Delta Tarmac

Orthodox Jews refused to sit next to women on an airplane because of religious rules. Flights have been delayed for as long as eleven hours.

There are times where religious practices collide with what is considered normal. This can generate massive attention and outrage by a world that is largely growing more secular. Even among the very religious of other religions, confusion and injury often erupts. One such example of this is the recent uproar over Orthodox Jews refusing to sit next to women on planes.

On three separate occasions last year, airplanes were delayed due to Orthodox Jews on flights. The shortest lasted only a few minutes. The longest of these delays lasted eleven hours. It is certainly understandable why people would be upset about this, particularly those who are not Jewish. Many people don’t understand religions other than their own.

Judaism has a set of laws called negiah. An observer of these laws is called shomer negiah. Part of these laws are often interpreted to mean that it is against God to touch the opposite sex, unless they happen to be your sibling, spouse, parent, child, grandparent, or grandchild. Some Jews, such as the ones on the plane, take steps to avoid accidental contact. That means not sitting next to the other sex.

The laws originate from two versus in Leviticus. The first, Leviticus 18:6, says “None of you shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness: I am the Lord“. The second, Leviticus 18:19, is more relevant to the airplane incidents. It says “Do not come near a woman during her period of uncleanness to uncover her nakedness.” This prohibits sex with menstruating women. Rabbis have expanded this to touch as well. Woman who are not married do not go to mikvah, so they are always considered unclean.

In the end, there are many ways to view these events and others like it. When old religions bump heads with the modern secular world, problems are bound to arise. We cannot hope to deal with it without understanding. These Orthodox Jews have their beliefs and reasons. There is undoubtedly a way we as a society of many mixing cultures can approach these kinds of occurrences, but it certainly isn’t through ignorance.

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