The Ethical Spectrum


He chooses non-contact:

A woman purchases a home. The waiting period is over, the home is move-in ready, and the contract is signed. When the woman extends her hand as a thank you, the Orthodox Jewish realtor refuses to shake the woman’s hand. He is not allowed to touch any women other than his wife and specific family members. She is upset and writes into a newspaper advice column to ask what she should do with this ethical dilemma.

I thought about it for a while. I also came to absolutely no conclusion. Here come possible segments of the spectrum that make this situation so complicated:

* Don’t feel offended- Who gives a sh**? He doesn’t owe you anything. Shaking someone’s hand is an empty gesture and transfers germs. Also, can’t you just give the guy a break? He is maintaining his strict and, to him, honored spiritual belief system. He is respecting you, himself, and his partner by keeping his hands away from you.

* Reevaluate offended feelings- Ask yourself why you feel slighted. Reevaluate your beliefs that have led you to be offended enough to ask others what course of action to take. Maybe quickly research his belief. Seek to understand. Take your time before vilifying him because your feelings are hurt.

* Be offended- Just shake her hand, man! The refusal is a result of an archaic, sexist belief that requires others to bend to your needs. Abide by the Western business world you operate within. Like it or not, one shakes hands when interviewing, working with clients, solidifying business dealings. It shows respect, good-will, agreement, and confirmation.


I listened to a radio show in which Randy Cohen described this situation from his column and book. What struck me was his advice to her about this ethical disagreement. He emphasized the realtor's refusal as a religious choice. His advice to the woman was to rip up the contract and go to a realtor who would not disrespect her with his choice of religion. The realtor chose/chooses his religion. The realtor chose/chooses to abide by religious law. The realtor chose/chooses to refuse abiding by a Western gesture that, to a vast majority of American culture, seals a business deal. To Cohen, the woman shouldn’t have been disrespected and left in doubt because of the realtor's choice.

I don’t side with either person. It’s puzzling, therefore fascinating.