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Haredi politician’s failure to shake hands riles female Belgian minister

JTA

May 23, 2012 | 2:22 pm

Yaakov Litzman

Yaakov Litzman

Belgium’s health minister said she was “profoundly troubled” by the behavior of her Israeli counterpart, Yaakov Litzman, after the haredi Orthodox minister refused to shake her hand at a conference.

Litzman, Israel’s deputy minister for health, belongs to the haredi Torah Judaism party and considers it forbidden to touch members of the opposite sex.

“My hands are clean!” read a text that appeared on the official Facebook site of the Belgian health minister Laurette Onkelinx. “This is the second time a minister refuses to shake my hand because I am a woman. The first was Iranian. The second one was the Israeli health minister here in Geneva. This kind of fundamentalist attitude, connected to a certain perception of religion and women, profoundly troubles me.”

Litzman and Onkelinx met Wednesday at the annual World Health Assembly. Onkelinx belongs to the Francophone Belgian Socialist Party, the party of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

“The minister’s childish reaction demonstrates her ignorance,” said Michael Freilich, editor in chief of Joods Actueel, Belgium’s largest Jewish publication, which reported on the story. “Mr. Litzman’s refusal to shake Ms. Onkelinx’s hand had nothing to do with any view on women or impurity. Ultra-Orthodox women are also forbidden from touching members of the opposite sex. It’s the custom. A more seasoned politician would have been aware of this sensibility in advance.”

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