Column for Jewish News Feb 28 2020
It seems, these days, that we are in a period of entitlement: that everyone who can sue will sue, making much work for lawyers but simply aggravating everyone else.
In Israel, in recent weeks, there have been several examples, from the woman who sued Israel Railways because she was asked to move seats so men could daven — she refused, and is claiming $20,000 in damages — to the latest unpleasant lawsuit against Gett, the country’s version of Uber.
Before we get on to Gett (get it? I’m here all week), I would like to inquire, with the best will in the world, how Maya Melitz, the woman in question, arrived at the $20,000 figure. The case is being brought on her behalf by the Israel Religious Action Centre and the Israel Women’s Network, so it’s not as though she’s had to shell out for lawyers on her own account.
And yes, I am sure that it was annoying and even humiliating to be asked by an employee of Israel Railways to be asked to move carriages, given that there is not a dedicated davening area on the trains, but still — $20k worth of annoyance?
Meanwhile, “Gett Mehadrin”, available in Jerusalem, is a sort of “glatt” version of the regular app, and is a way for the strictly- Orthodox to make sure that they are using a cab not being driven on Shabbat or the chagim. In practice, in fact, this means that if you call a Gett Mehadrin cab, you will only get a Jewish driver, since the company’s many Arab drivers will work on Shabbat.
According to Channel 12 news, this lawsuit, served on behalf of 940 Arab taxi drivers, is seeking a whopping $58.5 million in damages. The network has already shown hidden camera footage which various Gett drivers air horrible, but sadly not unexpected, views, about why people would use the Mehadrin service.
I must say the whole concept of Gett Mehadrin makes very little sense to me in terms of religious practice. I don’t see what difference it makes to the user of the cab — who is, presumably, only paying to get across Jerusalem as fast and as safely as possible — as to what is the level of religious observance of the driver.
If you yourself are religiously observant, and you take a Gett cab on a weekday, does it really matter who drives you?
Thinking about this latest way to tie people up in knots, I was suddenly reminded of the many instances of Cohenim wrapping themselves in plastic bags on planes, in case they might fly over a cemetery.
I saw a traveller enveloping himself in plastic last week in fear of the coronavirus, which is understandable, though somewhat loopy, but then realised that Cohenim now seem to have abandoned this practice.
In fact, the last recorded instance appears to have been in 2013, which only leads one to suppose that someone of influence in the strictly-Orthodox community had a rush of common sense to the shtreimel and sent out word to the boys that the plastic wrap was really unnecessary.
Perhaps the same level of common sense needs to apply to this Gett Mehadrin nonsense, just that not everyone has got the memo yet.
And maybe Israel Railways needs to take a look at its prayer policy, and consider having a specific area for those who need to daven without disturbing the rest of the commuters.
A little bit of seichel, ladies and gentlemen, could avoid all these ridiculous lawsuits.