El Al Flight From N.Y. Delayed 'After ultra-Orthodox Men Refuse to Sit Next to Women'

An Israeli man who was aboard the Tel Aviv bound flight says the airplane took off 75 minutes later than scheduled; one man actually boarded with shut eyes and 'remained that way throughout the flight'

An Israeli flag seen on El Al's Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jet.
\ Amir Cohen/ REUTERS

An El Al Israeli Airlines flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed last week by more than half an hour.

Such delays are not out of the ordinary, but the reason for this specific delay, according to an Israeli rapper who was aboard the flight, was the refusal of a group of ultra-Orthodox male passengers to sit next to women on the aircraft.

The rapper, Chen Rotem, who goes by the name Sagol 59 as an entertainer, penned a Facebook post in which he described one of the men as “particularly devout and ascetic.” The man, Rotem wrote, “boarded the plane with his eyes tightly shut, led by the hand by one of his colleagues, and remained that way throughout the flight.”

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Ultra-Orthodox men generally refuse to sit next to women or ask to switch seats for reasons involving an interpretation of Jewish religious law prohibitng physical contact with women.

El Al is not alone in facing this issue; last year, a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge ruled that women cannot be asked to change seats under such circumstances.

Rotem wrote, however, that after lengthy efforts to resolve the matter, ultimately two women–an American who he wrote was about 70, and a young Israeli woman– agreed to change their seats in the interest of time.

Asked for a response for this article, El Al said: “We apologize for any inconvenience caused. Any discrimination by passengers is absolutely forbidden. El Al flight attendants do everything that they can to provide service to a wide range of passengers and various requests and try to assist. All of this is done so that takeoff is on time and to take the passengers to their destination on schedule.”

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Efforts by the flight crew to resolve the situation were initially unsuccessful and the men were only willing to speak to male members of the flight crew, Rotem wrote, adding that Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox male passengers expressed abhorrence at the four men’s conduct. Members of the crew threatened that if the four would not take their seats, they could disembark immediately, Rotem wrote.

“While on the El Al plane they were dealing with matters of practical theology and personal faith versus the rights of the individual and civil order, 12 planes from other carriers jumped the line ahead of Flight 002. The flight to Israel took off an hour and 15 minutes late.”