Israeli woman wins suit against El Al for making her move to accommodate misogynistic Orthodox Jews

About damn time! In February of last year I posted about Renee Rabinowitz’s gender discrimination lawsuit against El Al airlines for “asking” her to vacate a seat next to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who objected to sitting next to a woman. Rabinowitz, a retired Israeli psychologist, was upset that she had to move to accommodate religious misogyny. As the Times wrote then:

Ms. Rabinowitz was comfortably settled into her aisle seat in the business-class section on El Al Flight 028 from Newark to Tel Aviv in December when, as she put it, “this rather distinguished-looking man in Hasidic or Haredi garb, I’d guess around 50 or so, shows up.”

The man was assigned the window seat in her row. But, like many ultra-Orthodox male passengers, he did not want to sit next to a woman, seeing even inadvertent contact with the opposite sex as verboten under the strictest interpretation of Jewish law. [JAC: perhaps an infelicitous use of a German word!] Soon, Ms. Rabinowitz said, a flight attendant offered her a “better” seat, up front, closer to first class.

Reluctantly, Ms. Rabinowitz, an impeccably groomed 81-year-old grandmother who walks with a cane because of bad knees, agreed.

“Despite all my accomplishments — and my age is also an accomplishment — I felt minimized,” she recalled in a recent interview in her elegantly appointed apartment in a fashionable neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“For me this is not personal,” Ms. Rabinowitz added. “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?”

For sure. And now her suit against El Al has been settled, as reported in a story in yesterday’s New York Times:  

Rabinowitz asked for 50,000 shekels (about $14,000 US) in damages, and was represented by the Israeli Religious Action Center, a legal and reform organization run by progressive Jews. El Al defended itself by saying it wasn’t discriminating against women because it would also ask a man to move if seated next to an Orthodox woman who objected to male cooties. But that’s still gender discrimination, and the judge awarded Rabinowitz 6500 shekels ($1800). More important, because El Al was found to violate Israel anti-discrimination laws, the airline agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender.

These kinds of requests, and the attempts of airlines to accommodate them, are becoming increasingly common. They’re sexist, no matter which sex objects to the other, and it’s time to stop them. I suspect this ruling will go a long way to that end, though it’s not clear whether U.S. airlines—who have also been guilty of enabling such misogyny—will now change their behavior.

h/t: Greg Mayer


  1. YF
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Mazel tov!

  2. BJ
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I second YF’s mazel tov. You don’t get to dictate people’s actions because of your personal religious beliefs.

  3. C Mawson
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    time to say no to sanctifying male dread and hatred of women and excusing it as ‘religion’, but also necessary to ask deeper questions about the Unconscious.

    • BJ
      Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      As in many religions, Orthodox Jews (who ultimately make up a tiny minority of Jews globally) try to follow their holy texts as closely as possible. This means separating women and men (usually by a curtain) during prayer, not allowing women to wear “promiscuous” clothing and forcing them to cover their hair, staying away from women who aren’t their wives lest they succumb to lust, and other repulsive practices. Thankfully, the vast majority of Jews don’t care a whit about such things, and lead completely normal lives.

      Secularization and reducing the strict following of religious doctrine among those who are religious always inevitably leads to equal treatment of the sexes. One only need look to the most religious countries (almost invariably Muslim theocracies) to see this.

      • C. M.
        Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        When I speak of the Unconscious I am interested in looking beneath the surface of these specific practices. The hair of women is an issue, so I ask what is the unconscious belief about their hair. Is it an unwelcome reminder that they have pubic hair? Do the religious practices serve to concretise the very impulses that they are meant to repress? Does the segregating curtain indicate a need for a partition in the mind? Why is menstruation detested? How can men be helped to fear women less and to give them equal value when religious beliefs are not able to be opened up to understanding

        • sensorrhea
          Posted June 22, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          I have a newspaper clipping from the 1990s in which an Iranian cleric claims that the hair of women emits magical rays that drive men mad.

          I am not joking or exaggerating.

          • Posted June 22, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            It is often said that sexual desire is aroused by characteristics that are rarely seen, e.g. in our culture, nudity is considered erotic, but among tribes where nudity is the standard, it is reportedly adorned girls who arouse males.

            So I can believe that in a culture that hides female hair (or face), some men with too little control may be “driven mad” by it. More noteworthy is that, seeking an explanation, they do not look at themselves.

          • CM
            Posted June 22, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

            Sensorrhea, that is very interesting. It is similar to a documented case of psychotic delusion discussed by Freud, the case of Schreber, which also concerned the phantasy of rays

        • BJ
          Posted June 22, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think the beliefs are unconscious. They have been explicitly explicated.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted June 22, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          Hair is an historic thing. It makes no sense today because most people have hair that is at least clean.

          Back in the day when the religious texts were written hair was normally covered by ordinary people. It was washed and dressed for circumstances like betrothal and marriage ceremonies, when a woman was supposedly at her most desirable, and looked her most attractive. These ceremonies also marked her as belonging to a man.

          Usually the only person who saw a woman’s hair was her husband, just like her naked body.

          Prostitutes displayed their hair.

          Noble women, who were also protected and unobtainable of course, also displayed their hair to enhance their attractions. They (or their lady’s maid) were able to wash and dress it regularly, which other women couldn’t do.

          Only single women wore their hair loose too, making it known they were available.

          Nuns, as most will know, used to shave their heads when they married God as a sign they were no longer available.

          So women’s hair got all tied up in culture in the minds of men with sex. We still have the trappings, but it no longer makes sense.

          It never really made sense, but that’s the reason for the hair obsession. There are cultures where hair is no big deal, others where a woman’s hair is covered in mud on marriage to make her less attractive, therefore less desirable, and also as a sign a man owns her.

  4. Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    $1800? The tiniest slap on the wrist. A small cost of doing business. I hope you’re right, but I don’t expect you will be.

    • Craw
      Posted June 23, 2017 at 12:20 am | Permalink

      He is. Airlines do not want to deal with these requests. It’s hassle and can lose customers. The airline gains nothing by swapping people around like that. They accommodate such requests as it’s a path of least resistance. Now they have a way to say no without incurring the wrath of the rejected requester.
      Plus 1800 isn’t what it cost them and it isn’t what it would cost them next time.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Good for you, Ms. Rabinowitz. Any victory over religious bigotry is a mitzvah.

  6. Martin Knowles
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    If we choose to live with such strict rules about gender relations and want to mingle with the general population, we should expect to be in situations that require us to suspend our rules and respect civil rights. Or else don’t leave home!

    • CM
      Posted June 22, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Well – I am still suggesting that choosing to live with such strictures, even in private, can be opened up to enquiry. It is interesting to think about why strict rules are felt to be necessary, and why it is that they have been enshrined in texts that are then represented as beyond enquiry. The Unconscious knows no boundaries of religion or culture, and all human beings are subject to it, perhaps that is why it’s books are banned or burned in many places

      • Posted June 22, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        What ARE you talking about? It seems (seems) interesting.

        • CM
          Posted June 22, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          If it interests you, fine. If not, fine.

          • Posted June 22, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

            What you are saying, CM, does interest me. I think. But I can’t figure out what it is you are saying. I think I grasp something of it but, well, it’s kind of opaque. You capitalize “Unconscious” as if it has significance WRT to religion but for the life of me I don’t understand why you think it is, why it is capitalized (really…why?) and what it has to do with your thesis.

            Your response to BJ upthread is full of what looks to me like deepities and bafflegab. But I admit I could be wrong. Because I can’t figure out what it is you are saying.

            • Posted June 22, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

              CM appears to be alluding to Freudian theories of the ‘Unconscious.’

              I’ve never seen any evidence that such an entity exists. Sure, there’s unconscious brain activity that regulates heart rate, breathing, etc. but that’s not what Freudians are taking about.

              There about as much evidence for psychosexual phenomena like the id, the ego, the Oedipus complex, and the like, as there is for demonic possession.

              • CM
                Posted June 22, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                You can go on believing that. Just consider though, what do you think your dreams are?

            • BJ
              Posted June 22, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, some of his supposedly unconscious reasons in the thread above were outright loony.

        • CM
          Posted June 22, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

          The idea is that religious practices can be analyzed

          • Posted June 22, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

            Oh. That’s it? That’s what you were saying? Ok. you’re right. Religion can be analyzed. It’s one of the feature of WEIT.

  7. Posted June 22, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the first sentence of Jerry’s response.

    However, I wonder what will become of this – I imagine a lot of people are going to be very much annoyed by it.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 22, 2017 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

      I agree as well–enough to repeat it. About damn time!

      We need to strive for a world in which people are not repressed or limited by other people’s religious beliefs. This is just one more brick in what will hopefully someday be a very imposing wall.

      Or, as I could have posted in another thread today, I’ll respect someone’s religions beliefs when they become worthy of respect. “Women have cooties” does not qualify.

  8. Nell Whiteside
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Good for Renee Rabinowitz!

    These ultra-Religious Jews are still stuck in the bronze age. I wonder how they accommodate flying in an airplane with their regressive beliefs? Women have been around much longer than air travel, yet they are still unable to accept that women are just human beings like them.

    They clearly need to upgrade their brains.

    • CM
      Posted June 22, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      That does miss the point, because it is not their brains that is the issue but their minds and their group mentality. Their unquestioned religious beliefs prevent them from processing frightening beliefs about the nature of women, fears that reside in the Unconscious of human beings from infancy, by the use of thinking. The believers are therefore totally stuck in primitive modes of Being and primitive group mentality, all of which intensifies their anxiety and need to defend against it through action, action which causes, in turn, harm to women and therefore unconscious guilt, and fear of women being vengeful

      • BJ
        Posted June 22, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        Why do all these unconscious beliefs only apply to women? What about all the rest of their crazy beliefs? You only seem to be interested in one very specific thing and the rules surrounding it, and those rules have been written down, along with the reasons why they were made.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 22, 2017 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

      “Older models can’t be upgraded” (line from an old Beetle Bailey cartoon).

  9. Posted June 22, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    More important, because El Al was found to violate Israel anti-discrimination laws, the airline agreed to never again ask a passenger to move seats based on a request that involved gender.

    Quite. It’s the change in future behaviour that matters. $14,000 US isn’t a lot of money for an airline. The pilot probably blows that much on coke.

  10. David Evans
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    “and my age is also an accomplishment”

    I love her.

    • claudia baker
      Posted June 22, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink


  11. rickflick
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m reminded of other Orthodox craziness. Like timers and other Rube Goldbergian tricks to allow use of machines on the Sabbath. Expensive wigs to prevent showing your real hair. There’s where you’ll see not only absurdity but bizarre hypocrisy.
    Such practices do not involve denigration of others, but are great entertainment. Now if the Orthodox could manage to drop the gender bias and leave the fun stuff…

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I so admire this lady for sticking up for herself and she perfectly articulates how it makes me feel too when she says “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?”

    • Craw
      Posted June 23, 2017 at 12:23 am | Permalink

      Would it be OK if she were less educated?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 23, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        No, but you’re missing her point or being deliberately obtuse. She is saying she is more than just her gender. She’s all these things that she’s done in her life. We all identify with things that make us who we are as human beings and for her it was her accomplishments and one of her accomplishments is her education. For someone else it might be that they have kids or take care of pets or have lots of empathy or any other thing that makes them feel they are a unique human. For her it was her age and her education. She isn’t just a collection of lady parts and when this happened to her that is how she felt – as if her humanity was taken away. It is very profound the way she articulates that feeling.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 24, 2017 at 4:17 am | Permalink

          Beautifully put!

  13. Posted June 22, 2017 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Sexism is a crock and deserves no quarter.
    For once a male and his religion can take a hike but unfortunately someone else payed for his misogynistic demand.
    No more for this airline now who’s next?

  14. Posted June 23, 2017 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    When I saw that news elsewhere, I knew you’d love it, JAC. I’m not sure all the men involved are misogynistic, though. Indoctrinated to believe they might fall from favor in the eyes of God, yes, but doing this with hateful intention, maybe not. In that vein, I hope the Israeli court’s stands, and that the men it affects wind up in good conversations with women they would otherwise never have met, in order to open their eyes and ears to the half of society from which they stay relatively cloistered.

  15. Diane G.
    Posted June 23, 2017 at 3:49 am | Permalink


  16. Posted June 23, 2017 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    Good on her! Imagine adhering to such antiquated nonsense whilst sitting in a machine that can traverse half the globe in a number of hours.

    I loved the last paragraph:
    ‘… she was thinking of flying to the United States next winter but that she had not yet decided which airline to use. “I would have no problem flying with El Al,” she said. “But it depends on who has the best deal.”’

    There must be a Yiddish word for that kind of humour no?

  17. Posted June 23, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    They should have openly offered to move her to first class so that she would not have to sit next to someone that made her feel uncomfortable.

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