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

 
 
Miller
 
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 09:21 am

When a Plane Seat Next to a Woman Is Against Orthodox Faith
By MICHAEL PAULSON APRIL 9, 2015

NYTimes

Several flights from New York to Israel over the last year have been delayed when ultra-Orthodox Jewish men have refused to sit next to women.

Francesca Hogi, 40, had settled into her aisle seat for the flight from New York to London when the man assigned to the adjoining window seat arrived and refused to sit down. He said his religion prevented him from sitting beside a woman who was not his wife. Irritated but eager to get underway, she eventually agreed to move.

Laura Heywood, 42, had a similar experience while traveling from San Diego to London via New York. She was in a middle seat — her husband had the aisle — when the man with the window seat in the same row asked if the couple would switch positions. Ms. Heywood, offended by the notion that her sex made her an unacceptable seatmate, refused.

“I wasn’t rude, but I found the reason to be sexist, so I was direct,” she said.

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.

Representatives of the ultra-Orthodox insist that the behavior is anomalous and rare.

“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.’ ”

Anat Hoffman, the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which has started a campaign urging women not to give up their seats, said, “I have a hundred stories.”

While traveling from San Diego to London via New York, Laura Heywood refused to move so that her husband, Steven Soden, would not have to give up his aisle seat. “I wasn’t going to put his comfort for no good reason above my husband’s,” she said of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who had asked her to change seats.

And Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, a Modern Orthodox Talmud scholar who grew up in the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect, said, “When I was still part of that community, and on the more conservative side, I would make every effort I could not to sit next to a woman on the plane, because of a fear that you might touch a woman by accident.”

Airlines, and flight attendants, are often caught in the middle. Morgan Durrant, a Delta Air Lines spokesman, acknowledged the phenomenon, saying: “This is a dynamic of some customers who utilize our service. We’re aware of it, and we do what we can to get ahead of it prior to boarding.”

Other airlines had little to say about the situation, other than to agree that a variety of passengers make a variety of requests when traveling, and that carriers try to accommodate them.

It is not an entirely new issue; some ultra-Orthodox travelers have tried to avoid mixed-sex seating for years. But now the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population is growing rapidly because of high birthrates. Ultra-Orthodox men and their families now make up a larger share of airline travelers to Israel and other locations, giving them more economic clout with airlines, and they are making their views more widely known in response to what they see as the sexualization of society.

The issues on airplanes echo controversies over efforts to separate men and women on buses and streets, as well as to remove women from some news photographs.

“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.’”

Some passengers are sympathetic. Hamilton Morris, 27, a journalist from Brooklyn, said he agreed to give up his seat on a flight from Los Angeles to Newark via Chicago because it seemed like the considerate thing to do.

“There was a Hasidic Jew sitting across the aisle, between two women, and a stewardess approached me and quietly asked if I would be willing to exchange seats because the Hasidic Jew was uncomfortable sitting between two women,” he said. “I was fine with that. Everyone was trying to be accommodating because on airplanes everyone is anxious about offending anyone for religious reasons.”

And yet Ms. Heywood, a paralegal from Chula Vista, Calif., said she declined to give up her seat for reasons of both politics and seat preference — her husband finds flying less stressful in aisle seats. “I wasn’t going to put his comfort for no good reason above my husband’s,” she said.

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.

“My buddy who is Orthodox was saying this is a traditional thing — he doesn’t want to be tempted when his wife wasn’t there. And I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ This was just some woman flying to work or home and minding her own business.”
 
timur
 
  2  
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 10:29 am
Isn't religion crazy?
Miller
 
  2  
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 10:31 am
@timur,
You can say that again!
timur
 
  1  
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 10:34 am
@Miller,
Don't worry, I will!
0 Replies
 
Miller
 
  0  
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 10:42 am
Can you imagine the late Joan Rivers, if any man had refused to sit next to her on a plane, because she was a woman?

timur
 
  0  
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 10:48 am
@Miller,
The poor guys would be horrified..

0 Replies
 
roger
 
  2  
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 11:17 am
I guess we're lucky they are allowed on the same plane as a woman.

0 Replies
 
blueveinedthrobber
 
  4  
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 06:28 pm
Easy solution. If you're going to refuse to sit next to a woman and hold everyone up...get the **** off the plane.
roger
 
  3  
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 08:47 pm
@blueveinedthrobber,
Works for me. I wonder how El Al handles the problem.
0 Replies
 
BrettVAdler
 
  -1  
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2015 09:36 pm
@Miller,
Every religion has its share of lunatics.
Lordyaswas
 
  2  
Reply Mon 13 Apr, 2015 12:51 am
@BrettVAdler,
Yes, but isn't it strange how it's nearly always the mysoginistic based lunacy that pushes through though.



0 Replies
 
saab
 
  2  
Reply Mon 13 Apr, 2015 02:24 am
When I buy my flight ticket I can buy first class, economy class or fly with
Ryanair.
I can also ask for vegetarian food, that no peanuts are served, I want aisle or window seat.
But all these things have to be taken care of before I get to the airplane.
If these men do not want to sit next to a woman they have to see to it is arranged long time ahead and not in the airplane. If it cannot be arrange - except there is a life outside the ivory tower they live in. If they can´t accept it - stay at home.

0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  4  
Reply Wed 15 Apr, 2015 04:43 am
@Miller,
Miller wrote:
When a Plane Seat Next to a Woman Is Against Orthodox Faith...

... then the person of Faith (any Faith) should find a way to resolve their own issue without interfering or infringing on the rights or comfort of the other person.
0 Replies
 
usery
 
  3  
Reply Wed 15 Apr, 2015 05:58 am
@Miller,
Quote:
Can you imagine the late Joan Rivers, if any man had refused to sit next to her on a plane, because she was a woman?


After insisting and getting her way, Joan would then complain to the stewardess that the guy refused to accidentally touch her.
0 Replies
 
Ionus
 
  -3  
Reply Wed 15 Apr, 2015 08:05 am
@timur,
Quote:
Isn't religion crazy?
No, neither is science, but some of the people on both sides dont have enough brainpower to understand what they are studying . And any organisation is open to the mentally ill .
0 Replies
 
Ionus
 
  -3  
Reply Wed 15 Apr, 2015 08:07 am
The clown probably imagined that he would create a stir and then the whole world would adopt different seating for men and women . Or he doesnt have the brains to realise what would happen .

Dem Orthodox Jews must have women just throwing themselves at em . Anyway, can can see more clearly when you are up high so he knows who is in the mile high club .
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  2  
Reply Wed 15 Apr, 2015 08:36 am
Quote:
While traveling from San Diego to London via New York, Laura Heywood refused to move so that her husband, Steven Soden, would not have to give up his aisle seat. “I wasn’t going to put his comfort for no good reason above my husband’s,” she said of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who had asked her to change seats.


Good for her. Know I am all about religious freedom, however, if you are the individual that has an issue then you need to make the accomodations. If you cannot sit next to a woman, then you need to move. If there is no where you can move that accomodates you, then you need to leave the plane and take another flight that fits your needs. Ask ahead and see if the airline can accomodate your religious needs.

I completely agree with this woman - why should her husband be uncomfortable? They booked ahead so her husband could have the aisle seat so he would be comfortable. Because this person is not comfortable for a woman next to him, someone else needs to be uncomfortable? The other option is for him to buy two seats so that no one sits next to him.

To be honest I am tired of having to accomodate others because they have some sort of issue - I don't mean someone for instance with a disability, but all this political religious correctness - it is almost like we have to accomodate one person and make thousands worse off. Just have some common sense.
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  0  
Reply Wed 15 Apr, 2015 08:39 am
@Miller,
Quote:
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.


I suggest if this happens, let the guy have the aisle seat and then while in flight and walking down the aisle - simply have an "accidental" fall right into his lap.

You know I would do it.
Miller
 
  1  
Reply Thu 16 Apr, 2015 07:30 am
@Linkat,
Linkat wrote:

Quote:
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.


I suggest if this happens, let the guy have the aisle seat and then while in flight and walking down the aisle - simply have an "accidental" fall right into his lap.

You know I would do it.


Would you receive an"in flight" spanking?
0 Replies
 
Ionus
 
  1  
Reply Thu 16 Apr, 2015 09:12 am
I wonder if he was sitting next to someone and they announced they were born a woman but had a operation to become a man, what he would do ?
 

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