Thursday, April 15, 2021

When Chassidim Fly

Mishpacha magazine is normally reasonably good about honestly admitting problems in the frum community. They even acknowledge the overwhelming and fundamental problem of the insufficient number of people getting professional careers. And so I was both disturbed and surprised to read the feature article in this week's edition, Airlines Unmasked, about discrimination against Orthodox Jews on flights for not wearing masks.

I have no doubt that there are instances where flight crews are unprofessional, unfair, and even antisemitic. But the article places all blame on the flight crews. It never once acknowledges that maybe there is a problem with how Orthodox Jews behave on planes!

I mean, are you kidding me?! Anyone who has flown extensively with chassidic Jews in particular knows exactly what the problem is. They don't sit down when the plane is waiting to take off. They stand up before the plane has arrived at the gate. They ignore requests from the flight crew. And so on, and so on. This isn't some trumped-up antisemitic conspiracy - it's the plain and obvious truth. (Edit - obviously I'm not talking about all chassidim, and I don't have specific numbers, but it's certainly enough to describe it as a general trend.)

And when it comes to Covid regulations, there is even less compliance. A neighbor of mine was one of the "rescue flights" from New York a few months ago. She told me that it was a horrific experience. Several of the chassidim on the flight boasted about forging fake Covid tests. And they refused to wear masks even when people were begging them to do so!

The article quotes Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal as saying that "he partially blames media caricatures of the Orthodox community throughout COVID as uncaring for human life and heedless of regulations." Media caricatures?! It was the plain and blatant truth that there was a disproportionately large and officially-endorsed shirking of Covid regulations by the chassidic communities. It's not a media caricature!!!

I don't hate chassidim. I love having chassidim visit my museum. And there are sociological reasons why chassidim generally have a particular tendency to ignore airline regulations (separate from the reasons why Israelis also have a tendency to non-compliance). But these aren't relevant here. The point is that they undeniably do have a tendency to ignore regulations, in particular with regard to Covid.

Shame on Mishpacha for distorting the facts and refusing to call out the frum community for its shortcomings in this area. It does us no good to issues charges of antisemitism while failing to criticize and correct the behavior that can incite it.

Zionism Looked Like A Unicorn

"If you will it, it is no dream." Such is the phrase attributed to Theodore Herzl. In fact, the original German phrase was "Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen" (Altneuland 1902). The word Märchen refers to a fairy-tale or legend, and this is reflected in the Hebrew version of this phrase, אם תרצו אין זו אגדה. When Herzl conceived of a Jewish country, it doubtless appeared to everyone as a complete fantasy.

The problem with fantasy becoming reality is that once the reality becomes established, it becomes difficult to remember how fantastical it initially appeared. If you were to go back in time a little over a year and tell your old self that the summer of 2020 would have more El-Al flights to Dubai than to the United States and that there would be a man wearing a horned helmet and fur skins standing at the podium of the US Capitol, your old self simply wouldn't believe it.

But even those bizarre events would have been more believable than the Jewish People creating a new country in their ancient homeland! It's only because Israel has been around for 73 years that we take it for granted. From perspective of Jews living in 19th century Europe, it must have seemed as fantastical as a unicorn. 

And from the perspective of Jews who lived through the Holocaust, when they would have believed that it was the end of the Jewish People, it was unimaginable. It is said that when Rabbi Kahneman overheard one of the rabbonim in the Ponevezh yeshiva make a nasty comment about the State of Israel, he called him in to his office and told him that only a person who hasn't smelled the air over Auschwitz could be disparaging of the State of Israel. And despite his chareidi opposition to Zionism, he insisted that Ponovezh fly the flag on Independence Day.

The return of the Jewish People to their ancient homeland, creating a sovereign nation, is one of the greatest miracles of history. To quote a certain US president:

“More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.”

Happy Yom Ha-Atzmaut - and may everyone merit to appreciate the miracle that is the State of Israel! 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Shemini LIVE!

I am pleased to announce that this Thursday, in honor of parashat Shemini, we will be running a special live online presentation from the Hall of Kashrut and the Hall of Small Animals at the NEW Biblical Museum of Natural History! You can sign up at   Please spread the word!


(By the way - the previous post, about the brachiosaurus on top of the museum, was an April Fool's Day joke. And the behemoth of the Bible is not a brachiosaurus; it's a hippopotamus, as discussed in my books Sacred Monsters and in The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom!)

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Our Most Incredible Exhibit Yet!

We are thrilled to announce our spectacular new "behemoth" exhibit! This follows the view that the Biblical behemoth of the Book of Job, described as a gigantic swamp-dwelling creature with a tail like a cedar-tree, is the brachiosaurus. Obviously there are no stuffed brachiosauruses available, but we were able to mount this incredibly lifelike model on the roof of our building! Take a look at it as you drive past the museum, and for more about the Biblical behemoth, read our book Sacred Monsters, available at

Moadim le-simcha!

When Chassidim Fly

Mishpacha magazine is normally reasonably good about honestly admitting problems in the frum community. They even acknowledge the overwhelmi...