Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Should I Have Gotten Up?

In order to get home, I usually take a train and then a bus. By the time I got to the bus last night, it was already after 9:30 (I worked late last night). Being fairly tired after such a long day, I plopped down into an open seat.

Fairly soon, the bus began to fill up and empty seats became more scarce. However, the seat next to me remained unoccupied. An frum older woman (not frail and old -- but clearly past 60) got on and stood next to where I was sitting. She never said a word to me, but gave me a look. My interpretation of that look was that she wanted me to get up and give her the seat. Now, had there been no seats left, I probably would have offered her the seat willingly. But there was a seat next to me. No one was stopping her from sitting down in it. Why was she not sitting in the empty seat? Was it because she didn't want to sit next to a man? To be honest, I don't know. But, for whatever reason, she did not take the seat next to me - and gave me a look once or twice over the rest of the trip.

In the end, I didn't get up and offer her the seat. I figured that since there was another seat available, I wasn't under any moral obligation to give up my seat. But then, after I got home, I thought about it some more. Let's suppose that the reason that she didn't sit down was because she believed (whether correctly or not) that it is wrong for her to sit next to a man. That being the case, my sitting in my seat really did prevent her from sitting in the next one, just the same as if I'd gone and put my feet up on the next seat. Considering that the whole point of getting up and giving your seat to the elderly (or handicapped) is to make it easier for them to ride the bus (since standing can be physically taxing to them), it really doesn't matter whether the bar to their sitting down is a physical one (i.e. I piled a bunch of bags in the seat) or a religious one (she doesn't want to sit next to me on religious grounds) -- either way I was depriving her of the ability to sit down.

Or was I? How stringent is the prohibition to sit next to a person of the opposite gender on the bus (or train)? Is there really a problem with it? Or it merely a chumra (stringency)? After all, if it is a real prohibition, then my refusal to get up is a true bona fide bar to her sitting (much like a recalcitrant husband's refusal to give a get is a bar to a wife's re-marriage. Nothing is stopping her from legally going to a justice of the peace and getting married civilly, but we all agree that it is, nonetheless a bar, correct?). On the other hand, if it's merely a chumra (or perhaps not even that), then am I responsible for her decision to keep this chumra? Do I have to get up because she chose to keep this chumra? I suppose the situation might be analogous to a hungry beggar coming to my home and asking for food and then turning it away because it's not chalav yisroel or chassidshe shechita. Beggars shouldn't be choosers and all that.

And yet, she was an older woman. Would it have killed me to stand up and offer her the seat anyway? No - in all likelihood, I would have survived just as well had I stood up. Even if her request (had she outright asked) slightly bordered on the unreasonable, perhaps I should have offered her the seat anyway. Yeah, I was tired and it was late at night. But then again, it was just as late for her.

In the end, I did not get up for her. She stood until I got off the bus (which was about ten minutes). Oddly enough, had someone else taken the seat next to me, I probably would have then offered her my seat. That being the case, perhaps I should have offered it right away.

What do you think?

The Wolf

22 comments:

Chareidi said...

You should have offered her your seat and then you could have taken the seat next to her. :)

btw, I trust you've seen the new "shaitel crisis" brewing.

http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/General+News/15670/Out+Of+The+Mailbag+-+To+YW+Editor+(Jewish-Press+Crisis).html

Rafi G said...

I think it would have been nice to offer her the seat, but I see no moral obligation that says you had to or that you should feel bad that you did not

G said...

Don't think so much, there could have been dozens of reasons for the look:)

BrooklynWolf said...

Don't think so much, there could have been dozens of reasons for the look:)

Oh, I know that. It could have been that she didn't like my snout. :) But once my mind starts playing these "what if" games, it gets very hard to stop.

The Wolf

Leora said...

It's too bad we don't live in a world where people politely can say how they feel instead of giving looks. She could have said: "Would it be possible for you to give me a seat?", but she didn't. I can't think what you could have said to make the situation easier.

Nice Jewish Guy said...

I don't think you were under any obligation to give her the seat. There's no halacha that says a woman can't sit next to a man on a public bus. I mean, think about it. Is it just sitting? What if the bus had already been full and you were standing and holding a pole or a strap, and the only empty space was to stand next to you? what would she have done then? If you weren't obviously Jewish and Orthodox, would this have been an issue? What if the only empty seat had been next to an obviously non-Jewish man? Would she have sat? Or, would she have just stood and suffered in silence because she wouldn't "expect" a non-Jew to intuit her "need" for the seat? Where does it end? This isn't shul, or a wedding (don't get me started on that). This is HER mishegass, not yours, and you needn't get sucked in. There was a perfectly good empty seat available, and she made a choice not to take it.

If I were you, I wouldn't lose any more sleep over it.

ST said...

I say you did right by not getting up. No one has a right to be frummer on someone else's cheshbon.

Gil Student said...

R. Moshe Feinstein says that it is mutar for a man and woman to sit next to each other on the subway and/or bus. But those who hold that it is assur are of the view that it is a serious issur.

However, knowing where Wolf lives, I don't think that the woman refused to sit next to you because of any issur. Maybe if you lived in Boro Park or Williamsburg.

Moshe Klass said...

sitting between 2 men might be worse.

Mike S. said...

You could avoid the issue and help your BMI quest (are you still on it?) by taking a bicycle to work.

Anonymous said...

I would've done the same exact thing.

Baal Habos said...

Very tough call.

> On the other hand, if it's merely a chumra (or perhaps not even that), then am I responsible for her decision to keep this chumra?

What if it is a chumrah but she doesn't know that or she lives in a world that does not understand the distinction?

I see some comment about BMI. Sorry for asking, but do you take up more than your share of a seat?

ProfK said...

If you are sitting at someone's table and they bring out a food that it is not your custom to eat, do you make the hostess take it back to the kitchen or do you simply not take any of the dish? If this woman's custom is not to sit next to a man, you are not achiv to join her in her custom. If she puts herself into the position where the possibility exists that she may have to sit next to a man then it is for her to stand. Keep in mind that she chose her action. You have nothing to feel guilty about.

Me said...

>sitting between 2 men might be >worse.

Not true. It's walking that's a problem. Who said sitting is a problem?

Ari said...

You did nothing wrong. There are infinite precedents in both halacha as well as "Gedolim stories" that one is not to inconvenience another due to one's chumra observances.

Rabbi Ari Enkin

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i agree with Chareidi's comment up top ;-)

Aaron from L.A. said...

Look at it this way.Had you gotten up,the old lady might have died of shock,so by remaining seated you were mkayem "pikuach nefesh"

Anonymous said...

Was this old lady efrum? Or even Jewish?

Eees said...

Was this what was bugging you?

Anonymous said...

if you stood up, she might have thought you wanted to dance with her and that would be mixed dancing and would be assur

Anonymous said...

I remember learning in seminary that it's no problem to sit next to a man on a bus (and I remember that I was shocked :-) ). I like chareidi's suggestion...stand up, and then sit down on the other seat! In reality though, I probably wouldn't have gotten up.

Ezzie said...

I'd have motioned that she could sit down next to you if she liked.