June 13, 2004

Not everything in life can be decided on the basis of cost-benefit analysis.Once the state no longer holds a majority stake in El Al, should Israel’s national airline expand its operations to seven days a week? Those who raise the matter are interested in changing the status quo, under which El Al’s fleet of aircraft remains grounded on Shabbat and on Jewish holidays.

It is not difficult to understand the motives of those who would wish the airline to operate on Shabbat. Some are driven by financial considerations. Using airplanes slightly less than six full days a week results in an extravagant loss of revenue for an industry that is already suffering from the effects of the recession and the reduction in tourism resulting from the current violence.

There are also those who prefer El Al to other carriers for a variety of reasons and resent the fact that their choice of options is limited by the imposition of a shut-down one day in seven.

There are yet others who are motivated by ideological considerations. Fearful that Israel is edging toward becoming a theocracy, they bristle as soon as there is any hint of religious coercion. For them, Israel should be a country like any other. The operation of its national airline should not be limited simply because a percentage of the country’s population chooses to observe the Sabbath.

However, it is precisely this last argument that is the most unacceptable to many of us. Israel is different. Many of us who chose to build our lives here did so precisely because Israel is different. We don’t want to see government offices open on Shabbat any more than we would want the cafeteria at the Knesset to serve shrimp.

Our schools and universities are closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays and that is as it should be.

The Sabbath is one of the most precious gifts the Jewish people gave to humankind. Everyone deserves at least one day each week to stop being a slave to the economic pressures that control so much of our lives.

Indeed, the Torah tells us that one of the reasons for observing Shabbat is so that we remember that we were slaves in the land of Egypt. Slaves never get a day off.

Some would argue that those who work on Shabbat are compensated by being given another day off in its place. However, getting some free time in the middle of the week when one’s spouse is working and when children are at school can hardly compare with being together as a family.

Flying our planes on Shabbat is not just a question of putting a flight crew to work. There are so many other elements that come into play including technical back-up, refueling, cleaning crews, ground staff, baggage handlers, catering, etc., etc. These people are also entitled to a Shabbat.

One problem with modern Israel is that more and more people work on Shabbat as a growing number of shopping malls and superstores open their doors seven days a week. True, no one is forced to work on Shabbat. However, economic and other pressures can so easily remove the element of free choice.

El Al has not yet made a decision on whether to fly on Shabbat once it goes private.

As the Jerusalem Post’s Tal Muscal reported, quoting an El Al executive: “In the past, internal studies pointed to up to $50m. in annual losses due to the Shabbat ban. Yet let’s not forget that operating seven days a week could add huge costs to the carrier, from additional staff to a possible need for new aircraft. So no one should expect us to immediately run out and start Friday night or Saturday morning flights in the near future.”

That’s encouraging. But in the final analysis, not everything in life can be decided on the basis of cost-benefit analysis or personal convenience. Flying El Al planes on Shabbat is one example where our society, as a Jewish State, should be strong enough to say no.

(Originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post)

More on Blog

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

Read more: