By Avrumi Weinberger
Most people are decent and rational. But some unfortunately are not. Sometimes, the self centered actions of a few can cause much heartache to many and lead to very undesirable and far-reaching repercussions. Such was the case last week on an El Al flight when a number of Orthodox Jews asked their female neighbors to switch seats due to religious concerns not to sit near members of the opposite gender.
Now, I have witnessed this procedure dozens of times on my trips to and from Israel. An Orthodox man approaches the flight attendant and politely requests that his seat be switched. The flight attendant considerately and respectfully says to wait until all the passengers have boarded and to see whether there are any empty seats. If none are available, then the attendant will try to move some people around so that everyone’s concerns and beliefs are respected. In 99.9% of the cases the issue is quickly resolved, because as we noted above, most people are decent and rational and don’t want to make a fuss.
However, in this case, some people didn’t want to budge. Period.
No matter how much the men pleaded, prodded, cajoled and even offered money did the women budge. The flight was thus delayed 11 hours as the religious men refused to compromise their religious beliefs and chose rather to stand in the aisle, which prevented the pilot from taking off.
Now, I don’t believe that the issue of sitting next to a woman ought to be cause for delaying a flight for so long and to create such a commotion. The reason is, that there is no specific Biblical or even Rabbinic prohibition for doing so, rather it is a reasonable stringency that would prevent one from almost certainly transgressing a number of Biblical and Rabbinic prohibitions, such as “Do not stray after your hearts and your eyes”, and “Don’t speak excessively to [strange] women”. However, if in so doing one causes a chillul Hashem; a desecration of G-d’s name [which would occur when people can reasonably and objectively observe unseemly behavior by Jews even though it may not be their fault, as long as it is so perceived], then one should refrain from doing so and try the best to avoid any transgressions. Although, as noted above, in most cases, things don’t digress so badly that it ever comes to such a point.
Having said all that, I still don’t judge the Jews on the flight, because I am inclined to believe that they acted not out of snobbishness or indecency, but rather out of an ignorance of the nuances of the application of the stringency which led them to believe that it is to be adhered to at all costs. Who I do judge, however, are the few stubborn women who refused to move. Whereas the mens’ position has some merit, albeit weak and flawed, the womens’ has none. The men were heroically (in their minds at least) clinging to their religious beliefs, which, one would think should be something that is looked up upon in the US. But what were the women clinging to? Their seats? That they paid for? And for 11 hours? Are we still in third grade? You would think that by that time something should give. But what instead happened was that the men agreed to sit down for takeoff and then immediately stood back up and remained so for the duration of the 10 hour flight. The insolence of a few.
What was most disgusting, however, was a disgraceful discussion that followed on Fox News about the incident, featuring political and social commentator Dennis Prager who is adored by many pro-Israel types including many Orthodox Jews. The hosts repeatedly compared the ultra-Orthodox to fundamentalist Islamist and one even said that they are the equivalent of ISIS. Think of the irony: a noted author and leading authority on anti-Semitism, sitting right there caught in the act. The discussion went on and on about the perfidiousness and insularity of the Orthodox, while Prager sat there not only not objecting to the trash, but also happily offering some criticism of his own. He also proudly said that he is a “non-Orthodox religious Jew” (who also coincidentally believes, as he has publicly said on his radio talk show, that Jews have a lot to learn from the early Christian teachings, which leads one to question the nature of his religiosity).
With that he has duly joined the shameful ranks of the classical Jewish Jew haters of our time, such as Michael Bloomberg and Yair Lapid. These employ a mix of the old primitive type of Jew hatred, yet remolded with a sophisticated intellectual brand. But in the end it is still unadulterated, naked bigotry. It is sad but it is true: bigotry and intolerance is very much prevalent in the secular Jewish world, and it is thriving. Both on the left and on the right.
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