Cleaning up the flight from Israel

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"Smoking or no-smoking, sir? Modest or immodest?" Booking an airline ticket to or from Israel may become a complex business if a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis gets its way.

The rabbis petitioned airlines in Israel yesterday to provide "modest" flights for religious Jews in which no movies would be shown and only male flight attendants would serve male passengers.

The demand, published in several religious newspapers, may deepen tensions between secular and religious Israelis, which have already produced pitched battles in the streets of Jerusalem this year.

The rabbis, including the former chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, warned that ultra-religious Jews would boycott air travel unless their demands were met.

They complained that in-flight movies displayed "immodest images . . . in the face of a holy nation . . . This is a holy and sensitive call on airlines to arrange a possibility of flying on their planes without breaking modesty or holiness."

Under ultra-orthodox readings of Jewish law, it is forbidden to look on the nakedness of others. It is also forbidden for men to be served by women other than their wives or daughters. The rabbis said that they would rule in the future which airlines, if any, were modest enough to accommodate their followers

The Israeli airline El Al already provides kosher meals and does not fly on the Sabbath. Its spokesman, Nachman Klieman, said that the company made every effort to meet the requirements of the strictest interpretations of Jewish law. "When very well known rabbis fly with us, they are served only by male stewards," Mr Klieman said.

He said the airline had no intention of banning all movies but he pointed out that advances in technology may soon solve the problem. On the new 747-400s, each passenger has a screen above the seat, which could be switched on or off.