A Handy Kiss

Question

I saw someone kiss the hand of a person who looked like a Rabbi. I realize that this is considered a sign of respect but I wonder if this practice has a source in Jewish teachings. Thank you very much, Rabbi.

2 years

Answers

  1. Rabbi Akiva said: “There are three things I really like about the Medeans: When they cut meat, they do so only upon a table; when they kiss, they do so only upon the hand; and when they speak privately, they do so only out in a field.”

    These three things can be explained as follows: Cutting meat on a table is safe, as opposed to holding the meat in your hand while you cut it. Kissing the hand is more respectable than kissing the lips because of the saliva emitted. Private matters are best discussed in a field because, as Rashi wrote some 900 years ago, “walls have ears.” Or, as the verse teaches: “A little birdie told me.” (Paraphrasing Eccl. 10:20)

    Kissing on the hand can also be seen as more modest than kissing the lips.

    Today, it is mostly the practice of Sephardic Jews to kiss the hand upon meeting a Rabbi or Torah scholar, and it is considered a sign of great respect. Chassidic Jews sometimes kiss the hand of their Grand Rabbi. Otherwise, I have not seen or heard of this custom of kissing another’s hand.

    Many years ago, a friend of mine was studying and came across the above-mentioned statement of Rabbi Akiva. My friend asked: “Why does the Talmud have to point out the danger of cutting meat while holding it in your hand? Isn’t that pretty obvious?”

    Well, someone sent me an article from the Detroit Jewish News. According to the article, hospitals across the country had identified a malady which they call Sunday-Morning Bagelitis. (Seriously, this is not a joke!) Every Sunday morning, emergency rooms in major Jewish population centers report an increase of people with serious hand wounds. To what do they attribute this increase? To Jewish people who cut their hands while slicing bagels — especially frozen bagels, which are hard, slippery and quite a danger!

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team