Feb 11, 2008

one chumroh worth hundreds of inconveniences

There has been much discussion recently about the new "Open Skies" policy that is being put into place in Israel. Opening up the skies of Israel to allow full competition in the airline industry has been expected to make airline flights much cheaper than ever known before.

TheMarker Week recently conducted an interview with a number of Israeli executives in the airline industry in Europe. It seems that those who travel to Europe might not benefit from the expected reduction in prices. It is for a number of reasons, including fuel costs, flight schedules, licensing, European policies, etc.. you can read the article if it interests you (it does not interest me enough to translate it for you or to write down the details).

One piece of the interview particularly stood out.

They were discussing price of fuel and flight scheduling and how in Israel they are not allowed to make some sort of "last call for boarding" announcement for the passengers who are shopping in Duty Free. That causes them unusual delays while they wait for the stragglers.

And if they would decide to leave without the passenger who never showed up to the gate because he is wasting his time in Duty Free, they could not first take off without removing the guy's luggage from the plane. To do that can take a long time; to find the luggage and remove it from the plane.

The executive (Hershkowitz) said, "Unfortunately I have run into a much graver situation. Our plane was planning on taking off at 1:20 am, and at 1:40 the airport closes for takeoffs. A Gerrer Chasid needed to get on the plane with his son who was sitting in a wheelchair. He refused to allow the stewardess to assist getting the child into his seat from the wheelchair.

What could we do? I figured we would be delayed and would only be ready to leave after the takeoffs were already shut down. I called the head of the airport to ask for special permission to take off late. He responded, "What do you want from me? I should go to jail?"

The flight was grounded and only left 12 hours later"

I have 2 thoughts on this:

1. couldn't they find a male attendant to assist the chassid and his son? In the whole airplane and airport they could not find a male steward or even a fellow male passenger who would have been willing to help move the child? They had to insist on a stewardess against the wishes of the chassid? Maybe he was saying that they would have gotten a male to assist but it would have taken so long and the time window was so short (because the guy showed up at the last minute for boarding?) that whatever they would have done it would have caused the delay... It just seems unusual to me that they could not find a single male in close proximity to assist and allow the plane to leave on time.

2. The chassid's actions disturb me. Let's say there was no male available to assist. Was he right in his refusal to allow the stewardess to help?
On the one hand if it really bothered him and there was no other solution, he should have said he is not getting on the plane and they should have left without him. What right did he have to cause the hundreds of other passengers delays, which we all know causes scheduling problems, money outlays, and all sorts of other inconveniences. Maybe somebody missed a funeral or a simcha or a business meeting because of the delay caused. Maybe somebody was just inconvenienced. What right did he have to cause such a delay to so many other people?

On the other hand, maybe he should be commended for standing on principal. Gerrer Chassidim are famous for their strict adherence to tznius issues, treating chumrohs in tznius as "yeharog v'al yaavors" and why should he give up his guiding principle just because the airline officials cannot (or would not) find a male attendant to help them get on the plane? But does that level of adherence, in a chumroh nonetheless, allow him to cause the other passengers such delays and inconveniences?

Whichever way I look at it, it seems he was wrong for causing the delay to other passengers.

A further question is whether there was room for leniency in the situation. Personally I think that yes there was. The assistance provided by the stewardess would have required her to touch the child. That would hardly be considered "Chiba" - endearment, and would therefore be allowed. Even though they normally would not allow touching even without chiba, in such extenuating circumstances, with the potential tircha that would be caused to all the other passengers, I would think that such assistance could be provided.

But even if he chose to remain strict and adhere to his chumroh, what right did he have to allow it to affect everyone else on the plane, everyone waiting to receive the people from the plane in their final destinations, the delays to other planes in all the various airports as delays would invariably be caused due to the adjusted schedule, etc.?

I feel that he did not need to adhere to his chumroh in this case. The airline should have found a male assistant to deal with the situation. He should have showed up to the airport extra early with plenty of time to deal with his unique situation. He knew that his son needed special assistance, and he should have gotten there extra early to deal with it. However, being that he chose to keep his chumroh, and no male was quickly found, he should not have caused the 12 hour delay. He should have said relinquished his ticket and let them fly without him. Had he gotten to the airport early enough to deal with his special needs and requests, they might even have had enough time to remove his suitcases from the airplane.

By keeping his chumroh, he caused financial loss, time loss, and many other inconveniences to many people, directly and indirectly. Keeping chumrohs is fine. Keep as many as you want and as many as make you feel fulfilled. But not on other people's cheshbon.


  1. Two quick notes:

    1. Evidently, Gerrer chassidim don't hold by Rav Moshe Feinstein and his thought that negiah needs ta'avah and chiba (see the famous subway/bus teshuva in Iggrot Moshe, Even HaEzer vol. 2, siman 14).

    2. Chumrot are what one may accept on one's self; not what one should be imposed on others- and DEFINITELY not when it will waste so much time for so many people and DEFINITELY when those people may not even all be Jewish.

  2. you and I both were not there - who knows what really happened...I can think of a few dan l'caf zchus situtaions...

  3. sbw - I agree with you. The story as related provides almost no details of what happened. I say what i said based on the little described and assumption.

    I assume he showed up late to the airport, otherwise there would have been enough time to deal with it.
    I do not think his chumroh was unreasonable, and the airline should have been able, even on short notice, to find a male who could help. But being stuck at the last minute, his chumroh caused tremendous delay to many other people and at that point the chumroh became unreasonable.

  4. This reminds me of an incident.

    Once in a hospital elevator (Hadassah Ein Karem) A frum boy fell down. He had trouble with his legs and was having a hard time.

    I reflexively pulled out my hands to help him but remembered and didn't help.

    but my heart ached. Anyway, he was fine.

  5. This reminds me of an incident.

    היכי דמי חסיד שוטה כגון דקא טבעה איתתא בנהרא ואמר לאו אורח ארעא לאיסתכולי בה ואצולה
    סוטה כא:
    what is a foolish Chasid? like when a lady is drowning in the river and he says "it's not proper to look at her and save her"

  6. 1. Evidently, Gerrer chassidim don't hold by Rav Moshe Feinstein and his thought that negiah needs ta'avah and chiba (see the famous subway/bus teshuva in Iggrot Moshe, Even HaEzer vol. 2, siman 14).

    They also don't hold that marriage needs ta'avah and chiba, but that's another story

  7. There's a good chance that the chossid didn't know about the scheduling issue and that the flight would be delayed so many hours. He probably thought he was delaying people by only a few minutes. Till I read this, I never knew about the 1:40 AM cutoff for flights taking off. Why would the father of this boy have known?

  8. "treating chumrohs in tznius as "yeharog v'al yaavors" "

    i assume this is an exaggeration?

  9. Yehudi - I thought about your comment, and you are probably right. he probably did not know the airport shuts down takeoffs at 1:40. but still, when I fly, as rare as it is, I make sure to go to the airport well in advance of the flight. This problem, as briefly described as it was, could only have happened if he showed up at the airport at the last minute.

    LOZ - it was meant to be, but I am not sure how much it is


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