Woman Sues Airline After Being Asked to Move Seats for Man
He said the Torah wouldn't allow him to sit next to a woman
By Michael Harthorne, Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2016 4:15 PM CST
An 81-year-old retired lawyer is suing El Al Airlines after she was asked to change seats when an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man refused to sit next to her.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – An 81-year-old woman who escaped the Nazis in her youth is suing Israel's national airline after she was asked to switch seats because of her gender, the New York Times reports. "I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?” says Renee Rabinowitz, a retired lawyer. The male passenger on the December El Al flight between New York and Jerusalem was an ultra-Orthodox Jew whose only reasoning was "It's in the Torah," she adds. A strict interpretation of Jewish law forbids any contact between unrelated men and women—even by accident. Rabinowitz thinks forcing everyone to abide by that is ridiculous, and she tells Ynet.news that she went public in the hope of setting a legal precedent. “This is behavior that systematically harms women’s dignity, and action must be taken so incidents like this don’t reoccur,” she says. “It’s a principle.”

It's not an isolated incident, with the Forward taking note of this online petition demanding that El Al stop the "discrimination" against female passengers. The Israel Religious Action Center, a liberal advocacy group, has been waiting for the right case to come along in order to sue El Al for discrimination, and it found that case with Rabinowitz. When a flight attendant offered her a new seat, she briefly argued with the other passenger before giving in and moving. The lawsuit claims she felt pressured by the flight attendant. Upon hearing about the lawsuit, El Al offered Rabinowitz a $200 discount on her next flight. They're going to court instead. “The idea of having a [ultra-Orthodox] population is wonderful, as long as they don’t tell me what to do,” Rabinowitz says.