My Father’s 3 Jewish Travel Laws

My late father wasn’t a big traveler. He did a lot of local driving and occasionally flew overseas, but he had his own three Jewish Travel Laws that he stuck to at all costs.

  1. He always took his Tefillin with him when he traveled out-of-town.
  2. On Fridays he always arrived at his driving destination with plenty of time to spare before Shabbat.
  3. He never flew on Friday.

Take your Tefillin with you out-of-town

For many years I followed his lead and was careful to have my Tefillin with me when going out-of-town. If I slept over it was obvious, but sticking to it even when I’d return home the same night was a different matter.

At some point I decided to let go of this tradition. To my defense I must claim that the reality I live in is quite different from my father’s. He lived, worked, connected with friends and family all in the same city. Going out-of-town was a big thing. So even if he knew he’d return the same evening, but who could tell if something unexpected would come up forcing him to stay overnight. Staying in a different town meant he needed his Tefillin in the morning. He would never rely upon borrowing a pair of Tefillin in the local synagogue. Even if he was told they were a good pair.

I agree with him on that point and don’t like borrowing Tefillin unless absolutely necessary, with no other options. And even then only if I trusted the owner to own a good quality strictly “Kosher” set.

But I don’t take my Tefillin with me when going out-of-town unless I plan to sleep over. In my world I travel out-of-town on a daily basis (and sometimes more than once a day). My work, most of my family, friends and acquaintances, shopping and recreation are all out-of-town. Even if I fly locally in the morning and return in the late afternoon, I leave my Tefillin at home. Taking my Tefillin with when I go out-of-town would mean carrying them with me every day, always, wherever I go. It would mean needing a place to store them respectfully when I go to a public bathroom. Very very inconvenient and I think it is the correct decision. It’s a different and more complex world today then in my father’s time.

Arrive early on Friday

Like my father I’m very worried about traveling on Friday. I like to leave early and arrive early. I constantly nag my kids about it and they say “Don’t worry, it’ll be alright”. But I worry. Maybe they will have a flat tire on the way. Maybe the car will overheat. Maybe there will be a pile-up on the highway. Maybe there will be a police roadblock. Maybe…worst case scenarios….

Even though most of these things don’t happen but sometimes they do. Like you hear about the big accident near the Catskills which forced religious families to walk for miles or transgress the Shabbat because they had little kids or elderly parents. You hear about the family that got stuck and had to spend Shabbat in a non-Jewish home without any resources. So I leave early and get to my destination ASAP.

Avoid flying on Fridays

This one was a big no-no for my father and I learned the hard way how right he was when I transgressed this rule once (and hopefully for the last time).

I had flown with my family overseas for two weeks. We had left in the middle of the week with plenty of time before Shabbat. It wasn’t a vacation trip. No fun and games. Very little touring. It was an important trip for us.  Getting back home as soon as possible was also important and when we discovered that the only way we could be home for Shabbat was by flying on Thursday night and arriving on Friday, we decided to take it. I hadn’t forgotten my father’s principles and it was with much worry and concern when we made the decision to arrive on Friday (never mind taking off on Friday). There weren’t any alternatives at the moment.

The flight went well and we landed on Friday morning on time and got home by 10-11 AM.

All’s well that ends well? Not exactly…

We had been up for 24 hours and hadn’t slept on the plane. I didn’t feel comfortable saying morning prayers with my Tefillin on the flight (it wasn’t EL AL) and intended to pray the moment we arrived at home. As they say, “Man plans and God laughs”, the moment I arrived through the door I got a call to an urgent meeting which kept me till noon. Got home again and literally conked out on the bed with my clothes on, while the rest of the family was snoring deeply.

A few minutes before nightfall we woke in a panic. There was barely enough time to get the food on the fire for Shabbat and light candles. We made it by a hairbreadth of violating the Shabbat. Never mind showering or such.

Then it hit me. I hadn’t said morning prayers. Nor afternoon prayers. Worst of all I hadn’t put on Tefillin that day. The only time in my life that I had missed it. Hopefully the last time…

Lesson learned. Flying isn’t good on Fridays….

2 thoughts on “My Father’s 3 Jewish Travel Laws”

  1. Great mazzal that Jewish men do not have to put on an extra pair of Tefilin (Phylacteries) after each day that we did not put them on, unlike Jewish women who need to light an extra candle for the rest of their lives after every time that they did not light Shabbos candles. 😀

    1. True, but I’m still left with a mental “scar” for the rest of my life and I wrote about it as a sort of atonement to help others avoid similar situations.

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