As you may have heard, Michelle Obama ran into trouble Tuesday while visiting Indonesia. She shook hands with a man (actually several of them) while passing through a receiving line that greeted the president and the first lady after their arrival in Jakarta.
Here's a safe for work (unless you're in Indonesia maybe) but shocking video of the event.
So what's wrong with shaking hands with a woman, you ask?
Well nothing, unless you're a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim man. You see, it is something that all of the Great Abrahamic Faiths agree on: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
Let's start with Christianity. Can a Christian man touch a woman?
Well, here's what the guy that started it all said about it.
It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 1 Corinthians 7:1
And Paul meant what he said here, though he knew that some men just couldn't control themselves. His advice to such moral weaklings was to go ahead and get married (7:2). Still, Paul would prefer that every man be like he was: unmarried and untouched by women (7:7). And he recommended that even married people abstain from sex. (Jesus is coming soon so there's no time for sex. 7:29)
How about Jews? Is it OK for a Jewish man to touch a woman?
The question is answered in Leviticus 15.
And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. .. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness. Leviticus 15:19-30
What God is trying to say here is this: menstruating women are unclean and anyone that touches them is also unclean. They're unclean as soon as they begin to menstruate and for at least seven days after that. The only way they can ever become clean again is to kill two pigeons or "turtles" (the KJV "turtles" are probably turtle doves) as sin and burnt offerings. Without the dead burned birds, though, a women who has once menstruated is unclean forever.
So a man shouldn't touch any woman between puberty and menopause unless he knows for sure that the proper burnt and sin offerings have been made after her last menstrual period. Since so few women sacrifice pigeons on the eighth day of their menstrual cycle anymore, all women of child-bearing age must be treated as unclean and, therefore, untouchable.
And what about Muslims? Can a Muslim man touch a woman?
Well, here is the only verse in the Quran that seems to address this question.
O ye who believe! When ye rise up for prayer, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. And if ye are unclean, purify yourselves. And if ye are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have had contact with women, and ye find not water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it. Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks. Quran 5:6
So women are unclean and it's better not to touch them. But if you do touch a woman and you can't find any water to clean up with, just rub some dirt on yourself. That'll do it.
But Muhammad did, according to the hadith, address shaking hands with women. Here's what he supposedly said.
I do not shake hands with women.
It is better for you to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle than to touch the hand of a woman who is to permissible to you.
So Christians, Jews, and Muslims agree: It is better for a man not to touch a woman. (And maybe someone should find an iron needle for that smiling Indonesian minister.)