The New York Times reports that a growing number of airline passengers, on flights between the U.S. and Israel in particular, have gotten into a conflict over ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to women who aren’t their wives. Oh, the horror! Over the last year, several flights from New York to Israel have been delayed or disrupted because of such arguments. The debate surrounding the issue is heating up thanks to social media, and has already resulted in a protest initiative, online petitions and a parody safety video by a Jewish magazine, where a “kosher” full-body safety vest protects ultra-orthodox men from sitting next to women. Representatives from the ultra-orthodox insist that these disputes occur rarely, but the uptick in travelers reporting these sorts of incidents seems to indicate that it is a real and growing problem. While some passengers are sympathetic, and happy to switch seats “out of respect” or because they just want to get on with their flights, others have taken stances based on their conviction that they should not give in to sexism because of someone else’s religious values. The issue of gender separation for ultra-Orthodox Jews, with efforts to separate women on buses and streets or to remove them from news photographs, is becoming increasingly controversial, as it clashes with the values of a modern world that is moving steadily towards more gender equality. Since their mindset is so archaic, perhaps the men who are unable to sit next to women would be better off booking their travel on equally archaic modes of transportation. Viking ship, anyone?
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