El Al, the national airline of Israel, is in hot water after a female passenger was asked to switch her seat because an Orthodox Jewish man did not want to sit next to her lest he inadvertently make physical contact with a member of the opposite sex. In the strictest interpretation of Jewish law, men are prohibited from coming into physical contact with a member the opposite sex. Because the two were in the tight quarters of an airplane, the male passenger refused to sit next to the 81-year-old Renee Rabinowitz.
Despite the fact that gender segregation has been frowned upon by the Israeli government, the practice still takes place, and El Al has had many cases regarding it. USA Today reported Feb. 28 that Rabinowitz is suing the national carrier of Israel in the hopes that a legal precedent condemning El Al’s seat switching practices be set.
“Despite all my accomplishments — and my age is also an accomplishment — I felt minimized,” Rabinowitz told the New York Times. “For me this is not personal. It is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself, here I am, an older woman, educated, I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?”
A spokesperson for El Al responded to the Rabinowitz case in a statement that read: “In the cabin, the attendants receive different and varied requests and they try to assist as much as possible, the goal being to have the plane take off on time and for all the passengers to arrive at their destination as scheduled.”
El Al offered Rabinowitz a $200 credit towards her next flight with the airline, but that won’t do the trick, especially considering her representation demanded $13,000 as compensation for the airline’s action. “The idea of having a [ultra-Orthodox] population is wonderful, as long as they don’t tell me what to do,” Rabinowitz said. Now, the courts will decide.