A photo of an Ultra Orthodox Jewish man wrapped in a life-size plastic bag aboard an airplane recently went viral on news-sharing site Reddit, sparking an intense debate concerning his motives.
At first it was believed that the man had donned the bizarre see-through garb to distance himself from women, as some Ultra-Orthodox Jews obey strict rules of gender segregation in public. Now, however, it is believed the man dressed entirely in black and wearing a Jewish skullcap or “kippah” may be a member of the Kohanim, who believe they are descended from the priests of ancient Israel and cannot come in close contact with dead in order to protect their higher-than-average kedushah (holiness). Apparently, the strict religious code prohibits visiting cemeteries except for the funerals of close relatives, and even flying over burial grounds. However, the Haaretz newspaper reports that Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, leader of the Lithuanian Haredi community in Israel, has recently ”found a solution to this issue, ruling that wrapping oneself in thick plastic bags while the plane crossed over the cemetery is permissible”, which would explain the man’s bizarre protective travel gear.
Strict adherents to the Kohen code of conduct fear they will become contaminated should their plane fly over one of the many cemeteries near ben Gurion airport in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, so they wrap themselves hermetically in plastic. Confronted with a growing number of bag-wearing passengers, Israeli airline El Al introduced a policy that states ”flight safety considerations do not allow for passengers to board while covered in plastic bags” and has in turn gone to great lengths to take specific flight paths that avoid cemeteries, and let passengers know in advance if a dead body will be aboard in the cargo hold. Obviously the ability to breath properly inside a sealed bag has raised serious concerns, but punching the tiniest ventilation hole would nullify the spiritual protection it offers. ”Only if when the Kohein is putting on this bag it accidentally rips can there be some leniency,” a commentator in the Jewish newspaper Yated Ne’eman wrote. ”Kohanim have a duty to protect their taharah, purity. They have been bestowed with extra kedushah… At times, there may be extra demands made upon them in order to maintain that standard of kedushah and taharah.”
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