Tuesday, April 14, 2015

When a Plane Seat Next to a Woman Is Against Orthodox Faith

NY Times   A growing number of airline passengers, particularly on trips between the United States and Israel, are now sharing stories of conflicts between ultra-Orthodox Jewish men trying to follow their faith and women just hoping to sit down. Several flights from New York to Israel over the last year have been delayed or disrupted over the issue, and with social media spreading outrage and debate, the disputes have spawned a protest initiative, an online petition and a spoof safety video from a Jewish magazine suggesting a full-body safety vest (“Yes, it’s kosher!”) to protect ultra-Orthodox men from women seated next to them on airplanes.

Some passengers say they have found the seat-change requests simply surprising or confusing. But in many cases, the issue has exposed and amplified tensions between different strains of Judaism.

Jeremy Newberger, 41, a documentary filmmaker who witnessed such an episode on a Delta flight from New York to Israel, was among several Jewish passengers who were offended.

“I grew up Conservative, and I’m sympathetic to Orthodox Jews,” he said. “But this Hasid came on, looking very uncomfortable, and wouldn’t even talk to the woman, and there was five to eight minutes of ‘What’s going to happen?’ before the woman acquiesced and said, ‘I’ll move.’ It felt like he was being a yutz,” Mr. Newberger added, using a Yiddish word for fool.

“I think that the phenomenon is nowhere near as prevalent as some media reports have made it seem,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, which represents ultra-Orthodox Jews. Rabbi Shafran noted that despite religious laws that prohibit physical contact between Jewish men and women who are not their wives, many ultra-Orthodox men follow the guidance of an eminent Orthodox scholar, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who counseled that it was acceptable for a Jewish man to sit next to a woman on a subway or bus so long as there was no intention to seek sexual pleasure from any incidental contact.

“The haredi men I know,” Rabbi Shafran said, using the Hebrew word for the ultra-Orthodox, “have no objection to sitting next to a woman on any flight.”

But multiple travelers, scholars and the airlines themselves say the phenomenon is real. The number of episodes appears to be increasing as ultra-Orthodox communities grow in number and confidence, but also as other passengers, for reasons of comfort as well as politics, push back.

“It’s very common,” said Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky, an associate professor of Judaic studies at Brandeis University. “Multiculturalism creates a moral language where a group can say, ‘You have to respect my values.’ ”[...]
Update: Moe Ginsburg points out another perspective -  he writes:
Orthodox Jews are not the only people who ask for a seat change when boarding. In fact many people do and Orthodox Jews are a tiny minority of those that seek this accommodation:
NY Times  Airplane Seat Swapping Turns Rough-and-Tumble

For passengers in increasingly stratified plane cabins, the scramble for the right seat has become more intense than ever.

Just asking to switch remains a popular choice, but increasingly, frequent travelers say that fellow passengers are breaching long-established etiquette and simply plopping down in a seat of their choice.

“It’s a little bit of they don’t understand the value,” said Joanna Bloor, a consultant. “It is truly lack of an awareness that this is a transaction.” [...]

Turf wars over the limited real estate in a plane cabin, from the overhead bins to the armrests, have become more acute in recent years. And with airlines packing planes tighter and charging more for exit rows, for seats further up in the economy cabin or for seat selection at the time of booking, requests — or demands — to swap seats have taken on a new tenor.[...]

As a result, travelers who don’t want to pay extra for a preferred seat might need to ask a fellow passenger to swap. But frequent travelers say that there is a definite etiquette to this activity that infrequent travelers often violate.

A request is more likely to be granted if the person who wants to swap is willing to move further back in the cabin, or take a middle seat. Even so, asking is no guarantee.

“The problem is that a lot of these people have paid for these seats, or they’ve booked them far in advance and they don’t want to give them up,” said George Hobica, who runs the website Airfarewatchdog.[...]


  1. Orthodox Jews are not the only people who ask for a seat change when boarding. In fact many people do and Orthodox Jews are a tiny minority of those that seek this accommodation:


  2. excellent link!!! thank you!!!
    perhaps rde can post it as a separate post.

  3. I have many times flown with family and for whatever reason ended up sitting far away from them on full flights. I try to effect a seat switch, and sometimes have been successful. But here is the difference - when I haven't been successful, I didn't refuse to sit in my assigned seat, I didn't cause a scene and I didn't create a multi-hour delay for the entire plane full of people. This has happened many times with so called chassidim, and frankly there is no way you can label such a monumental narcissistic tircha dtzibura and huge chilul hashem as an example of CHASIDUS!!! The Besht would disassociate from people like that imho.

  4. The allegation that they refuse to sit down and hold up the plane is a falsehood. Has it never happened? It may have on an excruciatingly rare situation. Perhaps. But it is far far from the norm. Typically the seat change request is done courteously and respectfully.

    Just how you did it.

    It is the anti-semitic media, mostly egged on by the Orthodox-hating irreligious Jews, who come up with these falsehoods and take a one in ten thousand man-bites-dog story and portray it as a frequent occurrence.

  5. an old article of mine (dating back to the days elal was up for sale, and charedim were afraid the airline will fly on Shabbat (and other issues. mostly other issues. MO and DL were also afraid the new buyer will fly on Shabbat.)



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