Calls For Better Training, Greater Understanding, After Plane Diversion Because of Tefillin

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tefillin1After the U.S. Airways Express flight from New York to Louisville was diverted yesterday because a frum 17-year-old wore his tefillin on the plane, prompting concern on the part of a flight attendant who was unfamiliar with this practice, Agudas Yisroel of America issued the following statement to the general media:

Tefillin, or phylacteries, are black leather boxes containing small sacred scrolls. They are tied to the arm and around the head with black leather straps during morning prayers. For several years, Agudath Israel of America has worked closely with TSA to sensitize the agency to the various religious objects and practices of Orthodox Jews; this effort has been led by Rabbi Abba Cohen, Esq., Agudath Israel’s Washington Director and Counsel.

Agudath Israel has also reached out to airlines in America and throughout the world to promote a greater understanding of Jewish prayer rituals. Agudath Israel has advocated for, and continues to support, enhanced training for flight attendants. “To facilitate training and awareness, we recently created a brochure explaining Orthodox customs for individual airlines, and are happy to share this brochure with other airlines,” said Rabbi A. D. Motzen, Agudath Israel’s Ohio regional director, who oversaw that project.

“At the same time,” said Rabbi Mark Kalish, national director of government affairs for Agudath Israel of America, “we have also cautioned members of our own community to understand that many citizens may not be familiar with Jewish prayer rituals, and that they might consider explaining the practice to individuals in authority before boarding planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transit.”

Agudath Israel of America is fully aware of the challenges we face as a nation regarding the need to prevent terrorism and exercise extreme caution, but we hope that this incident will raise awareness among airline leaders, the traveling public, and members of our own community about the need for greater training and a higher level of understanding of Orthodox practices. An educated public, truly, is a safer public.

{Noam Newscenter}


  1. exactly,
    moe training should be given in yeshivas to teach that in certain circumstances it is more appropriate to daven without tefillin and put them on later or for mincha than to possibly cause such instances.

  2. To # 1: it’s easy to say that maybe he could have done it before he boarded/when he arrived/not at all. But your argument is laughable on its face. Thousands of frum yidden travel every day and plenty of them daven with their tefillin on the plane and yet until yesterday this had NEVER happened. In fact, airline personnel are generally trained to recognize these things, especially those operating out of New York. This dumb flight attendant was either not properly trained or she didn’t pay much attention while she was being trained in which case I would not want to be flying on her plane anyway.

  3. In April of 2007, I had to travel from Orlando on a 6:30 AM flight and could not daven before the flight. I spoke to a flight attendant and asked where I can stand and pray as I would be wearing my tallis and tefillin. She told me where I can stand so that I would not inconvenience the other passengers and flight attendants. A little forethought would help instead of complaining afterwards.

  4. guess which word generated more searches today on Google than any other – you guessed it – TEFILLIN!! I only wonder what would happen if somebody would try lighting a Menorah next Chanuka while on a plane!!

  5. # 4 you have no right whatsoever to stand for a lengthy time on an airplane .Ask any Rabbinic authority and they will tell you that you may(should) sit.

  6. It is clear that the young man in this
    episode acted out of sincere religious devotion.

    In an ideal world his actions would not
    hsve elicited such an adverse reaction. But
    as Agudath Israel spokesman Rabbi Kalish pointed out, most people are unfamiliar with
    our religious rituals. Thus, it is prudent to
    inform flight attendants and other security
    personnel of the significance of donning
    Tefillin to avoid a misunderstanding. (Given
    heightened tension due to terrorism, security
    officials are expected to focus on unusual
    behavior. Passengers must therefore expect
    to put up with such inconveniences. Better
    safe than sorry.)

    As far as “davening Shmonah Esrai”
    in the aisles on board a plane, I
    think common sense is called for. It is imperative to cooperate with flight personnel.

    The worst case scenario would be that
    you would recite your prayers seated. If recited properly, HASHEM will accept your prayers. But your praying should not disrupt
    protocol on a passenger plane. (You don’t
    want your insistence on formalized praying
    to turn into a “Khillul Hashem”.)

    Given the current reality, anyone
    planning to organize a Minyan on a plane
    should notify the crew in advance. Standing
    in the aisle—especially ten men standing in
    an aisle while a plane is airborne would apparently inconvenience other people in the
    vicinity. Derech Eretz—proper social awareness—is an essential part of our Torah.


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