Here we go again: El Al complies with the desire of Orthodox Jews to not sit next to women

June 24, 2018 • 10:00 am

The Haredim comprise a number of sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews who adhere strictly to a religious code of conduct. The Haredi code happens to prohibit tactile contact of any sort between men and women. And so it happens that Haredim often refuse to sit next to women on planes. They might accidentally touch them! And get cooties!

As a secular Jew, I am especially embarrassed and revulsed when Jews engage in this type of ridiculous behavior. But of course few religions are exempt from irrationality. I’ve posted before on men of the Haredim refusing to sit next to women on planes, and how the airlines (including El Al, the Israeli national carrier) try to accommodate them.

What those airlines should be doing is to either heave the buggers off the plane (calling security if they have to), or require the Haredim to purchase an empty seat next to them beforehand, or sit together. El Al’s refusal to do any of this has led to successful lawsuits, like the suit by Renee Rabinowitz against El Al last year. As I reported, Rabinowitz, who was unwillingly moved at the request of a Haredi man, won a suit that got her not only money, but a promise from El Al. As I noted at the time (my emphasis):

Rabinowitz asked for 50,000 shekels (about $14,000 US) in damages, and was represented by the Israeli Religious Action Center, a legal and reform organization run by progressive Jews. El Al defended itself by saying it wasn’t discriminating against women because it would also ask a man to move if seated next to an Orthodox woman who objected to male cooties. But that’s still gender discrimination, and the judge awarded Rabinowitz 6500 shekels ($1800). More important, because El Al was found to violate Israel anti-discrimination laws, the airline agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender.

Well, here we go again: Reader Alex called my attention to this article on Ynet (click on screenshot).

A passenger, Khen Rotem, wrote about it on his Facebook page (in Hebrew); the partial translation is below (my emphasis again):

“The planned takeoff time: Six in the evening. Everyone boards, sits down, waits. Then the commotion starts. Four Haredim who boarded the flight refuse to sit next to women.”

Rotem said one of the Haredi men, “particularly zealot and ascetic, boarded the plane with his eyes shut tight, led by the hand by his friend, and remained that way throughout the entire flight.”

“The flight crew tries to resolve the matter, but it isn’t working. The flight attendants male [sic] way to the authoritative men on board—the customer service manager and someone who appeared to be the head of the crew—who try to resolve the crisis. The Haredim were unwilling to speak with—or look at—the female flight attendants. All of the men on the flight crew, apart from the captain, were now focused solely on this, instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers. The Haredim won’t blink first. One crew member threatens: ‘If you don’t sit down, you can get off the plane now.'”

Eventually, Rotem wrote, “after many minutes of negotiations, the crew gave in. And then a prolonged diplomatic process began of moving female passengers from their seats to clear a row of seats for the four Haredim.

“After a lot of twists and turns, shouting and maneuvering, two women (one American around 70 years old and the other a young Israeli woman) agreed—because of time constraints among other things—to switch seats, and the crisis was resolved.”

This infuriates me. It’s bad enough that the men won’t sit next to women, but it’s compounded when they won’t even talk to or look at female flight attendants. What Jewish law dictates that women shouldn’t be recognized as human beings?

The article notes that other Jews on the plane, including religious ones, were rightfully disgusted by the behavior of the Haredim, that the flight was delayed for an hour and a quarter by their behavior, and that the women who were displaced weren’t even offered upgrades. The least that should have been done is put those women in first class.

And El Al’s response to Rotem is hardly satisfactory:

“Hello Khen. We apologize if any inconvenience was caused. Any discrimination of passengers is strictly forbidden. El Al’s flight attendants do all they can to provide service to a wide variety of passengers and fulfill a variety of different requests, trying to assist as much as they can. All of this is done in order to take off on time and bring the passengers to their destination according to schedule.”

This masterpiece of equivocation violates El Al’s settlement with Renee Rabinowitz, and I’ve told El Al so in two ways, via Tweet . .

(feel free to tweet to El Al USA if you have a Twitter account).

. . . and by an email to El Al customer relations in New York (

Dear El Al airlines:

I have read in Ynet an article describing how, on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, a group of Haredi men refused to be seated next to women, and, ultimately, your staff accommodated these men by making women move. And you didn’t even offer to upgrade the women!

This is an unconscionable action on the part of your airline, which is complicit in sex discrimination. Not only that, but it violates what your airline promised when you were sued by Renee Rabinowitz, who was likewise forced to move. Besides having to pay 6500 shekels, your airline, because it was found to violate Israeli anti-discrimination laws, “ agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender.”

Well, you did move seats based on a request that violates gender. The proper move on your part would have told the Haredim to either sit in their assigned seats or be kicked off the plane. Instead, you did your best to accommodate that sexist request, resulting in a flight delay of 1.25 hours.  Do you not know how to call security to have people removed from a plane?

I am appalled by the behavior of your airline and by the actions of your staff that allowed the Haredim to discriminate against women. I would like to know if you intend to do this again. Your response to Khen Rotem was a masterpiece of dissimulation, explaining that you try to “fulfill a variety of requests” and to “bring passengers to their destination according to schedule.” No you don’t; you broke the law and your own agreement, and enabled bias and discrimination against women. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

I would appreciate a response to this email.

Yours sincerely,
Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
The University of Chicago

They have received the email:

By all means write to the address above if you feel so inclined. I have a feeling that if many people write to El Al, they’ll start taking this seriously. You are free to use my own email as a template.



79 thoughts on “Here we go again: El Al complies with the desire of Orthodox Jews to not sit next to women

  1. I don’t have a problem with anyone asking politely if someone else wouldn’t mind swapping seats regardless of how stupid their reasons are for wanting it.

    But no customer should be forcibly relocated unless THEY are causing a disturbance. That’s not just bad ethics, it’s awful business policy.

    1. I usually pride myself on being the first, on any flight, to swap seats with another passenger for almost any reason. But for this misogynistic bullshit? Not an inch.

      1. I usually book a window seat and I had thought that I’d refuse any request to move. Why bother booking a specific seat otherwise? So I greatly surprised myself when the last flight I was on, a 15-hour Dubai-Auckland overnight, when the woman in the middle seat asked to swap for no reason other than she felt more comfortable in the window seat, politeness overruled self-interest and I swapped.

        The mitigating circumstance was that it was an Emirates Airbus A380, the first and only plane in which I’ve had enough room (in cattle class) not to feel horribly cramped in such a seat. And also, that it put me in a better position to shamelessly grab the flight attendants each time they passed and cadge a glass of water which I poured into my empty-since-Security water bottle, so for once I didn’t suffer from thirst.

        (When I say ‘grab’ I mean metaphorically, not literally)


    2. It isn’t really the same thing though.

      As a female, one of the things I have going for me is that I live in the 21st century where civilised society has agreed that women are to be treated as equals.

      It’s profoundly disturbing when you encounter a situation like this and discover that not only are there primitive bigots out there that still regard women as unclean and untouchable; but that my society, supposedly so enlightened and egalitarian, will probably side with the bigot.

      Ask yourself why you’ve never seen an advert like this where the bigot is swapped out for a religious man of god and the insulted person is a woman.

      1. Well said, Grania.

        When it comes to discrimination, it’s still women who matter the least. e.g. whatever race, religion, etc you’re talking about, within that demographic, women, on average, are treated worse.

        Cue the men who don’t understand “on average” and come up with lists of situations where they think, perhaps correctly, that women are better treated to prove I’m wrong.

    3. Technically, nobody was forced to change seats. In the end, two women “volunteered”, probably because they were concerned to get home at a reasonable time.

      The fundamental problem is that the crew are under immense pressure to get the plane off the ground with all the passengers on board. Also, all the passengers want to get going and so anybody who can solve the problem by agreeing to move is under immense duress.

      The only solution would be for the airline to make it official policy that passengers refusing to take their allocated seats to be put off the plane.

      1. Not the only solution. They could ask people if they have special seating requirements when they purchase their tickets, just like they do with food, mobility etc. The problem is these a$$ho£e$ turn up at the last minute expecting to be accommodated. It seems to me they’re deliberately making a fuss.

        There could also be a condition that Haredim travel in pairs etc depending on the size of the plane, or they purchase an extra seat if need be. There is precedent for this. Many tours, especially those that include a cruise for part of the journey, require single people to pay a “single supplement” or they will be assigned a roommate by the tour company.

        1. In many airlines, if you book early enough, you can choose your seat. I don’t see why the Haredim couldn’t do that and book a row of seats. (Of course that does depend on the number of Haredim travelling).

          Or aren’t they allowed to use computers? [/snark]


        2. Many airlines already have that capability and for all we know most Haredim avail themselves of these service.

          In fact, it occurs to me that for all we know, Haredim travel by plane frequently without problems, booking a block of seats together or even putting up with women next to them. We might be maligning a whole group based on a couple of rare incidents.

  2. I don’t know if any of you have experienced this type of behaviour toward you for who you are, but when it happens it is really dehumanizing and terrifying. When someone won’t acknowledge you as a human with thoughts and feelings, it is like you don’t exist and often that dehumanization is quickly followed by repulsed hatred. You have to experience it to know how it feels.

    1. Yes. Men wonder why even strong women don’t speak up, but it’s not that easy when the situation arises. When the perp is clearly an a $$ho£€ and you can feel others in the room would back you if you spoke up, it’s okay. However, that’s not always the case. There are often reasons why it’s impossible to speak up, and I say that as someone who speaks out more than most.

      Diana is right. Until you’ve felt it, it’s impossible to understand.

  3. For anyone who thinks it’s ok as long as the women weren’t _forced_ to move, but were merely _asked_ to move, consider this:

    Suppose a white man refused to sit in an airplane seat because there was a black man in the adjacent seat. So Delta asks the black man to move to the back of the plane and, in the interest of getting home on time, he agrees.

    Sound ok?

    Sexism fueled by religion is just as bad as this kind of toxic racism, in my view.

    1. +1
      The Scathing Atheist podcast periodically has a feature they call “Make it Black” wherein they do exactly this when evaluating the various idiocies of religion and culture.

    2. in re sexism: THE oldest bias crime Worldwide

      in re “sexism fueled by religion:”
      THE oldest bias crime Worldwode … excused.
      Excused … … because patriarchy.


      1. Me third. I know sometimes Jerry has pointed out that women don’t respond as much to some posts like this, so I want to throw my two cents in for that reason, but also because it feels great to read the comments of men who get it, and are willing to take the time to say it.

  4. They just need to get some Rabbi/Scholar to interpret the Talmud as allowing them to be next to a woman only when in an airplane. These clowns pull shit like that all the time to get around their silly antiquated prohibitions.

    Really though the bottom line is if they chose to follow antiquated rules and rituals, then they cannot reap the benefits of modern society and technology. There is no right to fly in an airplane. You can’t have it both ways.

    1. You’re absolutely right; if they choose to take advantage of modern conveniences, they can’t impose antiquated rules on everybody else. They want to have their cake and eat it. These men are nothing but petulant two year-olds, and should be riding donkeys when they want to travel.

            1. I think you rather missed Ken’s implication, there. 🙂

              Your English was perfectly OK, it just left room for a double entendre


              1. Thanks — that just proves my point — what a mess I made of my own remark, and can’t even identify the double entendre. I think it’s time for some ESL for a native speaker, or else I’m becoming cognitively impaired; though some would aver that’s innate.

  5. Actually these men should be barred from flying. In an emergency it is a danger to others if you will not comply with the instructions of flight attendants, including the female ones.

    1. Good point. I really wonder what these people would do even in a preventive evacuation, when everybody is funnelled out of the plain as quickly as possible because, for example, the tank truck has leaked kerosene.

  6. If you’re going to guilt-trip someone into changing their seat the VERY least you can do is upgrade them. There’s got to be some quid pro quo surely?

  7. I always wondered how they reproduced. It has been a while, but as I recall there was some touching involved. Admittedly, it has been a while and my memory is hazy, but I am pretty sure about that point.

    1. If I recall correctly, they do it through a hole in a sheet. But I’m not sure that is true, it might be apocryphical.

      1. I think you’re right about the hole in a sheet. I found it amusing they showed a similar scene in the Handsmaid’s Tale series.

    2. My understanding is that it’s not “all women”, but “women who are not immediate family”. Marriages are all arranged, and they don’t meet until the wedding, etc.

      It’s the same mentality as Islam has, but Islam decided they’d just put bags over the heads of all the women instead.

  8. There oughtta be a disclaimer on the ticket/boarding pass to the effect that acceptance requires that you sit where you are assigned.

    1. There already is a full page or two of small print attached to your ticket. I’m confident it’s covered.

    2. VIA (intercity train service here in Canada) has that on *their* tickets, so I’m sure most airlines would do the same. I understanding flying *into* the US (last I checked) it is actually required by law to stay in the assigned seat (for supposed security reasons).

  9. I fully agree with our host.
    People causing trouble on a flight (well, before the actual flight) should be removed from the plane. Whether they cause trouble because they are drunk, have hyperventilation or are fundamentalistically religious should play no role: causing trouble and disruption = ‘out’.
    If they have these problems, nobody is stopping them from hiring a full row beforehand, btw.

  10. Why is El Al so afraid of offending Haredim? This incident happened in New York. Local police would have no issues ejecting them from the plane when they refused to sit. I’m quite certain that any other airline would have done so without hesitation. Are the Haredim particularly powerful in Israel?

  11. I was under the impression that this airline had inaugurated a set of gender-separated flights in 2013.

    Buslines operated by these folk serving the general public cannot segregate as New York courts have ruled that voluntary segregation is OK, but forced segregation is unlawful.

  12. Perhaps El Al thought it was exempt from Israeli anti-discrimination laws, and its own pledge, because the flight originated in the US, where we know that religious freedoms seem to trump everyone else’s.

  13. Here in the US there is a similar problem with accommodation of violating civil rights laws for religious purposes. The so-called ‘religious freedom’ laws many states pass seek to hide intolerance under cover of these laws.
    Then there is a protracted legal process to go to the Supreme Court, which rightfully strikes them down. The problem under the current regime is that the Trumpistas have stacked the lower Federal courts with narrow-minded bigots and that is the gateway to the higher courts. It seems the idea of a ‘higher power’ overriding state law is deeply embedded in US consciousness. That early Israeli modern history is intertwined with the socialist Kibbutz makes this sort of thing even more maddening.
    From what I’ve read about Israeli politics, the religious fundamentalists are needed for any coalition government. While the courts ruled against them, daily life is bent to their will, such as not running buses through their neighborhoods during the sabbath, etc.
    One of the women involved would have to file suit, again, to get the ear of the airlines.
    What I’m wondering is when Israel will start with their own ‘religious freedom’ laws?
    Or have they already?

    1. Arguably they have – that’s one of the reasons why Christian and Muslim Palestinians even in Israel complain. So do less religious sects of Judaism, mind you.

  14. One crew member threatens: “If you don’t sit down, you can get off the plane now.”

    The crew should’ve stuck to its guns: toss the momzers off the plane.

    1. If they did sit down under protest, they would probably find ways of making life unpleasant for the woman sitting next to them.

      My feeling is that merely making the request, along with refusing to obey a flight attendant, should be grounds to throw them off the plane. In the UK it would be”conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace”.

  15. As an Israeli, I find this outrageous.
    When it comes to religion and its power on our lives, we Israelis are stuck in the middle ages.

    1. As an Israeli, could give some examples from daily life? I’ve seen and read a few things, but I’d like to hear your experience(s).
      Thank you

  16. I think that the Haredim should be given one chance to respond to a request to take their allotted seats, and then chucked off the flight as disruptive passengers with no compensation.

    The thing that really galls me, however, is that it is the women who are asked to move. In my experience, there are almost always more men on a flight. Why do the cabin staff not shuffle a few men around to accommodate the religious bigots?

    1. I guarantee that if I made a similar fuss about my seating I’d be chucked off or arrested or both. It’s religion that makes people lose their common sense, courtesy, and sense of fairness.

    2. “Why do the cabin staff not shuffle a few men around to accommodate the religious bigots?”

      I’m not sure how that would work in practical terms. Given a random sprinkling of women and men, is it possible to achieve the desired result of four Haredi seats not-next-to-women without moving any women? I’m not sure if it is.

      That said, if I (a male) was asked to sacrifice my pre-booked window seat to accommodate some religious moron I’d decline quite firmly. I don’t think either gender should be asked to move for such a reason. Not that I’d want to sit next to a Haredim in case loony religion is catching.

      And if anyone’s antics are holding up my departure I’d happily assist in booting them off the plane myself. Though that often results in increased delays because their luggage then has to be located and offloaded too (anti-terrorism precaution – put bomb in luggage, board plane, get thrown off, watch as plane takes off and goes boom!)


      1. I don’t literally approve, because I disapprove of capital punishment. But one reason I am fond of some Inuit traditions is because they traditionally had capital punishment for dumbasses. The rationalization seems to be that a dim awareness that mental diseases are sometimes contagious. (Note: dumbasses, not simply the mentally handicapped.) The Norse may have been victims of this in Greenland because of their insistence on raising cattle.

  17. Isn’t the solution here obvious?
    Whenever there is a report of a woman asked to be reseated by El Al representatives to accomodate a Haredi man, send her an encouraging email to take them to court to collect her $14,000 dollars. There’s already a legal precedent.

  18. Whatever happened to the solution of putting plastic bags over the men so they couldn’t make contact with women? I’m sure I read about that before, here…

Leave a Reply