Litzman Places Halacha Ahead of Diplomatic Protocol; Refuses To Shake Hand Of Female Diplomat


Deputy Health Minister (Yahadut HaTorah) was the target of criticism when he walked out of officials events that contained kol isha. At that time, he proudly explained that he did so quietly, not seeking to create a stir, adding that he proudly exercises his right to religious freedom, to practice his yiddishkheit as he must.

The deputy minister is in the news again, this time for not shaking the hand of a female diplomat at an event in Geneva on Wednesday, 2 Sivan 5772.

The minister was attending the annual World Health Organization conference, and during this event declined to meet the extended hand of the Belgian health minister.

The official Belgian Health Minister Facebook page quotes Minister Laurette Onkelinx saying she was “profoundly troubled” adding “My hands were clean. I don’t get it”.

“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.”

“The minister’s childish reaction demonstrates her ignorance,” said Michael Freilich, editor in chief of Joods Actueel, Belgium’s largest Jewish publication. In the paper’s report on the incident it said “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 sex. It’s the custom. A more seasoned politician would have been aware of this sensibility in advance.”

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)


  1. That she is outraged suggests she has a serious problem with people from societies other than her own. Handshaking is a custom in some countries and not others. Some cultures instead greet with smile and a slight bow – which is probably what most frum people do when introduced to a person from the opposite sex in a situation where western Europeans and American would shake hands.

    According to Wikipedia (a less than 100% reliable source), she is a French-speaking socialist, of North African ancestry, who is famous for having referred to the country’s Flemish (i.e. Dutch) majority as a type of fungus. I wouldn’t take her too seriously.

  2. There are gadolim who have shown more common sense in such matters either by making an exception when to do otherwise would show disrespect for the woman or when there was no opportunity to explain the rationale for declining to shake hands. They found ways to handle these types of situations with more tact. He is certainly entitled to follow his own beliefs but he is also there as a representative of EY.

  3. Gadol Hadorah, the kehilos of those “common sense” gedolim have 50% of their teens texting on Shabbos. Something must be wrong somewhere. I’m sick and tired of MO telling us what to do instead of asking us how to prevent their headlong slide into Conservative-Reform-Secularism R”L.

  4. “He is certainly entitled to follow his own beliefs but he is also there as a representative of EY.”

    And by extension should follow yours?

  5. As an official I’m sure it is a difficult position for him to be in. Kol Hakovod to him for standing up to the pressure and making a Kiddush Hashem!

  6. If Litzman politely explained that he is not shaking her hand for religious reasons, Kol Hakovod. He did a Kiddush Hashem. As for Minister Laurette Onkelinx, she has to learn to tolerate religious people with other values than herself.

    This happened to me many times and most secular people understood and had no problem.

  7. I know a Rabbi who would respond to every woman who extended her hand for a shake, “I’m sorry, but I only shake hands with my wife.”
    The funny thing is he used this saying even before he was married.

  8. #8 true… However, after 64 years it should be clear that the State of Israel is the building blocks of Eretz Yisroel and the final redemption.