Foreign Airlines Outranked El Al in a Kashrut Ranking by ultra-Orthodox Rabbis

Sometimes, in order to be truly righteous, it is better for a Jew to buy from a gentile and not from another Jew. Airplane tickets, for example. On Wednesday, airlines from Britain, Belgium, Russia and the United States picked up the highest kashrut rankings, in a list prepared by the Rabbinic Commission on Transportation Matters.

The ranking - the first of its kind - is aimed at helping the perplexed ultra-Orthodox traveler avoid viewing films that constitute "a terrible spiritual danger," a danger that cannot be avoided at an altitude of 35,000 feet.

The commission, which was established about a year ago on behalf of rabbis from all streams, published an extraordinary document in the two official ultra-Orthodox newspapers, Yated Ne'eman and Hamodia, on Wednesday: "The problem of in-flight movies constitutes a terrible spiritual danger. Several companies do not offer movies at all, and other companies do not have central screens, but only individual screens for each passenger, which can be turned off. These companies show that there is another way, and it is appropriate to fly with them," the document stated.

"I've been contacted by hundreds of bitter people," says a person close to the commission who was asked how it decided which airlines offer particularly inappropriate in-flight movies. Many ultra-Orthodox travelers complained they were shown licentious films while flying, the source said. He also noted that the ultra-Orthodox feel "they have paid their good money only to sit 'on thorns' for hours."

The commission established three rankings for airlines in accordance with their in-flight movie policies. In first place are the airlines that do not show films at all, such as British Airways flights to London or Swiss International Airlines flights to Switzerland. In second place are the companies that have individual screens "that can be turned off, but it is still possible to see the screens of other passengers, and therefore travelers are advised to equip themselves with a 'folding curtain.'" The third-ranked airlines also offer individual screens, but sometimes bring in planes with large cabin screens when demand is high.

About a year and a half ago, the ultra-Orthodox held an unofficial, five-week boycott of El Al because of a flight that departed late and landed in Miami after the start of the Sabbath. The company later reached an agreement with the ultra-Orthodox, but it turns out that that arrangement does not afford the national carrier any preference when it comes to in-flight movies.

The commission of rabbis ranked El Al only for flights to the United States and London, when it offers individual screens, but even then only as a third choice, after foreign airlines. "To our regret, on flights to the other destinations the company does not promise that films will not be screened, nor does it promise individual screens," they wrote.

Nonetheless, El Al is immeasurably better than Arkia and Israir, which "flout all the bounds of modesty in a grave and Sabbath-desecrating manner, and one must not travel with them at all."

Parallel to the commission's statement, on Wednesday the ultra-Orthodox newspapers also published a "Holy Call," signed by several preeminent Ashkenazi rabbis, and directed at the airline companies. This document is being republished at the rabbis' request, in advance of the peak travel season, exhorting "all the airlines to enable flying without obstacles to modesty or sanctity." And what will happen once the threat of in-flight movies is removed? Then the commissions will move on to the Internet, which brings "especially low and ugly films" into the home.

More Jewish World news and features