An El Al plane
An El Al plane David Silverman/Getty Images

A well-known haredi rabbi is threatening to boycott El Al if the carrier does not apologize for causing religious Jews to violate Shabbat last week.

In a letter to El AL, Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin wrote that "if by Sunday evening an apology is not issued, unfortunately, we will have to start preferring other airlines".

Many in the haredi community have been calling to boycott El Al following a flap last Shabbat between the carrier and its observant passengers.

Last Thursday, hundreds of passengers waited at New York City’s JFK airport for El Al Flight LY002, a direct service flight from New York to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

The flight had been scheduled to depart at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, but was delayed after several crew members were late in arriving at the airport – reportedly due to snow storms.

The plane was ultimately boarded, according to a witness, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, and by 9:10 the plane’s doors were closed.

As the hours passed, however, passengers became anxious, asking staff members when the flight would depart, and if it would arrive before the start of the Jewish Sabbath in Israel.

El Al claimed that a number of haredi passengers became violent at this point and attempting to force their way off the plane.

When the plane finally departed, more than five hours after the scheduled departure time, the pilot assured passengers the flight would arrive in Israel before the Sabbath.

During the flight, however, the captain informed passengers that the plane would be stopping in Athens to drop off any passengers who wished to ensure that they did not violate the Sabbath, while secular passengers would continue on to Israel, arriving after the beginning of the Jewish holy day.

Initial reports after the plane landed claimed that religious passengers had “rioted” on the flight after it became clear the plane would not arrive in Israel before the beginning of the Sabbath. News of the alleged violence by religious passengers went viral on social media outlets.

But passengers denied the claims, saying that at no time did any of the roughly 180 religious passengers on board the flight ever use violence or attack the flight crew, and pushed back against allegations haredi passengers had attempted to break into the cockpit.

Rabbi Sorotzkin, who was on the flight, has been negotiating with El Al CEO Gonen Ussishkin over an apology to the passengers. Last week, Ussishkin admitted that no violence had actually occurred. According to Israel Hayom, Usishkin told the rabbi, "I never said that the haredim on the flight attacked anyone. There was no physical violence."

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.

Join our official WhatsApp group