March 14th, 2011
04:17 PM ET

Prayers spark scare on airplane

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

On Sunday, three Orthodox Jewish businessmen triggered fears on a flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles.

Passengers on Alaska Airlines Flight 241 became alarmed when the three men began to pray out loud. "Shortly after takeoff ... three passengers were praying out loud in a language other than Spanish," according to an airline spokeswoman.

"They had something that appeared to the flight attendants to be strapped under their clothing," the spokeswoman said. "The flight attendants alerted the flight deck, who in turn alerted the tower at LAX. Law enforcement met the plane upon arrival."

During weekday prayers, some Orthodox Jewish men wear teflillin, or phylacteries - black leather straps wrapped around the left arm and around the forehead. The straps are connected to small boxes with tiny scrolls containing Jewish scriptures. Many Orthodox Jewish men also wear a prayer shawl called a tallit under their clothes, with knotted fringes at each of the four corners.

The airline spokeswoman said she was unaware if the men were wearing either of these traditional items.

When the planed landed at LAX it was greeted by members of airport police, the FBI and Customs and Border Protection.

According to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller, the men were questioned and their baggage was searched before they were cleared to go.

"The men were extremely cooperative," Eimiller said.

Airport police Sgt. Belinda Nettles told CNN there was never any threat to passenger or aircraft safety.

CNN's Carol Cratty and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • California • Judaism • United States

soundoff (820 Responses)
  1. Muslim

    So If I was Muslim and I started praying on the plane, what do you think would happen ?

    March 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Muneef

      You mean full worship prayer or just sitting and saying prayers? After all you know you can pray even with your finger with out standing and sitting on the plane corridor ?? Nor saying prayers do you need to wear any strange things? Nor it is required from you to say your prayers in the loudest of voice?

      So guess you have no problem main thing your intentions deep in heart that are accountable,so just say your intention out of the prayer,ask God his acceptance and just go ahead with it...peacefully...

      March 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Muneef

      Al-Anaam 06:
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
      Praise be to Allah, Who hath created the heavens and the earth, and hath appointed darkness and light. Yet those who disbelieve ascribe rivals unto their Lord. (1) He it is Who hath created you from clay, and hath decreed a term for you. A term is fixed with Him. Yet still ye doubt! (2) He is Allah in the heavens and in the earth. He knoweth both your secret and your utterance, and He knoweth what ye earn. (3) Never came there unto them a revelation of the revelations of Allah but they did turn away from it. (4) And they denied the truth when it came unto them. But there will come unto them the tidings of that which they used to deride. (5).

      Had we sent down unto thee (Muhammad) (actual) writing upon parchment, so that they could feel it with their hands, those who disbelieve would have said: This is naught else than mere magic. (7) They say: Why hath not an angel been sent down unto him? If We sent down an angel, then the matter would be judged; no further time would be allowed them (for reflection). (8) Had we appointed him an angel (Our messenger), We assuredly had made him (as) a man (that he might speak to men); and (thus) obscured for them (the truth) they (now) obscure. (9) Messengers (of Allah) have been derided before thee, but that whereat they scoffed surrounded such of them as did deride. (10) Say (unto the disbelievers): Travel in the land, and see the nature of the consequence for the rejecters! (11) Say: Unto whom belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and the earth? Say: Unto Allah. He hath prescribed for Himself mercy, that He may bring you all together to the Day of Resurrection whereof there is no doubt. Those who ruin their souls will not believe. (12).

      Those unto whom We gave the Scripture recognise (this revelation) as they recognise their sons. Those who ruin their own souls will not believe. (20) Who doth greater wrong than he who inventeth a lie against Allah or denieth His revelations? Lo! the wrongdoers will not be successful. (21).

      And this is a blessed Scripture which We have revealed, confirming that which (was revealed) before it, that thou mayst warn the Mother of Villages and those around her. Those who believe in the Hereafter believe herein, and they are careful of their worship. (92) Who is guilty of more wrong than he who forgeth a lie against Allah, or saith: I am inspired, when he is not inspired in aught; and who saith: I will reveal the like of that which Allah hath revealed? If thou couldst see, when the wrong-doers reach the pangs of death and the angels stretch their hands out saying: Deliver up your souls. This day ye are awarded doom of degradation for that ye spake concerning Allah other than the truth, and scorned His portents. (93) Now have ye come unto Us solitary as We did create you at the first, and ye have left behind you all that We bestowed upon you, and We behold not with you those your intercessors, of whom ye claimed that they possessed a share in you. Now is the bond between you severed, and that which ye presumed hath failed you. (94).

      Perfected is the Word of thy Lord in truth and justice. There is naught that can change His words. He is the Hearer, the Knower. (115) If thou obeyedst most of those on earth they would mislead thee far from Allah's way. They follow naught but an opinion, and they do but guess. (116) Lo! thy Lord, He knoweth best who erreth from His way; and He knoweth best (who are) the rightly guided. (117).

      And whomsoever it is Allah's will to guide, He expandeth his bosom unto the Surrender, and whomsoever it is His Will to send astray, He maketh his bosom close and narrow as if he were engaged in sheer ascent. Thus Allah layeth ignominy upon those who believe not. (125) This is the path of thy Lord, a straight path. We have detailed Our revelations for a people who take heed. (126).

      March 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  2. peter

    If you don't believe in prayer, it doesn't mean that the people who do are dumber than you. Here's a sample of dumb though: seeing at a group of praying Jews on your plane as dangerous. Praying Jews don't believe in jihad. Duh! We've become dumb.

    March 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  3. Details

    1. The article says that they were praying 'out loud,' not praying 'loudly.' There is no reason to assume they were being showy or disruptive in any way.
    2. While the article explains what some Orthodox Jews wear when praying, it does not say that these men were wearing such items. In fact, the flight attendant said that she wasn't sure they were wearing such items. For all we know, they were wearing suspenders.

    March 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  4. winstonpafo

    Maybe it would have been helpful if the gentlemen had made it clear to the crew before hand what they were doing to avoid the confusion.

    March 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  5. Sam

    There are a lot of people supporting the act. Makes me wonder what their response would be if it was 3 muslims and not jews. I don't want to tell others what to do, but if I have to pray in public (especially in the plane), I'll do it under my breath so I don't bother anyone else. Your religion shouldn't be other person's problem!

    March 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  6. raven26

    I applaud the men for praying according to their beliefs. I'm appalled the flight attendants weren't educated (even passingly) about those beliefs. People of faith generally live according to it regardless of their location. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Catholics...prayers are a part of life. People who deal with the public need to be aware of what that might entail. Simple as that.

    March 15, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  7. Paul in Louisville

    What a country of morons and scared little children we have become. The airline should apologize immediately to these men.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  8. phan

    religious people are not the smartest characters created by god.. imo probably the dumbest.. this doesnt surprise me and they should be jailed for being stupid.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  9. Rob

    I saw this all the time when I worked as a flight attendant in NYC. They were always up out of their seats, praying and carrying on. They won't listen to requests or even acknowlege you and have all these straps and boxes tied to their arms and heads. Several times they even refused any type of service coming from a female flight attendant for some reason. It was very disruptive and annoying. Please act somewhat normal while in public and save the crazy for your house or church.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • asdf

      II don't care what religion you have or what time table you got to pray to your fictional character. The last I heard, not complying with the flight attendant is federal crime. You should have had them arrested.

      March 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  10. Johnna

    Kill zem, kill zem all !!!

    March 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  11. esmith

    Anyone has the right to pray whenever they want if u don't like it or it bothers u god made ear plugs or how bout u not be a dummy and learn about the things that scare u like terriosts tsa let them through because they were harmless and havin tsa tell the airline or flightcrew about them is called profiling people and that's illegal the last time I checked people need to stop cryin about petty things worry less about the prayer and more about yourself ignorant people

    March 15, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Pegasus

      Profiling has not been illegal since they passed the Patriot Act.

      March 15, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Enzo F. Cannizzo

      I can understand those passengers who are unfamiliar with the Jewish faith and praying by those who follow the Orthodox traditions of their faith . As a Catholic who grew up in a Christian / Jewish neighborhood I became aware of the protocols to a degree of their faith .

      To passengers on the aircraft the prayers would alarm them because there was a lack of understanding . I am sure this would be a different story if this was El Al flight .

      One CONSTRUCTIVE approach to assist the flight crew and passengers is for those that must pray at certain times of the day ,as evidenced with Jewish and Muslim faith , may be to introduce themselves and advise the flight crew how and when they will pray in the aircraft. .

      This will put the flight crew on notice and put passengers anxiety at ease ..Just a constructive suggestion .....

      March 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  12. fatherjohn

    Why can't religious zealots simply keep their beliefs private and silent.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Amanda

      for the same reason you're allowed to be an idiot on the internet!

      March 15, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Tom Hass

      @ Amanda

      I agree with fatherjohn. Nobody is hating on the jewish belief. Just the fact that they are obviously disturbing other people.

      I want to see you sitting next to a guy who is loudly talking in this cell phone or having a loud conversation and be absolutely fine with.
      But nooo, when Jews pray on an airplane and cause irritation...HUSH EVERYONE, be quiet, let these poor people in peace...


      I would bet !!!! with you, you sitting in the seat next to them at that point would have thought to yourself "really?? Right now you have to do that !!"
      You are all hypocrites for pretending you would have not thought that and calmly read your Skymall magazine.

      March 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Carey

      Because in Judaism, speaking a prayer aloud is part of what makes it powerful. Speech and deed are intertwined and if you want G-d to hear you, you might be inclined to speak up a bit. Not everyone is inclined to hide their religion.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  13. D. Cooke

    I know its religious prayer and that is all well and good but people really need to be mindful of when and where, time and place. Saying prayers loudly on a plane and with something strapped to your chest is absolutely ridiculous!!! They could have prayed at home or before they boarded the plan. Exercising religious freedom at the cost of scaring other people who are unsure of your motives is unacceptable.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Barbara

      Tefillin are strapped to the head and lower arm, not the chest.

      March 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • esther

      Re: "They could have prayed at home or before they boarded the plan. Exercising religious freedom at the cost of scaring other people who are unsure of your motives is unacceptable."

      It is very easy to spew out opinions, regardless of being ill-informed as we see here from this comment. Putting on tefillin is a time-based commandment for Jewish men, so saying they could have done this earlier when it may not have been possible for these men, makes this an irrelevant comment. It's always easy to criticize from a place of ignorance.

      March 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  14. Morris G

    I believe everyone is missing the point. What scared the passengers was the praying. You must remember that the terrorists on 911 starting to pray before that began to take over the planes. This had nothing to do with religion. Nothing to do with religion. The passengers thought, here we go again. That’s it. Most people would have done the same thing. I looked at some of the post and I’m ashamed at some of them. The praying made everyone think about 911.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Bruce

      The point is that if a bunch of Muslims began praying there would be good reason to think an attack was about to take place. If a bunch of Christians started praying....well that one is unlikely. that is the point. This was a nation founded by Christians for Christians. We kicked God out of the schools and government, and eventually off the planes. So no wonder when people begin tp pray others get nervous. Aren't used to seeing that anymore. Not at school. Not at home. Not at work or in the government.

      March 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Nonimus

      No one is stopping anyone from praying as individuals. It's only when believers feel it is their right to have schools and other government organizations sanction and promote their particular beliefs, that the Const.itution has a problem with it. So if you feel there is not enough prayer, then pray, but don't expect the government to assist you in spreading your beliefs.

      March 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  15. Randy M. from Richfield

    I'd be praying too to get out of Mexico considering the violence there.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • dawn


      March 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  16. Nurse Lisa

    Even though they surely passed thru security before boarding, I think it is good the crew may have over-reacted and got the items searched to allay everyone's concerns and I am glad the prayerful gentlemen were cooperative too. What would prevent a terrorist from wearing such garb to do the very things these devout men were praying against?

    March 15, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  17. ugh

    I can't believe what a nation of cowards we have turned into. Makes me sick.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • D-man5005

      oh puleez, given the track record I don't find it too unreasonable to be scared of somebody who appears (and actually does) have something strapped to them underneath their clothes, and then begins to pray out loud all of the sudden. It's somewhat out of the ordinary. what do you expect people to do?

      March 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  18. Peter B

    How offensive! Surely these people knew their actions would be confusing to the people around them. I have no doubt in my mind these show-offs wanted to cause a stir. Mission Accomplished!

    March 15, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • wcormode

      Please tell me that was sarcasm.

      March 15, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Mike

      YOU ARE A IDIOT!!!

      March 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • barb

      you are an idiot those men were not "show-offs" they were religious men who follow the laws of Judaism and pray when they are supposed to too bad there are so many ignorant people in this world who know nothing about other religions

      March 15, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Tom Hass

      Totally agree with you. There wasn't the opportunity to do their praying in the terminal? Why did it have to be on the airplane?
      You don't see Catholics all of a sudden preaching out of the bible in mid air or in public for that matter.
      With all due respect, Jewish know what reactions they cause with their prayers and they build on it.

      And of course they couldn't have been that stupid not to know what loud praying causes on an US airplane heading to the US.

      As much as they always preach to others to be considerate of their belief, Jews should be considerate of others as well.

      March 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Absurd

      This incident proves how ridiculous religion can be. Scrolls strapped underneath someones clothing!! It would have scared the hell out of anyone on an airplane. We should just ban religion entirely. Then we wouldn't have to worry about any of this.

      March 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I hate to think they were doing this just to cause a stir.
      However, wouldn't it have been more considerate if they had just let the attendants know what they were about to do, so that it wouldn't cause a stir.

      March 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  19. lisa

    has anyone noticed how the comments keep getting jumbled and mixed out of place..I've come back to this blog 3 times, and all 3 times, the comments were in different order....I wonder why??

    March 15, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  20. William B.

    Selfish and inconsiderate of other people, and other people's faiths.
    They could have waited. Exceptions CAN be made when it comes to prayer.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Carey

      It's not uncommon to recite the Shema (which could have been what they were doing) before a journey. Especially if one is unsure of the outcome... my Rabbi has mentioned that he says it at take-off and landing... you don't know what the future holds and if you could die, it's best to be prepared.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.