El Al Again

By now I presume it is clear to all and sundry that I know no more about the likely outcome of the El Al boycott than anyone else. I only know what I read in the papers.

Well, now I’m done wiping the egg off my face for passing on a report in HaModia last week that the two sides were close to signing a binding agreeement. That report turned out to be, at the very least, premature. Today’s Jerusalem Post suggested that the owners of El Al may even have wished to provoke the boycott, or at the very least to test the chareidi response, as a first step to instituting regular Shabbat service.

I tend to doubt that. The privatized El Al did not have to wait for last week’s general strike to find a pretext for Shabbat flights if that’s what it wanted to do. My guess is that airlines, especially in the current doldrums for airlines, do not sacrifice 20% of their clientele in the hopes of attracting more business travellers or because they expect a tourist boom among non-religious Jews (fat chance) and non-Jews in the indefinite future, which will offset their current loss of chareidi customers. Nevertheless, El Al is not being so quick to capitulate.

Having drawn the line in the sand, the chareidi community has no choice but to see this one through. Failure to maintain discipline vis-a-vis would undercut chareidi efforts to exercise influence through economic power in numerous other areas, in which policing threatened boycotts would be more difficult than that versus El Al. In this regard, the suggestion made yesterday by Rabbi Goldknopf of the Committee for the Preservation of the Sanctity of Shabbos that the chareidi community might set up its own airline was counterproductive because it was so unserious and could be immediately be perceived as such by those on the other side of the bargaining table. In negotiating, as in parenting, it is best to not to make threats that are not perceived as credible.

In the short run, and perhaps in the long run, chareidi travellers may have to tolerate a lower quality of service (certainly less frequent flights) in order to maintain the boycott. On the other hand, we can be fairly certain that if the chareidi market is suddenly in play other carriers will soon be making their pitch for chareidi business.

In the Israeli press, the boycott has largely been reported like any other contest, whether political or sports. But one interesting aspect has been the number of comments about the economic power of the chareidi community, and more importantly the cohesion and discipline of the community. Even Tommy Lapid admitted that only the chareidim could pull this off. Many have touted the chareidim for representing older communitarian values and their resistance to the dictates of large corporations.

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29 comments to El Al Again

  • Steve Brizel

    FWIW, a prominent rav in KGH advised his members that those who had purchased their tickets already on El Al and for most of whom it would cause a substantial or large financial loss ( aka “Hefsed murabah” as expressed by Poskim) need not cancell their reservations. OTOH, those planning to travel to EY should not book tickets with or use El Al.

  • HILLEL

    Perhaps, the best strategy would be to approach another non-Israeli airline, like Continental, and propose that they open up a specialty division for Hareidi Jews.

    Such an airline would be more likely to honor their commitments than El-Al, many of whose employees subscribe to the hard anti-Hareidi culture that is so prevalent in Israel.

    I suggest that the new airline division be named “Darka AchaRina.”–(The alternate path).

  • Sarah Lipman

    On the recommendation of our Rav, I sent the below e-mail to El Al’s customer service address (I also faxed it to them). I had previously asked our travel agent to make us a back-up reservation for the family trip, which, in addition to giving us a fall-back travel plan, allowed us to make the point that we will join the “boycott” if a satisfactory (to the rabbonim) agreement cannot be made.

    It is unfortunate, though, that I could not find any telephone number with which to contact El Al directly, nor could I find a site coordinating a protest or petition list.

    I have to assume that many people are holding reservations which they have not yet cancelled (hoping that things will work out), but who are prepared to cancel. They are not all going to go to the trouble of writing letters to El Al, even though awareness of the number of potentially cancelled reservations might make a big difference in El Al’s decision-making. El Al may be mistakenly assuming that since more reservations haven’t been cancelled yet, they won’t be… I wonder if it would be a good idea for someone to host an e-mail or web-based page where people could announce their intention to follow the guidance of the Gedolim, while noting how many tickets would be affected. It might add to the impact here.

    The text of our letter — which was cc:d to our travel agent — was as follows:

    Hi:

    We are a family with reservations to travel round-trip from TLV to New York next month. (We travel often with ElAl, both for family and business.) In this case, we have tickets for 9 people (expected to cost over $8000), which we are prepared to cancel if an acceptable agreement regarding ElAl’s commitment to not flying on Shabbos cannot be made.

    I would not like to be in the position of having to cancel our reservations — we chose ElAl even though two other airlines had less-expensive tickets available. But we will find another way to travel if the situation is not resolved to the satisfaction of the Rabbanim haGeonim.

    In addition, I am sorry to inform you that I would direct our company policy to choose airlines other than ElAl for business travel (I am the founder of a hi-tech company based in Jerusalem). This will have an immediate impact on our current travel plans to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York and the Far East (Korea, Singapore, and Japan) in the next 8-12 weeks. We will make that policy change, even at the loss of the Matmid benefits we have accrued for various people on our staff (CEO, CTO, etc.).

    I believe that ElAl does intend to resolve this unfortunate situation, and I sincerely hope that you will find a way to do so. I hope that feedback from customers such as myself will help to encourage the process.

    [signature and company name]

  • Ori Pomerantz

    I like Hillel’s suggestion. El Al wants to be an airline like any other. I don’t see anything wrong with that, but if it’s an airline like any other there is no reason for anybody to have any loyalty to it.

    Also, I think using a US airline instead of one based in Israel will prevent struggles in the future:

    1. US business culture seems a lot more honest than Israeli business culture. A US airline that agreed to certain restrictions is more likely to abide by them.

    2. In the US, diversity is ideology. In Israel, it’s seen as unfortunate. The average (non charedi) US manager is likely to be more accepting of charedi concerns than the average (non charedi) Israeli manager.

    3. Many secular Israelis feel threatened by charedim (whether justifiably or not is besides the point). The percent of charedim in Israel is on the rise, so this is only going to get worse. No point adding friction points.

  • Boruch

    I sent El Al an email telling them that I was Orthodox and currently hold 5 tickets for flight in January and will God willing fly with them now and continue to fly with them in the future. I thanked them wholeheartedly for their support of the State in times of distress and requested that they refuse to back down to religious extremism in any guise.

    If one’s gedoilim or even Young Israel Rabbi in KGH feel there is a grave sakanah by flying a Jewish airline that tramples and desecrates Shabbos than how can one reconcile permission to fly for “hefsed merubah”? Does any amount of money trump one’s personal safety??

  • Aaron

    Today on Drudge, Neturei Karta is photographed shaking hands with Ahmadinejad at the Holocaust denial conference.

    Now THAT deserves more outrage from gedolim than El Al. These rodfim shouldn’t be allowed back into Eretz HaKodesh.

  • Steve Brizel

    Boruch-the rav in KGH was not what you called “even [a] Young Israel Rabbi in KGH”. The rav in question is quite close to RYSE. Moreover, WADR, I think that some measure of Kavod HaTorah is due for RF Schonfeld, the Zkan HaRabbanim of Queens, a talmid neeman of RYBS, a Torah pioneer and a rav who could teach his own practicum on chesed for younger rabbanim.

  • Steve Brizel

    For those who are interested, the SA discusses taking a cruise or similar journey within three days of Shabbos. Although many Rishonim and Acharoniim frown on such of a practice, none less than the MB rules the same to be permissible precisely because of hefsed mrubah.

  • kar

    If the boycott is effective, they have real power to influence Israeli society. I hope they use their growing power to effect change on major issues (like Shabbas) for which a substantial segment of the non-haredi oopulation will eventually if not immediately thank them and don’t fritter it away and increase resentment on issues such as eg mehadrin seating on planes.

  • Menachem Petrushka

    Number 7

    Mah Inyan zeh etzel har el al

  • Chareidi Leumi

    Since El Al was privatized nearly two years ago, I fail to see what all the fuss is about. There are countless Jewish-owned businesses both here and in America that operate on Shabbos and nobody says a word.

    The desire for El Al to operatate in Shabbos observant mode is a legacy from its state-owned days. This in and of itself is part of the larger irony of the non-Medina-supporting Chareidim demanding that the medina they don’t support behave in the way they demand.

    You want a frum society then the buckle down and behave as part of the society; join the army, pay your taxes, and go to work. And for G-d’s sake stop annoying everyone else with your holier-than-thou attitude.

  • Nachum

    Y’know, in some twisted way, I can see them wanting to see Israel destroyed. For the life of me, I can’t see how Holocaust revisionism fits into the deal. I’m concluding that they are, simply, sick.

    Back on topic: Bravo, Baruch. And Steve, I think it needs to be clarified that the rabbi you were citing was *not* R’ Schoenfeld.

    If only the amount of chillul Shabbos among pillars of the Orthodox community were known, there wouldn’t be so much of a fuss over what was very clearly an aberration on the part of El Al, which had chosen- of its own free will, now that it’s private- to keep not flying on Shabbos and keep serving kosher. You can cite individual examples of them violating both, but those are clearly the exceptions that prove the rule, and threatening them with boycotts will clearly not make them more disposed to continue on this path. For that matter, I’m increasingly tending toward eating the regular El Al food- they put in an effort for kashrus, and have it thrown back in their faces, just like this tempest in a teapot.

    For that matter, if the flight in question was (as it was) a one-time matter, what will any “talks” accomplish? That El Al will promise to keep, well, doing what they do now? I’m sure it’s quite enjoyable to prove to yourself how frum you are by “boycotting” El Al, but why not think for a second what you hope to accomplish?

  • irwin lowi

    I am one of those who wiil lose money this week by not flying ElAl, and changing my tickets at a loss. I asked my Rav and was informed that money is not the issue. I am well aware that service is better, and more accomodating for the religious flyer on continental than ElAl, yet I still feel bad not giving business to a fellow Jew. Just as I feel bad that the Chillul Hashem of a corporation represention Jews is manifest, I would like to see the same Rabbonim come out against the “jews” attending the Holocaust conference. Let me know when it happens.

  • Boruch

    Steve – No measure of disrespect was meant for RFS and I am sorry you read the post that way. Perhaps it’s semantics but the absence of the “a” is significant. Nevertheless, I find their directives contradictory.

  • Steve Brizel

    For those who need further clairification, the rav that I mentioned was neither RFS nor R P Steinberg. However, the rav is a superb rav, talmid chacham and is quite close to RYSE.

  • Steve Brizel

    Irwin-perhaps, if more knew that the “Jews” attending the “Holocaust conference” in Iran previously were funded by Arafat Yimach Shmo vZicro they would condemn them, ban them from our communities and state once for all that they are persona non grata in our shuls, etc. We know that Saddam also funded terrorists. I would not be shocked to read somewhere that Iran paid for the appearance of NK at this conference.

  • Nachum

    “and more accomodating for the religious flyer on continental than ElAl”

    You can’t be serious. El Al keeps Shabbos and Kashrus and tolerates minyanim. How on earth can you say that Continental is “more accomodating for the religious flyer”?

  • Shimon

    I have flown continental and i second that idea it is more accomodating than ELAL. Sure, they have trief food, but most of the orthodox (maybe just chariedi) flyers get the glaat food, which is accesable on both airlines. The filght attendants are much much more relaxed when it comes times to letting the people daven. In fact, they cleared out the back kitchen galley (which was bigger than the elal kithcen) and let the minyan go there for the better part of an hour. OTOH i have been on an elal flight when a god 80% of the passengers were chareidi and the flight attendants response to the minyan forming was to try to ram the food cart thru shmona esrei continuously.

    This should be a wake up call to elal and i am surprised its taken so long

  • Chareidi Lenumi

    ^ the above Chareidi Leumi is not me. I am the blogger who runs chardal.blogspot.com. That commenter above does not represent my views.

  • Charles B. Hall

    Continental stopped offering kosher meals on most of its flights a few years ago, so as far as I am concerned it has a long way to go to satisfy me as an Orthodox traveler. On a recent flight from California back to New York, the security folks confiscated most of my kosher food (when did chummus and whitefish salad become a security risk?) and I had to survive a five hour flight (not counting the three hour delay) on an orange, pretzels, and some potato salad in the non-kosher dinner that happened to have a hechsher.

    That said, it is a lot easier to start an airline than most people realize: There are a lot of unused aircraft available for lease, and lot of laid-off pilots, flight attendants, and ground personnel available for hire. The actual start up capital investment is very low compared to most other businesses. However, most airlines lose money — a lot of it. Are there enough wealthy Orthodox people who are willing to pour money down a black hole for an indefinite period? I’d strongly prefer that El Al not fly on Shabat, but it is now a privately owned business and the owners can do what they want with it. Why didn’t the Orthodox community oppose the privatization?

  • Ahron

    >“I…requested that they refuse to back down to religious extremism in any guise.”

    Religious “extremism”? Huh? Is there really something “extreme” about insisting that the national airline of the Jewish people not violate Shabbat. I don’t think so. I’ll be cooperating with the boycott until I learn enough about the circumstances to learnedly decide one way or another. El Al should realize, though, that many non-Haredim who value Shabbat are also likely to avoid El Al if Shabbat flights were to become normal. As it stands I can’t yet tell if the boycott idea is appropriate or foolish–but because I do value Shabbat I’m going to give the initiators the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

    (But in general, note to self and friends: The “boycott” threat is unveiled way too often and is rather like a comfortable sofa (or calming drug) that distracts us from addressing issues for real. Has anybody thought about doing something really heretical, like setting up Shabbos meals for all of the El Al technicians and employees at Ben Gurion airport?)

    Of course Chareidi Leumi is also correct: There’s something irredemably silly in demanding that an organ of a country you demean and don’t recognize behave the way you demand! For goodness sake, it’s like an angry child who refuses to acknowledge his mother and then demands “but you’re going to give me macaroni, right?!” Come on. If the state of Israel is meaningless and/or terrible then just be consistent with that attitude and ignore the state completely. On the other hand if the state does mean something significant for Jews and its rights and wrongs have implications for Am Yisroel then just admit that and live normally with it instead of pretending that the state is some kind of noxious untouchable Frankenstein that’s just too big and scary to deal with (except, of course, when we really want something from it…)

    Please. If you actually even believed that then you wouldn’t care less about what El Al does or doesn’t do. But reality has a messy way of intruding on manicured ideology.

  • Sarah Lipman

    There are some accusations here of hypocrisy: that ElAl is privatized, and therefore they can do what they want, with the implication that chareidim are “picking” on ElAl, but don’t care about the chillul Shabbos of other businesses.

    Anyone who lives in Israel knows (or should know) that the chareidi community has had a policy for WELL OVER 100 YEARS of not patronizing Jewish-owned businesses that are blatantly mechallel Shabbos (not the owners — the businesses). There are museums, activities, and so on that are open on Shabbos, which are not patronized by those in the know — a boycott, if you will, only one not so well publicized today. [In general, I understand that this doesn't apply to the Jerusalem Zoo, where the keepers are obliged to come and feed the animals on Shabbos anyway, and a semblence of respect is offered to Shabbos by having tickets sold in advance.]

    So the choice to not fly on ElAl if they are mechalel Shabbos for a financial “emergency” is ABSOLUTELY and COMPLETELY consistent (or should be). For one who is chareidi to do otherwise, in fact, would be to sacrifice one’s beliefs in doing what is right in Hashem’s eyes because one feels more safe with ElAl’s security. Translation: trusting in Man more than in Hashem, chas v’shalom.

    Now, I, too, have seen over and over again the attention to security detail on ElAl that cannot be matched by any other airline (rechecking luggage that was checked-through from another airline; security supervision of the ground and cleaning staff; checking items purchased in Duty Free shops; inspecting the gate area for suspicious items…). And I have seen them make a wonderful effort to improve their customer relations, especially with the religious community, over the last few years. I, too, prefer to fly ElAl (as noted above) — for security, to support Jews… lots of reasons. But I do NOT prefer to make a statement through my actions that I trust people more than G-d. (Talk about safety…!)

    Maybe some people shouldn’t be so quick to label other people as “extremists.” One person’s extreme-ism is another persons idealism and consistency.

  • Gary Shuman

    In my world view the purpose of mitzvot is to cement a stronger bond with G-d and the Jewish people. Upon the direction of “Gedolim” my sister in law cancelled her El-Al ticket at a substantial loss of money and bought a new ticket on a German airline for her flight from Tel Aviv to New York.

    Better be served in a German transport by the children and grandchildren of the German Train Staff who became infamous for their roles in executing the Final Soluton, than to be served by a cross section of Jews from Eretz Yisrael. Will this boycott lead to the kiruv rechokim,(repentance of the nonreligious) of those employees of El Al who are not yet Shomrei Shabbos or will it lead to further alienation from Shabbos and Yidishkeit? In my world view one gets more with honey than with a stick.
    El Al is a strategic asset of the State of Israel. To tamper with that is to tamper with the security of all the Jews in the yishuv,(Jews living in the Land of Israel

  • Daati Leumi

    From Sarah,

    “Anyone who lives in Israel knows (or should know) that the chareidi community has had a policy for WELL OVER 100 YEARS of not patronizing Jewish-owned businesses that are blatantly mechallel Shabbos (not the owners—the businesses).”

    Then it’s quite odd that many of the Chareidim who are boycotting El Al are switching their flights to Jewish-owned, Shabbos-flying Israir.

  • Sarah Lipman

    Sorry, “Daati Leumi”, but my backup plan is for Continental. You may know people who have switched to Israir, but I don’t. (Nor do I know whether or not they respect Shabbos; I have never looked into flying Israir.)

    Nobody is no naive as to think that ElAl was ever really “Shomer Shabbos” — they prepare their planes on Shabbos for motzaei Shabbos flights, and rent out their equipment (and more) for Shabbos use of other airlines. This is news to noone. (So much for chareidi “intolerance.”) The issue here is BLATANT chillul Shabbos, and who defines an “emergency” that supercedes kavod Shabbos.

    ElAl maintains that they will continue their overall policy of not flying on Shabbos; good for them. What they don’t want to do is commit to appointing or hiring a Rav with the power of deciding when it is or is not appropriate for them to fly on Shabbos. It’s a matter of principle for them.

    I do understand that people often feel uncomfortable with actions that will not be welcomed or understood by the secular community (this is addressed to many of those who posted comments here). I tend naturally to feel the same way. But standing by one’s principles is worthy of respect more than compromising them — which doesn’t end up pleasing anyone, anyway. [Again, see my comments above regarding BLATANT chillul Shabbos, etc. -- obviously, some of the principles we need to stand by are Ahavas Yisrael and Kiruv Rechokim... but they are not the only ones.]

    Hopefully, this whole mess will be soon resolved amicably, and we will ALL have gained something from it — like how to tolerate, and take into consideration, the sensibilities of others who might not be quite exactly like us.

  • Steve Brizel

    Having flown El Al very recently, I saw many Charedim on the flight. While the security was state of the art, the mehadrin meals that we ordered were certainly under such a hashgacha, but almost as devoid of taste as hospital food.( I leave the issue of whether “mezonos rolls” are Mzonos or require HaMotzie to Poskim) Rather than get into a discussion or verbal disagreement with the flight personnel, I davened Shacharis and Mincha in my seat.
    I did see some minyanim in the rear of the plane and a Chabadnik attempt to have some passengers don Tefilin, which were barely tolerated as was my donning my talis and tefilin. I do agree that El Al’s flight personnel could use some sensitivity training in recognizing that their service of food and Tefilah by passengers in the rear of the plane when the seat belt sign is off can be balanced without endangering the flight or preventing other passengers from being served their meals. Such training would constitute recognition of the legitimate religious excercises of their passengers, as opposed to “religious coercion” in any fashion.

  • Bob Miller

    Those with non-refundable tickets on El Al who support the aims of the boycott may have special circumstances requiring a shaila to their posek. For example, the posek could rule in a specific case that a financial loss for cancellation and reticketing that is beyond their means to absorb is reason to follow their original flight plan.

  • Gary Shuman

    Lvayas Hamais via El Al from Los Angeles:
    For one who adheres to the boycott of El Al as a means to further mitzvah observance is an exception acceptable for an embarkement from Los Angeles to Eretz Yisroel for burial of a mais?
    An onen, (one who lost a close family member before the body is buried) is not obligated to recite Shema. He stops everything to have his mais buried with respect as quickly as practical. El Al’s service from LA is the fastest way going. They even offer nonstop flights. The second quickest is usually Continetal that offers nonstop flights from Newark. The body and the mourners would have to stop in Newark causing a delay. Many times flying El Al is the only way of having a burial not delayed another day. We have a mitzvah of mais mitzvah is this an exception to the El Al boycott or not from LA?
    From New York since Continental flies from Newark which is close unless there is alot of traffic would the halacha be different?