El Al flight diverted to Europe after Shabbat scare

Flight from JFK was delayed by snow, leading observant travelers to worry about arriving in Israel after Shabbat's onset.

Tags: Shabbat El Al
Tzvi Lev ,

El Al Plane (file)
El Al Plane (file)
Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

Two EL AL planes that took off late Friday from JFK airport in New York will land in Rome and Athens instead of Ben Gurion Airport, in order to prevent religious and haredi travelers from arriving late to Israel and thus desecrating Shabbat.

Flight LY008 will land at 15:00 in Rome. Flight LY002 will land at 14:45 in Athens.

The planes took off late from New York due to stormy weather. El Al will take care of alternative flights to Israel for all passengers, except those who prefer to stay in Athens or Rome on Shabbat so as not to violate Shabbat, and will be treated by company representatives. EL AL will place planes that will return them to Israel at the end of the Sabbath.

El Al said in a statement that "extreme weather in New York is causing cancellations and delays in hundreds of flights, including El Al flights that left Israel last night. Due to the delays and delays, El Al does not fly on Saturday, the company is forced to land Flight 002 in Athens and Flight 008 in Rome."

"EL AL will take care of alternative flights to Israel for all passengers. In addition, passengers who prefer to stay in Athens or Rome on Shabbat will be treated by representatives of the company and do not worry about returning them to Israel at the end of Shabbat. We apologize for the inconvenience caused to our customers."

El Al has had a thorny relationship with the issue of Shabbat observance in the past. In 1982, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin forbade El Al from flying on Shabbat due to its status as the official airline of Israel. The decision was controversial, yet Begin refused to budge, saying in the Knesset that "Shabbat is one of the loftiest values in all of humanity".

In 2006, haredi Jews boycotted El Al after it allowed several flights to take off on Shabbat to clear a backlog in Miami. After the airline refused to promise that it wouldn't happen again, haredi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv called on Jews to cancel their flights with El Al even if the move meant suffering an economic loss. Hundreds canceled their flights and a month-long boycott commenced, costing El Al an estimated NIS 1 million a day.

El Al eventually apologized and obligated itself not to fly on Shabbat or Jewish holidays, and haredi leaders removed the boycott.