Mile High Tefillin Scare Club

As if contending with kosher plane food was not bad enough, Orthodox Jews now have something else to contend with on flights.

Nervous passengers.

US Airways Group Inc. flight was diverted after an Orthodox Jewish teenager began praying and using a box which contains verses, setting off concerns among skittish crew members.

Nerves have been on edge after the so-called underwear bomber’s attempt to blow up a flight over Detroit in December, adding to an atmosphere of caution that has prevailed since the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

Just before 9 a.m. EST, the crew on a US Airways Express flight–operated by Republic Airways Holdings Inc.’s Chautauqua Airlines and bound from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Louisville, Ky.–decided to land in Philadelphia to address their concerns. J.J. Klaver, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the 17-year-old unveiled a phylactery, a leather box worn during certain Jewish services and also known as a tefillin, early in the flight. The teen was accompanied by his 16-year-old sister.

That landing occurred without incident, and all 15 passengers on the plane were “reaccommodated.” The teen was not detained or arrested. Klaver said, “This was just an incident.”

A spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration said the agency was notified about 8:30 a.m. of “a disruptive passenger” before the crew diverted the flight. She also said the plane was swept, but that nothing was found.

Republic had no immediate comment.

I’ve heard of people hijacking a religion, but not religioning a hijack.

Thanks Islamic fundamentalist terrorist dudes for messing things up for the good people out there.

Update: At least awareness of tefillin has increased, with some news sites even devoting entire articles to them.

Update: Watch this police inspector talk about “the device” which is known as an “olfactory” (via Harry on Twitter)

17 thoughts on “Mile High Tefillin Scare Club”

  1. Michael Zvi Krumbein

    Meanwhile, one of the airlines (one of the hijacked ones, I think) settled with a group of Imams. Even though they only prayed in the terminal, some of the passengers (surprise!) knew Arabic, and they understood some of what they were SAYING (on the plane).

    Shame on the airline for giving in there.

    The basic idea here is that the captain is in charge of safely matters, and can't be overruled by the airline.

  2. Michael Zvi Krumbein

    This has already happened a few times in the U.S. I mean, you can be polite, you can sit in your seat, you can be inobtrusive, but you HAVE to put on t'filin.

    I thought minyanim were not allowed anymore, but the last U.S. airline flight I was on was quite nice about prayers.

    So far a very left-wing Rabbi (formerly of Oslo, no less!) and then-cabinet member was denies entry to a flight and one flight landed when one or two people began praying. Nothing disruptive or anything (as sometimes happens). Always good to tell them first. This is number three that I've heard.

    Personally, I always worry they see the straps and think I'm shooting up.

  3. Shy guy, I chuckled as well. What's really troubling is to hear other Jews refer to it as an "olfactory" too! Kind of make me want to use my olfactory sensors when I see it's posted by a fellow yid or someone purporting to be one <sorry for the cynicism here>

    Good Shabbos Everyone!

  4. Michael Zvi Krumbein

    My, gosh, that is one of the funniest things I ever heard (I mean the report, not the poor kid).

    It is a lesson, though, always tell the flight crew what you're doing (praying – no need to go into more details, I think). Don't formally ask permission, as there may be some technical rule and they they may not be able to grant it – sort of ask without asking. And wait until you get there if you can.

    I remember reading somewhere about a pair of t'filin on display at the British Museum – something like "an ancient Jewish artifact, possibly to ward off the evil eye" – complete nonsense , of course, but there is a tendency in some (particularly British) sources to write about the "ancient Hebrews" without understanding that maybe the people living next door to you could shed some light on the issue.

    1. Well Tefillin did start out as an amulet to ward off any demons…so they weren't necessarily that far off even if the museum treated it as a non-surviving relic of ancient Judaism.

      1. Michael Zvi Krumbein

        Oh, please! You have proof of that? Or it's just another bit of idiotic speculation by someone with tenure?

        1. Michael Zvi Krumbein

          O.K., if you want to say that the idea of T'filin comes from an amulet, nothing wrong with that. But amulets are not necessarily about demons, don't always contain writing, and I've never seen one shaped like that. At any rate, it would sort of be an anti-amulet, the opposite of one. There is a meditation we say when we put it on, and there is nothign there about the evil eye (jealosy), in spite of the fact that it is a concept in Judaism – provacy rights are based on it.

          I've just had too many "scholars" make all kinds of crazy claims with zero proof, no sources, just their own speculation. Jewish history books are full of this stuff.

          And you'd think they'd do research – in, Dr. Berger tells of a publication of Harvard University Press that took a quote with a Halachic concept (eivah – fear of anti-semitism) and reversed it to get something the anti-semites would love. Even a novice like myself knows what "eivah" is, but apparently he never asked anyone. He change the next edition after Dr. Berger wrote him an intemperate leeter. I suppsoe the anti-semites are alledging a cover-up.

      2. “to ward off demons”. You have the wrong religion mate! What total nonsense.

        Wearing tephilin is a mitzvah directly from the Torah. Devarim 5:4-9. “…bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be tefilin between your eyes…We say this passage at least three times a day. It’s called “The Shema”. The symbolism is that it expresses our love for Hashem and His mitzvos with all your heart and sole, hence placing boxes containing these passages from the Torah on your head and heart each morning while praying.

        Likewise the same passages give us the mitzvah of placing a mezuza on the doorposts of our Jewish homes with the same passages written inside to remind us that as we come into our homes from the outside we are entering a sanctuary of holiness and we should conduct ourselves appropriately. The home is the centre of Judaism.

  5. Michael Zvi Krumbein

    You know that at one point in Roman times, wearing T'filin was punished by death? At that time people would wear them all day.

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