You were shocked only due to a lack of knowledge of a widespread practice among Orthodox Jews.
Similarly, there was nothing inherently offensive about the agent's refusal. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court correctly ruled that in the context of a long-standing history of Jim Crow laws, educational segregation conveys to black children an unmistakable state-sponsored message of inferiority, could not be more inapposite.
Rather it proscribes physical contact between sexes equally.
In strictly Orthodox Jewish circles, dating is limited to the search for a marriage partner.
Both sides (usually the singles themselves, parents, close relatives or friends of the persons involved) make inquiries about the prospective partner, e.g.
Her otherwise "courteous and competent real-estate agent" refused to shake her hand after signing a brokerage contract, explaining that as an Orthodox Jew he does not touch women.
The woman described herself as both "shocked and offended." But since she was a good liberal who, in addition to opposing "sex discrimination of all sorts," also "supports freedom of religious expression," she was in a quandary.
Those who observe the ban convey the message that "the erotic element is excluded from our relationship." Far from showing a lack of "dignity and respect" for those of the opposite gender, observance of the ban reflects a determination to treat members of the opposite sex with the utmost respect ― as everything but objects of sexual desire.
Judging from the proliferation of sexual-harassment charges in work settings and elsewhere, many women would prefer precisely such relationships.
Some engage in it as a profession and charge a fee for their services.
Usually a professional matchmaker is called a shadchan, but anyone who makes a shidduch is considered the shadchan for it.
The Ethicist, one Randy Cohen, told her that she was entitled to work with someone "who will treat you with the dignity and respect he shows his male clients." He deemed it irrelevant that the agent was acting in accord with his deepest religious beliefs: "Sexism is sexism, even when motivated by religious convictions." Cohen agreed that the action was "offensive" -- nothing less than an attempt to "render a class of people untouchable" ― and calling it religious "doesn't make it right." For good measure, he cited the US Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vs.
Board of Education that separate educational facilities for black and white students are inherently unequal.
Interestingly, the Ethicist overlooked the most serious ethical lapse of all ― his own advice that the letter writer rip up a contract she had already signed.