Photo Credit: Original image by Moshe Shai / Flash90

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.

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“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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50 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. I would have agreed with Jonathan Weber , if not for Yori pointing out it is just some guy reading words. But then I would have agreed with Yori if not for Jonathan Weber's comment. After all, what are prayers other than words which are meant…apart from niggunim, that is. Then again, there is the captive audience concept, so I agree with Yori after all. There exists nothing that says a prayer need be loud and obnoxious. If Hashem hears, He hears our mutterings and sighs just as well as a loud speaker.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. I am not Jewish but would greatly appreciate Jewish prayer when on a Jewish airline. I believe what you compromise to win you always lose. Israels greatest threat is compromise.

  10. 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.

  11. I agree…it should be the pilot who should recite the prayers…it is asking G-d for his help in completing a dangerous journey…even an atheist should be grateful for the good wishes of this prayer…and whoever does not like it…let them fly American…we are all being careful of everybody's else feeling…not to upset them…so what…let them get upset!!!!

  12. 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).

  13. Getting hurt so what? A prayer cannot hurt. But I totally agree with commenters that a sincere prayer must be uttered individually. Why not show the prayer on the planes screens? Those who feel for it can take the text and say the prayer for him/herself. – We live in modern times screens are installed on board El Al.

  14. My dear late husband, a Jew, said he Shema when going into combat situations in Vietnam. He thinks that is one main reason he survived when many of his buddies did not. Why should anyone be offended by a prayer offered to G-d for protection-in any language from virtually any relgious viewpoint?!? G-d is the One who oversees us all!

  15. Thank G-D for this Rabbi, I will love to travel in his plane, apart from G-D no one can ensure your safety. There are millions of thing s can cause a plane to crash.

    remember titanic, even G-D can not sink it. If those people prayed instead of challenging G-D, then it would have been preserved.

    I assure those who are complaining, that they do not dare to speaker a word in public against Muslims prayers in Islamic area. Further more this group likely will first cry out loud to G-D when their plane about to crash.

    when US schools stopped prayers in the morning? Remember all the horrible killing since?

    GLAD TO HEAR THIS REPORT.

  16. "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?" what's next? But I still think that the prayer should be made available for those who would want it.

  17. The issue isn't whether it is offensive. It's prayer being forced on people sitting in an airplane. What's next – shacharit over the loudspeaker? (Also not offensive, but intrusive.) Another issue is the El Al rabbi expanding his role from kashrut mashgiach to enforcer of prayers. And if he then decides that men can't sit next to women?

  18. Ileana Adriana Stan-Huss · No one is trying to repress the prayer. But when it's broadcast over the PA system it's not prayer. If a passenger or a member of the crew were to say it out loud it would have been wonderful, just as you're saying. But as a recording it's worthless. It's not talking to God, it's just noise, according to Jewish law.

  19. As the Jewish national airlines of Israel, the tifilat Haderech should be heard – same as the emergency exit announcement which is silly since once oyu are crashing, what difference if oyur seat is in the upright position or not) however, if the arabs can blast their prayers in the streets and church chime their beels every sunday morning, why should El AL be ashamed of the Jewish Travelers prayers.

  20. There's no purpose nor is there a mitzvah to say this prayer over the speaker. I don't see why it would bother anyone, but it's beside the point. The point is that it makes no sense to say a prayer a rabbi or rabbis wrote for those who want to say it privately. If someone wants to say it & doesn't know how, he or she can ask someone to say it with them.

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