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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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El Al Rabbi Alienates Passengers with Loudspeaker Traveler’s Prayer

My first reaction to this story was: El Al has its own rabbi?

the road prayer

Photo Credit: Original image by Moshe Shai / Flash90

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Passengers boarding El Al flights in recent days have been surprised to hear the traditional Traveler’s Prayer (Tefillat HaDerech) over their plane’s public address system, as they entered the plane and once again as the plane was taxiing to its takeoff position, Yedioth Aharonot reported.

An airline employee told Yedioth that, about two years ago, the company placed a sign with the text of the Traveler’s Prayer at the entrance, and passengers did not complain because they barely noticed it.

“But now we’re receiving complaints from the air crews and the passengers. The company employs many non-Jews, and it’s certainly unpleasant,” the El Al employee said.

A non-Jewish El Al passenger told Yedioth that in the U.S. airlines have switched from the “Merry Christmas” greeting to “Season’s Greetings,” to spare the feelings of non-Christian passengers. Although, as Bill O’reilly correctly argued, this year, with Hanukkah falling on Thanksgiving day, there’s nothing but the C holiday in the season, which should free those airlines to return to the more parochial salutation.

El Al responded to the complaints by saying the public address system Traveler’s Prayer was initiated by the company chaplain, Rabbi Yochanan Chayut. They also announced that the prayer would be removed by the end of the week.

Rabbi Chayut was ordered to attend a hearing on his decision, before the company brass.

My first reaction to this story was: El Al has its own rabbi?

Should Egged, the national bus company, have a rabbi, too? What about the trains? Car rental companies? Large parking lots? major intersections?

I called Rabbi Chayut’s office, where a very polite gentleman answered me that El Al uses the services of 11 kitchens worldwide, and so it requires a Rabbi to monitor their kashrut standards.

Yes, I would concede that El Al needs a mashgiach—kashrut supervisor, for sure. But the great thing about a mashgiach is that the parameters of his or her area of authority are limited to food purchase and preparation, including, I’m sure, Shabbat and holiday related food preparation issues.

But as soon as you promote your mashgiach to company rabbi, he’s bound to seek other things to do once all the kashrut procedures had been taken care off for the day.

Like playing the Traveler’s Prayer over the loudspeaker system.

This gesture may sound harmless enough, and I’m sure the majority of the passengers were not deeply scarred by hearing some Jewish guy asking God to protect them from the dangers of the road (including from wild animals, which is always a bonus).

It’s highly problematic, though, if one promotes it as being a prayer. It isn’t. It’s some text a guy is reading over the PA system. Prayer must be uttered by the individual—or the group—with intent. You’re talking to God, for heaven’s sake, it’s not a commercial.

Just as hearing the shofar blown over the radio does not constitute fulfilling the mitzvah of hearing a shofar on Rosh Hashanah, so is hearing a recorded prayer entirely worthless.

But it has many negative effects, such as being loathed by a few passengers, who are now armed with one more reason to hate their forefathers’ tradition.

It would have worked better if the captain, or one of the flight crew were to read it, just before the exit door speech. Then he or she would be actually asking God to protect them, and the recitation would have value.

Or maybe, after landing, as the crew ineffectually asks the passengers to remain seated as the airplane taxis to the airport, the crew can add Birkat HaGomel, the Thanksgiving Prayer, the prayer one is mandated to say after completing a dangerous journey, traveling overseas and getting out of jail.

But, of course, as these things tend to evolve in work places, the entire thing would become a mockery in a short time, like everything spiritual that’s forced by decree.

Incidentally, I’m hiring a rabbi for my car. It’s a 2011 Chevy which could use spiritual guidance, for sure. Traveler’s prayers mandatory.

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About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.

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50 Responses to “El Al Rabbi Alienates Passengers with Loudspeaker Traveler’s Prayer”

  1. If the Jewish airline of a Jewish State cannot offer a Jewish Prayer for the safety of ALL the passengers on its flight – there is something wrong here! Let the Rabbi give his prayer!

  2. absolutely ridiculous…no one should be forced to listen to others pray or talk on a cell phone

  3. Josh Barrack says:

    Convert to another religion and don’t fly to or from Israel if you don’t like it. Oh but you’re SO progressive. I’ll bet that you spend your millions visiting Muslim countries and raving about the ‘culture.’ The ‘Jewish’ press is socialist dreck.

  4. Prayers should be done in silence. They are between you and god. This is something private and not a road show, some respect, brains and common sense should are advised and applied… <3

  5. Gitta Zarum says:

    On a recent flight, the lady next to me, a Spanish Catholic was reciting her own travellers' prayer whilst I recited mine. Why should anyone find such a prayer objectionable? As someone else commented, when the muezzin call to prayer, not all those within hearing distance of it are Muslim.

  6. Henna du Plessis says:

    May Hashem bless The Rabbi. However, can not force our beliefs on heathens and others. Avraham Avi Hect could possibly show respect by wirting GOD in caps.

  7. Just another reason to use other airlines flying to Israel.

  8. Barbara Arfe says:

    it is still great to ask G-d for help in keeping one safe. ElAl, after all, is a Jewish airline, and probably the only one!

  9. I wish that I'd be able to say the prayer along with someone or say amen. Sometimes its' very hard to see the prayer and say it properly on airplanes. I went on two NBN flights as a journalist and I was disappointed that at least then, the prayer wasn't said over the loudspeaker.

  10. Yori Yanover says:

    Gil Gilman · I finally managed to drive you nuts. My work is done.

  11. I take one exception to one point in this article. It says, hearing the Shofar being blown on the radio is not the same thing as hearing it in the synagogue. I actually don't hear it on the radio but hear it through streaming video on the Internet. I wonder how the author of the article would treat that, I am among the Jewish poor, and can't afford to be a member of a synagogue, let alone afford High Holy Day tickets. Does this make me less of a Jew? I experience the same joy and energy from the blowing of the Shofar when I watch on line as I would if I were in the synagogue. I defy this author to tell me I was not spiritually affected by the experience.

  12. Murray Kane says:

    Abe, shuls in Toronto always set aside tickets for the HH for those who can't afford it, not to mention most Chabad center's.

  13. Chaiya Eitan says:

    I, personally, wouldn't mind it one bit. Anyone who does can put cotton in their ears.

  14. Sad. Why not a prayer? Does it hurt? I think not.

  15. Yori Yanover says:

    If there's a synagogue nearby, you will probably not be rejected if you come in to hear the shofar. You are also performing the mitzvah by standing outside the synagogue and listening. If you are immobile, a call to the nearest Chabad House will get you a place for the holiday and accommodations for prayer, free of charge. In general, I have not heard of Orthodox synagogues that prevent Jews from attending the services — I'm not saying there aren't any, but I never heard of any.

  16. Yori Yanover says:

    Jonathan Weber – I'm all for it, if the rabbi is there, praying. That would be an excellent use of his time. But it's just a recording, much like "Shop at max's house of haberdashery," which does not count as prayer at all, nowhere, no how.

  17. Yori Yanover and to Murray Kane: The problem is also finances. The nearest synagogue is over 30 miles away, I seriously doubt that Chabad would schlep all the way here to take me to and from.

  18. There's nothing offensive in the traveler's prayer unless whoever hears it happens to be an aetheist. It can be recited in English in addition to Hebrew and the flight attendant could ask over the loudspeaker if there are any passengers who want to read it on behalf of their fellow fliers – like being a shaliach b'tzibur in the air. I people all over the plane will be raising their hands.

  19. Yori Yanover says:

    Abe Ezekowitz – Try them. Let me know.

  20. Yori Yanover Will it matter to them if I'm not Orthodox?

  21. John Whitbread says:

    Do not fall for the hype. The very idea of yielding to people who declare their feelings hurt by the legitimate expressions of faith of those who believe is uttely illogical. It is enshrining intolerence not promoting tolerence. If they find G-d to be an offence to them thenwill they please explain why they are so offended by something they claim does not exist.

  22. Yori Yanover says:

    Abe Ezekowitz – Not in the least. Orthodox is a title slapped on observant Jews by the Reform, to suggest that we are old and stale and dogmatic. All we want is a genuine connection with a Jewish brother or sister.

  23. Yori Yanover says:

    Abe Ezekowitz – Not in the least. Orthodox is a title slapped on observant Jews by the Reform, to suggest that we are old and stale and dogmatic. All we want is a genuine connection with a Jewish brother or sister.

  24. Carolin Knox says:

    This entire story is just sad. Why are Jews going to Israel, if not for their heritage. I don't get anyone complaining, or the specific points of the author….it was read over a Mic, there wasn't a Minyan…what?? Israel is the Jewish state, not a mini-me of America. And, if prayers are meant to be silent, I guess you don't go to shul (church,or whatever).

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