About 15 years ago, the OU gave the hashgachah to the executive dining room of a very elegant bank in Manhattan. Everything about the room, the service, and the food was top notch, real class. But it was not a simple hashgachah, as the management was very demanding on many issues. This included their source of food and coping with very particular chefs.
The manager of the dining room, which occupied the entire ninth floor, was a woman named Jill Goldberg (fictitious). Jill had a religious upbringing, coming from a very frum family, and attended Esther Schonfeld High School on the Lower East Side. Jill was a very clever person, but she rejected her background, with an attitude to go with it. She gave us a hard time on many kashrus matters, although at the end she always complied.
Jill also had issues with the Orthodox treatment of women. She could not accept the fact that most Orthodox men will not shake hands with women other than their wives. And she was very outspoken with her opinions.
One day, Jill was told that an Arab sheikh with a huge account in the bank would be coming to the dining room for lunch. The sheikh demanded that all female staff be removed from the ninth floor when he was there. Jill willfully abided.
When I asked Jill why she accepted the order to vacate with no protest, she told me, “Rabbi, it’s their religion. You have to respect it.”
Last week, President Biden visited Israel, and truthfully, he said all the right things. No big news. (Of course, he told Abbas and the PLA what they wanted to hear, as well, along with significant money promised.)
At one point, the president met with Yuval Dayan, a popular Israeli female singer who has now begun to embrace religion. Sticking to her convictions, Ms. Dayan did not return a handshake to Mr. Biden as he stuck out his hand to greet her. Instead, she smiled and curtseyed respectfully. This caused a whole storm in Israel, as you might imagine. In fact, it may have overshadowed the President’s visit.
In an online article about this issue in Aish.com, the writer describes the reaction in Israel on all sides of the social spectrum.
Rabbis defended her for sticking to her religious principles while feminists condemned her for buying into the idea that women “ask for” sexual harassment through their behavior, even if it is a handshake.
Dayan’s response was, “I just wanted to represent our country with dignity while remaining faithful to my values as a religious woman.”
It seems there is a lot that is strange about this story. The feminist overreaction only serves to stereotype females as hysterical. To say that they are asking for sexual harassment by a handshake is absurd. Besides, men are forbidden from shaking a woman’s hand, as well. It’s not a women’s issue.
Also, not making sense is the fact that Ms. Dayan has no problem singing publicly before a male and female audience, which is just as much a halachic issue as is shaking hands. Strange that Aish does not point that out.
Finally, Dayan’s not shaking the President’s hand was a big deal. Yet when he visited Saudi Arabia to beg for more oil production, the President shook nobody’s hand due to a political mess that he created. Instead, he awkwardly fist-bumped everyone. That should have created a major uproar as a sign of disrespect to the leaders of a country from whom you are coming to seek a favor. But that was viewed with equanimity.
So why was the Jewish world in Israel and elsewhere so bent out of shape over another Jewish woman sticking up for her religious principles, as strange as it may have been? Let’s learn from Jill. Respect religion. But unlike Jill, let’s respect religion even if it’s our own.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, and former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens.