Question: I am very appreciative and, if I might add, flattered that you answer and publish many of my questions. Due to your superior knowledge, I am always confident when I send in a question that I will receive a proper response. I wonder if you could address whether one should say Birkat HaGomel after flying even though flying is statistically safer than driving. Also, do women say HaGomel as well or only men?
Summary of our response up to this point: Summary of our response up to this point: The Talmud (Berachot 54b) states that there are four people who must say HaGomel, with the Rivash and Rav Gershon dispurting whether this list is exclusive or not. Rabbi Tuvia Goldstein maintains that modern-day air travel cannot be compared to the types of danger listed in the Gemara, and thus one need not say HaGomel after flying. Indeed, the Talmud (Shabbos 32a) prohibits a person from putting himself in a dangerous situation. The fact that all frum Jews regularly fly is proof, therefore, that flying is not dangerous.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, however, argues that flying is inherently dangerous since only the airplane separates the passengers from death. If the airplane suddenly stops functioning, the passengers will almost certainly die. If flying is dangerous, though, why doesn’t Rav Feinstein prohibit people from flying?
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In his notes, Rabbi Tuvia Goldstein cites the Gaon Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (Responsa Noda Bi’Yehuda, Vol. II:10) who was asked about a rich man who owned vast estates – including forests inhabited by many different wild beasts – and wished to hunt in his property.
After much discussion Rabbi Landau writes: “And now I say that there is even a prohibition to hunt because all who engage in this activity are required to enter forests, thus exposing themselves to all sorts of danger in a place inhabited by many wild beasts. The Torah (Deuteronomy 4:15) states, ‘V’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoteichem – You shall greatly beware of your souls’ [i.e., a person is not allowed to endanger himself]. And do we find a person more skilled and expert at the craft of hunting than Esau as Scripture (Genesis 25:27) testifies: ‘vayehi Esav ish yode’a tzayid – and Esau became a cunning hunter’? Now let us see what he declares about himself (infra 25:32): ‘Vayomer Esav, hineh anochi holech lamut – Esau said: Behold I am going to die.’ A verse does not depart from its simple explanation; the Ramban explains that Esau felt his death was inevitable due to the dangers he encountered on a daily basis while engaged in hunting in a place swarming with wild beasts.”
Rabbi Landau continues: “Now how can he, a Jew, place himself in a place swarming with untamed beasts of wild disposition? Nonetheless, there is an exception if one is poor and hunts for his sustenance and livelihood. An example is someone engaged in overseas commerce who must travel the seas; he may do so because it is for the purpose of sustenance and livelihood and there is no other choice. The Torah (Deuteronomy 24:15) states: ‘v’eilav hu noseh et nafsho – and his life depends on it’ Our sages (Bava Metzia 111a) said in this regard: ‘Why did this one [the laborer] risk going up the ladder and risk death if not that you should pay his wages?’”
He continues: “However, a person who engages in such activity without the intention of earning his livelihood, but rather out of desire [to engage in sport]…is in violation of the Torah’s prohibition ‘V’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoteichem – You shall greatly beware of your souls.’”
Rav Landau also cites the Rambam (Hilchot Rotze’ach u’Shmirat Nefesh 12:6): “It is also forbidden for a person to pass under a leaning wall, a shaky bridge, or a ruins and all similar dangerous situations.”
Based on the above, a person may engage in a dangerous activity for the purpose of his livelihood. In today’s world, where our communities are spread far and wide, how would one travel any distance without resorting to flying? Rabbi Feinstein might therefore be of the view that although air travel is dangerous one may fly because one doesn’t really have much of a choice.
The only question left to address is why people only say HaGomel after flying overseas if Rav Feinsein rules that one should say HaGomel after every flight, even one that only goes over land.
(To be continued)Rabbi Yaakov Klass