Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tefillin On Board

Most Jewish people have never heard of the word "phylacteries," and yet according to Google, at current count the word appears in over 800 of today's news articles on the Web. Apparently, a 17-year-old man wrapped in his phylacteries (tefillin in Hebrew) was treated suspiciously on a U.S. Airways plane from NYC headed to Kentucky. In fact the pilot rerouted the aircraft to Philadelphia.

For those who have never heard of tefillin, here's an explanation from "Phylacteries is actually a Greek word for tefillin. Phylacteries loosely translates as 'to guard, or to protect.' In the Torah, they are referenced as something to be worn in recognition of God bringing the children of Israel to Egypt. A set of tefillin includes one for the arm and one for the head of the individual praying. They are typically a set of small cubic leather boxes, painted black and include parchment scrolls inscribed with verses from the Bible. They also have leather straps dyed black to help attach to the observant Jewish individual during prayer."

I jokingly wondered aloud whether the pilot was just looking out for the observant Jewish teen and felt he'd be better served in Philly rather than Kentucky, which has a small Jewish population.

The news story reminded me of a story a friend told me that also involves tefillin and airplane security. He tells the story about a friend of his who took his tefillin on a flight (carry on) several years ago and the security agent saw the odd looking tefillin on the metal detector. He asked what they were and the guy couldn't remember how to say tefillin in English (phylacteries) and said "prophylactics" by accident. The guard started to laugh and let him go through.

The bottom line here is that wearing two black boxes connected to some black leather straps should really not be considered a potential breach of aircraft security. In fact, after hearing about this, I decided to come up with a list of ten Jewish-related things that may actually pose a higher security threat on board an airplane (with apologies to David Letterman):

10. Waving a Lulav (eye poker)
9. Wrapping yourself in a Tallis (whip passengers with those fringes)
8. My Grandmother's Chicken Soup (scalding hot, but it's liquid so its already banned)
7. Wielding a Challah knife (obvious!)
6. Purim Grogger (Metal corners make dangerously sharp weapon)
5. Full Set of the Talmud (heavy enough to bring down an aircraft)
4. Using Jewish Sarcasm (it's deadly!)
3. Giving a discourse on the history of the Jewish legal tradition (will put pilots to sleep)
2. Matzoh Balls (deadly as thrown object)

And the #1 Jewish thing more dangerous than wearing tefillin on a plane is...

1. Singing Shabbat song: "Bim Bom, Bim Bim Bim BOMB!!!"


Rabbi Matthew Carl said...

I am glad that your airplane has its tefillin up above its hairline, rather than just above/between the eyes, as the latter is assur, being a karaitic custom.

Daniel Weiss said...

So funny... My D'var Torah is about Tefillin this week and the security that it provides us. I call it ADT (Always Don Tefillin) - I guess I should add that you should not "don" them on an airplane.

Marc Schlesinger said...

Right after 9/11 flying back from Israel, I took a commuter flight from JFK to DC and they security guards at the gate who searched my carry on gave me a hard time about them.

Arthur said...

The Halachos of T’fillin on Airplanes by Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky:

1. The name for T’fillin in English is “Phylacteries” which come from a Greek root, phylassein, meaning “to protect”. Donning T’fillin is a good omen for the flight. When the Rebbe, z’l, was alive, he once put on his T’fillin on a flight to Los Angeles in which the plane hit a flock of geese two minutes after takeoff. Miraculously, the engines, which took in some 20 geese were not at all damaged. In fact, the result was a delicious foie gras, prepared under rabbinical supervision.

2. Should the flight crash, VeShalom, there will be two additional black boxes for the NTSB – National T’fillin Safety Board. Investigators are likely to find that a faulty Klaf is to blame.

3. Should an “apparent” Jew attempt to put on T’fillin on Shabbes or Yom Tov on the airplane, immediately shoot the terrorist. He’s no Jew. A traditional Jew would know better. The same applies to someone donning T’fillin at night. If no gun is available, the straps from the T’fillin Shel Rosh may be used as an effective garrotte, or choking device.

4. There should be no charge for carrying T’fillin Dakos in your handbag. It costs $36 to bring along Tfillin Gassos, unless you book a separate seat for your T’fillin.

5. Make sure to translate “V’erastich Li Le’olam.. etc.” – I betroth you forever, etc. VERY loudly when the hottest flight attendant passes by (preferably a female flight attendant) The CJLS has a split decision on cases involving male flight attendants.

6. When you wrap the straps around your finger, make sure that the letters T S A stand out clearly.

7. Should your T’fillin Shel Yad start to unravel, start screaming and demand that the pilot descend to the altitude that the airplane was at at the approximate time that you put them on. Only then, should you wrap them tightly once again. B’sha’as Haechak - for example, when they’re starting to play a movie, you may rewrap the T’fillin without returning to the original altitude.

8. On Rosh H.odesh, make sure to take off your T’fillin before the flight attendants come by on their last sweep to pick up trays, newspapers, etc.

9. Should the oxygen mask drop while your T’fillin are on, carefully make sure to put the mask on – BUT check to be certain that the plastic of the mask or the tube does not create a barrier between the T’fillin and your head.

10. Should the T’fillin wearer in question be a female, after she is arrested, make sure to note that she was a CONSERVATIVE woman, and not Orthodox. After all, why should the Orthodox always get the credit for disrupting flights? (Rashi notes that if the pilot chooses to land, that the plane must never be diverted to Detroit. The Sfat Emet explains that the threat from the baggage handlers in Detroit is far greater than it is from the man/woman wearing T’fillin).

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Today's NY Times quoted the boy's rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg of Young Israel of White Plains, who had some good advice for future Jewish travelers wanting to pray in the air: "I would suggest, pray on the plane and put the tefillin on later on," he said. "Pray, and fulfill the ritual later."t

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Jewish Comedian Joel Chasnoff actually uploaded this video of him doing a standup routine about airport security and tefillin a day or two before the tefillin incident on the US Air flight. Check it out here.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

There's a great audio interview with Caleb Leibowitz and his sister Dalia Leibowitz, in addition to their parents Glen and Amy Leibowitz. He explains everything that happened on the flight. He says that from now on he won't put on his tefillin on flights except for when he travels on El Al. The interviewer explains that most airlines have been given guidance about tefillin (phylacteries), but US Air did not have this introduction. The interview is available here.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

The guys over at (Seth & Isaac Galena) came up with their own similar list for The Weekly Bang:

Top Ten New Jewish Items Restricted on Airlines:

10. Aluminum Foiled food, not dangerous, just always a mess
9. That annoying Brooklyn hocker who is always complaining about something irrelevant "Um Excuse me, nu, this chair, does it not go back further?" (finger snapping must be involved)
8. Ninja Throwing stars (i.e., Star of David necklaces)
7. Talis - known to Flight Attendants as the Jihad Kafiya Scarf
6. Shaitel foam heads - ok, we agree, these are freaky
5. Lulav twig swords aka. "naPalms"
4. Children under 3
3. Anyone whose eaten chulent in the past 24 hours
2. Siddur - may lead to Tefillin
1. Awful New York Times Weekend Section folders

Anonymous said...

Your picture has two tefilin shel rosh and no tefillin shel yad. That's plane wrong ;)

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Yes, you are correct Anonymous. I intentionally did that. I'd love to say it was to let the folks in coach think they were at the HEAD of the plane too. However, it was actually because it was easier and quicker to Photoshop that way. Incidentally, it was originally a Rashi tefillah and I Photoshopped it to be a Rabbenu Tam.

By the way, if you really wanted to see a tefillah shel Yad on the plane, you should've given me a HAND. And that's a WRAP!

Anonymous said...

I'm not Jewish but have grown up with many Jewish neighbors and friends and have come to know many of the customs and rituals.

For me, the best and funniest part of this whole airplane drama was the news release they made in Philly following the event. A spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department who was obviously not a Jew spoke to the media, explaining that a young Jewish male who boarded the plane in New York was praying with his "OLFACTORIES." I kid you not. I doubled over in laughter when I watched it on TV and thought it was about the funniest thing I had ever heard. I hope someone saved that clip for posterity.

tefillin rabbi said...

This article was quite humorous, plane and simple!

conference venue said...

It's my first encounter with this Hebrew word. I salute the plane because they are passengers centered.