Ask The Rabbi

Back of My Hand

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Hand, Kissing Back Of, Why?

Ben-Judah wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Is there a custom of the kissing of the hand? If so, what is it? Is it in the Holy Book, and what does it mean?
Thank you very must. BE BLESSED!


Dear Ben-Judah,

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 900 years ago - 'walls have ears.' Or, as a verse teaches: "A little birdie told me."

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.

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, last year someone sent me an article from the Detroit Jewish News. According to the article, hospitals across the country have identified a new 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!

Sources:

  • Tractate Berachot 8b
  • Ibid., Rashi, Maharsha & Chochmat Shlomo
  • Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 10:20, Bava Batra 4a


 
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