Friday, January 22, 2010

Sometimes a Box is Just a Box, Part II

Five years ago, a colleague of mine told me a story of being frightened on a train when she saw a man strap some boxes to himself and begin swaying back and forth. She reported it to the conductor, who reassured her that it was just "a Jewish prayer thing." The man was praying while wearing tefillin, a standard part of weekday morning prayers. See: http://www.jewfaq.org/signs.htm#Tefillin.

Unfortunately, the pilot and flight crew of a U.S. Airways Express flight from New York to Louisville yesterday was not as well-versed in Jewish tradition as the conductor of that train. When a 17-year-old boy laid tefillin and began davening shacharit (reciting morning prayers), the pilot diverted to Philadelphia, where police swarmed the plane waving guns at everyone, especially the young boy. See: A Flight Is Diverted by a Prayer Seen as Ominous. The situation was sorted out quickly and the plane continued on its way to Louisville.

From what the New York Times article says, it looks like the boy, his family, and the Jewish community have been very understanding about this incident. They all commented that it was understandable in the current environment. The boy's rabbi told the paper that in the future, the boy should just pray on the plane, and lay tefillin later.

I would suggest that, if you want to lay tefillin on plane or train, you should talk to the flight crew or conductor beforehand, show them the tefillin, make sure they understand what you're doing, and make sure they're OK with it. When the flight attendant in this incident asked the boy what he was doing, he told her that he was praying, but by that point the tefillin were already strapped on, and in the current environment, prayer is not inconsistent with terrorism.

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