I don’t personally live this way but I greatly admire the minimalist lifestyle. In my opinion we own and carry around with us far too many belongings. It’s not just a problem of Emuna (belief) that one won’t take their possessions beyond the grave (though ancient Pharaohs believed otherwise). The more you own – the more you have to worry about maintenance, support, insurance, safety and upkeep of all your stuff. That’s why traveling can be GOOD FOR THE SOUL and why we have a Jewish Travelers Manifesto. Here’s why: Continue reading The Jewish Travelers Manifesto
You know the people who take along a spare for everything they have in their luggage? Extra bottles of soap and deodorant, spare shoe laces, an extra toothbrush and a pile of batteries for the camera, another charger for the phone, all their jewelry, a spare set of prescription glasses…just in case? Then when they return home they realize that the extra weight could have stayed behind because the local stuff is just as good and why shlep it all the way when most of what we worry about never happens?
No Strings Attached
That brings me to the issue of taking a spare set of Tzitzit. Not a full Tallit Katan (the four fringed garment worn under the shirt). Just a set of Tzitzit, the eight fringes/strings. If there’s something that worries me while traveling beyond the Jewish Settlement, it’s that one or more strings on my Tallit Katan will tear and the garment will be Halachicaly disqualified. For those who wear their fringes inside the pants/trousers, the chances are small. But for Yeshivah Style travelers who walk around with their fringes dangling in the wind, getting “ripped off” with no strings attached, is a distinct possibility.
We lived in Amsterdam, Holland twenty-five years ago and everybody rode bicycles. Women, men and children. Old and young. Princes and paupers. One of my biggest concerns (besides for G-d forbid crashing into a tram with two kids on my bike), was getting my Tzitzit caught in the spokes. I always kept a few spare sets of Tzitzit strings at home for the nearly monthly ritual of tying on a new corner of fringes.
For me, it seems logical that if I go on a long trip I’ll take with an extra set of strings. Of course one can just take another Tallit Katan, but why carry extra when you only need the strings? But…most people (even among religious Jews) aren’t that familiar with tying their own fringes. In fact for years I tied my sons’ new Tzitzit until they grew up and learned the technique themselves.
For those who wear a Tallit Katan (inside or out), and want to save space by only carrying the strings, here’s the DIY video. The video deals with one method of tying the fringes. As you can see in the picture at the top, there are many systems for making the knots, but for sake of simplicity here’s the most common method.
I believe in traveling with minimum luggage and fuss, since one can replace most things locally. For some articles though, especially those with religious significance like Tzitzit, it’s better being safe then sorry and take a spare set of fringes.
When traveling abroad, whether for family, community, business or pleasure you probably go with a list of hopes and expectations. If it’s for family you hope to meet someone, improve or repair a relationship or just enjoy their company.
When it’s for business, you hope to meet your contact, close the deal or make some money for yourself or your company. If you go for pleasure then you hope to see the sights, relax, meet people, enjoy the company of your spouse or whatever you have planned.
Whatever reason you travel and even when you’re completely open to new and unexpected situations, there’s always a chance you’ll be disappointed and not get what you wanted. Maybe you missed the plane or your contact wasn’t where you expected. Maybe your family member wasn’t so excited to see you after all and you got into a fight. Maybe the trip didn’t improve your marriage or you didn’t make any money. Whatever it was, at times nothing goes as planned and you return after a long and expensive trip totally devastated and disappointed.
I came across a fascinating piece of inspiration and encouragement in the book Ahalech Be’amitecha (I Will Walk in Your Truth) by the late Rabbi Betzalel Stern. This book deals entirely with the Jewish laws and perspectives on travel. It’s a small-sized book with over 500 packed pages of information and I’m constantly picking up some new and interesting tidbits on Jewish travel.
In the opening pages, Rabbi Stern makes the following remarks:
Every traveler should know that all routes that a person walks or travels on, are decreed from heaven and they are an expression of the Divine Will for a lofty and hidden purpose. And He the Almighty arouses within an individual the will and the heart’s desire to walk or travel on a particular route.
When one is faced with the need to travel, one shouldn’t insist on blocking it from coming to pass.
In other words, every trip comes with two sets of goals; our goals for the trip and God’s goals.
Every person, however simple they are, repairs something in every place they go. After all, they pray there, they eat and bless on the food, and commit acts of holiness wherever they are.
Later on in the book (Ahalech Be’Amitecha Ch. 27:26) Rabbi Stern adds the following words:
If one went on a trip for a specific purpose and despite great effort, work and expense, they didn’t fulfill their goal, they shouldn’t regret the trip nor be depressed. This is because the true purpose of a trip is hidden and it could be that this Divine purpose was fully achieved.
I find these words a comfort and inspiration before leaving on a trip, because no matter what happens, whether you feel your goals were accomplished or not, you can rest assured that there was a deeper meaning to the traveling. Even if its to influence or assist a stranger on the way, there’s always something to make your trip significant.
Rabbi Mordechai Gifter and Travel
The following inspirational travel story happened to the Rosh Yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland, Ohio, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter.
One winter day, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, was at the airport about to embark on a trip to New York. One of his close students was getting married and had sent nine airplane tickets inside the invitation to his wedding. Rabbi Gifter and eight of his students were going to attend the event.
They boarded the aircraft, and just after settling in their seats, the pilot announced over the loudspeakers, that due to a blizzard in New York, they would not be able to land at Kennedy Airport. They would be heading towards Washington National Airport instead, and make their way to New York when they were able to. When they arrived at the Washington airport, Rav Gifter and his students soon realized that they were not going to make it to New York in time for the wedding.
When it was time to pray Maariv, they searched for a private place, and asked a worker who was mopping the floor if he knew of a quiet place for them to pray. The man’s reaction startled them, because he dropped his mop in alarm and it clattered to the floor. He stared at them, and then directed them to a storage room where they could pray undisturbed.
The group commenced their prayers, but instead of leaving, the cleaner stood silently at the door, watching them with a dazed expression on his face. When they had finished, they were astonished to hear him ask, “Why don’t you say Kaddish?” One of the boys explained, “We need a minyan of ten men for Kaddish, and we’re missing one man.” To their surprise, the cleaner responded, “I am a Jew. I can join your group to complete the minyan. Please,” he asked, “let me say the Kaddish.”
Rabbi Gifter helped the man recite the unfamiliar words, and after he had finished, the worker took a deep breath and said, “As you can see, I wasn’t brought up as a practicing Jew, and I barely know anything about Judaism. My father passed away several years ago, and last night he appeared to me in a dream. He said, ‘Tomorrow night is my Yahrtzeit, please say Kaddish for my soul with a minyan of ten Jewish men!’ I cried out, ‘How can I say Kaddish?! I barely know how to say the words! And how will I find a minyan?’ My father said, ‘Don’t worry, I will arrange it for you’.
Now, here you are, exactly nine of you,” continued the worker, his voice full of emotion, “Sent from Heaven so that I can say Kaddish for the benefit of my father’s departed soul!”
Rabbi Gifter then told him their side of the story, how they had only arrived there due to a snow storm in New York. Rav Gifter said, “Look how Hashem runs the world! See how He orchestrated our meeting together? Nine invitations to a wedding, a blizzard in New York, the airplane’s rerouting to Washington National Airport, and missing the wedding— all this happened so that you could say Kaddish for your father!”
No trip goes to waste !
Shabbat or Shabbos?
Last week I reviewed a solution for weekends on the road in the post Shabbat Travel Kit, but the issue which bugged me most while writing, was whether I should write “Shabbat” or “Shabbos”?
Personally I’m more comfortable with Shabbos, also known as the Askenazic pronunciation. That’s what I grew up with and use till today for prayer and Torah study. For day-to-day speech in Israel, I use the Sefardic pronunciation, which is ubiquitous in the country. But when I write posts in English for the English speaker, I’m in a quandary what pronunciation to use.
This past post really put the issue to a test. The product I reviewed is named “The Shabbat Collection”. I can’t change the name of the product, but I personally prefer Shabbos, so I ended off with a mishmash, including writing Shabbat in the post title and Shabbos in the body of the post.
One day I’ll make a firm policy for my posts but in the meantime pardon me if I occasionally switch allegiance from time to time. If you have any advice for me, please write.
This issue brings me to the topic of today’s post. Lets say you follow the Askenazic version and pronunciation and you’re now at the Beth-El Synagogue in Casablanca, Morocco. All the locals are praying Sefardic. What about you?
Or lets say you hail from a very traditional Yemenite family and find yourself praying in the Ohel Jakob Synagogue in Munich, Germany. What about you?
Which tradition do you follow with the pronunciation and the Nusach (version)? Is there a difference if you are praying as one of the congregation in silence or if you are saying Kaddish out loud and they hear you? If you are honored by being the Chazzan (cantor) do you follow your own tradition or the local one?
There are two main opposing factors to take in consideration:
- According to the Zohar there are twelve gates (or windows) in Heaven; one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the prayers of each tribe passes through its own distinct gate. This idea implies that there is no “one size fits all” but rather each tribe or group has their own unique style of prayer. In addition, the verse “V’Al Titosh Torat Imecha” (translation: Do not abandon the Torah of your mother) implies that you may not abandon the traditions of your family.
- The verse “Lo Titgodedu” (translation: Do not make factions). This refers to the prohibition of creating factions among Jews when some practice one law or tradition and others follow a different one, in the same location. The implication is that you must follow local custom for the sake of unity among Jews.
When you pray in a synagogue with a different tradition than yours, you need to balance these two opposing principles of maintaining your own tradition while refraining from negatively impacting Jewish unity.
The Sages from Talmudic times up till the modern age discuss the issue extensively. I’m not sufficiently scholarly to write the Unified Theory for Cross Cultural Prayer, but here are a few simple guidelines to keep you out of trouble on your trip:
- When reciting the silent Shmoneh Esrei, say it according to your own tradition.
- When you are responding to Kedusha, say it according to the local custom.
- If you are asked to be the Chazzan, say the silent Shemoneh Esrei according to your tradition but when you repeat the Shemoneh Esrei out loud do it according to the locals.
- Stick the pronunciation you are used to whether you are praying as a congregant or as a Chazzan. Unless you have a lot of practice switching, it will confuse you and make a mishmash of words.
As a footnote, according to the online Encyclopedia Britannica, Ashkenazim constitute more than 80 percent of all the Jews in the world, vastly outnumbering Sephardic Jews. In the late 20th century, Ashkenazic Jews numbered more than 11 million. In Israel the numbers of Ashkenazim and Sephardim are roughly equal, and the chief rabbinate has both an Ashkenazic and a Sephardic chief rabbi on equal footing.
So the next time you go synagogue hopping with a different tradition, remember – When in Rome, do as the Jewish Romans do (at least in public).
Lonely Prayer at the Summit
Dawn was breaking in Tanzania as the Goldsteins reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain on earth reaching up to 5,895 meters (19,341 ft) above sea-level. Months of planning, training and preparation had gone into this trip and it was well-worth the effort.
As Yossi Goldstein looked to the breathtaking view beyond, he took his Talis and Tefillin out of the backpack and prepared for Shacharis (morning prayers).
Over a week had passed since he had last prayed with a Minyan just before takeoff at Heathrow Airport. It was a miracle that a group of Hassidim on the way to New York were there at the right time. It was Monday and they even had a Sefer Torah to read from.
Since then, Yossi prayed alone three times a day, all the way up the mountain. Shabbos was the hardest for him to pray on his own, though he discovered two more traditional Jews who camped next to him all Shabbos and joined him for Kabalat Shabbat on Friday night.
For a moment, a twinge of guilt swept through his heart. Maybe it was a mistake to miss praying with a Minyan for a whole week just for the thrill of climbing the mountain? No Kaddish, Kedusha, Borechu or Torah Reading in seven days.
On the other hand this was the first time the Goldsteins were on vacation in years as a couple without the kids and Rachel was a firm believer in couple activity. She emphatically claimed it would strengthen their marriage and help them through the challenging times they were undergoing lately, and she was probably right, as usual. Still, he had promised himself years ago when they got married that he would always attend Minyan no matter how hard he worked and now he wasn’t keeping his commitment.
The issue of praying alone without a Minyan, whether in a Synagogue or not, is discussed in depth in the Rabbinical literature. In fact there have been well-known Rabbinic figures who traveled the world collecting funds for their impoverished brethren or cataloging the Jewish communities en route to the Land of Israel to provide a guide where hospitality could be found for Jews traveling to the Holy Land (like Benjamin of Tudela). Some disseminated their books or taught in smaller outlying Jewish communities. There were even Sages who went on self-imposed exile for years for spiritual purification, like Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (The Vilna Gaon).
These Rabbi’s unquestionably prayed with a Minyan when possible, but travel time between stops was longer than today and they prayed alone at the roadside or at the local inns in between remote Jewish communities.
Guidelines for a Lonely Prayer
According to my research the guidelines for praying without a Minyan during travel are as follows:
- If you travel for business or health or any urgent personal need and there won’t be a Minyan on the plane, train or bus, then you may pray on your own while in transit.
- If you are going on vacation purely for pleasure, then you should do your utmost to vacation at a site where there will be a regular Minyan, even if you won’t have a Minyan during the journey to your destination.
- If you’re not sure if there’s a Minyan in your area, try GoDaven.com.
- If you need the vacation for your health, whether physical or emotional, for your relationships or for any important personal need, you may pray on your own for as long as necessary.
- If you don’t have a Synagogue at your present location but can reach a nearby Minyan within 18 minutes walk off your route (960-1152 meters according to different opinions), you should do so.
- If you can reach a Minyan within 72 minutes walking in the direction you are anyways heading (approximately 4 kilometers), you should delay praying till you arrive there. This rule is valid only if you don’t pass the latest Halachic time of day for this particular prayer (morning, afternoon or night).
- When you end off praying on your own, it is preferable to pray together with at least one more Jew, if possible. Some Rabbi’s say that one should try to pray with at least two more people as three people together are like a group prayer, which is definitely better than a solitary person praying alone.
- When you pray on your own, it is a good idea to light a candle as it assists you to focus on the spiritual realm.
- It’s advisable to give a coin to charity before prayer, as this helps the prayer being answered more positively.
In summary, Yossi is correct in making the trip up Kilimanjaro despite it being the cause of a lonely prayer, since the journey will be beneficial for his long-term relationship with Rachel. In addition it was also a good idea on Shabbos for him to say Kabalat Shabbat together with two more Jews.
I’d add to this general Halachic framework that according to an account I heard from an Orthodox Jew who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro a few years ago, praying at the summit was an awe-inspiring and uplifting experience for him. It was a prayer he will never forget as long as he lives.
Vayehi Binsoa (pg. 129, 150-152)
Responsa Shevet Halevi (part 6, chap. 21)
Responsa Tshuvot V’Hanhagot (vol, 2 chap. 63)
Responsa Afarkasta D’Ania (part 4 chap. 372)
Korach and the Earthquake
Since the days of Korach, the mere thought of a major earthquake fills people with dread. Of course Korach’s untimely demise along with his rebellious followers was a unique divine punishment for trying to incite the Jewish people against Moshe’s leadership. A singularity. Hopefully never to occur again.
In the post-Korach era, I’m sure that no normal human being would deliberately be present at an earthquake, whether the earth opens up or not. I doubt that even the dedicated photographers of National Geographic would run after them.
Haiti Earthquake (2010)
Just to get some perspective on the experience, here’s part of a first person account from the horrific 2010 Haiti earthquake when the catastrophe struck millions.
I was four months pregnant, sitting at my desk in the United Nations office in Port-au-Prince, when my world changed. It was nearly 5 p.m., but I was in no rush to leave because my husband, Eduardo, was in Italy, training for a U.N. security job.
I heard a thunderous noise. Then the room was vibrating, and the walls were swinging. I wondered, “Should I hide under the desk? Run outside?” Everything around me was plunging — bookcases, computers. I tried desperately to shield my belly as I, too, fell to the floor and pieces of the ceiling crashed down around me. Then my office-mate grabbed me by the only thing he could reach, my ponytail, and dragged me down the front steps of the building.
Outside, I knelt on all fours on the pavement, which was still heaving. The sun was setting and the air was thick with dust, but I could see that the six-story U.N. building had collapsed. I realized I was listening to tens of thousands of people screaming. It sounded like Armageddon.
(“I Survived Haiti’s Earthquake, Pregnant” By Amelia Shaw as told to Nicole Caccavo Kear from “American Baby”)
Earthquake Reality and Facts
Interestingly enough, earthquakes aren’t rare at all. It is estimated that there are 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world each year. 100,000 of those can be felt, and 100 of them cause damage. If you want to see exactly what’s going on with earthquakes worldwide, check out the U.S. Geological Survey site. They have loads of interesting facts and even a real-time tracker and map (link) for seismic activity. So far today, June 17th, there were 37 recorded quakes over 2.5 magnitude.
Earthquakes are definitely acts of God and mostly caused by rupture of geological faults. But man too shares in the responsibility of causing an earthquake by storing large amounts of water behind a dam (and possibly building an extremely heavy building), drilling and injecting liquid into wells, coal mining and oil drilling, and of course nuclear tests.
Spirituality of an Earthquake
OK, so how does all this relate to the Jewish traveler? What’s the religious perspective and practical to-do list if God forbid you get caught in an earthquake somewhere along one of the oceanic and continental plates where the risk is highest?
Upon witnessing the quake one should make a blessing:
Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam shekocho ugevurato malei olam.
translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, whose power and might fill the world.
Some have the tradition to say a different blessing:
Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam osei ma’asei vereisheet.
translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who reenacts the works of creation.
If one was in physical danger during the earthquake then one should also say Birkat HaGomel after the event, to thank Him for surviving.
When one later returns to the location of the event, them one should make an extra blessing: Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam She’asa Li Nes BaMakom Hazeh
translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has performed for me a miracle at this spot.
Experiencing an earthquake helps bring into focus how the forces of nature are all truly from God and expressions of His majesty. One merely needs to feel the ground shake a bit to know without doubt who is really in charge.
What’s the first thing you do when you are cruising along the canals of Amsterdam and suddenly come face to face with the King of Holland? And what is the second thing you do?
Traveling brings with it the opportunity to fulfill obscure and less commonly known aspects of Halacha (Jewish Law). Only when you leave your comfort zone and familiar surroundings, do you get the chance to stretch your religious boundaries too.
Blessing on Seeing a King
One of the less known Laws is the Blessing that is made upon seeing a King or Queen. We say Baruch Ata A-donai E-loheinu Melekh Ha’Olam Shenatan Mikvodo L’Basar Vadam. (Blessed are You God, King of the universe, who has given of His honor to flesh and blood).
It is interesting to note that this blessing was established not to show respect to a gentile monarch, but rather to make us aware what royal honor is like, so that we’ll be in a better position to appreciate the true divinely given honor of the Messianic King (descendant of King David) at the end of the days.
Just to be politically (and factually) correct, I must emphasize that one makes the blessing for both male and female monarchs, on condition that they are the “ruling” monarch. This means you’ll make a blessing for the queen as long as she’s not merely Mrs. King. Similarly you won’t make the blessing for a man who’s only a Mr. Queen (like Prince Philip husband of Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom).
Furthermore, the blessing is made only once in 30 days, so if you happen to meet the King twice or more in one month (lets say you’re his personal valet or such), you’ll only make the blessing the 1st time you meet. On the other hand if you meet a different monarch in the same month, you can say the blessing again.
In addition, one also says the blessing upon meeting the president of a country, as long as he or she has the power to grant a pardon to a person who has been sentenced to death (Howdy Mr. Obama!). Prime ministers usually don’t count for this (sorry Mr. Netanyahu…).
Monarch Blessing List
I’m not suggesting that you do an around-the-world tour of all the royal families just to keep on saying blessings, but if you can get it done once in a while, it would certainly be nice.
To make things easier for you while planning your grand blessing tour, here is an up-to-date listing of the primary world monarchs. I might have missed out a few minor ones in out-of-the-way 3rd & 4th world countries, but it’s also less likely you’ll meet them.
|Andorra||HE Joan Enric Vives Sicília||2003||Constitutional||Ex officio|
|Andorra||HE François Hollande||2012||Constitutional||Ex officio|
|Antigua and Barbuda||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1981||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Australia||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1952||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Bahamas||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1973||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Bahrain||HM King Hamad ibn Isa||1999||Mixed||Hereditary|
|Barbados||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1966||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Belgium||HM King Philippe||2013||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Belize||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1981||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Bhutan||HM King Jigme Khesar Namgyel||2006||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Brunei||HM Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah||1967||Absolute||Hereditary|
|Cambodia||HM King Norodom Sihamoni||2004||Constitutional||Hereditary and elective|
|Canada||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1952||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Denmark||HM Queen Margrethe II||1972||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Grenada||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1974||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Jamaica||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1962||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Japan||HIM Emperor Akihito||1989||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Jordan||HM King Abdullah II||1999||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Kuwait||HH Emir Sabah al-Ahmad||2006||Constitutional||Hereditary and elective|
|Lesotho||HM King Letsie III||1996||Constitutional||Hereditary and elective|
|Liechtenstein||HSH Prince Hans-Adam II||1989||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Luxembourg||HRH Grand Duke Henri||2000||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Malaysia||HM King Abdul Halim||2011||Constitutional||Hereditary and rotational|
|Monaco||HSH Prince Albert II||2005||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Morocco||HM King Mohammed VI||1999||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Netherlands||HM King Willem-Alexander||2013||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|New Zealand||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1952||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Norway||HM King Harald V||1991||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Oman||HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said||1970||Absolute||Hereditary|
|Papua New Guinea||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1975||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Qatar||HH Emir Tamim bin Hamad||2013||Absolute||Hereditary|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1983||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Saint Lucia||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1979||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1979||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Saudi Arabia||CTHM King Abdullah bin Abdul‘aziz||2005||Absolute||Hereditary and elective|
|Solomon Islands||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1978||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Spain||HM King Juan Carlos I||1975||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Swaziland||HM King Mswati III||1986||Absolute||Hereditary and elective|
|Sweden||HM King Carl XVI Gustaf||1973||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Thailand||HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej||1946||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Tonga||HM King Tupou VI||2012||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Tuvalu||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1978||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|United Arab Emirates||HH President Khalifa bin Zayed||2004||Mixed||Elective and hereditary|
|United Kingdom||HM Queen Elizabeth II||1952||Constitutional||Hereditary|
|Vatican City||HH Pope Francis||2013||Absolute||Ex officio|
As for the questions I asked at the beginning of the post…you first say to them; “Hello Your Majesty !”.
Then you recite the relevant Blessing…
Prayers in the Sky
I’ve always wondered about prayer services on a plane. It’s more common on EL AL flights and occasionally on other airlines too, on flights to and from Israel, when there are a lot of religious Jews on board.
Sometime after dawn, one or two guys with initiative will go from seat to seat to collect a Minyan (a quorum of ten men) for morning prayers. They’ll all gather near the back of the plane, often next to the bathroom, and over the noise of the engines do a “turbo-version” of morning prayers. Most wear a Kipa, black, white and anything in between and there will always be a few non-Kipa wearing traditional Jews, who join in for the experience. Usually someone who needs to say Kaddish will lead the services.
On one hand, it’s an uplifting experience. Sort of a like a spiritual mile-high-club. It’s uncomfortable and noisy, but they feel closer to God, literally and spiritually. They’re up there in the heavens with Talis & Tefillin, struggling to keep balance in a very narrow space with occasional air-pocket jumps in the clouds. It’s a shared experience with Jews from the four corners of the Earth. Right after prayers are completed, you can see the smile on their faces. They’ve done their duty and obligation to the Almighty. Now they are allowed to eat breakfast without qualms and without worrying they might forget to put on Tefillin that day.
Safety and Security Concerns
On the other hand, there’s a down-side too. The stewardesses, who at best are non¬observant Jews, have to struggle to get through the crowd of praying men, to give out the meals and snacks. Anyone including pregnant women and mothers with little kids has difficulty getting to the bathroom at the back. When the prayers reach the Shmoneh Esrei (the standing and silent main section), and one needs to stand still without moving their feet till the end of that section (around 5 minutes long), it’s nearly impossible to get through.
Some stewardesses and passengers take it in good spirits. It part of being a Jew or maybe an expression of the First Amendment allowing free expression of religion. But you often see a flash of irritation on their faces. Free expression of religion should be in your own space on your own time and not at the expense of the freedom of movement of somebody else.
On rare occasions the passengers don’t see it as an irritation but as a threat to public security. Check out the story about the Flying Imams Incident for an extreme example. It can happen to a Jew just as well. See the story in the Daily Mail about an Orthodox Jew – Passengers’ terror as United Airlines flight makes emergency landing after passenger ‘starts PRAYING in the aisle’.
So I wonder. Is it worth while disturbing other people’s peace of mind just so I can connect with God? Does He want me to talk to Him while disturbing others? Maybe God will be just as happy if I pray at my seat without a Minyan and not bother people?
In fact many very senior Rabbi’s support saying one’s prayers in their seat on the plane in order not to disturb the other passengers. Among the Sages supporting this position are the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ohrbach O.B.M.
- If humanly possible find a quiet spot in the airport far from the crowds to pray before or after the flight. In some airports like Frankfurt there are even special prayer rooms.
- If there is no time to pray at the airport or you will miss the Halachic Time for prayer, then it is best to pray at your seat on the flight.
- If you do decide to join the public prayer on board, then be exceptionally careful not to disturb others, even at the expense of stopping in the middle. In any case if the flight attendants tell the passengers to return to their seats, do so immediately.
May your “heavenly” prayers be answered !!