Air Travel & The Nine Days

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach[1] was among those who strongly advised avoiding any activities during the entire Three Weeks which were even only “possibly dangerous”. Included in these activities was air travel, specifically during the Nine Days, which Rabbi Auerbach looked upon especially unfavorably. He argued that even though air travel is considered routine in our day, since one still recites Hagomel after a flight it is still to be categorized among things which are “dangerous” and should be avoided during these days.

Nevertheless, there is one major exception to this rule. He permits one to fly to Israel during the Nine Days and even on Tisha B’av itself. This is true even according to the view (which he subscribed to) that merely visiting the land of Israel is not considered to be a component of the mitzva of yishuv eretz yisrael, settling the land of Israel. Even so, the benefits of being in Israel and the many mitzvot which one is able to fulfill while here make such travel justifiable.

It is also interesting to note that Rabbi Auerbach permitted students from the Diaspora to fly home on Rosh Chodesh Av (the first of the Nine Days)rather than to leave Israel earlier and be forced to miss even a single day of the zman, the yeshiva’s study semester. It is reasonable to suggest that Rabbi Auerbach would also approve of any other air travel that had a mitzva component to it, as well.

On a related note, a number of halachic authorities permit one who has no other food with him to eat the kosher meat meal that airlines normally serve when flying during the Nine Days, arguing that the hunger one might be forced to endure is comparable to a choleh, one who is ill, for whom eating meat is permissible during the Nine Days. Of course, on short-haul flights one should not make use of this leniency.


[1] Shalmei Moed Chapter 90

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

32 comments

  1. “He argued that even though air travel is considered routine in our day, since one still recites Hagomel after a flight it is still to be categorized among things which are “dangerous” and should be avoided during these days.”

    Hirhurim did a post on this some time back, I believe. R’ Soloveitchik, amongst others, held that birkat hagomel was not necessary unless one saw the flight as dangerous. Presumably someone who feels that flights aren’t “dangerous” wouldn’t need to feel limited by this restriction.

  2. Yup. Could be. But it is virtually universal practice to say Hagomel, especially after overseas flights.

    Ari Enkin

  3. “Yup. Could be. But it is virtually universal practice to say Hagomel, especially after overseas flights.”

    Based on the influence of the
    Rav and his students I don’t say Hagomel after flights even Israel -US.
    How many would brting a karbon Todah -if we had a beis hamikdash after taking a flight. I submit the Hagomel has bee ndevalued by people routinely saying it many times a year for safer activities than driving a few miles.

  4. I don’t understand RSHZA ZTZL’s hetter to leave EI during the nine days. Since kibbutz galuyot precedes binyan bet ha mikdash it seems at cross purposes VDLChB

  5. David-

    It’s the same hetter to go to Uman.

    Ari Enkin

  6. As mentioned, R’ Auerbach held air travel to be only slightly dangerous. However, he still said we should say birkas hagomel despite that they are routine in our times. Why not cars as well? More dangerous than flights are trips by car, yet we don’t have everyone say birkas hagomel after their daily drive to shul. Or is there some difference between being in a plane and being in a car I am overlooking?

  7. “Of course, on short-haul flights one should not make use of this leniency.”

    Why of course? Is this your own supposition or (each of) their words?

  8. My words. But “Im Kein Ein Ledavar Sof!”

    Ari Enkin

  9. Flying to Israel: Very safe
    Sherut from airport: Much less safe

  10. SF2K1: R. Moshe Feinstein’s view is that Bircas Hagomel for airplanes stems from the planes giving one the ability to survive in an environment (35,000 ft up) in which one can’t survive naturally. He considers it parallel a boat enabling one to survive on the water; he points out that in the time of Chazal, birkat hagomel was said not only on ocean voyages, which were quite dangerous, but also on costal trips that never left sight of land.

  11. I also never say hagomel after flying. It is much more dangerous for me to drive to work.

  12. It does seem a little ridiculous after over 100 years of flight that Hagomel is said by people any time they get off an airplane. When I lived in Washington, we would have people bentch gomel after a puddle-jump flight on the shuttle from NYC. I now live in Kinshasa and there are Israelis who come and go from here on a weekly basis and every Shabbos they bentch gomel. Unless the plane crashed and you survive, saying Hagomel after a successful flight should be the equivalent of a person walking across the street and ALMOST getting hit by a car. That person doesn’t bentch gomel unless the car hits him and he survives, so too it should be with standard flights. When do we know we have reached a point when a form of transportation is so routine and safe that bentching gomel is actually a bracha livatala?

  13. Daniel,
    Tradition, Tradition…..
    KT
    Joel Rich

  14. Sine the reason for avoiding flights during the nine days is that ‘one still recites Hagomel after a flight’, there would seem to be no reason to avoid domestic flights over land. While many people still say Hagomel after trans-oceanic flights, I don’t think anyone says it after domestic flights.

  15. Joel,

    I buy your tradition argument to a point, though only as far as I can think that this tradition can only be less than 100 years old. When I was growing up, we weren’t allowed to swim or take warm showers during the Nine Days. Now I learn–thanks to Gil’s excellent halacha digest at the back of the new Koren-Soleveitchik Kinos–that such pleasurable bathing is allowed (I would suppose that this has something to do with the fact that nowadays we bathe during Shloshim, and as the Nine Days are supposed to reflect aveilus during Shloshim, we can bathe normally…?). With the bathing tradition, at least I’m not invoke HKBH’s Name as in a gomel bracha.

  16. MiMedinat HaYam

    “gomel” — akin to mi sheberach lecholim. we say it regularly, though if you really study the issue, the mass mi sheberach lecholim should be abolished. (esp those that are “afraid” to remove the name of a choleh, lest he still need the bracha. though problematic if the person is not “with us”. actually, it should only be said for specific people at specific request of known specific health danger. not mass mi shevrachs.)

    but, “universal practice” is to say it.

    2. tfilat haderech is where we get into flying over the ocean (“holchei hayam”), not a “gomel” issue. (and “holchei midbariyot”, which one can argue applies to any wildreness, such as flyover country usa, and all of europe — a vast “midbar”).

    3. back in the days when flying was pleasant, i remember confirming a chicago ny flight, and requesting a “kosher fish” meal, which i got. thank you american airlines of that day (not today). of course, after 9-11, you cant bring in a decent fish meal past security, and you’re stuck there for six hours minimum on transatlantic flights, so perhaps your rule of the meat meal is correct. anyway, i recall a t’shuva that the roll served on the (old) flights cannot be considered “kovea seuda”, and i extend that theory to the minimal amount of meat.

    4. daniel r: be happy air conditioning didnt exist in the shulchan aruch’s time. otherwise, we would be prevented from using air conditioning during nine days / avelut. (similar thinking as potato during pesach).

  17. Michael Rogovin

    This raises the interesting (at least to me) issue of when a halacha is derived from an empiric reason and the reason changes, do we change the halacha? There are other cases, but here let’s first realize that safe travel is a recent innovation. As recently as the 19th century (and possibly more recent than that), land travel in the middle east was fraught with danger (kidnapping/ransom, theft, murder). Sea voyages in the Mediterranean and other trade routes were at high risk of piracy (including the same risks for land travel). Other risks included disease and shipwrecks (I once read that up to 50% of sea voyages ended badly in the early days of transatlantic sailing; can’t find a source now). The risks involved with travel were thus significantly higher than risks by any means of travel today (unless you are in Yemen or similar places) and thus birkat hagomel was a serious issue indeed.

    Perceived risk is often much higher than actual risk, and sometimes much less. Driving is more dangerous than flying, but almost no one feels or acts as if this were so. How does halacha deal with perceived vs actual risk? And how should it be adjusted to reflect the statistical reality vs the perceived reality? This has ramifications for medical treatments as well as birkat hagomel.

  18. Michael-

    There are plenty of authorities, Rav Soloveitchik included, who agree that these things are indeed based on one’s perception.

    Youre in good company.

    Ari Enkin

  19. Michael Rogovin

    I would like to think that the halachic obligation should follow the statistical reality, but that an individual who feels that they were in danger should certainly be permitted to betnch gomel.

    I recall reading an article about risk in surgery, possibly involving transplants, that stated that RMF had standards for when surgeries would be permitted based on an objective (statistical) test of effectiveness. I forget where I read this.

    Given the difficulty in defining what constitutes a risk and measuring it, my suggestion above may not have much practical utility. However, logically, it would suggest that if you don’t bentch gomel for a ride in a car, you should not do so for a plane (or if you do for a plane, you should certainly do so for a car trip). Of course, if you follow the logic attributed to RMF quoted by Mike S above, or the view quoted by R Enkin, this is all moot.

  20. MiMedinat HaYam

    also restriction on taking trips alone during three weeks. of course, this is not kept today, as is the followup on this, in the same siman in shulchan aruch, that advises against corporal punishment of students during the nine days only.

    additional question — does alone mean not when going on the interstate (or other highway), with hundreds of cars with you?

  21. Michael
    See my question this thursday night on statisticsa.
    KT

  22. “Sine the reason for avoiding flights during the nine days is that ‘one still recites Hagomel after a flight’, there would seem to be no reason to avoid domestic flights over land. While many people still say Hagomel after trans-oceanic flights, I don’t think anyone says it after domestic flights.”

    Moshe- Hirhurim did a post a couple years back on benching gomel after flying. The short version was that, at the very least, R’ Soloveitchik and R’ Moshe Feinstein both held that the sea had nothing to do with it (RYBS said to only do it when one perceives danger, RMF’s opinion seems to be that one should always bench gomel). Seems like “what everyone does” may just be wrong.

  23. “Unless the plane crashed and you survive, saying Hagomel after a successful flight should be the equivalent of a person walking across the street and ALMOST getting hit by a car.”

    I’m not sure that this is a problem, and I’m not sure there should be an objection to someone who almost gets hit by a car (provided we’re talking about something unusual and not just crossing the street). If the plane suddenly drops a couple hundred feet in midair due to a microburst, I’d think it still acceptable to bench gomel.

  24. Who are the halakhic authorities who permit eating the meat meal serve on an aeroplane when the traveller has no other food?

    I once heard a lady with Hungarian Chassidic yichus say that one is allowed to eat meat while travelling during the 9 days. Maybe it’s in the sefer Minhag Yisroel Torah…

  25. I think I heard or saw it in the name of Rabbi Yirmiyahu Kaganoff who quoted other authorities.

    (Yes, I definately saw it somewhere. I did not make it up)

    Ari Enkin

  26. menachem Petrushka

    Dear Rabbi Enkin

    On the very same day you posted the article, a grandfater and three of his Isralei grandchildren are killed in a plane accident.
    tsadik gozer vehashem mekasyem
    My father would say tht your article opened its mouth to Satan

  27. Dear Menachem-

    I was also very shaken by the story (it’s a Beit Shemesh family) and the timing of my posting.

    That being said however, to suggest that my posting had some kind of effect is rediculous (rationalist Judaism, anybody?). By the same call, perhaps married people shouldnt learn masechet gittin lest it lead to a divorce?? Etc. Etc.

    May God bless the family and comfort them in every way.

    Ai Enkin

  28. “Of course, on short-haul flights one should not make use of this leniency.”
    In this regard the airlines are very pious.
    1) No Kosher meat meals are served during the 9 days.
    2) As a further precaution, no Kosher meals are served during the 9 days.
    3) As a further precaution, no meals are served on short haul flights during the 9 days.
    4) As a further precaution, no meals are served on short haul flights the rest of the year.
    At least they were not Gozer long haul flights because of short haul flights as that would be Gezaira she-ein rov tzibur yachol la-amod bo. Hence, on long haul even Kosher meat meals are served.

  29. Incidentally, I have a friend who just got back from Israel yesterday (Thursday 4 Av), who said that the airline he was on was, in fact, serving fleishigs for the kosher meal. Additionally, the snack was apparently cold cuts with matzah!

  30. I think that there is a comment by RSZA in Halichos Shlomoh in which RSZA bemoaned the fact that many Bnei Torah did not know anything about Hilcos Tishah B’Av or Hilcos Aveilus and routinely confused Halachos with Minhagim as well were far more careful with not violating the letter of the Halacha as opposed to avoiding those factors that led to the Churban.

  31. I think that rather than commenting if it is correct to say Hagomel or not, one should first learn the Halachot. they will realise that there is a machloket if it is right to say it after flights or not. they will realise that it is a birkat hashevach hence a bracha levatala is not an issue. they would realise that one doesn’t necessarily have to have gone through a near danger (almost hit by a car) to say Hagomel. they will learn many aspects that would respond to all their queries. I suggest looking at the sefer: “Vayehi Binsoa” who quotes the various opinions.

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