Senior El Al International Airlines officials and rabbinical representatives have been meeting since Monday evening in an attempt to reconcile the haredi public over the airline's decision to continue flights after the start of Shabbat on Friday evening to catch up with flights delayed due to the workers’ strike. But first representatives on behalf of airline CEO Israel (Izzy) Borovich requested permission from the rabbinical committee for Shabbat to hold the meeting.
Ynet has learned that El Al representatives have been in contact with the committee for several days now. All haredi sectors are represented at the committee.
The committee has been working towards establishing a list of recommendations regarding El Al flights after the latter breached the 'gentlemen's agreement' maintained between the airline and the haredi public until now. The committee of rabbis is expected to hand down their final recommendation on Wednesday.
In the meantime religious publications have announced the formulation of an official announcement on the El Al affair, to be signed by the most revered rabbis. MK Yakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) slammed the government as responsible for the desecration of Shabbat by El Al, and joined fellow UTJ Knesset Member Moshe Gafni by saying his party may propose a no-confidence motion against the government.
El Al's representatives have declined comment on the issue.
A convenient disparity
Interestingly, El Al has been operating a daughter company named Sun D'or since the 1970's, a company that openly flies on Shabbat. The haredi public however decided to treat Sun D'or differently as their crafts do not bear the El Al logo and are therefore considered a separate company. The Halacha, or Jewish law, therefore defines this status as 'private Shabbat desecration.' The haredi public views this as a substantially different offense than public desecration: If a man publicly desecrates Shabbat you cannot drink from wine he has touched. But if a man privately desecrates Shabbat, you may drink from wine he has touched and served.
Haredi journalist Bezalel Kahan explains that as far as the haredi public is concerned, the issue is not a matter of religious coercion. "If tomorrow a new airline was founded, and they said 'we desecrate Shabbat' then we would protest the fact that there is a Jewish company that desecrates Shabbat. But we wouldn't be able to do anything about it. But once we are dealing with a company that has always declared itself as observant of Shabbat, and this company is a government company and declared it would keep observing Shabbat even when it was sold… for them to come now and cheat the public is a betrayal."
"It's not that we want to coerce them into observing Shabbat, but when one third of their clientele is haredim and they don't respect us, we have to say 'this far'.
The affair has been making waves abroad as well, with haredi rabbis in America as well as Israel reportedly refusing to meet people who have arrived via El Al. The rabbis have instructed people to cancel pre-existing tickets. Ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Ne'eman reports numerous cancellations and a drop of dozens of percentages in flight bookings.