Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Another security wrinkle came to light earlier this year and again this weekend. In January, a Jewish teenager on a flight from New York to Louisville put on phylacteries (also known as tefellin), which are ritual objects strapped to the head and arm during weekday morning prayers. This concerned the flight attendant and resulted in the diversion of the plane to Philadelphia, where the TSA determined there was no threat and allowed the flight to continue to its destination. On Sunday, the captain of a ferry between Wellington and Picton, New Zealand, alerted police about a man who had boxes attached to his body that appeared to have wires coming from them. Armed officers forced the man and his companion to the floor when the ferry docked, but they were questioned and released without charge. Rabbi Mendel Goldstein, national co-director of Chabad of New Zealand, responds,

"How can one begrudge someone for not knowing what tefillin is and how can one begrudge someone for calling the police when seeing what seemed to be a possible public threat? How can one expect anything less from the police, if they are told that there may be a bomb on the ferry? There is absolutely no room for blame. It is simply an unfortunate incident that may have humiliated an innocent person, and ultimately given the opportunity for many more people to learn about this ancient and still practised biblical tradition."

Quigley's Cabinet is here to help so that her readers, at least, will be informed. Phylacteries are worn by some Orthodox Jews during prayers as obligated by passages in the Torah, including this one: "You shall put these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall tie them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes" (Deuteronomy 11:18). They consist of a set of small boxes and straps. The boxes (battim) must be black, made from the skins of kosher livestock, and perfectly square. They contain scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, the preparation of which is specifically prescribed. The hand-tefillin (shel yad) is placed on the upper arm by wrapping the strap - which must also be black - around the arm, hand and fingers. The head-tefillin (shel rosh) is placed above the forehead by strapping it around the head and over the shoulders.

Rabbi Goldstein is a voice of reason in today's necessarily paranoid climate. Travelers who wear phylacteries can expect to be scrutinized even by those who know what they are.


  1. Hurray for Rabbi Goldstein!

  2. Thank you so much for helping to spread knowledge. That is one thing I most appreciate about your blog. ^-^

    Knowledge washes away ignorance, which can otherwise lead to fear of what we do not know. I second the hurrah for the Rabbi. Thank gods there is a voice of reason in all the insanity. Your voice of reason & information is always appreciated. ^-^

    Wishing you a happy Winter holiday season, however you choose to celebrate. ^-^


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