Yes… that’s what I’m calling it. I obviously know he’s not Jewish and wouldn’t know a thing about the term, but to this observant Jew, what happened here is clear demonstration of Shomer Negiah failure.
Here’s what happened: On a trip to Indonesia, US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle met with various foreign diplomats and representatives of said country. One of those individuals was Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring.
As an observant Muslim, one of the customs followed by Sembiring is the practice of not having direct physical contact with the opposite gender, unless it’s a family member. While interpretation of which particular family members this refers to (In Judaism, shomer negiah rules can go so far as to restricting contact with cousins, aunts, uncles etc.), but what’s clear is that the restriction covers all forms of direct physical contact. That means no hugging, kissing, hand-shaking, touching of the hands when passing an object to another, tapping on a shoulder to grab one’s attention, and any seemingly non-sexualized form of touch, regardless of intent. It’s black and white – no touching.
While there are certainly circumstances that may obviously alter the straightforwardness of this custom (say you’re on a crowded subway and people are piling in and you can’t help it if someone bumps in to you – that’s indirect contact and out of your control), but then there’s just straight-up brainfarts where you end up doing something and then immediately right after doing it you’re thinking, “oh shoot, did I really just do that?”
That’s probably what Sembiring was thinking after he inadvertently shook the hand of first lady, Michelle Obama.
It was obviously not a great decision based on his beliefs, but hey, brainfarts happen…
And judging by the unnecessarily swift media response to judge the man for not living up to his moral standards, he probably really regrets the episode in its entirety.
And while I won’t dub this episode Loser List material, let’s not forget who Sembiring is and what he’s done/said in the past. He’s the same guy who infamously said Indonesians’ sins were responsible for the earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters that had recently struck the nation, and linked the destruction of those events to the country’s involvement in the production of pornographic videos.
But hey, if you’re willing to dish it out, you better be willing to receive it as well.