A17 year old Orthodox Jewish boy was ‘wrapping tefillin’ on a flight from New York to Louisville. The plane made an emergency landing in Philadelphia because the pilot was concerned about some strange boxes that a passenger was strapping to his arm and his head.

Tefillin are also known as phylacteries and are ritual prayer objects. The origin  is ancient from Deuteronomy, “”And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a frontlet between your eyes.”

The text inside the two boxes of Tefillin is hand-written by a scribe, and consists of the four sets of biblical verses in which Tefillin are commanded (Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21). The text inside the Tefillin is hand-written and hand-crafted. A set of Tefillin is relatively expensive, and a well-made pair costs several hundred dollars.  (Info from Jewish Virtual Library)

The boxes are held in place on the arm and on the forehead with leather straps wrapped in a specific ritual manner. It must look strange to a non Jew, especially on a domestic flight.

This is a ritual that only the more observant and orthodox Jews regularly observe, and most of them either ‘wrap tefillin in private or in the synagogue or temple. This is not such a common custom that even an educated non Jew would expect to see on a plane.  It is certainly understandable that one unfamiliar with this unique ritual would have seen this as unusual and been alarmed.

The passenger meant no harm and was released.  On my first trip to Israel on El Al there were a handful of orthodox Jews in the back of the plane with tefillin and prayer books praying at sun up, when the ritual prayers wearing the tefillin are said. This young Jew was doing the same.

The funniest line to me in the play The Annual Putnam County  Spelling Bee was when the word ‘phylacteries’ was given. When asked to use the word in a sentence the word caller said, “Michael, put down those phylacteries, we’re Episcopalians.”

Now you have one less fear when you fly.  Perhaps my fellow Yids should consider how their practice can affect other flyers in the paranoid age we live in. I would encourage participants to inform the attendant in advance.