Rabbi Herschel Shachter
Rabbi Hershel Schachter

Davening on Airplanes

Several times a year I visit Eretz Yisroel. When I take a night flight I notice that many men sleep for five to six hours, and then recite Shema and daven Shacharis after waking up, as if they were at a seven o'clock minyan back in the United States. However, because the airplane is flying from West to East and traversing several time zones, the zman Krias Shema keeps getting earlier and earlier, following the zman Krias Shema on the ground over which the airplane is flying[1]. Often, by the time many of the passengers wake up and get ready to start shacharis, the zman on the ground below is already after chatzos and well into the zman of mincha.

Another common mistake people make is regarding davening with a minyan. The Talmud emphasizes the importance of tefillah btzibur; and one who davens with a minyan stands a much better chance of having his prayers answered than one who lacks a minyan. However, it is highly improper for the chazzan of a minyan on an airplane to shout at the top of his lungs to enable the other mispalelim to hear him over the airplane noise, and thereby wake up all the passengers around him. It is true that there is a halachic principle of kofin al hamitzvos, i.e. that beis din has an obligation to force people to observe the mitzvos even when they're not interested in doing so, but this only applies when pressuring an individual will result in his becoming observant. However, when Orthodox Jews disturb non-observant Jewish passengers with their davening, the non-observant passengers sill remain non-observant and now just have another point about which to be upset with the Orthodox. The practice of the Orthodox passengers under such circumstances appears simply as an act of harassment. Rather than having accomplished the hidur mitzvah of davening tefillah btzibur, they have violated lifnei iver by causing the non-observant passengers to become more antagonistic towards shemiras hamitzvos. The shouting tone of voice employed by the shaliach tzibbur to overcome the noise on the airplane clearly does not constitute a kavod hatefillah.

The halacha states that when traveling, if it is too difficult to stand for shemoneh esrei even the "amidah" may be recited while seated. On a short flight of an hour and a half to Canada it is more correct to daven the entire tefillah while still buckled in, in a sitting position. On the long flight to Eretz Yisroel it is healthier to not sit the entire time; walking around somewhat helps the blood circulation in one's legs. As such, there is nothing wrong with standing for shemoneh esrei, provided that there's no turbulence at that time. However, it is still not proper to gather a minyan together near the washrooms, disturbing all the other passengers and the stewardesses. As much as various Torah giants of our generation have expressed their opposition to such minyanim on airplanes[2], their message has not yet been accepted. We wish everyone a chag kasher v'sameach, and all those traveling to Eretz Yisroel should have a safe trip, but keep in mind - these minyanim are shelo b'ratzon chachomim!

[1] Editor's note: Chaitables.com calculates the zemanei tefillah for your flight given your departure and arrival locations and times

[2] Rav Shlomo Wahrman ( She'eiris Yosef  vol. 7, siman 3) quotes Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, page 75), Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim vol. 4 siman 20), Rav Ovadiah Yosef, and Rav Shmuel Wosner all objecting to minyanim on airplanes that disturb other passengers

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