While the Jewish new year, known as Rosh Hashana and which took place last week, is a time of inner reflection and soul searching for some people. However, for others it’s more about imposing extreme religious beliefs on others than it is working on oneself.
An example of such behavior, as reported by the Independent, occurred on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv last week when a group of orthodox Jewish men, known as Haredim or the “fearful ones,” refused to sit next to women, whether they were Jewish or not, as they claimed it was immodest for them to do so.
Even according to the very strictest minutia of Jewish law a man can certainly sit next to a woman, especially in a public space like an airplane where it is known in advance that around 50 percent of the passengers will be female.
A petition posted by Change.org has already garnered a number of signatures, as people who fly El Al regularly protest being discriminated against by a minority of people who hold extremist religious views.
The petition asks,
“Why El Al Airlines allow gender discrimination against women… (and) permit female passengers to be bullied, harassed, and intimidated into switching seats which they rightfully paid for and were assigned to by El Al Airlines? One person’s religious rights do not trump another person’s civil rights.”
In El Al’s defense, they do have a tough job pleasing all of their customers, especially in the difficult customer service based world of air travel. Some passengers want to watch movies while others refuse. Even though all food on El-Al flights is Kosher, some insist on ordering special kosher meals where an even stricter interpretation of Jewish dietary laws is applied.
Indeed, in its response El Al said it tries to accommodate the needs of all of its passengers, but the petition claimed otherwise, saying the orthodox passengers enjoy preferential treatment when it comes to being seated. They are also allowed an area for praying which involves a minimum of 10 men standing and blocking the aisle.
The petition added, raising a valid point,
“If a passenger was flouting the rules for take-off, thereby causing flight delay, they would immediately be removed from the plane. If a passenger was openly engaging in racial or religious discrimination against another passenger or flight attendant, they would immediately be removed from the plane.”
The fundamental problem is that El Al is a commercial operation which is forced to balance the needs of a wide diversity of religious observations.
The miracle is that these situations don’t occur more frequently.