El Al airplane
El Al airplane Photo: Moshe Shai / Flash90

An El Al flight that took off from Paris landed in Israel minutes before the Shemini Atzeret holiday began, forcing passengers to violate the holiday, Behadrei Haredim reported. Among the passengers was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

According to the report, the plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport at 18:04, while the sunset in Tel Aviv was at 18:13 and Jerusalem at 18:16. The flight had been postponed for hours, and El Al notified the passengers that they would be landing close to the onset of the holiday.

El Al spokesperson Aryeh Frenkel defended the move, telling Behadrei Haredim that the passengers decided to stay on the flight despite being aware of the flight's anticipated landing time. "El Al reiterates its commitment not to fly during the Shabbat. The flight arrived at 17:56, while the holiday began at 18:15. All of the passengers were notified in advance of the anticipated landing time," he said.

"El Al has an arrangement with residents of Kfar Chabad, who host Torah observant travelers who have landed on flights close to the start of Shabbat or holidays. We allow them to leave the plane first and leave their luggage at the airport, " Frankel continued.

"In such cases, the rabbi of El Al receives a request and decides how to solve the problem that has arisen, but in this case, the rabbi did not receive any request from a Torah observant Jew. They informed the passengers of the late landing yet they chose not to stay in Paris," Frankel concluded.

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.