After tefillin flight flap, Orthodox group calls for training


NEW YORK (JTA) — An Orthodox group is calling for better training after a commercial flight was diverted when a passenger’s tefillin were mistaken for a bomb.

“To facilitate training and awareness, we recently created a brochure explaining Orthodox customs for individual airlines, and are happy to share this brochure with other airlines,” said Rabbi A. D. Motzen, the Ohio regional director of Agudath Israel of America, in a statement issued Jan. 21 by the haredi group.

Agudath Israel said it has worked closely with the Transportation Security Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to "sensitize the agency to the various religious objects and practices of Orthodox Jews," in addition to reaching out to U.S. and foreign airlines.

“At the same time,” said Rabbi Mark Kalish, Agudath Israel’s national director of government affairs, “we have also cautioned members of our own community to understand that many citizens may not be familiar with Jewish prayer rituals, and that they might consider explaining the practice to individuals in authority before boarding planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transit.”

On Jan. 21, a flight attendant on a US Air flight from New York to Louisville mistook the religious prayer article as a bomb after the Jewish passenger, Caleb Leibowitz, 17, had taken them out to pray, according to reports. Tefillin consist of two black boxes, each connected to leather straps.

The passengers and crew were taken off the plane in Philadelphia. Fire trucks and police met the plane on the runway.

Leibowitz was questioned and released. No one was arrested in the incident.

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