El Al doesn’t fly on Shabbat, from sundown Friday evening until sundown Saturday evening, as a religious observance. However they will operate from both the New York and Bangkok this Saturday to assist in bringing reservists back to Israel as part of the country’s call up of 360,000 (4% of their population).
El Al will not be charging for these flights. Instead, the cost “will be borne by El Al and large US financial institutions” according to the airline.
- El Al had been charging for its flights. One man paid for 250 passengers out of New York JFK as a contribution to the war effort.
- As a general matter El Al stopped flying on the Sabbath in 1982, in an agreement with conservative religious parties.
- El Al is one of the few remaining airlines operating in and out of Tel Aviv. While its Boeing 777 and 737 aircraft have anti-missile (“E-MUSIC”) technology, its Boeing 787s have not been equipped with this functionality.
El Al consulted with rabbis who concluded, consistent with Jewish law, that the preservation of life trumps other religious laws. Growing up in a conservative household, my own training was that health considerations did as well (for instance, with regard to fasting).
At this point I have two major concerns with the Israeli response to attacks by Hamas, and also now by Hezbollah.
- It’s unclear what success looks like. If they crush Hamas, what rises in its place? Does Israel find itself having to govern Gaza?
- There’s a debatable line between self-defense, including deterrence, and vengeance. There’s tremendous justified anger over the massacring of Israeli civilians that’s taken place. But vengeance is proscribed by Jewish law. I don’t claim to know the right answer on drawing this line, but some of the rhetoric at least seems to cross it.
Under normal circumstances El Al doesn’t operate on the Sabbath, even diverting to avoid remaining in the air. This comes at significant cost to the airline, since their capital costs are the same whether they’re using their aircraft or not and they cede revenue to other carriers during that time.