Why Did An Orthodox Man Refuse To Sit Down Before Takeoff?

by
Suzanne Robertson
The event has sparked a Change.org petition. Can a religious accommodation actually be discrimination? Many women think so after an issue on recent El Al Airlines flight.

Jewish author Elana Sztokman wrote a passionate piece about her experience with an Orthodox man on a flight to Israel. 

"What happened to me on the flight home to Israel was so shocking, and so upsetting. The plane took off 20 minutes late because an ultra-Orthodox man was negotiating with passengers so as not to have to sit next to a woman - me - on the 11-hour flight". 

Unable to stay silent in the face of humiliation, she spoke out before the man found a replacement to sit next to her. 

"Can I say something? Without looking at me, he said yes. I said, “Imagine if instead of men and women, we were talking about Jews and non-Jews. Imagine how you would feel if a bunch of non-Jews were standing around saying that they can’t sit next to you because you’re a Jew, that they are willing to sit anywhere but next to you, because their religion won’t allow it, because you are impure or different, or whatever. How would you feel? How would you ever get over that insult?” 

A Change.Org Petition  was started Monday calling for the El Al airlines to prevent harassment of female passengers.  The petition gives a possible solution: 

If El Al Airlines wants to truly accommodate all of its passengers, it will reserve a few rows of separate sex seating on every flight, where for a fee, those passengers who need such seating can pre-book their seats and not annoy or coerce other passengers before take-off to change seats with them - thereby avoiding arguments, bullying, and delayed take-off.

Ultra-Orthodox discrimination has been featured in the news before. In London, an Orthodox Jewish community came under criticism after signs requesting women to walk on a certain side of the street were posted.

The posters were deemed “unacceptable” by the neighborhood council and were taken down. A local film-maker put up his own sign stating “women, please feel free to walk wherever you want… it’s 2014”.

Orthodox men have also made news in the air before. In April of last year, an Orthodox Jewish man was photographed covering himself in a plastic bag during flight because his faith forbids him to fly over cemeteries. 

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