This morning I opened my computer to discover a parody of the El Al safety video cartoon mocking the Israeli airline’s interactions with its Hassidic passengers. These interactions have been getting a lot of press lately as Hassidic men have allegedly been the cause of commotions and even flight delays due to their refusal to sit next to women.

The spoof begins with a voice over calling for the attention of all “gentlemen and unfortunately ladies,”.

Instead of life vest safety instructions what follows is a demonstration of the correct protocol in case a Hassidic man is mistakenly seated next to a woman. (The  instructions are to depart to the all-male “congregation area” or if the fasten seatbelt sign is on to activate a Rube Goldberg style “full body protection device” which resembles a large plastic bag that covers up the user. )

If this is funny then I forgot to laugh. What I see instead is predjudice and yes, even anti Semitism disguised as comedy. The Hassidic passenger isn’t some kind of weird misogynistic medieval bigot. He’s just a nice guy who wants to use his travel time indeed all his time on the planet to glorify the name of G-d.

What do Hassidim do on airplanes? I fly a lot I can tell you. They sleep and eat and use the bathroom like the rest of us but they don’t watch the inflight movies as those entertainments generally feature those same immodest women Hassidic men don’t like to sit next to. Nor do they play video games or look at their ipads or read the latest romance or thriller or even the newspaper.

Most Hassidim use at least some of their travel time for learning, sacred study of the Babylonian Talmud, the weekly Torah portion or a work of Hassidic philosophy or ethics. These works are revelations of the mind of G-d and study of them is an act of devotion on par with prayer itself.

This is holy stuff. When a Jew studies he’s at one with G-d. Sacred study also generates positive spiritual energy, call it good karma if you like which actually protects everyone else on the plane. .. Remember story of Jonah and the whale? Remember how the non-Jewish sailors begged Jonah to pray for the storm to stop? In order to do all this the Hassidic passenger needs a quiet zone, ie a seat that isn’t next to a woman passenger. Is that so much to ask?

When Hassidic men seek to avoid gazing at females they aren’t being fanatics or lunatics. They are  simply following the Torah.. Don’t covet. It’s part of the 10 commandments. Not looking is a good way to avoid coveting. And not sitting next to leads to not looking.

Do I really need to spell out in detail the effect that an attractive and provocatively clad woman can have on the average male,  Hassidic or not.? The average Joe wouldn’t think twice but Joe or Yossel Hassid would squirm in his seat, trying to avert his gaze or perhaps he’d close his Holy Book and retreat into sleep thereby depriving the entire airplane of a great boon of spiritual benefit.

Is that really a good trade?

In a world in which women are bait for sexual predators, a highly regarded 2011 US study revealed that at least 20 per cent of women admitted to been raped or sexually abused shouldn’t we applaud a group of men who not only don’t want to hurt women, but don’t even want to gaze upon them lest lustful thoughts enter their minds.

In Judaism sexuality is holy. When a man and his wife are together the Shehina. G-ds palpable presence is there. These men want to bring the shehina into their homes and their marriages and they are trying to protect that holiness by staying away from, indeed not even looking at other women.

Instead of making videos mocking them  let us understand where the Hassidim  are coming from and let us value these brave Hassidic men who endure mockery and scorn as they strive to protect their eyes and their hearts. END