Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shaking the Rabbi's Hand

I received the following inquiry the other day, from a reader; it is mildly edited:

Just saw the Igros Moshe's teshuvah stating that if the minhag is to get a yasher koach from the rabbi after your aliyah, then that's a proper minhag and it shows respect to the rabbi, so it can't be voided without the rabbi's permission -- "whether those who aren't doing it have done so to spite the rabbi, or simply out of laziness."

1. I assume this minhag is far, far more prevalent in shuls with bima-in-front? Otherwise you're walking all over the shul.

2. Do you think this is a good minhag? When I was a teenager in the good-old-days, I was taught it's the way it was done (with the rabbi's seat way up on the bima, facing the crowd), so I did it. In subsequent years I've been to bima-in-the-middle shuls where it wasn't as prevalent -- and honestly I'd like to get back to the parsha, please; and a quick yasher koach often can turn into a conversation, for which this isn't the time.

(It seems not unlike the rabbi following around behind the sefer torah and shaking everyone's hand -- it can feel like "okay now it's shmoozing time everyone.")

Two to three hours whereby it's just us talking to the Ribono shel Olam, then you open a chumash and listen for Him talking back -- that's my ideal experience.

I see his point, certainly; any trip through the shul will involve extra greetings, and the face-to-face with the Rabbi may add to that. On the other hand, while acknowledging the distraction I must still note that the fundamental challenges to shul decorum are not a product of "Good shabbos" greetings and "Yeyasher Kochacha" congratulations. Further, it would be terrible to cause insult in the name of spirituality.

So I replied:

This is one of those cases (and there are many) in which we have competing interests. We want to emphasize respect for the Rabbi. And we want to maintain decorum - indeed, we are told that the person who receives an aliyah remains at the Torah through the next aliyah specifically so that he will have more time to return to his seat without causing disruption.

But since the prevalent minhag (even where the bimah is in the middle) is to shake the Rabbi's hand, I do believe it is profoundly disrespectful to decline to do so, regardless of the reason.

What do you think? 


  1. 1. well if you tell enough people its the minhag, it certainly becomes one.

    2. how about a piece on the "minhag" of the rabbi following the sefer torah (actually everyone nearby following out of respect to the sefer is a din that seems to have fallen into disuse) and shaking hands etc. (always seemed odd to me based on the purpose of following the sefer)
    Joel Rich

  2. In the British United Synagogue, it is customary to shake hands not just with the rabbi, but with the wardens too. (Wardens don't seem to exist outside the UK, but they have lay-leadership roles somewhat akin to the synagogue president elsewhere, but not entirely, as the synagogue chairman performs some of those roles too. Oddly, no one seems to shake the chairman's hand.)

    When I was about fourteen, and received an aliyah at my maternal grandparents' shul for the first time, I accidentally failed to shake hands with some of the wardens, not realizing that they did not all sit together (unlike my usual shul). They laughed it off, but it has made me nervous about whose hand to shake and when, especially at a new shul, down to the present.

    And yes, shaking hands with all these people can mean trekking across half the shul.

    As for decorum - all I can say is, if only this was the only conversation going on!

  3. Joel-
    True. Not to mention, the parade holds up davening and discourages the streamlining of davening. And yet, I enjoyed the chance to say Good Shabbos to people.

    Yes, for teens the intricacies of shul rituals can be intimidating. Maybe it should be part of Bar Mitzvah instruction. (Only half-kidding.)
    And we have wardens in North America, too, but we call them Rabbi...

  4. Not that I get an aliyah too often, but I do go over to the Rav of the minyan, since it's the minhag.

    Now, when get gets an aliyah, I will either walk over between the next aliyah to wish a Yashar Koach or after shul I'll wish him Y"K on his aliyah.

    He always gets a "Good Shabbos Kodesh" from me either before davening or during a point where I am can halachically speak with him.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Neil -
    On behalf of the Rabbi, thank you!

    Anonymous 1:42 PM -
    Thanks for commenting. I know the origin, but I don't want to call attention to an incident I consider ugly, which is why I left it out. And why I need to remove your comment, my apologies.

  7. I see the sfardim take this very seriously. It was explained to me that when one gets an aliyah he gets a koach to give bracha and therefore goes over to everyone to give a Bracha. Based on this it would make sense that this is the source to shake the rabbis hand. I would vote to continue this beautiful minhag.

  8. if i were a posek, i would discourage and maybe even forbid the custom of shaking hands. (I know/realize that the entire world does it.) Diseases, especially the annual flu, are spread by hand-shaking. and it is estimated 100-150K people get hospitalized by flu every year in N.A. of which 20-40K die.

    You'd think precautions are in order.

  9. Shui-
    Interesting explanation; it fits with some views on why we give berachot on Friday night.

    Eli a.-
    Indeed, I know that many shuls have instituted non-handshaking policies during times of epidemic, and have installed disinfectant dispensers for general use. It's a way to keep the minhag while trying to stay safe.
    By the way - Where can I find those statistics published?

  10. IMHO, you can't just discourage people periodically. you have to break the habit, completely. Even if it only saves the life of one person. (See mishnayit Yuma 2:2).

    As for the number, I got it from my wife who works as a statistician in the medical field.

    but here's a link that discusses it.