Whether we travel by car, bus, train or plane our tefillin often accompany us.
Are you aware of the potential risks to your tefillin when traveling and how to best prevent them from being lost or damaged?
Let’s look at the various modes of transportation and the potential risks to tefillin associated with them.
Travel by car
Traveling short distances poses no risk to tefillin. However, on a hot or cold day they shouldn’t be kept in the trunk or on the dashboard for even a short while.
A lengthy trip is also not hazardous to tefillin if kept in the passenger section of the car. If the inside of the car is comfortable throughout the journey for the occupants then it is safe for tefillin.
The problems arise when we make a stop. A relatively short stop on a very hot or cold day can adversely affect the paint on the batim or retzuos and the heat could even cause the ink on the parshios to become tacky. We’re well aware how hot a car can get even after grocery shopping or a visit to the bank, etc. The problem is compounded if we’re doing this regularly or running multiple errands and even more so, if parked for several hours during the workday or the like. The general rule is that if the inside of the car reaches uncomfortable temperatures even for a short while, even if parked in the shade or a garage, then this puts the tefillin at risk
Similarly, considerable fluctuation in temperature or humidity can affect the shape of the batim and cause paint to crack or flake since leather naturally contracts and expands with the change in temperature or humidity.
If you do leave your tefillin in the car when there is no risk of damage, be sure to cover them up. The bag design may attempt someone to break in.
What am I supposed to do if I can’t drop off my tefillin at home after davening?
There are 3 viable options.
- If there’s a secure place to keep your tefillin in shul then leave them there.
- Take your tefillin to work and leave them in your briefcase, at your desk or in a secure area.
- Take you tefillin with you when running errands. While it can be a hassle to carry them when shopping, etc. and you may fear leaving them somewhere it’s still the safer bet. Keep them in a briefcase or shoulder bag.
- If there’s absolutely no option then store the tefillin in an insulated bag or chest in your car out of direct sunlight.
Bear in mind that risk of damage due to heat or cold is not exclusive to cars. A shul, garage or any room that is not kept at a reasonable temperature round the clock can pose a risk to tefillin that are kept in these places when they are unheated or without air conditioning. Certainly tefillin shouldn’t be left next to a heater or on a windowsill.
Travel by bus or train
The biggest concern when traveling by bus or train is loss or theft. In order to limit the chances of this happening here are a few suggestions:
- Keep your tefillin in your handbag or carryon bag and don’t carry them separately.
- If you’re traveling alone and need to use the washroom on the bus or train then take your tefillin (and any valuables) with you. Obviously, this wouldn’t be a concern when traveling on a heimish bus.
- If you’re traveling alone and need to use the washroom in a train or bus station or any public location then take your tefillin with you.
Besides being irresponsible, today it’s illegal in most public places to leave luggage unattended and you risk a fine or arrest. It‘s also possible that security will confiscate or even blow up your luggage!
As long as the tefillin are within 2 bags, not including the actual tefillin bag, then it is permissible to take them into the bathroom. The outer plastic bag plus an additional covering like another bag or case meets the halachic obligation of “kis b’toch kis, bag within a bag.
This author is unclear as to whether the luggage compartment under a bus or on a train is temperature regulated so it would be best not to put your tefillin in checked luggage.
Travel by plane
The above suggestions for bus and train travel apply to plane travel as well.
This author has confirmed that the cargo hold of passenger planes is temperature regulated so while it’s not going to be heated or cooled for human comfort, it shouldn’t get cold or hot enough to risk damage to tefillin.
However, many of us have reached our destinations to find out that our luggage ended up somewhere else or didn’t make it on the flight. In most cases we get the luggage the next day, which may mean davening shacharis without tefillin, the hassle of having to borrow, assuming we are in a place where other tefillin are available or possibly losing out altogether on mitzvas tefillin for a day. This is besides the small chance that the luggage will take longer to receive or will never be recovered. Hence, tefillin should always be taken on board.
Small jets are often used on short flights and there is insufficient room on board for a full size carryon bag. They will take your bag at the entrance to the plane to put in the cargo hold and return it when you disembark. In such a case there should be no problem leaving your tefillin in the carryon bag.
Most of us are familiar with the famous stories of planes being diverted to the closest airport due to suspicious behavior or a potential terrorist threat, which turned out to be nothing more than someone putting on his tefillin. There are many non Jews who are not familiar with tefillin. If you’ll need to put on tefillin while on public transportation and you’re traveling on a flight or route that is not frequented by frum yidden then be sure to inform a flight attendant, conductor or at least a few people sitting around you that you are going to pray and there’s no need for concern.
Just as we put identification and contact information on and in luggage, briefcases and schoolbags, it is important to do the same with our tefillin. Don’t think that a name embroidered on the tefillin (tallis) bag will suffice! Labels can be put on the bottom of the plastic tefillin cases, sewn onto the inside of the tefillin (and tallis) bag or put on or in the outer plastic tefillin (and tallis) bag. Ask a rav if a card with identification and contact information may be put inside the inner tefillin bag.
If tefillin would have the proper identification there would be no need for tefillin lost and founds! At www.tefillinfinders.com one can list and look for lost tefillin.
Rabbi Askotzky is a certified sofer, examiner and batim expert and author of Tefillin & Mezuzos, Targum Press 2003