When I read this story about the response of airline passengers to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who did not want to sit next to women on airplanes, my mind was a muddle of conflicting thoughts.
First, you should read the story and all the quotes from various people about the situation. Because I can’t do it justice here and I am going to ask your thoughts.
Then, here’s what ran through my mind:
1. Regarding all the judgments being made about the way these men consider and think of women:
It is absolutely not up to us to force our values and beliefs on to these traditional men. We may not agree with what they believe, but that doesn’t matter a whit. It’s their religion. What matters is that it’s what they believe. And while we wouldn’t choose it, we shouldn’t judge it as wrong. After all, no one is being harmed. The woman who refused to give up her seat for “politics” made me especially crazy. This is not a political issue, it’s a religious one. How harmful is it? Are a bunch of Hasidic Jews going to change society? I doubt it. Last time I looked, freedom of religion was still a founding pillar of our country.
As a proud feminist, I can hold my political beliefs and also let others have their own religious beliefs as long as no one is harmed.
2. Was there no way these ultra-Orthodox men could contact the airline in advance and explain their issue, instead of holding up boarding and making other passengers move from their own assigned seats? Could airlines make some accommodations? Maybe have a special needs desk to deal with these requests? Yes, it would be going out of their way, something airlines don’t like to do. But how often would that be necessary, really? I’ve never been on plane with a Hasidic man and even if, as the story says, more are flying these days, an arrangement wouldn’t kill airlines.
I’ve been asked more than once to give up a seat so kids could fly with their moms. Is this any different?
3. If these traditional religious men are going to access the modern world through airplane travel, then the very minimum we should be able to expect is that they do so with courtesy and the same respect for others’ beliefs that they demand for theirs. There is no need to be a jerk about it. Call the airline in advance, alert them to the issue and once at the gate, alert the gate agents. If you are still assigned a seat you are unable to take for religious reasons, then ask nicely for someone to give up their seat, knowing that there is no obligation for them to do so. Airplanes are not gender-specific and if you’re going to fly, you’re going to need to cope with that. Be prepared for the “worst-case scenario.”
This whole scenario cries out for a dose of understanding on both sides. Understanding that not everyone will believe as we do and that doesn’t make them inferior.
But as our society becomes more and more polarized with judgment-filled opinions becoming more and more entrenched, understanding is in short supply.
What a shame.