Arrest Haredim and others
who cause trouble on planes
SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The first man came to demand water. With a large beard and black coat he received his water from the steward in the back of the plane. Then he decided to stand there, next to the space at the back next to the toilets where there is an emergency exit row. Even as a tall skinny stewardess asked him to sit down, another young man had come to use the bathroom. Then another to demand two waters. Then a fifth young man, like the rest wearing a kipa and tzitz’s asked for coffee. The plane was preparing to take off. “You’ll have to wait.” But he wouldn’t quit. “Come one, give me coffee, I’ll pay you.” The steward and stewardess tried to plead with him and the rest to take their seats. But then they were confronted with a sixth man who required that they help him move seats. “I can’t sit next to a woman.”
Over the years I’ve defended hatred directed at Haredim. Israeli society is full of hateful views of religious people and gross generalizations about them. But sitting in row 31D on Ukrainian Airlines flight 0779 from Kiev to Tel Aviv was a sort of wakeup call. Why did a dozen men require to all have water, when 100 other secular people were sitting quietly waiting for takeoff and obeying the rules of fastening seat belts and stowing their stuff. Why did these men demand coffee? Why did they all “have to use the bathroom” suddenly upon getting on the plane. There are bathrooms in the terminal and water is readily available. I had gone to the bathroom right before getting on the place for precisely this reason. Taxi and takeoff can take time, it is best to relive yourself first.
But these young men, some of them with American accents and seemingly yeshivah students, some older, speaking mostly Hebrew, needed all manner of things before take-off that they could have purchased a second ago in the terminal. Do the American Jewish Orthodox men who demand coffee upon boarding a flight in Ukraine do the same thing in the US? Do they refuse to fasten seat belts, refuse to put tray tables up, refuse to sit where they are assigned, demand water; pester stewards and refuse to sit?
Throughout the last year we have seen a large number of articles relating to Orthodox men who refuse to sit where they are assigned under the auspices of claiming they cannot sit next to women on airplanes. But actually the behavior goes beyond this. It is about colonizing, pushing and demanding special treatment. It is about flagrantly violating the rules. It is not about politeness, it is about bullying and rudeness. That’s what struck me. None of the young men were polite. They demanded water. “Give me coffee, I’ll pay you, give it to me.” They feel entitled, like other groups of entitled people who push waitresses, who are rude to stewards. Entitlement is a kind of disease, like bullying and rudeness and pushiness. It is not just prevalent among some Orthodox Jews, it is prevalent among many Israelis, it is prevalent in some other sub-cultures as well. Demanding more than your share. Demanding to take more seats than you paid for. Demanding to move seats, to be re-seated, to not obey the rules. And not even a limited politeness or obsequious qualities of “I’m sorry but” and “excuse me” is uttered.
Obviously when you dress in a special way it is easier to identify you as part of a group. A few secular people who push, who shout, who won’t sit down, are not “all secular people.” Most secular people behave fine. And the vast majority of Haredim behave fine. But there is a sub-group that has decided the laws do no apply to them. And it is time for the full extent of the law to be applied to them.
It is time for Haredim, and anyone else, who refuses to sit down on a plane and delays the flight, or demands to be re-seated to be immediately de-planed, and arrested. You don’t have to arrest too many people before the message sinks in. When smoking was banned on flights some people kept secretly smoking in the bathrooms. So smoke detectors, fines and prosecutions were enacted. The same can be done to those who make trouble on airplanes. Fine them, remove them from the aircraft and arrest them. Treat the demand to move seats like smoking.
I saw the man in his mid-1930s waiting patiently for a new seat. But why did he need a new seat? He claimed that he cannot sit next to a woman. Then why is he on a plane? Where in Torah does it say that he should demand a secular Jewish man move to sit next to a woman by moving to a middle seat, so that he can have the aisle row? Making another man break a rule isn’t Jewish. The Mishnah doesn’t say “in order to maintain modesty, force other people to be immodest.” It doesn’t say “if there is a pork meal and a kosher meal, make the secular Jew eat the pork and take the kosher for yourself.”
The man who demanded to move had been given seat 31E next to me, so that he would be in a middle seat and on his right would be a woman. His wife and son had seats 31A and B across from me and the aisle in that row, 31C was taken up by a yeshivah student. He wanted me to move to 31E so I would be in the middle next to the woman and he would splay himself out in the aisle. But why couldn’t his son site between me and the woman? A five year old is not subject to the rules of immodesty, he would not be contaminated by the woman.
Religious Jewish authorities should step into this mess and rule that it is acceptable to sit next to a woman on a plane and that delaying and endangering a flight is a severe violation. They should remind the religious public being rude, pushy and demanding extra rights is not a Jewish value. Jews are supposed to behave well and not bring shame on their community. Many of these religious people pretend to be representative of Judaism, pure and good Jews keeping their commandments, so they should be upholding the honor of the group, not disgracing it.
And if you think I’m being discriminatory, focusing on haredim, it should be clear the same goes for all other religious groups. Religion doesn’t require you to fly. If you are Muslim and have some complaints about your “religious needs,” that supposedly require you to not sit in a certain place, too bad. But my experience flying with Muslims on Emirates is that they sit down and don’t require to be moved. Usually people are pushy when they think they can get away with it. When there are ten men with TSA uniforms who don’t truck with pushiness, no one challenges them. When there appear to be weak stewardesses who are trying to oblige and be flexible, then the pushy people walk all over them. Only a strong arm will keep these demands at bay and force them to stop. It is time for such a strong hand. If the 90% can sit comfortably and obey the rules, the other 10% can as well.