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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Haredi, Modern Orthodox, Conservative & Reform (Part One)

Part One - The Great El-Al Debate

There seems to be something in the air these days. Every now and again disagreements between the varying "religious sectors" in the Jewish community seem to find it necessary to flex muscle and see just how far things can be taken. Sometimes it gets truly ugly, with the argument being debased by hatred and disrespect on both sides. Sometimes it is truly over "life" decisions and force those who care about the "normative path" of Judaism, especially within the Jewish State, to take sides and make a stand. It is always incredibly interesting to watch.

These days there seems to be an absolute orgy of problems that are rearing their ugly heads. Some not so critical on first view some a bit more important, some beyond critical - meaning such decisions effect the life-blood of our nation.

During the past two weeks I have watched, read and counted the numerous discussions, statements and ideas on the following issues with a great deal of interest.

  1. The El-Al Debate (whether El-Al must stick to its status-quo of not operating on the Sabbath or whether it can flex its muscles and disregard the Haredi and Modern Orthodox community)
  2. The decision by the Conservative movement to allow A) Gay Rabbis B) Same sex marriages and endorse such marriages
  3. The Chief Rabbinate in its continuous and constant vigilance in trying to make sure that "converts" are "real" converts to Judaism now is demanding that no conversion outside of Israel be accepted for purposes of the "Law Of Return".
  4. Whether or not to allow "civil" marriages in Israel between Jewish couples and not demand the normative "Ketubah" (Jewish marriage contract). Of course, by definition this will also apply to "civil divorce" as well and not demand the normative "Get" (Jewish writ of divorce). And it is most certainly the divorce and the "Get" that are the center of this argument.
Each and every one of these arguments are important and even critical in their own right. Each can effect and affect the way Israel and world Judaism views itself for years to come. And most certainly #2, #3 and #4 have long lasting consequences upon Judaism and an incredible amount of people.

But be all that as it may, this post Part One of this series will try and bare the facts for both sides in the El-Al debate. I am not starting with this because it is "easier" - but rather because it has elements of many of the factors which must be considered in all the other debates going on as well.

To bring the reader up to date. El-Al is a private airline, (supposedly). It is not run by the State of Israel but it certainly is Israel's National Airline. When it was taken private a few years ago the arrangement that it had for 25 years remained in force. It would not operate on the Sabbath. This is not because El Al is a "religious" airline. From its inception, being the official airline of the State Of Israel and trying to appease all factions, El-Al did two things. It remained "kosher" and it did operate on the Sabbath. When it went private it agreed to maintain these two standards but certainly it has the ability as a private airline to do what it damn well pleases. Or does it?

Well a couple of weeks ago El Al decided to test the "no flying on Sabbath rule" and went up, up and away on the Sabbath. This immediately brought strong condemnation from the Haredi and orthodox world. Indeed these communities were nothing less than incensed at El Al's sudden and flagrant "breaking of the rules". As one Jerusalem Post article put it:
A source in El Al said the airline had already checked the economic feasibility of flying on Shabbat, including the resulting loss of haredi clientele, but "did not reach any conclusive results."

El Al chief executive officer Haim Romano said the company would continue its policy not to fly on Shabbat and with it the status quo of 25 years.
The simple fact remains is that according to all reports, almost 30% of El Al's loyal and repeat passengers come from the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) sector. Personally I am willing to bet that 30% is closer to 40% if the numbers included traditional and modern orthodox sectors as well. And simply put if El Al flies on Sabbath and serves non-kosher meals, then those who give this airline loyalty because after all it is EL AL - no longer have a reason to do so in their eyes because hell, then why not fly Continental and get better service, better seats, and much better kosher food.

In this day and age I would like to know what "private" airline can afford to piss off and anger 10% of its loyal customers let alone 30%? What savvy businessman suddenly thought it is time to rid the airline of Haredi Jewish passengers, with tons of kids (and you pay for kids tickets as well)? What genius of the bottom line thought El Al could recover without government help from loosing 30% of its clientèle?

Oh yes. This is religious coercion. I totally agree. Economic religious coercion. Simple and straightforward. You want to sell meat to the Haredi community you make damn well sure the Rabbi that signs your "Hashgacha" kosher certificate is someone accepted by them. You want to keep 30% - let me repeat that number again - 30% - of your loyal and returning customers, then you make damn well sure you cater to their needs as well.

Sure El Al sells something no other airline on the face of this earth can sell. It sells the best security and the name of being the most secure airline on this planet. Yes that is a big plus and an important point to consider.

And not for a moment should you ever fall for that line that El Al is looking for an economically feasible way to fly on the Sabbath. This has nothing to do with economics. It has nothing to do with pleasing your customers. This is pure and simple, once again the need of both communities to flex their muscles and see who is stronger.

Just take a look at this comment posted on Talkbacks to the above article in the Jerusalem Post. (The spelling mistakes are left in - on purpose.) This is simply a rant of hate and it is not the only one. (123 is the talkback number.)
123. An American Reform Jew speaks
12/12/2006 01:58

PLEASE DO! The ultra orthadox are a pain for everyone--modern Jews and non jews alike. No one likes them anyway! Please get your own airline and leave the rest of us alone. Ordering an airline company to suspend operations on Friday because it violates YOUR belief? rediculous. As usual and expected from our annoying orthadox peers.
Though the person who made the above comment should learn how to spell or at the very least use a spell-checker, it is clear just what this argument is being seen as. Nothing to do with economics. Everything to do with Jew hating Jew. This is what my father always called "Jewish anti-Semitism". And it is the worst type of self hatred I can think of. And that dear people is the most disgusting presentation I can think of.

But I have just one question for the person who put this comment up? Do 30% of reform Jews even visit Israel? And among the paltry numbers that do come, do 30% feel such a loyalty to El Al that they will only fly that airline? And does the Reform movement have the possibility or power of issuing one centralized statement to all Reform Jews all over the world to fly or not to fly El Al? How many reform Jews filled the Nefesh-To-Nefesh planes? How many in distinction to "orthodox" Jews who would not dream of flying El Al if a real boycott was sanctioned? And finally. Yes. Why the hell should El Al not stop flying on Friday night and for the Sabbath? If its base of customers, 30% of them, say that is what they should do, they should damn well listen to them. I would think again and again before I was going to piss off such a large paying customer base.

So El Al wants to show that the Haredi community is forcing them into "religious coercion". And the Haredi community is now threatening to set up their own air line and boycott El Al. We are getting backed into a corner here folks. With one caveat.

There is not a sane person in economics that will ever tell you to ignore you loyal customers if you want to be a viable company. And there is not a sane person in Israel that will tell you to not take seriously a boycott by the Haredi community. When the Rabbis that lead this community decide something should be boycotted, that is a death knell for that product or company.

Like it or not, agree with it or not, the Haredi community is huge, strong and has a great deal of economic clout. Ignore them at your own risk.

So El Al you are a private airline. And personally I fly Continental whenever I can simply because I find El Al to be a horrible airline. And being private you can do whatever you damn well please. And if some genius of a CFO is telling you that you can afford to ignore 30% of your loyal passengers, well I would think twice. Indeed, the first thing I would do as a private company, is fire the CFO for being drunk and insane. Then I would back off the high ledge I put El Al upon and go back to a status quo. Not because you won't loose money. You will loose money for not flying on Saturday. I agree. But economically, there is no way in hell that you are loosing more money for not flying on Saturday, then by loosing 30% of your passengers.

And though I am not Haredi, I would if I was in that community, beg to stop with the threats of opening another airline. The point has been made. The community knows exactly how much muscle to flex and when to flex it. But get off the ledge as well. It will serve no one for a new airline to open up. It will only be greeted with derision and force an incredible amount of hatred to come to the fore between Jew and Jew. This is not good for anyone.

However, if El Al does force the issue, and insists on taking to the sky on the Sabbath to show its independence and religious pluralism, it is going to be the Israeli tax payers that will pay in the end. And I pay enough taxes these days, tyvm. Because El Al you are about as private an airline as I am the Queen of England. And you damn well know it too.

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