What’s the deal, Dan? Fights erupt over Hareidi racism

Thousands of Jews around the world read a series of e-mails that didn’t involve them. The correspondence was a back-and-forth conversation between a man and his travel agent.

The fellow was booking a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and asked his agent to book him on a Friday night flight. The agent, an observant Jew, preferred not to book the fellow a flight on Shabbat.

He knew the traveler was not religious, and it may not have been forbidden to sell him the ticket, but the man stood by his principles and preferred not to facilitate the travel on Shabbos. He did, however, give the traveler the information that he could book it himself and save $380.

Impressed by the agent’s integrity, the man chose not to fly on Friday night because it was Shabbat. It’s a good thing for him that he did, because he would have been flying on Malaysian Air flight 370, which went missing and is feared to have crashed.

Jews around the world were shaken to read the account and many commented on the almost miraculous way that keeping the Shabbat had saved the man’s life.

I believe that what people found the most compelling was the comforting notion that G-d really does play a role in our lives each day. It’s a reinforcement of our beliefs and when we can see it unfold in detail, it reassures us that we are not alone, our lives left to chance.

Not everyone was thrilled, however. Several commenters took issue with the post. One called the post an obscenity, and accused all the people celebrating the man’s salvation of racism, not caring if non-Jews died.  He took it further and accused G-d, Himself, of racism, a ridiculous notion as it was He who created all the people of Earth and they are His children.

When people die we do not rejoice, but we still celebrate those who live.  When the Jews left Egypt, the angels wished to sing G-d’s praises but He stopped them, saying, “My creatures are drowning in the sea and you wish to sing to Me?!”

Nevertheless, the Jewish People who experienced the redemption were not just permitted, but obligated to praise Him. When we see G-d’s hand, we must acknowledge and revere His deeds.

But what about all the other people who actually made it on the plane?  Doesn’t our joy show a callous attitude to them?

My answer: I don’t think so, but I don’t care.

If you ask millions of Americans, “Were you able to eat dinner after hearing about the flight that went missing?” I’m sure most of them will respond something to the effect of, “It’s sad, but that’s life.” And I don’t blame them. Why on earth should a Black, southern Baptist nurse from Alabama care about a 60-ish Chinese businessman she’s never met and would never meet under any circumstances?

So why all the hoopla over the traveler who didn’t fly on Shabbat when we’ve never met him and likely never will? I’ll answer with a story.

R’ Meir Shapiro, founder of the Daf Yomi and head of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Poland was accosted by a student who said, “The Torah is racist!” The prophet Yechezkel (34:31) says, “You My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are Man.” The Talmud qualifies this verse by saying, “Yisrael is called ‘Adam,’ but the gentiles are not called ‘Adam.'”  The student took offense that the Torah called non-Jews sub-human, much as our non-believer felt the excited posters were doing.

R’ Meir was nonplussed. He said, “You misunderstand. The Torah never said they weren’t people, it said they are not “a man.” If a train crashes in Siberia, a fellow in Frankfurt isn’t troubled. If a man in England loses a limb, it doesn’t not affect a Frenchman. They have no connection to each other so they don’t care.

Not so the Jewish People,” he continued. “They are all part of one body, limbs of the same ‘Man.’ If a synagogue in Jerusalem is vandalized, a Jew in Buenos Aires feels anguish. If a Jew is beaten in Berlin, a Jew in New York is upset, and if a Jew is placed on trial in France, Jews around the world will hang on each bit of news they can get on it. That is why the Talmud says that the Jews are, “a Man” and no one else.

If two people were in a car accident and on walked away unscathed, would we expect him not to rejoice over his own good fortune even as his fellow experienced much harm? Of course not. He can do both at the same time: be sympathetic for the other’s suffering while thanking G-d for his own salvation.

Just as the Jews sang Shira when they left Egypt, the many people who were moved by the story of the ‘flight that never was’ were singing G-d’s praises for saving them, their own flesh and blood, even as they acknowledged that others were in pain.

It’s nice to imagine that someone will care about a complete stranger as much as they do their own child, but it’s a ridiculous notion. There’s no reason the Jews have to be held to a higher standard of loving non-Jews with whom they have no connection than the billions of Gentiles who couldn’t care less about the missing airliner.

To me, it seems that the writer who complained about not caring enough about the non-Jews may have been afraid that the rest of the posters were right: G-d runs the world, and it is He who decides who lives or dies, who will suffer, and who will be raised up.

As Purim rolls around, let’s unmask the chicanery and recognize that these questions are not questions, but excuses. In Shushan we knew from whence our salvation truly came, and now we should recognize it as well. It’s time to be happy and rejoice in G-d’s Divine protection, even if it doesn’t extend to everyone. The fact that it exists is enough cause for celebration.

About the Author
Growing up a rabbi's son, Jonathan Gewirtz moved around and met people from all walks of life. A columnist and speechwriter, he draws on his experiences for his writing. As the scion of a Rabbinic family, he is passionate about the power of words and the greatness inherent in each of us.