Chutzpah, is a Hebrew word, yidishized and introduced into the American lexicon decades ago. Defining chutzpah has always been difficult because we Jews are more than “cheeky” and have more “hubris” than most. In some instances chutzpah can be cute and disarming at other times it can be in poor taste, inappropriate and insulting. A dictionary definition defines chutzpah as effrontery, audacity, nerve, or impudence. None of these definitions however come even close to describing the behavior last month of a charedi on a United flight from JFK to San Francisco.
Prior to “take off,” the flight attendants asked the davening yid to take a seat, in order that the flight can “take off”. The davening yid ignored the flight attendants and continued shokling. To add insult to injury his partner in crime, a traveling compatriot, defended the davening yid’s behavior by trying to explain that “once you start praying you can’t stop”. Assuming that he was right, (which he isn’t) you can still sit down. There have been many a situations where one davened in place and sitting. Standing and sitting are merely formalities, part of ritual that ought to be observed where it is possible, but if circumstances do not permit you do the best you can.
One of the tragic faults of the chareidi variety of Judaism is that they are so “hung up” on ritual, so totally obsessed that the ritual has become the kernel, and end, unto itself. What this davening yid so tragically missed was the opportunity to sit quietly in his place, unbothered and peacefully, and daven, with kavanah. Instead he stood in the back of the plane, shokling, being disturbed by the flight attendants, suffering the irritation of the other passengers, which leads me to two conclusions: He is probably an exhibitionist using davening as his modus operandi, much the same as those who wrap their tefillin on at the gate, instead of searching for a quiet corner or the airport chapel. Second, his tefillah was no more than a bracha l’vatalah. There is no way he could have had any kavanah since he was in a perpetual state of disturbance by the flight attendants.
Like most people, on occasion I have been subjected to a tirche d’tzibur on occasion, such as an awful baal tefillah, thinking himself a Kusevitsky protégé, dragging out musaf on a hot July Shabbat morning in a packed shul and no air conditioning. But imagine you are one of two hundred people sitting on a plane waiting to take off , and a chareidi exhibitionist gets up to daven, causing a disturbance and delaying a “take off” from an airport that rarely has an “on time” departure. That’s chutzpah!