When I lived in Nashville I got used to the people at the airport pulling out my tefillin and getting all confused. And as Jeremy has noted in the past, it’s not at all helpful to explain that they’re phylacteries, because who the heck knows what that means? So I just said they were a Jewish ritual item, and usually that was that. No biggie. I’ve heard of at least one person who was asked to open the boxes, and when he explained that would damage the tefillin the TSA accepted that and all was well.
But apparently, this morning a man on board a flight from La Guardia in New York to Louisville, Kentucky pulled out his tefillin after the plane took off–and somehow prompted a bomb scare causing the plane to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. According to CBS News:
The passenger who aroused suspicion was a 16-year-old boy who was traveling with his teenage sister. The passenger is a U.S. citizen. He was questioned by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and was not charged.
The flight will continue to its original destination, and the passenger involved in the incident is being permitted to continue on the flight.
The passenger was removed from the plane without incident. The TSA said officials searched the plane, with negative findings.
I know what you’re thinking. Tefillin are about as dangerous as my mother’s gefilte fish recipe. I don’t know what to tell you other than that it’s a mad mad mad world out there.
In the meantime I put in a request at the TSA for tips on traveling with tefillin without getting arrested. I’ll let you know what I hear back.
Pronounced: tuh-FILL-in (short i in both fill and in), Origin: Hebrew, phylacteries. These are the small boxes containing the words of the Shema that are traditionally wrapped around one’s head and arm during morning prayers.