Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Being Frum at the Expense of Others

Why is it always a bearded Jewish man wearing a black hat and a long black coat? Yet another Chilul HaShem was perpetrated by a Jew whose appearance is supposed to indicate the most religious among us - those whose actions are supposed to be the epitome of a ‘a light unto the nations’, those whose actions are should inspire other Jews to emulate him instead of chasing them away.

In what has to be the height of Chutzpah this man decided ‘to hell with all the passengers and the flight crew. To hell with the rules! He was going to stand up and Daven Mincha on a plane full of people - ready to take off.

And of course once he started, no one was going to interrupt him. His two and a half minute Shmoneh Esreh was so intense…his Kavana so focused that he was oblivious to pleas from the flight crew to get back into his seat.

The result was that he was kicked of the plane by the flight crew.

Good for them!

This man’s behavior is not the exception unfortunately. It happens all the time. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on an El Al fight to or from Israel or on any other carrier where Orthodox Jews are present. There is always going to be an ad hoc Minyan on board – usually at the crack of dawn. Flight attendants tend to look the other way and put on a friendly face – but they generally don’t like it. And it makes us look bad.

Orthodox Jews of all stripes will pick themselves up, go to the back of the plane and commandeer that area for Tefillah B’Tzibur. Little if any thought is given to what the rules are - or if it inconveniences the flight crew or other passengers. These people are going to make a Minyan! How thoughtless.

People are putting on their Talesim, hitting nearby seated passengers with flying Tzitzis, praying at the top of their lungs, blocking the bathrooms, and generally making nuisances of themselves to other passengers who in many cases are still trying to sleep . Do they really think this is how God wants them to behave? Does God want a Minyan in these circumstances? Do they not have any concern for the secular Jews on board who see this and thank God they are not Orthodox?

When will some people learn that one should not make themselves comfortable at the expense of others?

Instead of asserting ourselves in questionable religious observances we ought to follow the Psak of many Gedolim on this issue: Stay seated and Daven there. This is the what many Gedolim rule including, Rav Moshe Feinstein. I’m told – that he paskin’d that not only may one sit while they Daven on an airplane, one must sit.

So did Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner. From a Jeruslam Post article of several years ago:

Friday, April 16, 2004 -- Stewardesses will no longer be exasperated by in- flight minyanim (prayer quorums) blocking the aisles, if Orthodox travelers heed a new ruling by leading halachic authority Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner. Responding to a query by El Al rabbi Avshalom Katzir, the nonagenarian sage delivered a halachic opinion to El Al president Amos Shapira prohibiting the practice of large numbers of passengers gathering together for a prayer service in one part of an airplane.

It is also the Psak of Rav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach. From a 2006 cross-currents article:

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, (Paskin'd) (Halichos Shlomo vol. 1, pgs 95-96) that people on planes should daven in their seats. Shemonah Esreh should be said sitting in place, and not standing in the aisles creating a disturbance for others.

My advice is to avoid this Chilul HaShem. Next time someone on a plane asks if you want to make a Minyan at the back of a plane – turn him down - and convince him to sit down as well.

I hope that fellow learned a valuable lesson by being kicked off the plane and does not repeat that behavior again. In fact - I hope we all learned that lesson.