Tag Archive: travel

Keeping Kosher on an Airplane Part 1

Keeping kosher is seemingly easier than ever before. Wherever you turn you can find a slew of kosher products bearing at least one reputable kashrus symbol on the front or back of the product. However, when it comes to keeping kosher on an airplane, things can get tricky. For instance, people need to be aware of issues such as, should one wash or not wash on “mezonos rolls,” and the topic of ordering coffee on an airplane (see number eight here).

One issue that I’d like to bring to light is that the kosher consumer should even be aware of the kashrus of their soft drink!

Case in point, I was recently on a flight that departed from Israel and was headed to Newark, New Jersey. I had ordered a Coke Zero, which is a soft drink that is considered kosher both in Israel and North America. Still, (and this was the second time that this has happened to me on this type of flight) I was handed a can that originated from of all places Japan!

I don’t have a clue as to how this can of soda got to Tel Aviv, and then was on a plane headed to the United States. What I do know is that you can’t just drink any can of Coca-Cola and assume it’s kosher. Donneal Epstein, in his book, Halachos for the Traveler writes as follows:

And so, while I was really  counting on that caffeine, I decided to pass on drinking the can of Coke Zero. I encourage all of you kosher consumers out there to be diligent—even when it comes to ordering a soda aboard an airplane!

photo of the plane via caribb

Product Review of The Totally Tanach iPad

As a person who travels for a total of well over a month each year, being able to access Seforim or other types of Jewish content while on an airplane or simply waiting in a terminal, is of vital importance. After all, I am a practicing Rabbi, who upon landing in a particular city, has been called upon to speak at functions ranging from an Engagement Party to a Brit Milah! And so, when the folks at Davka, provided me with the Totally Tanach iPad Application and asked me to test and review it, I was intrigued with the offer and agreed to download their latest iPad App. Overall, I found the Hebrew, English, and Rashi, text(s) to be beautifully crisp and clear. Frankly, the screenshot images of the Totally Tanach iPad App that appear here, do not do it justice! Moreover, I found the User Experience aspect of this Jewish App to be of the highest quality. Unfortunately, I have come across some Jewish related Apps that are not created in the highest of standards. In all honesty, as we are viewed as The People of The Book, I believe it behooves us to have digital content that further expresses our pride in contemporary times…and a great way to continue this legacy is by designing Apps with high esteem for the User. That said, when switching between simply the Hebrew text of the Tanach and the option to also view the commentary of Rashi, it does not always lead you to the precise verse in which one was learning. Additionally, I’d like to see in the next UPDATE of this App the ability to Highlight text and save your Highlights as well as add Notes to a particular verse.

All things considered, the one UPDATE that will make the Totally Tanach iPad App a “must have” for anyone from the layperson to scholar, is adding the commentary of Targum Onkelos.

As we all know there is an obligation to study Shnayim Mikrah V’Echad Targum each week (for a great class on this topic, check out this lecture from Rabbi Reuven Boshnack, JLIC Educator at Tanger Brooklyn College Hillel). It’s impossible for one to accomplish the seemingly basic weekly feat of Shnayim Mikrah V’Echad Targum without the Targum, the translation, of Targum Onkelos. Being that we are typically not carrying around a Chumash, let alone a Tanach 24/7, if the Totally Tanach iPad App came complete with Targum Onkelos, at least for the five books of the Torah, it would make this App really stand out in the increasingly growing crowd of Jewish iPhone and iPad Apps available to the consumer. Likewise, it would make it that make fulfilling Shnayim Mikrah V’Echad Targum that much more doable! All in all, I enjoy using this App and look forward to continuing to see high quality content Apps from Davka!

Jewish Law & TSA Full Body Scanners

We have formally entered the month of June! And yet, while all across the world the sun is shining, the official start of summer is not until June 21st. With the onset of summer, many individuals and families travel to sleep away camp, visit relatives in other states or countries, and so on and so forth. Indeed, the airlines capitalize on this fact and have imposed a “Summer Travel Fee!” If you thought you have seen everything, you haven’t seen nothin’ yet! Nowadays, depending upon your airline you may be charged for your hand luggage to the use of a headset, pillow or blanket. What’s more, due to the tragic events of 9-11, passengers are taxed with an additional “Security Fee.” These funds typically go to the TSA or other security needs at each airport. However, between a still lagging economy, and all of the additional fees that are lopped onto a ticket these days, there are many a person who find it cumbersome to travel via airplane. Moreover, travelers find it literally a shlep just getting to a particular gate.


Due to increased security measures, it seems like an astronomically long time before one even enters the terminal! And so, in an effort to move people along quickly all while providing better security, there are now more than twenty-three airports across the United States using Full Body Scanners.

Indeed, last year, when these scanners where beginning to get more public attention, I posed the question here of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

At the time, I didn’t get the chance to properly answer this question. Additionally, those Poskim whom I consulted with told me that they wanted to learn more about it before reaching a conclusion. Since posing this question, we have unfortunately experienced the “Underwear Bomber” as well as the misunderstanding that led many to believe that there was a “Tefillin Bomber!” All things considered, ever since the “Underwear Bomber” tried to blow up a plane over Detroit last year, these devices have been more readily adopted by airport security throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, etc. To that end, it appears inevitable that they will continue to be introduced to airports around the world. And so, while there are those who believe that these scanners increase safety, there are reputable experts who are of the opinion that they are “worthless.” See also here. Moreover, for some time now it has been reported that Al-Qaeda has been practicing how to get past these scanners! On another note, I’d be remiss to point out that for certain people there are potential health risks involved. Hence, one should consult their physician prior to stepping in a Full Body Scanner. For instance, it has already been reported here that pregnant women and children should not be subject to this scanning.

However, aside for such individuals, your average passenger may very well have to pass through a Full Body Scanner for their very first time this summer. Hence, while there is certainly room to debate if this device is truly effective, I believe that’s a moot point, as these machines are now going to be part of the travel experience. And so, I believe it’s imperative to answer the question of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

To best address this matter, we need to determine if there is even any Halachic cause for concern in using a Full Body Scanner?

While I’m certain that there are several elements of concern a pious Jew may have before walking through this machine, arguably the greatest issue is the element of: Tznius. Indeed, there are those who suggest that these devices clearly break child pornography laws. Likewise, CNN recently reported that the government is misleading the public regarding the ability of these nude airport scanners. Truth be told, these machines that see beneath people’s clothing, do have the potential to be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders. Not only would this be a grievous  invasion of privacy, but it would clearly not be within the realm of Tznius, and hence possibly forbidden to use by Jewish Law.

Indeed, a TSA worker assaulted a colleague who made a crack about the others genitalia after his fellow employee walked through the revealing scanner! As such, we certainly see that this machine can be revealingand not for simply security intentions!

And so, as pious Jews, we must turn to the words of our contemporary Sages to see if it’s permissible to consider using these machines.

Earlier this year, the European Jewish Press reported here that The Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), comprised of hundreds of Rabbis, expressed concern about the installation and implementation of Full Body Scanners in European airports.  Asher Gold, the RCE spokesperson remarked, “the implementation of Full Body Scans leaves us concerned. In line with child protection agencies in America we feel this violates the rights of [all] Religious Women whose Modesty would be compromised.” Accordingly, he vocalized the Rabbis conclusion as far as using this device by remarking that while they appreciate the concern of passenger safety, “we would recommend that men are scanned by men, and women by women, akin to body frisk.”

However, one of the foremost Poskim of today, Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita, reportedly stated clearly that, “he saw no Halachic questions with using these scanners for airport safety!” Similarly, when I recently asked this question to two other Poskim, one in America and one in Eretz Yisrael, they both remarked that using these devices would be akin to going to a doctor. If medically needed, a Jewish physician is allowed to inspect a person of the opposite sex. Likewise, if medically needed, a Jewish patient is permitted to expose themselves to a medical professional of the opposite sex. The reason for this, is beyond the scope of this post, but stems from the verse in Deuteronomy 4:15 which states, “ushmartem me’od es nafshoseichem” (you shall carefully preserve your lives). Likewise, the Poskim whom I spoke to explained that it would be permitted by Halacha to partake in this “revealing” scan as it is needed for physical safety, and would also fall in line with the above mentioned verse and rationale.

In summation, the consensus opinion is that a Jewish person is allowed to walk into a Full Body Scanner. While it may be additionally pious to try and follow the statement of the RCE that, “men are scanned by men, and women by women,” there are many other Poskim who are of the opinion that one need not be concerned for this measure.

Have a safe and meaningful trip!

What are your thoughts on these Full Body Scanners?

A Jewish Perspective on the Volcano, the iPad and Us!

Unless you’ve had your head stuck under a rock, you are aware of the Iceland volcano that began erupting on March 20th 2010, and for all intensive purposes shut down Europe (Flickr Pictures and YouTube Video here). Indeed, as reported here, President Obama, as well as many other leaders of the world where unable to fly in for the weekend funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynsk, due to the volcanic ash cloud that disrupted European air traffic. Personally, I’m still aware of several bochurim as well as families that remain stuck in various parts of the world, because of the volcanic ash. Despite the fact that this volcano was located in Iceland, it affected the global economy in addition to families and businessman. All in all, the airline industry reported a loss of nearly 2 billion dollars due to the volcanic ash!

Just this past Erev Shabbos, millions of people celebrated Earth Day, in which they remember, appreciate, and respect “Mother Nature.” On the other hand, Chazal instructed us to not have one day to introspect upon the Earth. Rather, Jews are meant to constantly learn from natural disasters or the like and ask, “what is Hashem trying to tell us?” We should think, “what message should we, the Jewish people, perhaps be hearing a bit louder?” And yet, while it’s certainly true that after the earthquake that crippled Haiti, Jews quickly arrived and made a Kiddush Hashem (all you needed to do was follow this Twitter stream to read of the daily chessed performed by the IDF), by and large the Jewish community was not caught and crippled by the earthquake in Haiti.  Hence, for the most part we have carried on with our busy life.  Typically speaking, human beings react only when something happens directly under our nose. If however, something doesn’t come  within “our daled amos” it seems to not really register on our radar, nor does it evoke us to ask, “what might Hashem be trying to tell us?”

To that end, being that the volcano did not take place in an isolated area such as Haiti or China, but rather affected travel even to and from Israel, and has and continues to hamper hundreds of bachurim, Roshei Yeshivas, and Rebbes-the entire spectrum of the heimeshe olam,  Rav Shmuel Brazil, at his Shabbos Dvar Torah, decided to comment on the volcano, and give us all a bit of hisorerus from current events. Below are merely some of his insights as I recall them, mixed in with additional points and comments of my own.

First and foremost, I’d be remiss to point out that in my conversation with Rav Brazil prior to the beginning of Mincha, he noted, that in all of his lifetime, he can’t remember a time in which there has been soo many natural disasters occurring one after another (Indeed, right after Shabbos, I read of the latest Tornado here in which to date, 10 people have tragically perished). It seems apparent that Hashem must be trying to awaken the world, and more particularly Klal Yisrael, to something…

Rav Brazil began with a few introductory remarks, and then quoted a small Kuntres authored by Rav Yaakov Emden titled, Migal Oz. In this booklet there is a chapter called: Gehonnim. In this chapter Rabbi Emden quotes the Gemorah in Eiruvin 19a,  that relates to us that there are 3 physical openings to Gehonnim in this world. He proceeds by explaining that one of the openings to Gehonnim is, “well known and even recorded in a Sefer called Roshmei HaKadur, that there is a mountain in Iceland that spews ash from Gehonnim!!”

That’s right!

This isn’t any sort of volcano.

This isn’t any sort of natural disaster.

It is a volcano that spews ash from Gehonnim itself. It’s no wonder that a couple of puffs from this volcano had such an impact!

Rav Brazil continued by asking, “Does anyone know the name of the volcano?” Indeed, even newscasters have trouble pronouncing the name. Frankly, I find it easier to say five times Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current leader of Iran, who also seems to spew a stream of lava like vitriol towards the Jews, then to pronounce the name of the volcano called Eyjafjallajokull (thanks to Rabbi Mordechai Dixler you can learn here how to pronounce the name Eyjafjallajokull).

To answer the above question, Rav Brazil took a more esoteric approach. He suggested that due to the speed in which we commute and communicate these days, we live in a reality that it’s becoming common place for people to not properly stop and think about the words we speak and emit into the atmosphere. How many politicians or sports figures do we know of that on a weekly basis claim, “I didn’t say that!” or “you quoted me out of context,” despite the fact that we have them recorded making such statements. Unfortunately, society is headed down a course in which we are not giving our words and commitments much weight or thought.

Hence, in the current state, our dibbur, and certainly that of Klal Yisrael’s, is not so Kadosh. Instead, it’s in a rotten state of kilkul. Unfortunately, there are Yidden of all stripes and colors who speak with such sina (hatred) and not with an ounce of ahavah (love) that we are becoming more jumbled and fractored than unified. Sadly, with each passing day in which we do not refrain from all words of disunity and Lashon Harah, we invariably will come across to the rest of the world as if we are just as jumbled as the name of the volcano!

We need to recognize that our words buzz around like this video of air traffic. We need to remember that there are ramifications to the way in which we speak and communicate. We live in such a quick and technologically advanced world, that sometimes we forget to think before speaking, or pressing click and sending an email with insensitive words, or commenting with sinas chinam to a blog post or the like. Airplanes are arguably the greatest vehicle to allowing an individual to experience just how fast of a world we live in nowadays. A journey that used to take months, is now completed within a couple of hours! And yet, while you certainly need to buckle your safety belt and listen to the instructions of the captain, an airplane can not even take off the ground without the use of technology.

Technology, commented Rav Brazil, is tov (good) and can also be rah (bad). However, if we succumb to the focus of constantly be engulfed in the culture that follows the latest technology trends and fads, and hence begin to stray from no longer being conscious of thinking before we speak, then Hashem can elect to flick his own switch, so to speak, to keep us grounded. There was nothing that anyone could have done to remove the volcanic ash from the sky. Thousands of people the world over just had to wait it out. However, it’s up to us to decide how we would utilize this time. I heard of one person who said, “well if I can’t make it to my business conference, I might as well sit and learn!” And so, he chaperined and learned many more hours of Torah then he intended on beingable to learn during this episode. Conversely, there were other Jews who decided to simply pass the time by reading a USA Today cover to cover. And you know what…to each his own! That said, this volcano did bring globalization and the comforts of air travel, to halt. In so doing, it afforded us the opportunity (it was up to each individual to utilize it) to think and introspect.

We need to remember that words, which although not visible, nonetheless travel throughout the world. Our words travel to the various olamos all the way up to Shomayim. We ned to never forget that our machshavos (thoughts), our masos (actions), but most importantly our dibbur (speech), is what sets us, human beings apart, from any other living being in this world.

We need to remember that it’s really quite simple: If  Klal Yisrael speaks nicely and proper, and by extension act as true Kedoshim, holy people, then we will all make it to a life in Gan Eden. However if we live a life of speaking (and that includes all forms of communication) Lashon Hara, then Rav Brazil reminded us all that there is room for all of us in Gehonnim!

Technology is a wonderful asset. It has advanced communication and made travel efficient, and dare I say seemingly effortless. If however, we loose sight that our goal is to be as it says (in what is now last weeks Parsha) Kedoshim, holy, because Hashem is holy, and instead chase after the next piece of gashmius or technology then we will quickly erode. With that said, perhaps we can finally understand why at the same time as the volcanic ash was distributing air travel, the latest gadget from Apple, the iPad, was mysteriously banned from entering into The Holy Land.

As I’m certain you know by now,  if you flew into Israel, you could not bring an iPad into the country…it was immediately confiscated!  While the Wall Street Journal to TIME Magazine all speculated as to why it was not allowed to enter Israel, no one could get a real straight answer. There were rumors floating around that the reason was for military precautions or due to collusion to not allow the iPad into the country until it was going to be sold in Israel. However, I’d suggest based upon the above thoughts that this, albeit temporary ban, was ultimately not another political or military conspiracy. Rather it was all part and parcel of Hashem’s subtle message to the Jewish people. He was subtly reminding us that we should really worry about how we can strive to have more Kedusha enter our lives. This time period of Sefiras HaOmer, is not supposed to be the time of the iPad. For us, it’s supposed to be the time of the iClimb, as we each work on our various attributes so that we can climb and correct our middos, and by extension, reach the holiday of Shavous as Jews in a perfected state of holiness.

Again, do I think it’s a coincidence that right after finishing the double Parsha of Achrei Mos-Kedoshim, I read that Israel has, just as mysteriously as the ban came, finally decided to lift the ban and allow the iPad (back) into the country?

I think not…

Hashem never intended to withhold gashmius or technology from us altogether.

Do I think that it’s a coincidence that no industry, aside for the airlines was as severely affected by this volcano as that of the import and export fish?

I think not…

After all, we all know that when Yaakov Avinu blessed Yoseph’s two sons and all of their descendants he compared them, and hence the Jewish people, to fish. There are many other sources, ranging from the Midrash Rabbah on down, who also compare the Jewish people to fish. See also here. All in all, if the fish industry which are comparable to the Jewish people were affected by this volcano, I view it as yet another gentle reminder from our Father in Heaven that we should listen and be affected by the subtle yet powerful message emanating from  Eyjafjallajokull.

Finally, Rav Brazil concluded by citing this article. Apparently, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano isn’t necessarily the main problem. It’s Katla, Iceland’s noisier neighbor, that’s the real concern. If lava flowing from Eyjafjallajokull melts the glaciers that hold down the top of Katla, then Katla could blow its top, pumping gigantic amounts of ash into the atmosphere. The potential eruption of Iceland’s volcano Katla could send the world, including the United States, into an extended deep freeze. Lashon Harah is worse than shefichas damim, murder, for it parallels avodah zara, idolatry and immorality as well. Rav Brazil left us all with the following question, “Does one not think that Hashem may be sending us another subtle message hidden in the name of this second volcano? I don’t think that it is a mere coincidence that this second volcano means murder in Aramaic?”

Regardless of whatever “death” this second volcano may allude to, be it economic or what not, we should take the current events and not shrug them off. Instead, we should view them with hisorerus, to help us continue to climb forward towards our cleansing process that we partake in during this time period of Sefiras HaOmer and the acceptance of the Torah at Har Sinai, which we celebrate on the upcoming holiday of Shavous.

Funny Flying Trends

As a person who travels frequently on airplanes throughout the year, I make it a habit to read up on the current travel trends, advice and tricks of the trade. Accordingly, when I saw the latest news out of First Class, I just cracked up! After reading this article I asked myself, “if people really have that kinda money to spend, are we really in a recession?”

I hope that you’ll click on over here and enjoy the laugh as much as I did!

Likewise, in case you thought flying from Israel to North America could get any more uncomfortable, you’ve got to check out this design, that even after giving it a couple looks up and down, still seems to resemble fashionable handcuffs more then anything else!

Halacha and TSA Full Body Scanners Part 1

In preparation for my Contemporary Halacha class, I stumbled across this new technology that will make the security lines at airports (allegedly) quicker. The new technology will use electromagnetic waves to create pictures of energy reflected off people. That said, while they blur passengers’ faces, the metallic-looking images still clearly reveal outlines of private body parts!

As such, the question at hand is does this pose a halachic issue for religious Jewish men and women in terms of tzniut?

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