Israeli court rules in favor of woman, 83, in groundbreaking sexism case

Renee Rabinowitz (Uriel Sinai/The New York Times)

A court in Jerusalem issued a landmark decision on Wednesday, ruling that women aboard airplanes cannot be asked by airline staff to change seats so ultra orthodox Jewish men can avoid sitting next to them, The New York Times reported. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by 83-year-old Renee Rabinowitz, who, aboard a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Tel Aviv in 2015, was asked by El Al flight staff to change seats so an ultra orthodox man wouldn’t have to sit next to her. Some strictly religious Jewish men, as a matter of policy, refuse to sit next to women they don’t know out of a fear that even incidental contact between himself and a strange woman would be indecent.

Rabinowitz reluctantly agreed to change seats during the 2015 incident, and she’s hardly the only woman who’s found herself in such an uncomfortable position. Indeed, the issue has been snowballing in recent years into an all-out war over how gender and religion clash in public spaces. Having felt “minimized” by the experience, Rabinowitz, who escaped the Nazis as a child, went on to become a prestigious attorney and earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology, dug in for a fight against the airline.

With Wednesday’s ruling, Rabinowitz said she felt a sense of vindication. Monetary damages — Rabinowitz was awarded $1,800 — were not her motivation in filing the lawsuit, she said, adding that she had praise for the female judge who presided over the case.

“I was sitting in a bible class, which wasn’t so great for the teacher because my phone kept ringing,” Rabinowitz said. “Anyway, I’m thrilled because the judge understood the issue. She realized it is not a question of money. They awarded a very small sum. She realized it’s a matter of El Al changing its policy, which they have been ordered to do.”

For its part, El Al denied it had acted in a discriminatory manner and actually has mounted a rather reasonable argument about how this outcome could complicate the airline’s customer service efforts.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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