Followup – The Great ‘Religious Device’ Scare of ’10

By | January 26, 2010

We did want to followup on last week’s story, where a religious Jewish teen caused a plane to be diverted by praying using his tefillin.  In case you missed it the first time, the above is an Associated Press video of the initial announcement. Note the police referring to the device as an “Olfactory.”

The teen, Caleb Leibowitz of White Plains, NY, and his 16 year old sister were two of only fifteen passengers on the flight from LaGuardia to Louisville. Republic Airways Holdings, which owns Chautauqua, the airline that operated the flight, claims that they “did not receive a clear response” when they talked to the 17 year old, and that is why they decided to land. Yet, on the ground, Lt. Frank Vanore of the Philadelphia Police described the teen as very cooperative.

We wanted to link to an official statement from Republic Airways or US Airways(under whose name the flight operated). However, neither airline offered an official written press release, which is a telling sign of how seriously they aren’t taking this incident. Either way,  the boy’s father, Glen, does not believe their explanations. “I’m appalled that they hide behind ‘the child was creating a disturbance. There was no disturbance. He was praying. They may have felt disturbed, but he wasn’t creating a disturbance.

Joe Satterly, a passenger on the plane, said that no announcements had been made by the pilot, and many passengers were unsure of what was happening. When the plane landed, according to Satterly, Caleb was questioned, and then removed from the plane in handcuffs before it was allowed to go to a gate.

The Leibowitz kids were put on a later flight to Louisville.

We present a Youtube video by Shmuel Tennenhaus, on how to hide your tefillin to avoid suspicion. Shmuel’s summation is that the best solution to avoid suspicion by using tefillin is to pray at home before. However, in Caleb’s defense, as morning prayers are to be said after sunrise. As the teen’s father commented, “Putting on tefillin is difficult to do in airport lines and with all the security checks there was no time to do it before the flight boarded.

We continue to find this whole situation ridiculous. Has the world come to such a state that anyone doing anything outside the comfort zone of someone in authority produces this sort of response? An abundance of caution is one thing, but an excess of overreaction is another.

But, in all fairness, in researching this, we learned of a story that the tefillin frightened the Syrians during the Six-Day-War, when they spied an IDF unit with strange black boxes on their heads. Certain that the boxes were receiving signals that gave the Israelis the upper hand, the Syrians quickly retreated. Of course, that was in 1967.