Tuesday, December 05, 2006

On flying El Al and Birchat haGomel

On flying El AL and Birchat ha-gomel

There has been a little to-do in the jblogosphere about ElAl flying on Shabbat, and rabbinic warnings that ElAl has become unsafe to fly. I am very much a minimalist when it comes to Daas Torah and gedolim, but in this case I think the furor is very unfair, even among those who do not compare certain rabbis to witch doctors and Indian rain dancers.

The key factor here to remember is that the rabbi involved said that flying ElAl had become potentially life threatening. Perhaps he meant that G-d is going to crash an ElAl plane as punishment, but I don't think we need to ascribe that primitive level of superstition to him. And, as I understand the matter, he did not call for a boycott of ElAl to protest flying on Shabbat. He merely gave a safety warning.

Travel by air is actually more dangerous than travel by other means. I don't have any statistics handy, and I don't mean to say that there are, for instance, less fatalities per mile travelled in cars than in planes. But I think it is intuitively obvious that one has a greater chance of death or grave bodily harm if you are in a plane that crashes than if you are in a train or bus that crashes. Planes may crash less than buses, but the results are generally more catastrophic when they do.

Until now ElAl has been Shomer Shabbat, at least on paper. At least it pays lip service to the idea of being Shomer Shabbat. It would not be illogical, from a Charedi point of view, to think that this observance of Shabbat has allowed ElAl a slight degree of Heavenly protection. Perhaps the idea is simply a level of superstition not much better than shamanism, but one can hardly be surprised if a Charedi holds that view. (And, for the sake of clarity, let me add that I don't intend to call it superstition. I simply think that Providence works in a far more complicated matter than we can ever understand.) If ElAl abandons its stance of being Shomer Shabbt--no matter how minimal and breached that observance of Shabbat has been--than whatever Heavenly protection was granted for being Shomer Shabbat would, naturally, be withdrawn, and travelling on ElAl would revert to the same level of danger that applies to all other airlines.

It's as simple as that.

The matter has raised a question in mind. I remember learning, years ago, that in earlier times, travel by ship was regarded as inherently dangerous and this is why anyone who safely completed maritime travel would be expected to recite Birchat haGomel. It would seem to me that the same basic consideration now applies to travel by plane, and anyone who safely completes air travel should also recite the blessing. Also, since travel by ship is not nearly as dangerous as it was in earlier times, should one nowadays not recite the blessing on completion of ordinary sea travel, and recite it only when the sea journey was especially hazardous?

1 comment:

Ploney said...

"Travel by air is actually more dangerous than travel by other means. I don't have any statistics handy, and I don't mean to say that there are, for instance, less fatalities per mile travelled in cars than in planes. But I think it is intuitively obvious that one has a greater chance of death or grave bodily harm if you are in a plane that crashes than if you are in a train or bus that crashes. Planes may crash less than buses, but the results are generally more catastrophic when they do."


This paragraph is not logical. You are less likely to be injured or die flying from NY to LA than you are driving from NY to LA. The suggestion that if something does happen, it is more serious, shouldn't make a difference.

Also, not all airplace crash incidents are big fireballs of death. There are all kinds of nasty landings and what not... I suspect the ratio of deaths:injuries is just as high on a long freeway drive as they are on a flight.

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