body and shake it is beyond me."

Anonymous said...


It's 33 round magazines for the Glock, plus the standard mag, for a total of 85 rounds of 9mm, 2-30 round magazines for the M-16A1 rifle, and you forgot to mention the Leatherman.

Adequately prepared for a Shabbat morning walk to Shul.

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