Religion Magazine

Background on the Picture of the Guy on a Plane in a Plastic Bag

By Gldmeier @gldmeier

background on the picture of the guy on a plane in a plastic bagLast week a picture went viral, and received many derogatory comments on many of the sites on which it was publicized. If you have not guessed yet which picture I am talking about, it was the picture of the kohen sitting on an airplane ensconced in his seat while wrapped in a sealed plastic bag to protect him from the impurities arising from the Jewish cemeteries below.
There has not been much to write about it, as the strangeness of the picture and surely of the incident for anyone on the airplane who saw it happen, spoke for itself. Ynet searched the fellow out and got some background for what happened. The article is worth translating, so here it is:
The fellow insisted on remaining anonymous, but he did send Ynet in the direction of his rav saying that all he did is what his rav told him to do.

This anonymous fellow is a kohen with a long and rich background in the army and has served in many very sensitive positions. He is a chozer b'tshuva, and in a very unusual move his commander in the Air Force game him a gift - 2.5 years of learning in yeshiva fully funded by the Air Force - he received his full salary throughout the period. At the end of the 2.5 years of yeshiva learning, he returned to the Air Force for an additional ten years. 

Rav Yosef Bruk is s rosh yeshiva and the rav of this fellow. Bruk was very critical of the public response to the image, and he says he is convinced that all those who responded critically are not on the personal or the intellectual level the kohen is on.

Rav Bruk heads a yeshiva for baalei teshuva, and has been involved with this fellow for over two decades. This fellow is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves and has filled many senior positions in the Air Force. Before Pesach this fellow flew back to Israel, and due to complications with the flight, he found out that the flight would be flying over a cemetery. He called me, his rav, to consult as to what he should do, as despite the airplane being a closed place, flying over a cemetery is a problem as there is impurity above the cemetery. To deal with it, he had to get into a position that is called in halacha "tzamid ptil" - a tight-fitting cover on an earthenware vessel...

Rav Bruk says that what appears to the public as sophistry, something made up and an attempt to circumvent halacha by coming up with innovative methods - that is the halacha, and people should consider how they would feel when their values cause other people to throw looks of derision and wonder. Every issue of Jewish halacha turns into a party of slurs. Everything connected to our heritage and is not understood is approached with derisive and defamatory attacks. The rule is that the less you know, the more you scream and that is true in this instance as well. 

If a person from the Zulu tribe would see me talking on my telephone, he would think I went crazy, as he would not understand how voice waves could travel hundreds and thousands kilometers. He has no understanding what electromagnetic radiation is, because he cannot see it with his eyes.

The same is true with the spiritual system of purity and impurity - we do not have the ability or the tools to identify and know how it works. So I say to all those who responded, if you don't know anything about the topic, in your kindness, please just leave us alone and treat us with respect and politeness. Just as people who understand the Muslims that remove their shoes before entering their mosques and don't scoff at them, just as they understand the Christians who remove their head coverings when they enter their church, relate to Judaism with at least a minimal amount of respect.

The kohen who starred in the picture said that during his learning he learned in two places - he learned in Belz, that is considered a humane and moderate hassidut, and was very close with the Admor. And he learned in Netivot Olam (Rav Bruk's yeshiva) in which very respectful and honorable people learn, and along with him learned another 4 pilots. As well, during the same period of time, he says, he became very close with Rav Shach.

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