Faced with frequent disruptions by religiously observant passengers holding prayer quorums in the aisles during flights, Israel's national carrier El Al has decided to implement set times for worship on its fleet.
According to financial daily Globes, the pilot project will see cabin crew announce set times for communal prayers at the outset of flights, with passengers only allowed to congregate at the back of the plane following meal service.
Orthodox Jews pray three times a day and Jewish law requires a quorum of 10 men known as a minyan in order to say certain prayers.
But while some leading rabbis have ruled that prayers should be recited while sitting during flights, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox passengers frequently congregate in the aisles during ad-hoc services, disturbing other travelers and disrupting flight attendants’ efforts to offer them service.
Conflicts between ultra-Orthodox and secular passengers have repeatedly made headlines in recent years, with many members of more conservative streams of Judaism refusing to sit next to women because of beliefs about modesty. After one such incident led to a lawsuit, an Israeli court ruled in 2017 that flight attendants for Israeli airlines were forbidden from asking women to switch seats to accommodate ultra-Orthodox men refusing to sit next to them.
In June 2018, El Al announced that it would “immediately” remove any passenger unwilling to sit next to another passenger for any reason, after Israeli tech company Nice Systems said it would no longer fly its employees on the carrier.
The rare protest from a major Israeli company came after an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed for an hour, as flight attendants sought to find new seats for two women after a group of Haredi men insisted they be moved.
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Haredi travelers account for a big share of the airline’s market, especially on the critical Tel Aviv-New York route.