Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Good Name for Tefillin

The story has already saturated the internet news: Chautauqua Airlines Flight 3079 from New York (LaGuardia) to Louisville was diverted to Philadelphia, where Calev Liebowitz and his little sister were handcuffed and taken the plane. Why? Because Calev was praying his morning prayers with his tefillin ("phylacteries" in English/Greek), of which the stewardess was totally clueless. Once the Philadelphia Police realized what had happened, Calev and sister were released and sent on their merry way to Louisville.

Because I myself have a pair of tefillin which I lay on every day (except the Sabbath and Jewish festivals), I know exactly what they are and how they are used. But the fact is that most of the American population does not know what tefillin are. Accordingly, the stewardess was suspicious, and the pilot acted on the side of caution (he probably didn't know too much about tefillin either).

Of course, I now hear everyone in my own socioreligious circles screaming "anti-Semitism" and calling for the stewardess's termination. But the way I call it, everyone acted properly under the circumstances:

The Stewardess on Flight 3079: She saw Calev wrap two black boxes with long straps around his arm and over his head, respectively. She didn't know what they were. She said something. This was appropriate behavior (given that she didn't know what tefillin were).

The Pilot on Flight 3079: He decided to err on the side of caution after hearing the story second-hand from the Stewardess. This was an appropriate decision.

The Law Enforcement Officers: Working on a third-hand story, they handcuffed the suspected would-be bomber. Once they realized that he was just a religious Jew praying with his tefillin, they immediately released him. This was quite appropriate.

Calev Liebowitz: (A) He properly said his morning prayers with his tefillin. (B) He did it unobtrusively in his seat and didn't disrupt other passengers by trying to gather 10 or more Jewish men (a "minyan") all together in the aisles. (C) He totally cooperated with the cops and apparently didn't give them any backtalk. He behaved appropriately.

And so, all individuals involved appropriately (although the whole thing was certainly a collective over-reaction). But Chautauqua Airlines, the Philadelphia International Airport, the law enforcement authorities and the other passengers on Flight 3079 could have been spared the expenditure of much time, money and aggravation if only Chautauqua Airlines would have instructed its flight crews as to what tefillin are.


At the other end of the spectrum is some totally inappropriate behavior. Martin Grossman, now residing on death row in Florida, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on 16 February 2010. Martin Grossman is Jewish, and so, I am now being beseeched by certain groups to ask Governor Crist to spare Grossman's life. My gut reaction is that whenever a fellow Jew is in danger, I must go and help him or her. But under the circumstances, I must now ask myself what I would advocate if it were, instead of a Jewish criminal killing a Gentile victim, the situation were reversed. And so, stripping everyone of all religious and ethnic and gender labels, we have the following:

A 19-year-old person on probation from jail for a felony burglary and theft offense is high on drugs, has gone outside of the county and is in possession of a firearm, all in contravention of the terms of the person's probation. The person encounters a law enforcement officer, whom the person brutally beats because the law enforcement officer is about to report the person's misdeeds. The person then takes the law enforcement officer's weapon, and, while the law enforcement officer is forcibly wedged into the patrol car, shoots the law enforcement officer in the back of the head with the weapon, killing the law enforcement officer. The person and the person's accomplice then try to destroy and hide the evidence.

I really, really hate to see another Jew die, but Martin Grossman has given me damn little to work with in constructing an argument for mercy or lenity on his behalf.


Well now, it seems that Rabbi Menachem Katz of the Aleph Institute has been visiting Martin Grossman in prison. [This is appropriate behavior if, as I believe to be the case here, the visitor is not smuggling any contraband and is visiting in compliance with the prison visitation rules. The Aleph Institute is a credible organization, which offers its outreach services to Jews who are removed from the mainstream community. This obviously includes prison inmates, but Aleph Institute also reaches out to Jewish military personnel who are not in ready touch with Jewish communities.].

It has been reported that Grossman has requested a proper Jewish burial in the event that the execution is carried out. This I can endorse. Every Jew is entitled to a proper Jewish burial. The Hebrew Free Burial Association does precisely that for indigent Jewish decedents in the New York area (I myself send a check to HFBA every year). Surely a proper Jewish burial can be arranged for Grossman. They probably can dispense with the autopsy. And I do not doubt that there are Jewish law enforcement officers in Florida who would be willing to stand watch over the body between the time of death and the time of burial.

And, as further detailed per this Blog's 19 August 2009 posting, Grossman is entitled to a memorial plaque on a Yahrzeit board. The Jewish community of Florida is quite affluent, so I'm sure that they will find a way to underwrite Grossman's proper Jewish burial and Yahrzeit plaque.


Rabbi Katz also reports that he arranged for "special permission from the warden to allow Grossman to put on Tefillin." This I certainly favor, but hope and pray that Grossman doesn't give tefillin (and those of us who pray with them) a bad name.

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