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Let’s Talk About Something Really Trivial


Some (really paranoid) ultra-Orthodox Jewish men will refuse to sit next to a woman on an airplane.  Rather than arrange in advance for an acceptable seat, these men appear suddenly realize their plight while boarding the plane and then demand that the offending woman change seats to accommodate their sensibilities.

Here are some quotes from a New York Times article describing this “problem”:

““The ultra-Orthodox have increasingly seen gender separation as a kind of litmus test of Orthodoxy — it wasn’t always that way, but it has become that way,” said Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College. “There is an ongoing culture war between these people and the rest of the modern world, and because the modern world has increasingly sought to become gender neutral, that has added to the desire to say, ‘We’re not like that.’””

““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.”

Other passengers, like Andrew Roffe, 31, a writer based in Los Angeles, said he and a friend wound up debating the ethics of the situation after Mr. Roffe described his experience on a United Airlines flight to Chicago. When passengers started to board, he said, an ultra-Orthodox man stood in the aisle, refusing to move and delaying the departure for 15 to 20 minutes until another passenger volunteered to switch seats.


Joshua Schwartz

Ramat-Gan, Israel

“I am an Orthodox Jewish Israeli born in the US and travel abroad from time to time.

This seating issue and the attendant demands are foolishness.

If it is that important to the gentleman involved then let them make sure at check-in or with the airline that they are seated in a manner that is in keeping with their view of religious requirements. If it is not important enough for them to take the extra time and make the extra effort in a normal, logical and seemingly much more efficient manner, then it is not that important to them.

I, for instance, prefer an aisle seat and will take all steps necessary in advance to make sure that I get one. I will not move for this type of thing.

There is no religious requirement for a man not to sit next to a woman in public travel as the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the greatest “posekim”or adjudicators of Jewish law in modern times.

That public transport puts up with this disruptive behavior anyplace makes a mockery of Jewish law and practice.

As I wrote above, let them make all necessary arrangements at ticket counters or in ordering seats in advance, but not when it comes to boarding a flight, train, or bus.”

The article elicited over 2000 comments, an unusually large number for such an article.

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