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Wednesday, August 4, 1999 Published at 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK

World: Middle East

On a wing and a prayer

Enticement to Orthodox Jews

The European planemaking consortium Airbus is trying to win a lucrative order from El Al, the Israeli state airline, by offering them flying synagogues on the next batch of A340 planes.

Traditionally, El Al has bought from American plane giants Boeing, and they are in the running for El Al's next order for between two and five planes as well.

The two companies have been involved in a tough worldwide battle for years, but now Airbus thinks it is a step ahead.

[ image: El Al is controlled by the Israeli Government]
El Al is controlled by the Israeli Government
Under the passenger deck, where ordinary A340s will have shops, bars or bedrooms, Airbus is proposing to install a synagogue for Orthodox passengers.

Airbus has already presented the idea to El Al management, and "they obviously loved the idea" an Airbus spokesman has been quoted as saying.

'Wrong target group'

But it is not so obvious at all, as Jam Shure, travel editor of the influential Jewish Chronicle newspaper explains.

[ image: An artist's impression of the airborne synagogue]
An artist's impression of the airborne synagogue
Most Jewish passengers would not be interested in using a synagogue on board a plane, Ms Shure says.

Male Jews are required to pray three times a day, and on planes they tend to gather at the front or back to conduct them.

Only memorial prayers (kadish) might require a synagogue of the kind Airbus is proposing.

Rotating Ark

The plans include the Ark, the chest containing the Torah scrolls, as the centrepiece of the prayer room, mounted on rotating platform.

Airbus proposes a gyro compass to make sure that the Ark always points to Jerusalem, as required by Judaic law.

But Jam Shure believes there are also political reasons why the flying synagogue will not win the contract for Airbus. As a state-owned company El Al is now controlled by a Labour-led government under Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

He has vowed to roll back the influence of the religious parties in Israel and may not want to be seen to be making further concessions to the Orthodox.

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