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: 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 exlcusive 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. 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 passenegrs will almost certainly die.
* * * * *
I recently received the following e-mail:
Dear Rabbi Klass,
As I see that you are about to embark on a discussion on saying HaGomel after air travel, I thought I would share with you something that was said by Rav Y. Ruderman zt”l.
I returned to Ner Yisroel in Baltimore one August after a year in Eretz Yisroel. My first Thursday back I had an aliya and bentched Gomel. After my aliya the rosh yeshiva called me over and asked me why I had benched Gomel. When I told him the reason, he rebuked me and said that one does not bench Gomel for air travel even if one crosses an ocean.
I don’t think it is well known that Rav Ruderman held this opinion.
Evidently, then, HaGaon HaRav Yaakov Yitzchok HaLevi Ruderman, zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore, was also of the opinion that one does not recite Ha’Gomel after flying.
Rabbi Goldstein writes: “And as to the halacha in this matter, one can follow the opinion of Rabbi Feinstein and say HaGomel if his reasoning is clear to him. Yet, his reasoning is not compelling [enough] for me; therefore…if a person says HaGomel after air travel, he has not absolved himself of the problem of reciting a safek beracha. As such, he should not say it.”
And yet, common practice is to follow Rav Feinstein’s view (at least when it comes to travelling over an ocean).
Let us try to understand the reasoning behind the two views. The Gemara (Shabbos 32a) quotes R. Yannai as stating: “One should not stand in a place of danger and say that a miracle will be wrought for him.” Indeed, both the Rambam (Hilchot Rotze’ach u’Shmirat Nefesh 12:6) and the Rema (Yoreh Deah 116:5) rule that it is prohibited for a person to place himself in any situation that may lead to to danger. The Rema goes even further, ruling “chamira sakanta m’issura” – that we are more strict regarding dangerous situations than we are regarding possible (rabbinical) violations.
Now, if air travel were dangerous, clearly we wouldn’t be allowed to fly. The fact that halachic authorities allow us to fly is evidence that flying is not really dangerous. Those who maintain that we don’t say HaGomel after flying clearly believe this to be the case. How do we explain Rabbi Feinstein’s view, though?
(To be continued)Rabbi Yaakov Klass