Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Erecting Partitions on Airplanes

An interesting article up at Yated, online:
Committee Working to Protect Public from In-Flight Movies Sends Delegation to HaRav Kanievsky

A delegation representing the Rabbinical Committee for Transportation Matters was received by HaRav Chaim Kanievsky shlita at his home and received his blessings for success in the efforts to protect travelers from immodest entertainment on airplanes.

During the visit the delegation demonstrated their new folding mechitzoh designed to hide the main cabin screens from view in order to protect people from seeing inappropriate images.

After erecting the mechitzoh — which can be folded to 25 cm (10 inches) — on HaRav Kanievsky's table, the delegation members asked whether it appeared bizarre and would be liable to cause chilul Hashem, but he allayed their concerns, saying "it's a kiddush Hashem!"

They also asked him about non-Jewish travelers sitting behind them who complain the mechitzoh obstructs their view of the screen, but HaRav Kanievsky dismissed these concerns as well.

At the end of their visit HaRav Kanievsky said he was pleased with the solution the delegation presented to improve modesty on airplanes and blessed them for success. For information on flights without movies and regarding the mechitzoh call

(Note: I see Emes veEmunah already has a post about this.)

I wish they had included me in their committee. I have some brilliant ideas which could be incorporated into the design of this mechitza.

Firstly, the mechitzah is going to have to be up for quite a long period of time, as there are many movies shown on this flight. If the religious passenger is going to be staring at it for so long, we might as well put words of Torah on the mechitza so that the passenger could learn Torah at the same time.

Associated with this, since the flight is so long, the traveler will eventually run out of inspiring words of Torah. The solution would be that instead of constructing a mechitza out of whatever material they are using, construct it out of many pieces of paper. That way, one could always flip to more Torah.

A problem might be the gentile behind him. Forget about the movie -- a gentile should not be taught Torah! The solution, to my mind, is to place the mechitzah on one's lap, and then look down onto it!

Seriously, though, several things bother me about this story.

First and foremost, this seems to be a self-appointed committee. Rather than Rav Kanievsky coming up with this idea, this came from the bottom-up from a bunch of askonim convinced that movies projected on airplanes is a terrible thing. And the specifics of the idea came from them. Of course, once they had a solution, they need Rabbinic approval, so they go around to various gedolim to get "blessings" for their work.

Secondly, there was no satan here -- no devil's advocate. From the accounting, they weakly brought up points people might raise as objections. When something like this is proposed, you need someone actively and forcefully arguing the other side. Someone to say that this is not what the people running the airplane want; that the gentile (or, in fact, Jew) will not only be miffed, but will complain to the flight attendant, who will ask the chareidi to take down his mechitza. That at that point, he will either take it down, in which case there was no blocking, or else he will refuse, at which point he will be tased by a federal marshall, or else kicked off the flight.

I think, furthermore, that to seriously propose this betrays an ignorance of how this will be received, or else a callousness to it. Forget about chillul Hashem, for he says it is a kiddush Hashem. Will this promote shalom, or sinah? And perhaps this will "fly" on El Al flights. On other flights, besides the selfishness of this, I can well imagine that this would frighten other passengers with fears about terrorism. I have to wonder at the grasp of metzius in all this.

Also, while they got this "endorsement," what was left unclear is whether this is obligation, a good idea, or just something acceptable for those who wish to adopt it as a middat chassidut. My impression is that it is the last, but by not being clear, it makes it seem as if the endorsement of this is a psak that one must purchase and utilize one of these mechitzot.

Finally, what concerns me is how this fits into the general theme of insisting on one's own chumras at the expense of other people. It is like being machmir on the shiur of water for netilas yadayim when a poor maidservant is the one who has to shlepp the water from the well. And even by endorsing this in this instance, it encourages to unfortunate general trend.

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