Opinion: The Insolence of a Few and the Delayed El Al Flight


elalBy 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.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Matzav.com.

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  1. bravo!! I hope those women are proud of themselves; they have shown the world how small-minded they can be. I wonder what they would have done if someone from PETA had asked them to remove their shoes made from the hides of animals

  2. I agree with the article insofar as the vile attacks on Fox News. I also agree that at least some of the women were acting out of spite. But I cannot let the Orthodox men who misbehaved on the plane off the hook as easily as you do. Clinging to your religious beliefs is no excuse for this type of despicable behavior. One ought to know the difference between a chumra and a halacha. And certainly these real frum men should have recognized a Chillul Hashem!!

  3. I personally feel that a religious man has no right to demand anything on a flight and if he is given a seat to which he has been assigned, he can ask nicely to switch and if no other seat is available, he should sit down and deal with it. This is why we were given a Torah, so that we can deal with the situations in which we are placed. Until there is a Charedi airline with mechitzos, people have the choice of dealing with it or not flying altogether. There is no inyan to fly and make a scene.

  4. I must disagree with much of this opinion piece. You say that you refuse to judge the chareidim because they were acting out of ignorance, but you judge the women because they had no reason not to move.

    According to some interviews given by people on the plane, there were many women who were asked to sit separately from their husbands. If I were on a plane, I would not want to be separated from my wife. Why should these couples be forced to split up? Even if it was a woman traveling alone, why should she move? Maybe she had an aisle seat and didn’t want to give it up?

    The fact is that you’re thinking as a frum Jew. Most of the women who had issues on the plane were not frum. Try thinking like them for a minute. It’s highly insulting to them! A man won’t sit next to them? They should move? With all the tension in Israel over gender segregation, with the issues between chareidim and chilonim, you really don’t see why a woman wouldn’t want to move?

    You say you can’t judge because the chareidim were acting out of ignorance. That’s precisely why they SHOULD be judged! Did they ask their Rav if it’s assur for them to sit near a woman? R’ Moshe Feinstein zt”l clearly states that a man can sit next to a woman on a crowded train or bus. Shouldn’t the same thing apply here? They should not be making such a fuss when they don’t know the halachos! They should be judged for acting out of ignorance!

    Honestly, I think the airlines need to have less tolerance for them. The men making the problems should have been kicked off the plane.

  5. First, were the women being asked to move being offered similar seats? For example, if I had a window or an aisle (or whatever one prefers), I might not be willing to move to a center (or less desirable) seat to accomodate a stranger.

    Second, we must understand that liberalism/feminism is like a religion in many ways. Therefore, the stubbornness of the liberal/feminist women is very similar to the stubborness of the chareidim. Both are refusing to compromise their religious standards. Whether or not we agree with the standards, or the stubborness with which they are adhered to, we must understand where each side is coming from.

    Finally, I recommend reading the “Short Vort” on this subject (though admittedly it is not so short) by rav Ron Yizchok Eisenman. He is rav of Ahavas Israel in Passaic, and someone whose writing has been featured before here on matzav. The short vort can be found on that shul’s website with the date of Oct 5 2014. (I will not post the link as I am not sure if that may cause the post to be censored. But I trust most users of this site will be able to locate it.)

  6. Please have an open mind to the following question.

    If I were to approach any female in the street and say ” can I sleep next to you on a seat with the lights out”, what would her reaction be and what would the authorities do to me? (and rightfully so)

    Why is it that I can be forced to sleep next to a stranger – man or women wearing a blanket, for a 12 hour flight with the lights out. and if I object then I am a racist, a discriminator, etc.??

    The entire concept doesn’t make sense

  7. Dennis Prager did not just now join the list. He is America’s most famous Reform Rabbi and heretic. He has said on his show that Hashem does not know the future, what happens to people has nothing to do with God, and the only difference between Jews and Gentiles is in this world, in the next word we are All equeal. Woe to the ears that here these things from a person who champions himself as a sincere seeker of the truth.He despises the Talmud and Rabbinical teachings. Shame on any orthodox organization that invites him to speak or boast of him.

  8. If they were doing it because of their principles they should have gotten off the plane and not caused everyone else to suffer and bring about a major chillul hashem

  9. Did the author ever consider that the propogation of chumra, such as was attempted here is, in fact, damaging to Judaism? Be is distortion to the right or to the left, the version of Judaism that remains, is not that which G-d intended.

  10. What do you expect? Dennis Prager is a reform Jew who does not believe in the Talmud. He even said on his show to millions of people that God does not know the future and other comments that Jewish ears should not hear.

  11. for the sake of accuracy (by no means justifying) was it actually an 11 hour delay as written in this article or does the news just mean that the flight from NY to TLV was an 11 hr (which it is) ordeal – BIG difference!!

  12. Please identify your halachic authority to 1 rule on sitting next to a woman and 2 equate sitting next to a person from the opposite gender with so called chillul hashem.

    Regarding the journalist who compared them to isis this is very obviously nonsense. Nobody has yet seen a orthodox or any sane jew kill in the name of religion, nor honor killings nor the violence seen in the isis and muslim communities. To compare the two stinks from racism.

  13. What do you expect? Dennis Prager is a reform Jew who does not believe in the Rabbinical teachings of the Talmud. He has preceded Blommberg and Lapid by many years if you are familiar with his talk show or speeches.

  14. I think that El Al should issue a disclaimer to be used by all travel agents in Bnai Brak and Yerushalayim stating that “The buyer of this ticket acknowledges that their seat will be assigned by the airline and although a request to change will be considered the traveler is not entitled to it. Failure to assume the assigned seat by the time scheduled for takeoff will result in a forfeiture of the seat, the ticket holders removal from the aircraft and no refund of the ticket price”.

    Let the buyer know up front that no shenanigans will be allowed and their expensive ticket will be lost…You will see an end to this nonsense overnight. (Perhaps to be replaced by the plastic tents some have devised to isolate the unfortunate male traveler who finds himself in too close proximity to travelers of the opposite gender).

  15. B”H
    I am appalled at this post! Yes, the women were sticking to their seats! The seats were the ones they chose and wanted, for the duration of their flight. I was on a flight last week where 4 men pulled the same shtick on a small plane, standing in the isle and not budging. Our take off was delayed. The passengers had the right to their seats. The third graders are those who think the world has to bow to their mishigas. It’s not a halocho or a hiddur. chillul Hashem is d’Oraisa! If you have a personal issue with shmiras einayim don”t fly- or buy the whole row of seats. Don’t inconvenience your fellow passengers and cause a huge Chillul Hashem. And to the writer, don’t blame the victim.
    A Gut Yohr and may Moshiach save us from ourselves, very soon!

  16. I see it all the time and most of US are always running around a plane looking to switch seats. It is wrong just sit down and relax. Their is no Isur and CHumrah not to sit next to female in a public place and the CHilul Hashem is a Vadai!!!

    Sit down and enjoy the flight.

  17. > “…the shameful ranks of the classical Jewish Jew haters of our time, such as Michael Bloomberg and Yair Lapid.”
    >> Avrumi Weinberger, how dare you! These individuals are tinokot shenishbah who, through no fault of their own, were raised and educated in a way far differently (obviously) than you. Because they were raised differently they are “Jew haters?” Seriously? Anyone who is not frum but who might be thinking of embracing Yiddishkeit could read your bigoted comment and decide that Torah cannot be a “darchei shalom” if it produces intemperate Jews such as yourself.

  18. Very well written article! The author makes a great point as he illustrates the reasoning behind the decision to stand throughout the flight. In addition he mentions that this logic may be flawed as it is a chillul HaShem.
    My only question is, have we thought of these women? Perhaps they were sitting next to their children/spouses and really didn’t want to be separated for 11 hours after shelling out lots of money for their seat. Try to step into their shoes for a moment and picture if you were asked my a religious Muslim women to separate from your wife so that she could sit next to another women, would you hesitate?
    Having said all that, I agree with the authors point of view, I just think sensitivity and communication are the key to conveying our point of view.

  19. Chilul Hashem has nothing to do with this. Because a person or people have a distorted view of what is wrong and right and what is a chilul Hashem does not cause an actual chilul Hashem. If anyting it was actually a kiddush Hashem. Most men were created by G-d to have a yeitzer horah, and therefore “extra syogim” cannot be criticized and dare not be. If the people who are critical of them, and the people who refused to move would be more familiar with and concerned about halochoh, mussar, and yiras Shomayim, they would feel like idiots to make such statements about themselves.

  20. If proper arrangements haven’t been made before the flight, how does anyone expect immediate results during boarding? This is not yet our private frum airline. Not to mention that embarrassing others goes way beyond bad manners.

  21. Agree re Prager. Disagree with the naive remarks about “stringency”. The writer might be fortunate that he is spared this ubiquitous t’ayvah, and/or is unaware of all the informed mussar about it.

    Remember when El Al tried to justify Shabboss flying? Don’t they allow reserved seats? Or do they, and we don’t take advantage of them? If we couldn’t guarantee a decent “space”, which mitigating circumstances would justify such a compromise. Still, my sympathies are with this brave brother who would not compromise. Rosa Parks, we got a match for you.

  22. Going forward, what’s needed is a systematic solution. El Al’s policy needs to be clearly stated and firmly enforced. The airline can’t be having these dramas every time a flight needs to take off.

    The author’s view is that the charedim on any given El Al flight should be able to dictate the seating arrangement for that flight, and that non-charedim should be required to comply with whatever the charedim demand. May I respectfully suggest that no airline on earth would be willing to impose that policy.

    A better solution might involve pre-flight reservation of seats, which could minimize conflicts.

    However, in cases where that doesn’t work, I prefer the “tough luck” policy that commenter “W” (#19) suggests. Your seat is your seat. If you don’t like it, you’re free to get off the plane at once and allow it to leave on time. And by the way–no refund will be made.

  23. If this stringency is so important, there is a simple solution: Pay for an extra seat. Every one of my rabbis has insisted that it is not proper for me to be frum at someone else’s expense.

  24. I went to the Ahavas website and read the vort from yesterday by R Eisenman (which incidentally was taken from his Neilah drash) and it was spot-on, and a great lesson derived from this and similar episodes.
    The story he tells over from R Moshe was especially relevant.
    TY for the reference.

  25. Again, for most or even almost all men, this is only a “chumrah” on paper. In actuality, it is a different story. To enforce any thing on other people does present problems. However, we would like to make these other people aware of the issues, or in some cases, be mochiach them, so that perhaps they will voluntarily realize what the proper thing to do is.

    However, if