An elderly woman is suing Israel's national airline for sexism, after she was asked to move seats because a man refused to sit next to her.

81-year-old Renee Rabinowitz, a retired lawyer who escaped the Nazi regime as a child, was about to fly from New York to Tel Aviv on El Al in December when a man dressed in Hasidic or Haredi clothes arrived at her row of seats.

He was assigned the seat next to her, but did not want to sit next to a woman as contact with the opposite sex is forbidden under strict interpretations of Jewish law, the New York Times reported.

A flight attendant offered Ms Rabinowitz a seat in first class, which she agreed to reluctantly.


"Despite all my accomplishments - and my age is also an accomplishment - I felt minimised," she told the New York Times.

When she returned to her original seat to collect her luggage, she confronted the man, who told her "It's in the Torah".

Last month, a lawyer for Israel Religious Action Center wrote to El Al and said Ms Rabinowitz had felt pressured to move and accused the airline of illegal discrimination, demanding 50,000 shekels ($19,416) in compensation.

Instead, the airline offered her a US$200 ($303) discount on her next flight. It insisted there was no gender discrimination and Ms Rabinowitz was not obliged to move.

The New York Times previously reported that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to women was delaying a growing number of flights from the US to Israel.