How much would you be willing to pay to sit next to a Hasidic rebbe on a long flight? Apparently some are willing to shell out more than $15,000 for the honor.
On Thursday, the Spinka Rebbe, a respected religious leader in the Hasidic 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 lucky Chabad Hasid 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 Chabadnik sitting next to the rebbe if he would be willing to switch seats.
The Chabad Hasid thought to auction his seat, and purportedly received offers of up to $18,000, but in the end the man decided to keep his seat next to the renowned Hasidic figure.
Journalist Eli Jan, an associate of the Chabadnik, told Israel Hayom that "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, Hasidim are offered to be his driver for a donation. It is considered a great honor for the average Hasidic Jew."
Israel Hayom previously reported that 18 lucky, and affluent, haredim paid the astronomical sum of $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 Hasid 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."