Thursday, March 10, 2016

No problem: Put me in Business Class אין בעיה: תנו לי לעבור למחלקת עסקים

Hi everyone. Back after a long hiatus. So, many of you have no doubt heard about the airplane seat-switching controversy involving ultra-Orthodox men and non-Orthodox women passengers. But instead of just getting riled up over the ultra-Orthodox attempt to control not only our lives on the ground, but airborne as well, let’s look at the phenomenon as part of a larger, meta-phenomenon that I call tiptoe-ing around, placating, and pretending to the Orthodox.

I know of at least three funerals where Orthodox people – either themselves mourners, or members of the Chevra Kadisha [burial society] – compelled the primary mourners to engage in / refrain from engaging in, certain practices. In one case, everyone in attendance was compelled to engage in a strange ritual that originated generations back in some neck of the Diaspora woods with which none of them identified, much less had ever heard of. In another, distant Orthodox relatives of the deceased showed up and jogged behind the hearse, loudly chanting psalms in a way that, I found out later, horrified the children of the deceased. At another funeral, the deceased’s children, being daughters only, only began reciting kaddish after a male relative began doing so.

In addition, it calls to mind a recent bar mitzva I attended where the host edited her speech at the Shabbat dinner that mentioned the bar mitzva boy’s grandmothers having aliyas the following morning in shul, so as not to offend an Orthodox relative who wasn’t even going to be at the ceremony.

What do all three of these situations have in common? They all involve heightened anxiety, impatience, and being invested in everything going smoothly: a trifecta, or “perfect storm” if you wish, for the Orthodox individuals to exploit the non-Orthodox individuals’ (the stakeholders) vulnerability to compel the latter to accede to the will of the former. After all, boarding a plane, we all have the same goal: For the accursed thing to take off. Not having buried a parent, I’m assuming that the goal at a funeral is to just get through it intact and start the shiva. And as for the bar mitzva, I know how stressful it can be to host an event of that scope: You want so badly for it to go off without a hitch, and are thus willing to skirt anything that has even the slightest potential to “become a thing”, or what everyone’s going to remember about the event in which you and your child have invested so much.

Regarding the funeral and bar mitzva examples, since every case differs, it would be impossible to suggest a blanket policy. But you can be sure that if I’m ever asked to change seats pre-flight, I’ve got my answer ready: “Sure. I’d be happy to either upgrade to Business or higher; or get a voucher for a free round-trip flight of equal distance on this airline.” That way, I’m not holding up takeoff, but I obtain what I believe to be fair compensation for my inconvenience.

I actually don’t agree that the seat change request is anti-woman; I simply believe it to be pure chutzpa. Maybe if we all gave my suggested answer, the airlines would start printing on their ticketing conditions and posting signs at check-in (i.e., before passengers hand over their luggage) to the effect that no seat change requests will be honored beyond this point, we can make this chutzpa go away. How about it?


  1. This column is spot on, especially the part about exploiting the vulnerability of people at the sensitive moment of a funeral/bar mitzva/flight departure.

    I think that often (not always) it is the non-Orthodox relatives who create the tension for ourselves, running around censuring ourselves for people who didn't ask them to do so (like your bar mitzva host), or rearranging the food arrangements for people who will not touch any of the food regardless of what you do (like your mother used to).

    This was brought home to me at my daughter's Bat Mitzva when I was all uptight about finding the right food for my nephews to eat, and Wife told me to calm down and let them handle it themselves. She was right: None of the pressure was coming from them, and I was creating it myself.

    Also, just FYI, the woman was already in Business class, as was the Orthodox guy who didn't want to sit next to her. .....Maybe they could have let her be co-pilot!

  2. The airline could assure haredi male passengers seclusion by charging an extra % and carefully checking the sex of the next seat's reservist. Makes money.

  3. Good catch, Irv. You know what I like better? For some female-appearing passenger who's asked to move "testing the case", so to speak, by claiming to be a transvestite male, or a transgender, or intersex. Eventually it'll be illegal to require passengers to denote a sex, so the airlines can just preempt the whole issue by saying, "We don't recognize gender. A passenger's a passenger. Gender's irrelevant to us." Done.