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: At the outset, we cited the Talmud (Berachot 54b), which quotes R. Yehudah as saying in the name of Rav that four people must say HaGomel: those who have crossed the sea, those who have traveled through the desert, those who were sick and recovered, and those who were incarcerated and set free. We also cited the dispute between Rav Gershon, who opines that only these four people say HaGomel, and Rivash, who rules that people in similar situations say HaGomel too. The Taz and Magen Avraham write that common practice today follows Rivash. Last week, we cited the Gaon Rav Tuvia Goldstein, zt”l (Emek Halacha, vol. 2:7), who writes that he doesn’t say HaGomel after flying on an airplane since air travel is not dangerous. He cites other authorities who agree.
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Rabbi Goldstein also cites the Gaon Rav Moshe Feinstein who argues that one should say HaGomel after flying (Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chayim, vol. 2:59). Rav Feinstein writes that there is a difference between traveling by land and traveling by sea. Under normal circumstances, people are not particularly worried when traveling by land (whether by automobile, bus, or train). It is the equivalent of sitting in one’s own home.
A trip over the sea, in contrast, is inherently fraught with danger. A person cannot long survive in the water, and it is only the vessel one is in (a ship or plane) that keeps him from drowning. Thus, even though modern ships and airplanes are far safer than ships in the time of Chazal, it is still the ship or airplane that is saving him from danger. Therefore, he must say HaGomel.
Rav Feinstein argues that the danger in flying – on a theoretical level – is even greater than the danger in traveling by ship. If a ship sinks, there is at least a chance that one will survive in the water until one is rescued. The same cannot be said about a plane that crashes. All the passengers will almost surely die in such a case. Thus, a plane, even more than a ship, is the only thing keeping a person from death. His life while flying on an airplane (whether over land or water) thus truly is hanging in the balance.
Rav Feinstein acknowledges that automobile travel is statistically more dangerous than air travel. Yet, this fact is irrelevant to the above analysis. Rabbi Feinstein concludes: I have heard that some rule that one should not say HaGomel after flying, but their ruling is of no consequence. Rather, one must say HaGomel.
(To be continued)Rabbi Yaakov Klass