A non-touching moment
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A non-touching moment

On the first day of Joe Biden’s visit to Israel last week, the buzz about handshakes was that despite his pandemic-related plan to avoid shaking hands, he couldn’t stop himself.

That changed the next day. That’s when Yuval Dayan, an Israeli pop star, turned the tables, leaving the U.S. president hanging after he extended his hand to her.

Dayan and another singer, Ran Danker, sang the Israeli classic “Lu Yehi,” Naomi Shemer’s Yom Kippur War-themed variation on the Beatles’ “Let it Be,” at a ceremony marking Biden’s receipt of Israel’s highest civilian honor. Afterward, Biden and Israeli president Isaac Herzog approached the artists to thank them.

Danker took Biden’s outstretched hand, but Dayan bowed instead, clasping her hands together and smiling.

What Biden likely didn’t know was that Dayan has committed to refrain from touching members of the opposite sex. She is famous in Israel in part for becoming more religiously observant, embracing the principle of shomer negiah, a prohibition on opposite-sex touching. The prohibition is rooted in the idea that any touch can lead to sexual impropriety.

When Orthodox lawmaker Tzipi Hotovely was named deputy foreign minister in 2015, she said she would shake hands with men who offered her theirs, despite ordinarily refraining from touching. She noted that traditional Jewish law makes allowances for honoring dignitaries.

“It’s not a problem at all,” Hotovely told Israeli media at the time. “When someone meets foreign representatives the Jewish halacha [law] recognizes respect, etiquette and politeness.”

The incident with Biden went viral. Dayan, who came to fame as a contestant on Israel’s version of “The Voice,” said she had sought to avoid appearing to slight Biden and had communicated her needs to Herzog’s staff.

“I made sure to notify everyone in the president’s office that I am shomeret negiah,” she said, according to Israeli media. “God forbid, I did not mean to offend.”

It turned out not to have offended. A few days later, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, posted a video message to Ms. Dayan’s Instagram page. “The president was so appreciative of what you did, on behalf of the Israeli people, and the American president as well as for you being true to your religious values,” he wrote.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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