Thursday, May 26, 2016

In Switzerland, Muslim schoolchildren who refuse to shake their teacher’s hand may be fined $5,000

In Switzerland, the humble handshake between a teacher and children at the beginning and end of the day — a tradition throughout much of the country — has become an unlikely battleground in a public debate about religious freedom and sexual equality. Now, one Swiss canton has added a financial element to the controversy, warning families of children who refuse to shake hands with their teachers that they would face a fine of up to $5,000.

In April, two students at a school in the town of Therwil, near Basel, had requested an exemption from shaking a teacher's hand. The two teenagers, brothers from a Syrian family, had suggested that shaking a woman's hand went against Islamic teachings. In a compromise, the local school district ruled that the two children would not have to shake any teacher's hand, whether male or female.

After Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper reported about this, however, the agreement with the school district began to come undone. A widespread debate about immigration and integration erupted in the Swiss press, with many arguing that the students' calls for religious freedom was at odds with the Swiss tradition of gender equality. "We cannot accept this in the name of religious freedom," Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said in an interview with Swiss-German broadcaster SRF. "The handshake is part of our culture.”[...]

The regional education authorities in the Basel-Country canton had initially stayed out of the debate, but they released a statement on Wednesday that reversed the school district's decision. The schoolchildren would be required to shake the hand of their teacher, the statement said, or their guardians would be fined.[...]

The situation is the latest controversy over the role of Islam in Swiss society. Muslims are thought to constitute about 5 percent of Switzerland's population, but many Swiss argue that the community has not integrated fully. In 2009, Swiss voters banned the construction of minarets, and last year the canton of Ticino made the wearing of a burqa in public punishable by a $10,000 fine. There have also been other disputes involving education, with some Muslim parents fined for demanding that their daughters be exempt from swimming classes.[...]

Switzerland's Muslim community had largely refused to support the boys' refusal to shake hands, pointing out that it was a Swiss tradition that many Muslims quite happily accept. To "the students and parents I would suggest the following reflection: Can the denial of shaking hands be more important than the Islamic commandment of mutual respect?" Montassar Ben Mrad, president of Federation of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland, had said in the statement.


  1. Can the denial of shaking hands be more important than the Islamic commandment of mutual respect?" Montassar Ben Mrad, president of Federation of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland, had said in the statement.
    Sounds like this is a the "Modern Orthodox" equivalent of the Muslims....
    The Federation of Islamic Organizations, doesn't sound too religious too me.
    I can't help but to sympathize with the religious Muslims in this situation.

  2. there is a direct counterpart in halacha - not Conservative

  3. What? I don't understand your statement.

  4. In shaking hands, yes. What I think KS is saying is that for devout Muslims, there is no "commandment of mutual respect."

  5. The difference is that in pre-war Germany the idea that Jews were slowly infiltrating the country and attempting to subvert the dominant culture and replace it with a "Jewish" one was a paranoid delusion. In modern Europe it is a valid concern and the Swiss,unlike the politically correct afraid-of-being-called-racist EU, aren't taking chaces.

  6. DT, please explain.

  7. The Muslims have a right to make their own schools and follow their rules there. If they choose to attend Swiss public schools, then they must follow the Swiss custom.

    As Frum Jews we also will not shake a woman's hand. At times it can be considered אביזרייהו דעריות, which may just fall under of the umbrella of the three cardinal sins.

  8. I respectfully disagree with you. Plenty of European countries #1 are paranoid of being taken over by Muslims, and the antisemitism in pre war Germany was way more complicated then Germans being paranoid of Jews taking over....

  9. Perhaps RDE is saying there is a halachig basis for shaking hands with opposite gender for 'mutual respect' in halacha?

    RE, can you please explain your statement?

  10. first of all you should read Rav Moshe's teshuva dealing with sitting next to a member of the opposite sex on a bus.

    Let me repeat something I have related here a number of times. I spent much time in the home of Rabbi Freifeld. One I witnesses a non-observant woman, that he had spent much time trying to help her family , reach out her hand to shake his hand. He reacted by shaking her hand. When she left, knowing that I had witnessed him shaking hands said, "When I was young an adam gadol told me that it is permissible to shake hands with women if it would cause them embarrassment if you didn't. However the Chazon Ish has stated that it is something that one needs to die rather than transgress. I am not sure that the Chazon Ish's view is the correct one. But in situations like today I follow my original psak.

    I was told that it was fairly common in Western Europe for rabbis to shake hands of woman and it is obvious from Rav Moshe's teshuva about bus' that when done not to hurt her feelings - and not because of affection - there is no problem. Clearly if a man gets sexual pleasure from shaking hands he is prohibited to do it - but that is not the normal reaction.

    Rav Moshe's teshuvos about shaking hands i.e., "that he doesn't know what heter people have for doing it "- is for those people who view it as a sensual experience.

  11. I totally hear that, and I based if the little knowledge I have it makes sense since embarrassing someone is an issur diaraisa.
    However, in this specific senario (of the students being forced to partake in an activity that is anti their religion), it's not really the case of embarrassing the teacher.

    The situation can explained to the teacher before hand. And any decent teacher will not feel slighted.

    When someone sits next to you on the bus, or when a stranger puts their hand, is not the same as a case like this.
    What if this was young bachur instead of a devout Muslim?

  12. As pointed out the Muslim community claims handshaking in this situation is not against their religion.

  13. I am not sure I agree... I think it actually depends for whom and on what level of observance they hold themselves to be....
    There are all sorts of levels among the Muslims and all sorts of clans, who have different customs and ideas about how they get closer to Allah.... Just saying

  14. Politically IncorrectJune 2, 2016 at 8:50 AM

    For your last line, I normally would be first to come to their defense, but when you take a closer look and see this attitude and pattern, and realize that it is part of a larger agenda of subversion to Islam, then I would be fairly reserved to advocate for this position, which explains why they forbade minerets in Switzerland, which explains why the hijab became outlawed in France (although dumb Hillary or perhaps Crooked Hillary joined the Arabs in condemning the French. ...)


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.