Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Davening at 40,000 Feet

Everyone who has flown to Israel, usually on El Al but not exclusively, has a davening story. Whether it was being surrounded by shucklers, awoken with a request to join a minyan, attacked by a bag when someone opens the overhead compartment to take out their tallit and tefillin, or just mesmerized but the struggles of people to pass the beverage cart to get to or from their seats for a minyan.  And these are just anecdotes from my most recent flight on El Al (which by the way does offer some tefilla guidelines).  By all time favorite anecdote was the religious woman next to the window who had a blush kit with a mirror and a special Tefilat Haderech engraved into the leather case.

I think that reading some rabbis responsas on travelling tefilla frames the character of prayer in general for the individual as they relate to the group of worshipers.  Rabbi Herschel Schachter refers to it as a common mistake people make when travelling by airplane.  He writes clearly in strong Orthodox terminology: 

Another common mistake people make is regarding davening with a minyan. The Talmud emphasizes the importance of tefillah btzibur; and one who davens with a minyan stands a much better chance of having his prayers answered than one who lacks a minyan. However, it is highly improper for the chazzan of a minyan on an airplane to shout at the top of his lungs to enable the other mispalelim to hear him over the airplane noise, and thereby wake up all the passengers around him. It is true that there is a halachic principle of kofin al hamitzvos, i.e. that beis din has an obligation to force people to observe the mitzvos even when they're not interested in doing so, but this only applies when pressuring an individual will result in his becoming observant. However, when Orthodox Jews disturb non-observant Jewish passengers with their davening, the non-observant passengers sill remain non-observant and now just have another point about which to be upset with the Orthodox. The practice of the Orthodox passengers under such circumstances appears simply as an act of harassment. Rather than having accomplished the hidur mitzvah of davening tefillah btzibur, they have violated lifnei iver by causing the non-observant passengers to become more antagonistic towards shemiras hamitzvos. The shouting tone of voice employed by the shaliach tzibbur to overcome the noise on the airplane clearly does not constitute a kavod hatefillah.
The halacha states that when traveling, if it is too difficult to stand for shemoneh esrei even the "amidah" may be recited while seated. On a short flight of an hour and a half to Canada, it is more correct to daven the entire tefillah while still buckled in, in a sitting position. On the long flight to Eretz Yisroel it is healthier not to sit the entire time; walking about somewhat helps the blood circulation in one's legs. As such, there is nothing wrong with standing for shemoneh esrei, provided that there's no turbulence at that time. However, it is still not proper to gather a minyan together near the washrooms, disturbing all the other passengers and the stewardesses. As much as various Torah giants of our generation have expressed their opposition to such minyanim on airplanes, their message has not yet been accepted. 

He concludes with a nice blessing for safe travels and then cautions "all those traveling to Eretz Yisroel should have a safe trip, but keep in mind - these minyanim are shelo b'ratzon chachamim!"  I find this last statement the most terrific sentiment - that by joining in these prayer groups one is violating the wisdom of the sages. This always seemed counter intuitive for those that feel pressed to daven out of obligation.  Another point worth noting is that some sages and rabbis disagree (Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg to name one) and feel that there should be a minyan on the plane and that is a "preference" to join. I also enjoyed reading the comments in the Yeshiva World News forum on this topic with some outstanding perspectives shared there.

Elli Fischer, in his blog On the Contrary discussed the topic at hand (posted in 2008) and points to a phenomenally challenging question of when to daven on plane:
 Are zmanim (halachic appointed times) calculated based on geographical realities or human realities? Is it about the place or the person?

I did witness to elderly men arguing about this last week, which in itself was bothering the passengers around them.

Let me conclude with a happy Chabad story of a man davening in front of 300 people in his bulkhead seat that will be more of an inspiration to daven, than answer where or when you should do daven.  

1 comment:

  1. I have actually noticed that in the past two years more and more men are davening at their seats, and less minyanim.

    This article did not raise the question of being able to daven in front of women who are not dressed in Orthodox tzniut manner, nor the halachik question of those who daven at the back of the plane minyanim where inevitably some of the mitpallelim are directly in front of the bathrooms as people go in and out.

    When I do daven at my seat I always try to remember the mussar my Rebbe, HaRav Tendler gave me during my sheva brachot. He said now that I am wearing a talit I have to be aware of another issue of kavod hatzibur, and that is to be careful while putting on my talit not to fling it so that it might hit another person. He saw it as gas ruach (arrogance) to wrap oneself in their personal mitzvah while not caring that it might be disturbing others.