In the last few days, major, minor, and internet media have all printed and posted a photo of a Haredi man on a plane completely covered in a plastic bag, which some media have characterized as a full body condom.
At first it was reported that the reason for the plastic bag was that he wanted to avoid any contact with women, but later reports indicated that he is a Kohen, and did it to comply with a halachic ruling by the late rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv that Kohanim must cover themselves in plastic when flying over a cemetery to avoid becoming tamei, or impure.
For a few days, conflicting stories were being told about the incident. One said the plastic bag was to avoid contact with women. Another said it was to prevent him from coming in contact with bread on Passover. An El Al spokeswoman said that the photo was likely ten years old but didn't deny that it was a real photo. About ten years ago there was a similar incident that led El Al to decide not to allow ultra-Orthodox Jews of priestly descent to "hermetically seal themselves in plastic bags when flying over the Holon cemetery in order to avoid ritual impurity."
El Al stated "flight safety considerations do not allow for passengers to board while covered in sealed plastic bags."
Nevertheless, in 2002 a flight crew got into a heated dispute with a Haredi passenger who attempted to fly wrapped in plastic, according to Haaretz. The confrontation eventually led the pilot to turn the plane around.
The mystery appears to have been solved yesterday when the man in the story gave an interview to YnetNews.com, the internet site of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. In the interview, he acknowledged that the photo is real, the flight to Israel took place before Passover, and that he wrapped himself in plastic simply to follow his rabbi's orders not to fly over cemeteries.
As Itzchak Tessler reported,
The Kohen, formerly a secular Jew who embraced Orthodox Judaism and asked to remain anonymous, told Ynet of his long service in the Israel Defense Forces, where he held sensitive posts. In 1983, as a show of appreciation, the Air Force commander gave him the "opportunity to study in a yeshiva at the expense of the Air Force, which paid my salary for the two and a half years I studied in the yeshiva."
After his studies, he returned to the army for 10 more years – "an unprecedented move in the Air Force," he says.