Is this seat taken? For $18,000 you can fly next to a renowned Hassidic rebbe

Click photo to download. Caption: The Spinka Rebbe. Credit: Lior Golgher.

( How much would you be willing to pay to sit next to a Hassidic rebbe on a long flight? Apparently some are willing to shell out as much as $18,000 for the honor. 

Last week, the Spinka Rebbe, a respected religious leader in the Hassidic Spinka dynasty, boarded a return flight to New York after U.S. courts cleared him to fly to Israel and visit his students.

The rebbe, Naftali Tzvi Weisz, was involved in a tax fraud scandal in Los Angeles, was sentenced to two years in prison, and according to the haredi website Behadrey Haredim was released early but was unable to leave the U.S. to visit Israel until now.

On the flight back to the U.S., seated next to the rabbi was a Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidic man from southern Israel. Within minutes of getting on the plane, numerous haredim walked up to the rebbe and asked to speak with him or to receive a blessing. Some even asked the Chabad man sitting next to the rebbe if he would be willing to switch seats. The Chabad man thought to auction his seat, and reportedly received offers of up to $18,000, but in the end decided to keep his seat next to the renowned Hassidic rebbe.

Journalist Eli Jan, an associate of the Chabad man, told Israel Hayom, “In the haredi public, being close to the rebbe is considered a great privilege, and some are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels to be close to or get a blessing from him. For example when the Satmar Rebbe arrives in Israel, Hassidim are offered to be his driver for a donation. It is considered a great honor for the average Hassidic Jew.”

Israel Hayom previously reported that 18 affluent haredim paid $250,000 for the honor of staying with the Gerrer Rebbe in Safed over a weekend. One Gerrer Hasid explained, “One must understand that for a Gerrer Hassid this is his rabbi, and in general for any haredi Jew, it is considered a once in a lifetime or even multiple lifetimes event. It is a story that is passed on from generation to generation; it is priceless.”

Posted on March 10, 2013 .