Wait: what are the rules around rabbis?
December 4, 2017 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm meeting with a traditional rabbi in a business context. His secretary was gracious enough to warn me that he does not shake hands with people of the opposite sex that aren't his wife. Is there anything else I should know as to not offend?

I'm not pretending to be Jewish. I just don't want to offend him.

We're doing business. I am planning at meeting with him near the coffee shop at my work. Is there anything I should or shouldn't offer him? Should I chose a different spot for any reason?

I know to not wear revealing clothing and now, not to go to shake his hand. But is there anything else I should worry about?
posted by Gucky to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total)
When you say "traditional" rabbi, do you mean Orthodox?
posted by palomar at 12:08 PM on December 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also for context, are you selling something or otherwise trying to persuade the rabbi to buy/do anything?
posted by tatiana wishbone at 12:11 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think that if his secretary is open enough to have passed on that bit of etiquette, she may be amenable to your asking her. And it's not weird to be asking more questions like this, she may really appreciate the fact that you're putting in the effort.

As for the coffee shop - you may want to check whether they have anything that is kosher, or the kitchen is kosher certified. This is really a CYA step - really strict obervers of kosher law may prefer not to eat at all in a restaurant that hasn't been Certified Kosher, just in case (keeping really strict kosher isn't just a matter of "I don't eat food X", there are also "food X can't even have ever been in the same kitchen at the same time as the other stuff" laws). However, he may not be quite as observant, because this is a little different for everyone. It may be safest to meet somewhere neutral and then ask "shall we find a place with food while we chat? I was thinking [Coffee Shop], what do you think?" And then he can either say yes or no.

Other than that, just basic business etiquette should serve you fine, in my experience.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:21 PM on December 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

If he observes negiah (i.e. doesn't shake hands with non-related women), odds are also good that he won't feel comfortable ordering anything at the coffee shop if it's not specifically a kosher establishment. While coffee itself is usually kosher outside of Passover, if they do any food handling there, he'll probably decline.
posted by haruspicina at 12:23 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I, a Reform Jew, have had Reasons to spend quite a bit of time among the Orthodox over the last two years. Here's what I've learned:

-- If he hasn't let you know already that the coffee shop doesn't work for him, then it's fine. He potentially may not order anything, though.
-- He knows you're not Jewish, so he's not going to be upset by you, for example, not covering your hair or wearing pants.
-- Just avoid revealing clothing (which, since this is business, obviously you already know).
-- If you make a mistake and offer your hand just out of routine, he will either limply shake, barely touching you, or politely refuse. Sometimes a mutual thumbs-up is done, if it's a very friendly situation.
-- You basically have nothing to be worried about.

Also, there are lots of different levels of Judaism, and even among the Orthodox there are many levels. This all might be overkill, and he's fine ordering from that restaurant, etc.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:24 PM on December 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Don't say "Happy Holidays", unless he says it first.
posted by essexjan at 12:26 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think it’s up to him to let you know about potential issues, and it seems he has. I think it’s OK to assume the handshake thing is basically it unless you go out of your way to be offensive.
posted by Segundus at 12:47 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

You're good. Rabbis are probably the most experienced at interacting with people outside of their faith while upholding that faith. If you're already being professional during this meeting you're going to meet all the expected standards of respect and politeness that a rabbi would have of a non-Jew. Unless you like, try to tell him all about how wonderful Jesus is or suggest that he should try the excellent lobster bisque at the cafe, you're totally fine.
posted by Mizu at 1:11 PM on December 4, 2017 [14 favorites]

Speaking as a Reform Jew with multiple Chabad rabbis in the family: the secretary has let you know the one real NOPENOPENOPE thing. As BlahLaLa says, if the coffee shop was a no-go, you'd have been told (but yeah, he may have a coffee but very likely won't eat).
posted by thomas j wise at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone.

I'm not trying to sell him something. I work for a cultural institution and they'd like us to display a menorah and hey, I'm pro-menorah as much as I'm pro-wreath.

I have no idea orthodox, etc. - I know he uses the title rabbi and the heads up from his secretary made me make the traditional leap.

I know that my org hasn't worked with his group before so I want to make sure I get off on the right foot.
posted by Gucky at 2:54 PM on December 4, 2017

Presuming you're not of the faith, the only other thing I would make sure to know is the dates for Hannukah since some people seem to think it's the Jewish Christmas and don't realize that it comes at a different time. It's basically the 12th - 20th this year and the dates are different year to year. Agree with BlaLaLa, rabbis tend to be chill and unless there's some fight that's underlying why you're having this conversation, it should be just fine.
posted by jessamyn at 4:09 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jessamyn's advice about dates is reminding me of something - ask what direction the menorah should be lit, as well. A friend had to have a whole battle with the landlord of his building because they put up a menorah but were Doing It Wrong (they were lighting it backwards and at the wrong time or something). So it may be smart to ask if there are any traditions about how it should be displayed, lit, etc.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:42 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

In addition to avoiding intentional physical contact, you might take a few steps to avoid accidental physical contact. For example, if you're handing him a business card or passing him the sugar, don't hand it to him directly. Put it on the table, and let him pick it up.

(Doing this falls into the category of "small thoughtful gesture" rather than "incredibly important thing that you should beat yourself up over if you happen to forget it." )
posted by yankeefog at 4:01 AM on December 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yankeefog has a good point that the fact that you are putting this much thought into this may itself go a long way. A Jewish friend of mine has been keeping a Hannukkah card I sent him in 1998 on permanent display in his house because "It's a Hannukkah card from a non-Jew." "You went out of your way to send me a Hannukkah card specifically," he said, "instead of a 'Season's Greetings' thing." The simple fact that you are seeking out ways to adhere to his standards instead of sniffing and saying "well, I'm not Jewish so he should cater to me" is going to be very welcome (and you would be surprised how many people would indeed react that way, and this Rabbi has no doubt met a few).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:32 PM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

For general advice on doing-things-jewishly, I recommend jewfaq.org, which I have found useful in the past when put in a position where I had to pretend to know how all this jew stuff worked.
posted by doomsey at 2:00 PM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

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