What a riot! Ultra-Orthodox Jews kick off on an an El Al flight

ONE does not associate fun with the ultra-Orthodox in Judaism. Funny hats, funny hairstyles and beards, and perpetually pregnant wives, yes. But fun? No!

Which is rather odd, considering that a key figure in Hasidic Jewish life, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) “placed great stress on living with faith, simplicity, and joy”. He encouraged his followers “to clap, sing and dance during or after their prayers,”according to his Wikipedia entry.

The Rabbi is venerated by the ultra-Orthodox, and once a year thousands converge on Uman, in the Ukraine, to visit his grave.

But ultra-Orthodox passengers on an El Al flight to Kiev this weekend showed no signs of joy when screens unfolded on the plane in preparation for the screening of a film. In fact, they were as mad as hell and started “a serious commotion” because they had been told that no films would be shown during the flight, according to

When the screens began to unfold the ultra-Orthodox men began going wild. It was a pretty frightening sight. According to witnesses, the men began shouting and physically trying to prevent the movie screens from unfolding.

Haaretz adds:

This is not the first time that El Al is faced with problems with ultra-Orthodox people on board flights to religious sites. In 2002, a flight crew had to prevent an ultra-Orthodox passenger, flying from Israel to Britain, from wrapping himself in plastic bags. The pilot was forced to return to Ben Gurion International airport in order to remove the passenger from the plane. The passenger, a Cohen, wrapped himself in plastic bags for fear that the plane’s route would pass through the air above the Holon cemetery and he would consequently become impure.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, the leader of the Lithuanian Haredi community in Israel, published a halakhic ruling in the past stipulating that Cohens mustn’t fly in this plane because they are prohibited from flying over a cemetery. Later, Rabbi Eliashiv found a solution to this issue, ruling that wrapping oneself in thick plastic bags while the plane crossed over the cemetery is permissible.

Anyway, why on earth were these ultra-Orthodox Jews flying El Al?

In 2006 the two Israeli rabbis signed an agreement ordering the religious community to boycott the airline because it had operated on the Sabbath after the company assisted passengers stuck overseas during a strike at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Hat tip to Michael Cohen, who alerted us to this report

2 responses to “What a riot! Ultra-Orthodox Jews kick off on an an El Al flight”

  1. Karen says:

    I’m obviously missing some context here. What does being a Cohen (presumably someone from a family with that surname) have to do with all this? Are Einsteins, Feynmans, and Sagans similarly affected? (Surnames of some of my heroes who happen to be Jewish.) And why mustn’t such a person fly over a cemetery? It’s probably the locality where people are least likely to complain about the aircraft noise. Do not unto others, and all that… 🙂

    Furthermore, don’t religions that fuss about “impurity” have rules for purifying people?

    I’m not ranting and I apologize in advance if this comment offends some people. I’m a culturally Catholic atheist, and I really am trying to understand this plastic-bag gentleman’s concerns.

  2. Michael Cohen says:

    Hi Karen–Cohen or Kohanim are meant to be the direct descendants of the biblical Aaron they were high priests that performed the sacrificial offerings at the time of the temple in Jerusalem. Many but not all Jews with the name Cohen are meant to be descendants. So I suppose that makes me an Atheistic high priest. You can find out more hear

    Michael Cohen