Category Archives: Halacha

Observing Jewish Law and Tradition while traveling

A Shabbat Bus Service?

The Dutch Tram

Shabbat Bus ServiceWhen I was in my twenties, I served for a few years as a synagogue Rabbi in Amsterdam, Holland. It was a beautiful Shul in the center of town, built at the end of the 19th century and the members did everything to keep an active Minyan going week after week. It was according to strictly Orthodox traditions, but the one of the Gabbaim came to morning prayers every Shabbat by public transportation via the tram (trolley, streetcar).

This man was an elderly Jew in his 90’s who survived the Holocaust and lost his family in the camps. He was totally dedicated to the synagogue and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that there might be a Halakhic problem with the tram. After all I was only there for a few short years and he had served the Shul for decades. There was no way he could walk all the way from his house and he definitely wouldn’t give up coming to Shul on Shabbat. It was his entire life and he served faithfully till passing a few years later, but it made me wonder. Was there any Halakhic support to use public transportation on Shabbat?

These memories flash back in my mind when I read the following article:

Continue reading A Shabbat Bus Service?

Ultimate Bug-out Bag For a Jewish Traveler

Bug-Out Bags

bug-out bagIf you plan to travel around the world without stopping in any Jewish communities, you’ll need to be prepared with a Jewish version of a Bug-out Bag.

I first learned about Bug-out Bags from books on surviving disasters and disappearing from your past (see my post – If Jason Bourne Was Jewish).

To quote Wikipedia:

“A Bug-out Bag is a portable kit that contains the items one would require to survive for seventy-two hours, when evacuating from a disaster. The kits are also popular in the survivalism and prepper subcultures. Other names for such a bag are a BOB, 72-hour kit, a grab bag, a battle box, a Personal Emergency Relocation Kits (PERK), a go bag, a GOOD bag (Get Out Of Dodge) or INCHbag (I’m Never Coming Home).”

It occurred to me that every Jew who takes to the road, whether for business, vacation, a disaster G-d forbid, or just to escape for a while from the daily grind, needs a “Jewish Bug-out Bag”. I’m not talking about Kosher food (see my post on eating Kosher anywhere), but about all the other ingredients needed to keep a Jewish lifestyle anywhere you go.

bug-out bag
Jewish Chaplain’s Kit

With a bit of research and experience in the military, I compiled a list of all the materials, products and equipment you’ll need for keeping the Tradition throughout the year. Many of them (like apples and honey for the Rosh Hashanah, a boiled egg for the Seder Plate or even the raw materials for a Succah) aren’t inherently Jewish and you can get them anywhere on the globe.  Some of the list, though (like Tefillin or a Mezuza) need to be purchased at a reliable Jewish supplier.

For your convenience you can download the list as a two page PDF for printing on one double-sided page –  The Ultimate Jewish Traveler’s Checklist. Obviously you won’t need them all for every trip. Just check it out before you leave, compare it to your itinerary and the Jewish calendar, get what won’t be available later and you’re good to go.

The Ultimate Jewish Traveler’s Checklist

Kosher Eating
  • Meat / Milk / Parve stickers
  • Blue/Red/Yellow permanent markers
  • Laws of Kashrut
  • Disposable dishes
  • Flour sifter
  • Magnifying Glass (for bugs)
  • Kosher Symbols List
  • Cup for washing before bread
Prayer, Blessings & Torah Study
  • Siddur (Prayer book)
  • Chumash (Pentateuch)
  • Tefillin
  • Tallit
  • Tallit Katan
  • Tsitsit (spare fringes)
  • Kippa (for men)
  • Snood/hair-covering (for women)
  • Torah Scroll (if there’s a Minyan)
  • Halachic Time Charts (MyZmanim.com)
  • Compass for locating Jerusalem
  • Book of Tehillim (Psalms)
  • Traveler’s Prayer
  • Blessing for candle lighting
  • Birkon (prayer after meals)
  • Jewish Daily Laws & Customs
Shabbat & Festivals
  • Laws of Shabbat
  • Laws of Festivals
  • Candlesticks
  • Candles / oil / wicks
  • Blessing for candle lighting
  • Matches
  • Kiddush / Havdallah cup
  • Wine / Grape juice
  • Challah
  • Challah cover
  • Challah cutting board
  • Challah knife
  • Salt
  • Shabbat hot plate / “Blech”
  • Shabbat “Key Belt”
  • Havdalah spices
  • Havdallah candle
Rosh Hashanah
  • Book of Selichot
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Shofar
  • Honey / Apple / Dates
  • Fish head / Pomegranate
  • New fruit for Blessing
  • Yahrzeit candle
Yom Kippur
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Rubber / cloth shoes
  • Kittel
  • Shofar
  • Yahrzeit candle
Pessach
  • Bedikat Chametz Kit
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Seder Plate
  • Egg / Shank bone / Celery / Potato
  • Marror /Lettuce
  • Charoset (apple /cinnamon/ginger/nuts/wine)
  • Matsah (hand-made)
  • Matsah (machine-made)
  • Kittel
  • Cup for washing at Karpas
  • Yahrzeit candle
Succot
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Lulav / Etrog / Hadas / Arava
  • “Koishiklach” (leaves for tying)
  • Holder for 4 Minim
  • Succah (+ decorations)
  • Aravot for Hoshanah Rabba
  • Yahrzeit candle
Simchat Torah
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Torah Scroll for dancing
  • Flags (for kids)
  • Yahrzeit candle
Shavuot
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Tikun Shavuot
  • Cheese Cake
  • Yahrzeit candle
Channukah
  • Channukah candelabra
  • Channukah candles (oil + wicks)
  • Blessing on candles
  • Ma’oz Tsur Song
  • “Latkes” / “Sufganiot”
Purim
  • Megilat Esther (parchment / printed)
  • “Grogger” (noise-maker)
  • Wine (for festive meal)
  • Hamentaschen (Oznei Haman)
Fast of 9th Av
  • Kinot for 9th Av
  • Rubber / cloth shoes
  • Low chair
House
  • Mezuzah(s)
Sitting Shiva (Mourning)
  • Laws of Mourning
  • Spare shirt/blouse for tearing
  • Rubber / cloth shoes
  • Low chair
  • Yahrzeit candle

Click here for the PDF of The Ultimate Jewish Traveler’s Checklist.

Be prepared!

Jewish Damage Control – Ki Seitse

The Strange Case of the Yefas Toar

This week’s Parasha Ki Seitse opens with a remarkable set of laws about the Yefas To’ar:

Jewish Damage ControlWhen you will go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver them into your hand, and you will capture its captivity; and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife. (Deut. 21:10)

Unbelievable!

The same Torah forbids having relations with any non-Jewish woman (remember the story of Pinchas who killed Zimri for that very reason?) and makes marrying a non-Jewish woman punishable by spiritual death. The same Halocho forbids premarital or extra-marital sex, Negiah or even Yichud, yet permits marrying a gentile woman under war conditions? Bizarre…

There are a number of explanations for this leniency and I’ll start with a story.

If the Torah Demands Something

jewish damage controlWhile living in London, Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky, zt”l, gave a shiur (class) every Friday night to non-religious young people. He invited them into his home and taught them the weekly Torah portion. When it came to this week’s parsha, Ki Seitze, he spent the entire week pondering how to explain the Yefas Toar — the law allowing a Jewish soldier in battle to take and even marry a female non-Jewish captive.

How was he going to put across this seemingly strange concept to his young pupils? Try as he might, he could think of no suitable approach. Friday night arrived, and still no explanation had materialized in his head. So he prayed that Hashem would put the right words into his mouth. Suddenly, during the Friday night meal, it came to him…

With his students seated around the Shabbos table, Rabbi Abramsky remarked, “Before we open the Chumash, I want you to know something: From what we are about to read we will see clearly how the entire Torah is obligatory upon us.”

From this week’s Parsha we learn that the Torah never demands that which is beyond a person’s ability: In a situation where it is impossible to hold back, the Torah permits us to follow our instincts!”

It must be then, that everything else the Torah demands of us is certainly within our capabilities,  within our reach and obligatory upon us all…”
(Peninei Rabbeinu Yechzkel)

I’d like to add a thought within the context of Jewish Traveling.

Kings on the Road

In the introduction to Sefer Ahalech Be’Amitecha by Rav Betzalel Stern zt”l (his monumental work on the laws of travel), I read an interesting explanation to the following verses from the laws of kings and kingship:

And it shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write himself a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them (Deut. 17:18-19).

Rashi comments on the words “a copy of this law” to mean that the king should have two copies of the Torah in his possession; one in the royal treasury and one to carry with him wherever he goes.

Rav Stern zt”l comments that when one is on the road it is natural to seek leniency in the observance of Halacha. If on business and certainly on vacation, the tendency is to be more liberal and even lax in the code of behavior we take for granted at home.

I’m not referring only to severe infractions of Halacha, but even to minor changes in normative Jewish activity, whether by loosening up in dress standards, in what and where we eat, in visiting places one would never dream of doing at home (a mixed beach or non-Jewish houses of worship) and so forth.

Therefor, explained Rav Stern, the king carried with him an auxiliary copy of the Torah during his travels to remind him that the Torah is valid and obligatory wherever he goes. (I would add, if I may, that loosening up a bit on vacation is fine. After all you do want to relax. Otherwise stay home. It’s when one ends off transgressing the basics, then one is in trouble).

Jewish Damage Control

In my opinion, this is the message of the Yefas Toar. The Torah gives us a healthy framework for living wherever we are and whatever we are doing, irrespective if in normative situations or in extreme circumstances like war.

Even when one finds themselves beyond their ability to exert self-control and literally “lose it”, nevertheless they haven’t completely lost their connection to Jewish life and behavior. There’s a possibility of Jewish damage control. Slowing down the decline and getting back to their senses.

With bombs falling around you and bullets whizzing in your ears you’ve fallen in love with a beautiful non-Jewish girl? OK, here are the rules for stabilizing the situation, finding balance and remaining a good Jew.

So when you are traveling and find yourself doing things you might regret, don’t let go of it all. Hold on tight to any Halocho you can keep. Keep Shabbos, eat Kosher, put on Tefillin, wash Netilas Yodayim, say a Brocho before eating. Hold on to whatever you can. Eventually you’ll catch yourself, keep your Jewish identity and come out a stronger and better Jew in the end.

A Jewish Solution to Jet Lag

‘If you find it hard to sleep, stop counting sheep and talk to the shepherd.’  (author unknown)

Jewish Solution to Jet LagGetting enough quality sleep at the right times helps you function well throughout the day. People who are sleep deficient are less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. So when flying long distances through many time-zones, getting an effective rest is critical to be able to function when you land (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute).

The are many tricks to getting a good rest in transit (and I’ve collected a few for you below), but as Jews there are also religious aspects to sleeping on the plane. Combining Halacha with the practical approach is the best Jewish Solution to Jet Lag.

Jewish Solution to Jet Lag

Halacha of Snoozing on Cloud Nine

  • Dozing off and waking every few minutes is not only stressful, it’s also not called sleep by Halachic definition. Only if you sleep 30-45 minutes straight can it be considered sleep (also called “power-naps“). Therefor if you intend to sleep on the plane for more than 30 minutes, it’s nighttime and the stewardesses have extinguished the lights, you can recite Kriyat Shema for the night and also the blessing of Hamapil.
  • If the plane will be landing within the next hour or two and they haven’t extinguished the lights, than its better not to say the blessing of Hamapil, since in anticipation of landing, you might not fall asleep.
  • If you were awake all night and take-off time is after dawn and you intend to go to sleep during daytime, recite the Shema but not Hamapil. Similarly if you went to sleep before nightfall and intend to sleep into the night, you don’t recite Hamapil.
  • If you recited Hamapil before sleep and something disturbed you from dozing off, repeat the Hamapil blessing later on when you go to sleep a second time.
  • In general when you sleep in a bed, you should remove your shoes. The Talmud (Tractate Yuma 78b) states that wearing shoes while sleeping is akin to experiencing the “taste of death” AND  it makes one forget their Torah knowledge. Nevertheless, when sleeping on a plane in a reclining position, there is no need to remove shoes, since this is not normative sleep. If you fly first class though, and have a full-length bed, you should definitely remove your shoes (otherwise why pay so much for you ticket if you’re getting a “lethal doze”).
  • If you were awake all night, you should wash Netilas Yadayim in the morning without a blessing. If you go to the bathroom before morning prayers – you may recite the blessing.
  • If you slept less than 30-45 consecutive minutes you are exempt from washing Netilas Yadayim.
  • It is preferable to wash Netilas Yadayim upon waking, in the kitchenette and not in the bathroom. If only a bathroom faucet is available for washing, then lower the toilet seat before washing and make the blessing outside.
  • When sleeping on an airplane, one normally does not remove their Tallis Kotton. Therefore, when one wakes up no blessing is recited on the Tallis Kotton.
  • If you are sitting at the window or aisle, be careful not to wake your fellow passengers (whether they are Jewish or not). Of course if you need the bathroom or some other urgent need, then you may wake your seat-mate to pass through.

Now that you’ve got the spiritual aspects on target, how do you get enough sleep to enjoy your trip?

Practicalities of Snoozing on Cloud Nine

Working out your on-plane sleeping strategy generally requires a bit of trial and error: Some people happily pop a pill as soon as they take off, and others relish the chance to work for hours on end without interruption. Assuming you’re not keen to get medicinal and you do plan to rest at some point, here’s some strategies.

Plan your Sleep Schedule Based on your Destination

You need to sleep on the plane at the same time you’d be asleep at your destination. If your flight arrives first thing in the morning at your destination, you need to sleep up until you land (or as near as you can manage). If it arrives in the evening, you should avoid sleeping at all. And once you arrive, you need to resist falling to sleep before the proper local time.

Choose the Right Seat

Aim for a window seat or one of the two middle seats in a block of four, since these don’t need anyone else to climb over you when nature calls. The trade-off? As a courtesy, you should try to time your own bathroom trips for when your seatmates are awake.

Try to sit in front of the engines for a quieter flight, as jet noise is sometimes louder next to and behind the engines. Be sure to sit as far away from the bathrooms as possible. Sitting near the lavatory makes you more likely to be woken up by slamming doors, lights, unpleasant odors, and other passengers jostling your seat as they wait in line.

Don’t have too much Luggage under the Seat

Have just the absolute essentials (reading material, wallet) in a cloth bag, with everything else stowed overhead. Keeping a bag under your feet might disturb your sleep.

Can’t sleep? Keep your eyes shut

Even if you can’t sleep, you can rest – leave your eyes shut and lay back. As often as not, you’ll get at least some sleep. Even if you don’t, you’ll be more rested than if you remained fully alert.

Dress Comfortably

Will your flight be hot or cold? It’s impossible to predict, so wear layers. Don’t wear anything tight, as that can restrict your circulation (which is already at risk in a tight airplane seat).

Use a Pillow and Pick it Carefully

Prop a pillow against your back or the wall of the plane; you’ll feel more supported. Not everyone sleeps the same way, though. Are you a stomach, side, or back sleeper? Pick a travel pillow that allows you to most closely copy your normal sleeping style.

Wear An Eye Mask

Invest in a mask that blocks all light but still gives your eyes room to move around during REM cycles.

Wear Noise-Canceling Headphones or Earplugs

Did you know that the absence of noise can prevent you from falling asleep just as much as loud noises can? So, if you always listen to the radio or television as you drift off, try to do the same on a plane. If you prefer to sleep in silence, download a white-noise track to your iPod and invest in some noise-canceling headphones. If you hate sleeping with headphones, earplugs are the way to go.

Listen, don’t Watch

It’s tempting to drown out the noise of other passengers by watching a film or television program. Not a good idea. The blue lights of a TV can affect the quality of sleep (and your soul…). Audio is better than video. If you need a distraction to relax, listen to an audio book or a radio program.

Eat Light and Simple

Eating a big meal can interfere with a good night’s rest. Also, if you’ve ordered a custom meal (like Kosher…), flight attendants will often wake you up to deliver it. Once your meal is there, the trash and leftover food will take up space on your tray table until the attendants come around to collect it.

Skip Caffeine (and Alcohol)

You’ll find it harder to sleep if you have caffeine coursing through your veins, especially on a daytime flight. Skip the temptation to have a cup of coffee or Coke before boarding, and stick to water or juice during the flight.

Minimize consumption of alcohol as it has a greater effect on the body while flying than it does when on the ground.

Free your Feet

Some people slip their shoes off as soon as they get on a plane; others wouldn’t dream of it. Further, there’s the issue of keeping your circulation flowing; going barefoot permits your feet to swell.

Whatever you prefer, wear clean socks. Bare feet don’t offend; stinky feet do. Wear shoes you can slip on and off easily. This way you’re not pulling at shoelaces and flinging elbows mid-flight. On overseas flights, some airlines give you socks that will keep you warm and encourage circulation in your feet.

Buckle Up and on Top

The key is to buckle your seat belt over your blanket or sweater, not under it. That way, the flight attendant can see that you’re buckled up and won’t bug you if there’s turbulence.

Sleep well !

Halachic Sources

  • Ahalech Be’amisecha Ch. 12
  • Vayehi Binsoa Ch. 3
  • Toras Haderech Ch. 13