[Avodah] El Al Flights To JFK Airport In New York

Jay F. Shachter jay at m5.chicago.il.us
Mon May 13 15:12:54 PDT 2024

This posting appeared in our sister mailing list Areivim, v42i22:

> Every few years it seems the issue of a Cohen on an airplane flying
> over a cemetery comes up.
> I was at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, Long Island today.  There
> are over 250,000 graves there.
> After being there for 90 seconds, it is clear that the cemetery is
> in the flight path of JFK airport, with planes landing every few
> minutes.
> While El Al flights don't fly over the Holon cemetery to avoid the
> problem; what do El Al and Cohanim do when flying into JFK?

You could ask the same question about El Al planes that don't fly to
JFK airport.

I don't know why El Al flights don't fly over the Holon cemetery
(maybe some reader of this mailing list can address that -- I would
thank that Iggroth Moshe Yoreh De`ah 164:276 [1973] is dispositive),
because if you fly El Al often, the chances are good that you have
shared your airplane with several dead Jews in the cargo area.

It is quite reasonable that you might not know that, because the
flight attendants rarely announce that fact.  Or, actually, never.
Let me check my memory here -- do I recall ever hearing the flight
attendants say, "Please fasten your seat belts, and, on behalf of
El Al, we would like to welcome you all to Flight #42 to Ben-Gurion
Airport, just as we welcome the several dead Jews who are flying
directly underneath you in the cargo hold"?  Nope, I don't recall ever
hearing that announcement.

Nevertheless, you are probably aware of the fact that many Jews who
die outside of Israel are buried inside of Israel.  Perhaps you have
never considered how those corpses get there.  Consider it.  They are
not transported there by boat.  There are flown there.  There are some
cargo-only flights that can be used to fly them to Israel, but they
also fly there on passenger fights, and El Al is one of the carriers
that carry them.  The situation is similar to the situation discussed
in Yoreh De`ah 371:4.  If a room's doors and windows are shut, it does
not spread tum'ah to the rest of the house, nor receive tum'ah from
the rest of the house, unless its walls or doors or windows are made
of gold or silver or bronze or iron or tin or lead.  (And we should
totally discuss, some other time, whether the correct translation of
"nxosheth" is "bronze".  Later.)  The same ought to apply to a steel
airplane, or a spruce airplane, flying over a cemetery.

Actually, an airplane flying over a cemetery does not present the
exact same fact pattern as the partition between the cargo area and
the passenger area, because airplanes are actually quite porous, which
is why you don't suffocate when you fly in one.  But then, neither do
you suffocate in a room whose door and windows are tightly shut.  I
think Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was smart enough to realize all of that,
and, sof kol sof, it didn't bother him.  So, as long as you are in
United States airspace, which you are when you are flying over Beth
David cemetery, you must follow the psaq of Rabbi Feinstein, otherwise
you are in violation of lo thithgoddu, a serious Torah prohibition.
This is the same Torah prohibition, pursuant to which it is forbidden
mid'oraitha to reject the hashgaxa of the Israeli Rabbanuth.  But I

               Jay F. ("Yaakov") Shachter
               6424 North Whipple Street
               Chicago IL  60645-4111
                       (1-773)7613784   landline
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                       jay at m5.chicago.il.us

               When Martin Buber was a schoolboy, it must have been
               no fun at all playing tag with him during recess.

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