Infighting among ultra-Orthodox delays Sabbath flights compromise with El Al
Flag carrier to appoint advisory council headed by rabbi to determine when flying on Sabbath involves saving lives.
El Al airlines has declared that the national carrier is a Sabbath-observant company and will be meticulous about its observance in the future, in one of the company's latest efforts to appease ultra-Orthodox leaders who threatened a boycott to protest recent flights on the Sabbath.
However, infighting among various ultra-Orthodox groups is delaying an end to the religious leaders' dispute with the airline.
In addition to declaring itself to be Sabbath-observant, El Al has also agreed to appoint an advisory council headed by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi that will determine when flying on the Sabbath involves the saving of life and is therefore permissible according to religious law.
This decision was part of a compromise reached, in writing, at a highly-secret meeting Monday between El Al officials and several ultra-Orthodox leaders, including Rabbi Tzvi Weissfish, who heads Yeshivat HaRan.
But the Rabbinic Committee for Sabbath Affairs, a group of rabbis from across the ultra-Orthodox spectrum that has been conducting negotiations with El Al, wants more: It demanded Tuesday night that the rabbi who heads the advisory council be authorized to veto any future El Al decision to fly on the Sabbath, a stipulation the company has rejected.
The committee is continuing to work toward an official announcement endorsed by ultra-Orthodox rabbis from the various sects that calls for a boycott of El Al.
Dispute started during national strike
The Sabbath flights that sparked the negotiations took place nearly two weeks ago, despite long-standing company policy, because the carrier was trying to make up for rampant delays caused by a strike.
The infighting is a manifestation of a power struggle within the ultra-Orthodox world that relates to the extent of the authority of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the spiritual leader of the Lithuanian (Ashkenazi non-Hasidic) ultra-Orthodox community.
Since the Sabbath crisis began, Elyashiv said the only group authorized to negotiate with El Al was the Sabbath affairs committee.
But after talks broke down Sunday, it became clear that Elyashiv had granted Weissfish the authority to continue negotiations with the airline, apparently without the knowledge of the Sabbath committee.
Ultra-Orthodox sources who took part in Monday's meeting with El Al said that the understandings reached at the meeting - the creation of an advisory council, even without veto power - fully reflect Elyashiv's instructions.