When the head of the Lithuanian sector Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv heard the news, he responded harshly, “El Al holds the most threatened airline in the world, and now they want to mess with the Sabbath?” It should be noted that the Orthodox sector constitutes a large percentage of the El Al’s customers, and the airline generally makes sure to maintain Kashrut and Shabbat.
Following El Al’s decision, Rabbi Elyashiv called an emergency meeting of the rabbinate committee responsible for Shabbat issues late Thursday. The committee includes representatives of all the leading rabbis in the Orthodox sector, including Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, and Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.
Committee chairman, Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf, told Ynet that he and his colleagues began collecting evidence and next week the Council of Torah Sages will meet to discuss the issue. Friday morning Goldknopt said he believed the affair my lead to “a fatal blow to the Orthodox public’s faith in El Al. We viewed it as a company that maintained Jewish values, as and international-Israeli company. We don’t know if Shabbat was maybe broken in the past without our knowledge. Who knows if we’ve been misled for a long long time?”
Other officials explained the essence of the offense from the eyes of an Orthodox believer: “It is known that whoever guards the Sabbath, the Sabbath guards him. The Orthodox public believes that because El Al respects the Sabbath, then God looks out for it, and therefore they use the line.”
Thursday night, during the committee meeting, the members brought up comments made by former deputy CEO of El Al, David Maimon, after a flight left Bangkok for Israel on the Sabbath last February. After the incident raised an uproar in the Orthodox community, Maimon appeared in front of the rabbinate committee to resolve the crisis, and promised it was a one-time incident.
El Al already issued a response Thursday night, saying: “The company has always done its utmost to bring its passengers to their destinations on the planned date. When there are forced delays of El Al flights due to such things as the general strike, El Al’s central concern is and remains bringing passengers to their destinations at the time and date set in advance.
The company will operate (Thursday and Friday) about 70 flights. El Al will provide alternatives for the observant so they need not be concerned about violating the Sabbath."