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?
Last week 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.
The Gaon HaRav Tuvia Goldstein, zt”l (Emek Halacha Vol. 2:7), discusses this matter at length. At the outset he notes: “My own personal practice in regard to air travel is not to say HaGomel even though we do say it for other miraculous deliverances that are not exactly like the four cited in the Gemara (Berachot 54b), as both Taz and Mishneh Berurah (Orach Chayim 219) note.
“[A person should only say HaGomel] if he actually encountered danger and was [miraculously] delivered from it – e.g., a wall fell upon him or an ox gored him and he was saved from harm. [He says HaGomel if he crossed the sea, etc.] because he passed through a place of danger, even though he did not encounter strong winds. Such a journey is considered dangerous since he passed a place where it is known that dangerous things may occur. Similarly, travel in the desert is fraught with danger; the very place is dangerous. … However, travel by airplane does not entail any danger; thus, there is no reason to say HaGomel.
“Well known is the ruling of the Belzer Rebbe, zt”l (Admu’r HaRav Aharon Rokeach), that a person who travels by air, even though he travels over water, should not say HaGomel. I was also told by a trustworthy person, in the name of the Chazon Ish, zt”l (HaRav Yeshaya Karelitz), that a person should not say HaGomel even if his travel path took him over a body of water.”
Rabbi Goldstein cites from Sefer Kinyan Ha’Torah (Vol. 1, 16:3): “Now let me mention here regarding air travel across a body of water that there are many different opinions as to whether one says HaGomel or not. Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, zt”l (Reb Velevel, the Brisker Rav), was once in Switzerland where I visited him and had the opportunity to ask him his opinion as to whether one says HaGomel in such a situation. He answered me with these exact words; ‘You know that it is known that I don’t issue any rulings, but this let me tell you: I came here by airplane and I did not say HaGomel.’ This is a sage’s practice.”
These gedolim (great sages) did not offer a reason not to say HaGomel. It is unlikely, though, that they agree with Rav Gershon that only the four people mentioned in the Gemara say HaGomel, and no one else. Rather, they likely believe that air travel does not entail any danger.
(To be continued)