JERUSALEM — Israeli airline employees cannot ask women to change seats to spare a man from having to sit next to them, a Jerusalem court ruled on Wednesday, handing down a groundbreaking decision in a case brought by a woman in her 80s.
Strictly religious Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women, for fear of even inadvertent contact that could be considered immodest, are a growing phenomenon that has caused disruptions and flight delays around the world and prompted protests and social media campaigns. The pressure to switch seats can be particularly acute on El Al, Israel’s national airline. And the issue has become emblematic of a broader battle in Israel over religion and gender in public spaces.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Renee Rabinowitz, now 83, boarded El Al Flight 028, bound for Tel Aviv from Newark in December 2015. She had settled into her aisle seat in the business-class section when the passenger with the window seat showed up: an Orthodox man who complained about sitting next to a woman. A flight attendant asked her to change seats to accommodate him, and she gave in reluctantly.
Ms. Rabinowitz, who escaped the Nazis in Europe as a child, said on Wednesday that she was “exhilarated” by the verdict.
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