A fear that you might touch a woman by accident

This again. The New York Times:

Francesca Hogi, 40, had settled into her aisle seat for the flight from New York to London when the man assigned to the adjoining window seat arrived and refused to sit down. He said his religion prevented him from sitting beside a woman who was not his wife. Irritated but eager to get underway, she eventually agreed to move.

Laura Heywood, 42, had a similar experience while traveling from San Diego to London via New York. She was in a middle seat — her husband had the aisle — when the man with the window seat in the same row asked if the couple would switch positions. Ms. Heywood, offended by the notion that her sex made her an unacceptable seatmate, refused.

Yes, sorry, guys – you can’t do that. We discussed it, and decided. You can’t refuse to sit next to people on public conveyances because of their category. It’s not allowed. You don’t get to treat certain kinds of people as a contaminant.

A growing number of airline passengers, particularly on trips between the United States and Israel, are now sharing stories of conflicts between ultra-Orthodox Jewish men trying to follow their faith and women just hoping to sit down.

Fuck “trying to follow their faith.” They can do that at home. They can do that in public if it doesn’t affect other people. They can’t do it in public when that means treating other people as a contaminant.

The Times finds a haredi Rabbi who says the phenomenon is rare and the haredi men he knows have no problem sitting next to wimmmmmmmin on public transportation.

But multiple travelers, scholars and the airlines themselves say the phenomenon is real. The number of episodes appears to be increasing as ultra-Orthodox communities grow in number and confidence, but also as other passengers, for reasons of comfort as well as politics, push back.

“It’s very common,” said Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky, an associate professor of Judaic studies at Brandeis University. “Multiculturalism creates a moral language where a group can say, ‘You have to respect my values.’ ”

So when unreconstructed Afrikaaners fans of apartheid get on planes they can refuse to sit next to people who aren’t sufficiently pallid?

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, a Modern Orthodox Talmud scholar who grew up in the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect, said, “When I was still part of that community, and on the more conservative side, I would make every effort I could not to sit next to a woman on the plane, because of a fear that you might touch a woman by accident.”

That’s the problem – that’s a stupid fear. It treats women as a contaminant.

The issues on airplanes echo controversies over efforts to separate men and women on buses and streets, as well as to remove women from some news photographs.

“The ultra-Orthodox have increasingly seen gender separation as a kind of litmus test of Orthodoxy — it wasn’t always that way, but it has become that way,” said Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College. “There is an ongoing culture war between these people and the rest of the modern world, and because the modern world has increasingly sought to become gender neutral, that has added to the desire to say, ‘We’re not like that.’”

Gender separation is a terrible issue to make a litmus test of anything, because it can’t avoid subordinating women, just as racial segregation did and does subordinate one race in relation to another.

So just knock it off.


  1. Morgan says

    It’s really not that complicated. If you want to control who can sit beside you, pay for extra seats. If you’re not willing to do that, then fucking well deal.

  2. Seeker2 says

    The ultra-Orthodox are allowed to get away with this behavior in the USA on public buses, airplanes, and in the workplace. If an ultra-orthodox Muslim threw a fit on an airplane, bus, or workplace, he’d be arrested and in jail before he could blink–why is the USA accomodating the ultra-orthodox Jews?

  3. Katydid says

    It’s all about putting women in their place, humiliating them, showing them they’re “less-than”.

  4. says

    I rather hope I have a Haradi sit down next to me on a plane some day: I’ll turn, offer my hand, and say, “Hello, I’m a homosexual atheist. I’m sure we’ll have lots to chat about during the flight.”

  5. says

    Seriously, if they have these beliefs, okay, but why is it the womens’ burden to change seats? That they insist on the women moving rather than accomodating the situation and their beliefs themselves is a fairly clear sign that the practice is more anti-woman than it is pro-faith.

  6. quixote says

    The thing that gets me, besides the self-absorbed entitlement of dickheads who think it’s women’s job to orbit around them, is how willing the airlines are to pander to them. Somehow I don’t see airlines being okay with blacks being told to sit at the back of the bus.

  7. lorn says

    IMO if ultra-Orthodox Jewish men wish to reliably avoid contact they should be required to purchase the use of all seats surrounding them that might cause offense if occupied by the wrong people. Figure somewhere between three and nine seats. I suspect that airlines will want this sort of block purchase to be scheduled early to make sure the block is available without interfering with normal operations.

    An alternative is to rent the use of a cargo container and go as freight. They could make it nice. Pillows, blankets, hand warmers, a flashlight to read the Torah by, a bottle of water, extra decongestants, and a extra-heavy-duty pair of adult diapers. They might want to swing for some extra oxygen on the higher flying runs, don’t want to get too close to God. Lots of leg room in one of those fiberglass units. Room for two Haradi so they can keep each other company. A bonding experience. Something to tell the grand kids about.

    I think that that is the sort of affirmative “yes, but” accommodation that makes sense.

  8. theobromine says

    The ultra-Orthodox men need to have a wife and daughter to accompany them so they can take up the other two seats to protect them (though they need to make sure to plan their trip carefully so that neither one of them are menstruating). And I wonder what G-d would do to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who touched a man who happened to be transgender?

  9. RJW says

    Members of a group can assert that others have to “respect my values”, however there’s no requirement to do so, in fact, there’s an obligation to resist the imposition of misogynist and inhumane practices on civilised society.
    Another example of the downside of institutionalised multiculturalism—-constant accommodation to the prejudices of religious minorities. Similar ‘phenomena’ will probably become more common and accepted, if Haredi and other religiots are allowed to get away with it.

  10. Saad: Openly Feminist Gamer says

    One of the most efficient methods – and I admit I haven’t tried this myself, so please don’t ask me for evidence – to prevent a woman from sitting next to you on an airplane is to avoid getting on the airplane yourself.

  11. says

    When I book my tickets on planes, I book a diabetic meal at that time. I don’t get on the plane and demand the crew jump to it, to have a diabetic meal in anticipation that someone wants one. I plan ahead of time to make things easier for all involved – they’re ready, and I get what I want. (I’m actually not a diabetic. I order diabetic meals because they’re low-fat and low-salt.)

    In many of these stories of ultra-unorthodox behaviour, several men travel on the same plane. So why don’t they plan ahead and ask for seats in the same row? Answer: Because they want to make a scene, they want to pretend to be offended and then dictate to everyone else. This is a cry for attention and an attempt to impose religion on others, not a “problem” that needs to be solved.

    If they won’t make the effort to book their seats together ahead of time, they can deal with it or get off the plane. I’m sure people on stand-by would gladly take the seat without complaint. Getting a special meal (even ones of religious and personal choice like kosher, halal, vegetarian, etc.) is more important than someone not wanting to sit next to a woman.

  12. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    It’s especially sad coming from a group who have themselves been treated as the filthy/untouchable ones at various points in their own history. You’d think they would have a better outlook on this sort of thing.

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    Doesn’t mere Orthodoxy in Judaism (never mind the Ultra-O kind) forbid men from sitting anywhere a menstruating woman has sat (without, iirc, passage of about two weeks and maybe some mystical hocus-pocus on the cootified furniture in question)?

    How can a man with such beliefs ever dare to take a seat on any public conveyance?

  14. sonofrojblake says

    why is the USA accomodating the ultra-orthodox Jews?

    Yeah, why’s that happening? Because the USA totally doesn’t have a history of treating Jewish people and their concerns as in any way special or unusually deserving of attention and accommodation. /sarcasm

    Outside Israel, the second largest population of Jews (overall and per capita) is in the USA. I’d be way more surprised if there was even a sniff of institutional (rather than personal, individual, case-by-case) pushback against this bullshit.

    You’d think they would have a better outlook on this sort of thing

    No, you really wouldn’t.

    How can a man with such beliefs ever dare to take a seat on any public conveyance?

    Well, they can manufacture get-out clauses. Like putting themselves in plastic bags… https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/the-jew-in-the-plastic-bag-revisited/

  15. Omar Puhleez says


    An alternative is to rent the use of a cargo container and go as freight….

    An excellent suggestion. But the airline would probably have difficult paperwork including ‘description of contents’. A fair and accurate description could take up so much time, theological justifications and all, as to defeat the whole purpose.
    A clearly preferable, and probably cheaper option would be to hire a private jet: as long as its pilot had the correct genitalia.
    If no international borders are to be crossed, perhaps better to go by train or even bus. Or even hike.

  16. theobromine says

    @sonofrojblake #16:

    You appear to be arguing that past execrable treatment of Jews somehow means that society should make special exception for ultra-Orthodox Jews’ current execrable treatment of women. Does being an ethnically Jewish woman born and raised in Canada in the 1950s and 60s give me the right to call bullshit? (I’ve personally encountered only mild discrimination myself, but it was a rather different story for my parents and even moreso my grandparents who came to Canada in the early part of the last century.)

  17. nrdo says

    @ theobromine #18 I think sonofrojblake is saying the opposite. It’s obvious that these fundies are out-of-line and everybody around them, including the majority of Jews, is getting annoyed.

  18. says

    sonofrojblake @ 16 – that comment comes WAY too close to plain old anti-Semitism. I get that we’re supposed to realize it’s about US policy toward Israel, at least I think that’s what you’re trying to say, but as so often happens when people try to make that point, it came out as just the old vulgar Jew-baiting. Don’t do that here.

  19. sonofrojblake says

    @theobromine, 18:
    Did you miss the /sarcasm tag?
    Again, without the sarcasm then:

    why is the USA accomodating the ultra-orthodox Jews?

    Because it always does. It would be more surprising to me if it didn’t. Pushback comes from individuals (e.g. women who’ve been treated as contaminants), never institutions (e.g. airlines). The latter are too terrified of being labelled discriminatory if they don’t bow and scrape and accommodate antisocial behaviour by the religious. (Except Muslims, obviously. No such antisocial behaviour by them on an aircraft would be tolerated, especially in the US. Or Christians. Or Hindus. Or Buddhists, or Baha’i, or Scientologists or Mormons or… you get the idea.)

    My position – if the employment of sarcasm didn’t make it clear enough – is that this accommodation should not happen, but that I don’t anticipate living to see a time when it doesn’t.

  20. sonofrojblake says

    that comment comes WAY too close to plain old anti-Semitism

    And there you go. It’s that toxic label, applied reflexively to ANY criticism of any behaviour of any person of the Jewish faith, no matter how egregious that behaviour, that institutions like airlines are terrified of, and why the accommodation happens. Thanks for making my point for me.

    For the record, no “Jew baiting” here. For instance: the top couple of Google hits for the “Jew in a plastic bag” story were the Daily Mail and the Huffington Post. I took care not to use those as links, but to go for a hit further down the list that would give a more reliable, balanced background to the story from a Jewish perspective. Why would I bother?

  21. says

    What a fucking stupid thing to say. The post itself is “criticism of any behaviour of any person of the Jewish faith” – had you not noticed? “Criticism of any behaviour of any person of the Jewish faith” is the very subject of the very post you were commenting on.

    I didn’t apply any label “reflexively”; I applied it to your comment, specifically, because of the way you chose to word it.

  22. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    So when unreconstructed Afrikaaners get on planes they can refuse to sit next to people who aren’t sufficiently pallid?

    Wow, that’s great. So being an Afrikaner, in other words a speaker of the African language Afrikaans, I am automatically a racist now?

  23. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    And I’m “unreconstructed” in that I’m critical of the current government. Not because they are black, but because they are corrupt. But hey, maybe it is because they are black. After all, I’m an Afrikaner.

  24. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    Sorry, I got that wrong.

    No worries. I needn’t have reacted so wildly. I apologize.

  25. says

    No that’s ok. I did wonder as I was typing, but didn’t take the time to check. It was stupid, because I know perfectly well that some Afrikaners were anti-apartheid just as some USians were (for instance) anti-Bush.

  26. johnthedrunkard says

    That these ‘special’ accommodations are being demanded ‘on the fly’ as it were means something significant.

    As the Haredis seem to live in a constant sense of superiority and separation from the unclean, this cannot be a surprise FOR THEM. It seems to be a definite aggression.

    It seems that since, perhaps, the fatwa against Rushdie, fringe religious types have realized that the well intentioned Multi-Kulti populace will default to appeasement and accommodation.

    In the US, the relentless anti-gay campaigns, the 10 commandments on every vertical surface, creches on EVERY lawn… Are these different from the riots and anti-blasphemy nonsense throughout the Islamic world? The harassment and segregation by Haredi parasites in Israel?

    Violence and irrational demands seem to work. Just threaten to call the victims ‘racist’ if they object.

  27. sonofrojblake says

    @OB, 23: Please read what I wrote.
    ” It’s that toxic label, applied reflexively to ANY criticism of any behaviour of any person of the Jewish faith, no matter how egregious that behaviour, that institutions like airlines are terrified of, and why the accommodation happens. ”

    OR, reversing the order of the sentence: The accommodation happens because institutions like airlines are terrified that, no matter how egregious the behaviour, if they criticise it, someone will reflexively accuse them of anti-Semitism, and that label is particularly toxic.

    That’s what I wrote. I didn’t say you applied it reflexively, or indeed to me or my comment. In fact, I didn’t say anything about anything you posted in that sentence. I simply took your use of the phrases “anti-Semitism” and “Jew baiting” to suggest why I think this continues to happen and why commercial organisations daren’t do anything about it. If that came across as “fucking stupid”, well, sorry.

  28. says

    It’s clear that these men know that everyone is eager to get off the ground with as little delay as possible and that many passengers will have tight connections or scheduled appointments at the other end of their flight. So when these grown men throw their tantrum, more likely than not, they will be accommodated.

    I think it is up to the airlines to have a policy in place and to make it clear to their customers from the start that seating will not be changed based on race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other protected class (or class that should be protected, as the case may be). The onus is on the customers to pay for adjoining seats if he or she is unwilling to be seated next to any of the other paying passengers.

    And then, with that rule clearly stated, anyone refusing to sit in their seat should be escorted off the plane with no further ado.

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