A Shabbat Lesson From Doomed Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — or Not

God Didn't Help Anyone Miss Plane That Crashed

Unending Grief: A passenger’s relative weeps after authorities say they believe Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed in Indian Ocean, killing all those aboard.
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Unending Grief: A passenger’s relative weeps after authorities say they believe Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed in Indian Ocean, killing all those aboard.

By Eliyahu Fink

Published March 24, 2014.
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(Haaretz) — While the world anxiously awaits information regarding the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a perplexing Jewish angle to the story has emerged.

In short, a Jewish traveler who is not Sabbath observant was booking a flight through a Jewish travel agent. The traveler planned on flying on Flight 370 on the Sabbath, but the travel agent was uncomfortable booking travel for a Jewish passenger that would violate the prohibition against flying on the Sabbath. The traveler agreed to take a different flight and was spared whatever horrors the passengers of Flight 370 are experiencing or have already experienced.

The story is being cheerfully passed around the Internet and its lesson is ostensibly that Sabbath observance saved the traveler’s life. This is a terrible lesson. While it is true that the observance of the Sabbath has the practical effect of sparing this traveler’s life, it is extremely dangerous to attribute salvation to a particular religious observance.

Every religion has stories of miraculous salvation. The hubris of Jewish people pointing to this miracle as some sort of support for Jewish religious beliefs faces an unanswerable question when confronted by stories of similar salvation from other religions. One Christian published a book about how Jesus saved him and U.S. Airways Flight 1549 because of his faith in God. Muslims often point to Mosques that survive natural disasters as proof that God saves Muslims.

There is nothing unique about a story of someone who did not travel on the Sabbath and was spared from a disaster. It is a common and fallacious claim to say that not being present or being spared from any particular harm is the hand of God saving the saved for religious reasons.

If, as believers in Judaism, we reject the claims that Jesus or Allah spared their followers how do we blindly accept that our God saves adherents to Judaism? What are we to say about Sabbath observant people who die in plane crashes? Or non-observant people who survive because they missed their flight? The application of miraculous salvations to one person of one religion out of millions of counter examples is disingenuous and incredibly arrogant.

Even worse is the implication of such a claim. If God saved one person from the plane for observing the Sabbath, we are also saying that God caused the other people on the plane to suffer whatever harm has befallen them. This is a disturbing worldview that even if we believe to be true, is quite offensive to the family and friends of the passengers of Flight 370. In our zeal to proclaim that our beliefs save lives, we are in effect condemning others to death for their religious beliefs. This is not a message that we should feel comfortable projecting.


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