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. Michael

    Bible didn't predict airplanes, therefore airplanes are a figment of our imagination.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  2. gambino

    Shut UUUUUUUUUP ALREADY. What shmuck hasn't seen an orthodox Jew strap up and pray? I've seen it dozens, maybe hundreds of times. I see Israeli soldiers strapped up praying on top of tanks. What idiots are these pilots?

    March 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  3. religiousjew

    As per orthodox jewish law, tefilin and a prayer shawl must be worn during morning prayers. Morning prayers need to be said anywhere starting from sunrise until approximately 4 hours later. Many longer morning flights, depending on departure and arrival times force Jews to pray on the aircraft. Most prefer to pray before or after the flight when possible.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  4. Frederica

    God protects Israel because of His immovable covenant in His own Word. Other nations and empires are simply mere backgrounds comparing to her. Those who hate her are altogether foolish and self-destructive.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  5. myklds

    It would neither hard nor impossible for terrorists to cloth like Jew, like a wolf in a sheep clothing.

    This matter must not be taken lightly, this could be a dry-run for a possible (massive) terrorists attack(s).

    March 14, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Lisa

      A dry run? Of what!?! They did nothing but pray! Sure, to you they would've looked and sounded funny, but they were not threatening anyone and I'm sure any religious scripture box would have been screened before boarding just as all other luggage/bags are.

      Why would terrorists have to pose as orthodox jews? I am really not following your train of thought.

      Prayer is a nonthreatening religious practice, regardless of the faith. AND if you don't believe in their God, you should feel even less threatened because to you it is just an empty ritual.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  6. Drew

    Well despite the wild hyperbole I will respond. Would it be an act of terror if someone who actually believed there was a fire shouted "fire" in a theater? If these men didn't mean to cause a panic by praying then we can hardly call them terrorists

    March 14, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  7. blessedgeek

    Once, I saw a group of Christian Evangelicals praying as a group on a plane. In jesus' name.

    No one paid attention. Or, actually, everyone else deliberately did not want to disturb them.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  8. Matt

    Didn't this happen already?

    March 14, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  9. Drew

    What a pitiful discourse this is.
    The low level of intelligence and compassion displayed by so many in these postings break my heart. This is not the America I know. Go back to the song Frank Sinatra sang "What is America To Me?". Until we respect each other, we cannot command the respect of the world. Indeed, we do not deserve it.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Lisa

      Thank you, Drew! It's good to see there are still intelligent people in this country.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  10. Kelly

    I have to say that I saw this same ritual on an overseas flight to Germany where these jewish men stood up with these leather bands wrapped around their wrists and what looked like blocks on their heads. I awoke out of a dead sleep to see this going on in the plane. I was EXTREMELY uncomfortable with it. I think if this is going to happen, they should do it in one area of the plane and other people should be notified ahead of time that a religious ritual is going to take place. I'm tolerant of other religons, but they need to be tolerant of my space too.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  11. Keep your faith at home

    When people come to share a plane or public place they should try to be a human being first, instead of
    a show case religious person. Their first priority should be not to cause inconvenience to others, no matter how religious the person is. If he or she doesn't care about others, i have no respect for Jews of whoever they are.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • KlausVos

      feeling a bit anti... semitic are we

      March 14, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Lisa

      How is it disrespectful to others to pray?

      March 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Po

      Talking loudly is considered to be rude unless one needs the extra volume to communicate properly.

      If your deity is not hearing you, maybe your deity is deaf or suffers from some sort of hearing loss.

      Please get your deity's hearing checked right away. It might be a sign of a more serious condition, such as non-existence.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • BillK

      It is insensitive to pray in the tight, constrictive spaces where people are already on edge with the thoughts of terrorism in their minds. Terrorists prayed quite loudly before following through as far as I know ("Allahu Akbar", for example), so it would not be unreasonable for the less informed to feel uneasy. Perhaps instead they should have used common sense and consideration before praying within an environment of heightened sense of security in which religious fanaticism has claimed human lives.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  12. Michael Klein

    I am an Orthodox Jew. I have prayed many times on planes with my tefilin on and have never had a problem. I can't understand how anyone would confuse prayer with an attempt to blow up an airplane. It just makes no sense. By the way, when I do pray on an airplane, I try to explain to my seatmate what I am doing so as to not to cause any undue discomfort. Especially important because a Jew may not converse during prayer.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • HB

      I wouldn't think there should be any confusion if someone realized that the person praying is Jewish. However, I can see how someone could think that someone praying in Arabic on a plane may intent to do something. It's a very unfortunate reality that many are nervous now because of past events....and I believe that in some terrorist cases the name of Allah was shouted or spoken before the act, which provides that connection of Islam (and possibly an Islamic prayer).

      March 14, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  13. Bob

    Imagine no religion. It's easy if you try.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  14. kevin

    yikes. and i thought snakes on a plane was bad.

    March 14, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  15. Brent

    Without money or religion as a cause, how many wars would there have been?

    March 14, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Drew

      @ Brent

      Well none, because the pursuit of money, more broadly understood as Materialism, and religion, the belief in the Immaterial, is really all there is.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  16. PghMom

    How is it that international airline personnel are unable to identify Orthodox Jews carrying out the normal practices of their faith? A similar "scare" happened not so long ago, and another airline promised to educate their personnel. Come on, people.

    March 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • HB

      Good point. And it seems that they would have some idea as to what Orthodox Jews typically wear, etc. I was even thinking that people should be able to decipher prayers in Hebrew from prayers in Arabic!

      March 14, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  17. ballarat99

    This whole discussion proves that religion is at the heart of the world's problems. One sect attacks another. They all attach "non-believers".

    March 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Saying religion is the problem is like saying we should cut down all trees because a tree fell on a house during a storm once. There are just as many lunatic atheists as there are lunatic believers!

      March 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • WhoLou

      . . . and I'll get your little dog too !

      March 14, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • Drew

      Hitler and Stalin were both nonbelievers who sought to eliminate many religious sects. Together, they probably killed more than believers ever have. I would expect a Materialist to possess a greater knowledge of history

      March 14, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • ballarat99

      good points. Thanks for taking this on. OK, I was a little over the top, but it seems like a lot of issues are purely religion based. Examples of crazies are good, but these guys often became a religion unto themselves. I guess the lesson is belief in something that is not logic based.

      Again, thanks for the comments. They point out how we need to discuss issues.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Drew

      Thank you for your civility as well. You are right that even Atheist figures like Hitler and Stalin became cults in and of themselves; I guess maybe this shows us how easily Materialism and Religion can blend, and how dangerous that combination can be? Really nice/refreshing to have a reasonable back and forth like this

      March 14, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • random human comment 23033945X

      The problem is mental illness. It is mental illness that is the cause of so many murders throughout history.
      Since religions are delusional, they can be included under the "mental illness" label along with tyrants, dictators and other forms of mass delusion.
      Those mass murderers could not have done it without help. Delusions get people crazy and then they might kill or not depending on what sort of things they are thinking about.
      That's where we see murder being commanded by a religion's "holy words" of their god.
      Hey, in the old days it was considered very okay to wipe out an enemy. Now we are trying to move past that, but religion has it's hooks in a majority of the world's population. Anger will find a focus, a target regardless of the actual causes involved.
      Try solving the world's mental health problems. You don't like how other people behave? Who's being the mentally ill person and who is not? Tolerance is not always a good thing for individuals or for any particular group.
      Religion is not a good thing unless you keep it in it's protective box and never use it to attack people.
      If you worship an invisible god, you'd better damn well keep your religion invisible as well and quit using it as a justification for every evil thing you do to other people. Keep it in your pants and we can all get along.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • Drew

      @ random human comment 23033945X

      Well I agree with what you are saying, but how are any of us supposed to know if we the "mentally ill" ones or not? Since our experiences are subjective, it seems unlikely that through these experiences we could discern any standard of Truth

      March 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • random answer


      ...If you refuse to do anything about it, it will only get worse.

      March 15, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  18. courtney

    Those poor men were a bit on the uninformed side!

    Duh, after 9-11, you can't go on an airplane and do religious chants/mantras out loud without expecting to be noticed.

    What were they thinking?

    I am buddhist. When I travel, I hide my prayer beads and make no show of any kind pertaining to religion.

    They got the slap on the wrists they deserved as a wake up call to the real world, which is very very skiddish about people practicing foreign religions on an airplane in public.

    March 14, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Thinkingman


      March 14, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Fly on the wall

      #1 The word is skittish.
      #2 The men were fully cooperative
      #3 A wise man once said practicing one's religion should not be based on where you are, what time of day or who is around you. It should only be based on what you belief. They were doing nothing wrong.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  19. Alan

    Too bad noone here is well-versed in tibetan buddhism. It makes christianity look kinda dumb, even though it isn't.
    Just don't bad rap my buddha. Please separate tibetan buddhism from other religions. Buddha doesn't want your praise, your money, or your morals...he said to analyze what he said and see if it feels right, if not, find another teacher...he just says be aware and compassionate, and if you're not, you will suffer.

    And remember, all you nonbelievers, be sure to doubt your own non-belief and study it's history. Why? Cuz you are a newbie! Only since the dark ages have men been cut off from the heavens (spirit) and earth (mother). You guys are the canaries in the coal mine.

    Even the buddha said a lack of faith is one of the three chief poisons: ignorance.

    I say you guys are amazing! You have faith in no faith! That takes a lot faith! Really!

    I know this will draw criticism, but I say if it weren't for all the faithful people of all good religions doing good acts, helping the poor, clothing drives, and on and on, this world would be in a lot worse shape than if just your average aetheist were in charge of helping those who suffer.

    Did you know nearly every charitable organization in this country is christian-based?

    Don't slam christians until you help the planet as much as they have.

    March 14, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Liam

      Nice job skimming over the fact that the "dark ages" you talked about were caused due to religion. I have nothing against religions, but assuming that all atheists are callous and cold hearted is pretty damn stupid.

      I've met plenty of Buddhists and been surprised at how open and accepting they are. But I guess there is exceptions to everything.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Bob

      I like a lot of what you said, but Christianity is misleading at best. Of the top 27 charities in the world (most of which are in the U.S.), only 2 are Christian based.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Bob


      March 14, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Drew

      @ Liam

      Have you considered that we may be in a different type of Dark Age right now? I for one observe a lot of emptiness in the modern world, and I think Materialism is largely to blame for this. Religion gives some lucky people meaning in their lives and I think SOME atheists are unwise to discount it so casually

      March 14, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Thinkingman

      "...nearly every charitable organization in this country is Christian-based?" REALLY???? Cite your statistics, please.

      And are you going by sheer numbers of organizations, counting each storefront church as a separate organization, etc., or do you have a valid source for this info? Does amount of money distributed or applied towards the cause factor in, or does the Westbor Baptist Church count just the same as, say, United Way?

      March 14, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • YourFriendlyNeighborhoodGuy

      Did you say "nearly every charitable organization in this country is christian-based?"....what planet are you on?
      Open your eyes, do some research, then talk.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • SATCH

      Alan, Why is it you think you are so right? Really, God? Buddha, Mohammed (I'd draw a picture if I could" Jesus, whatever....Bet case is there may be a god that created this universe, but it has nothing to do with any of that. How may highly intellectual people believe in god. Have you seen the faces and IQ's of the most relgious people....look att the Deep South, Look at the brainwashed kids in the Madrassaas with an IQ approaching 90 at best, God is there to control you from going agianst the system of those ho control the fiancial markets...every king need the bishops to reaign in the masses. And Christians have done what to save the world without expecting something in return (not a "Jesus/Ghandi-like" character trait IMO). They do it beacuse their "Good Book" tells them to bring in more Sheeple to be brainwashed to keep their cult alive....

      March 14, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • 21stcentury

      So, you're saying atheists can not be or are not compassionate? I suppose the Crusades and Inquisitions were born out of compassion. Witch hunts too... Fire and brimstone....wahoo.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  20. Dave Harris

    When the rest of us can't bring a bottle of shampoo onto an airplane, does it make sense that someone wearing funny clothes and chanting religious slogans should bring on a "teflillin"? I mean, how hard would it be for a Muslim to pretend to be a Jew and become the "teflillin bomber"? Their god would probably be amused by the irony.

    March 14, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Mike

      It's the same god.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Dave Harris

      I also just wanted to say that I'm really stupid.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Drew

      Well of course the tefililin would be (and probably was in this case) searched before boarding. If it wasn't found to contain explosives then what is the problem. BTW I agree the the restrictions on liquids are a little absurd

      March 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • chard

      mike, the jewish God and the m..lim god are so not the same. one is the "moon" god and the jewish God is the creator God. see? different.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • myklds

      Dave had a valid point, (except the stereotypical remarks) "it would not be hard for" terrorists to pretend to be a Jew and become the "teflillin bomber".

      This incident must not be taken lightly, this could be a dry-run for a possible (massive) terrorist attacks.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • bman

      All Religion should be banned from air flight. Anyone praying should be immediately ejected to heaven. We should build prayer seats designed for this purpose to more quickly and securely deliver the religous to their gods..

      March 14, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • i love bman comment

      bman, I loved your comment. lmao. so true. now I just wish, we could have those prayer chair everywhere on earth.


      All Religion should be banned from air flight. Anyone praying should be immediately ejected to heaven. We should build prayer seats designed for this purpose to more quickly and securely deliver the religous to their gods..

      March 14, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • myklds

      @bman...who ejected you from the foxhole? You should stay there where you are rightfully belong.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Jose' Jimeniz

      CHARD - I have heard and seen these comments about "Muslims" praying to a "moon god". Where are you guys getting this? I am a scholar of Islam, the Middle East, Arab culture, and this is not something I've ever come across. Muslims pray to the God of Adam and Eve, the God of Abraham , Isaac, Ishamel, Hagar, the God of Moses, David, Soloman, and they even believe in the VIRGIN birth of Jesus by the blessed Mary. So, where are you getting this BS from? Please, read for yourself from original scholarly sources that are readily available. Stop being part of the lie, stop being part of the problem, and for once in your live be part of the solution.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Aaron

      I pray everytime that I'm on a plane when it's taking off. However, I close my eyes and pray silently. Why these guys can't keep it to themselves and not freak out everyone on the plane is beyond comprehension. People have been jumpy on planes since 9/11.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • myklds

      And don't forget to bring Chard and the rest of those who love you there. It would be a great time for you to party inside that foxhole.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • pgeo

      Uuummm A teflillin is usually smaller than a quarter. Nothing will fit in it other than a tiny (very tiny) scroll. And I can tell you as someone who lives in a neighborhood that is Orthodox Jewish you cannot mistake their clothing for anything other than clothing. This flight attendant was obviously ignorant and closed minded.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • ayesh

      It is a fair question that makes sense. but to generalize ur logic on all moslims, is not fair. just last week the moslim congress man warned american people from this sick logic. moslems are human beings like the jews and like christians in usa and in the whole World. every religion has its ups and downs. there are radical moslims, radical jews and radical christians. Terrorism comes from all those crazy radicals. it is unfair to generalize ur logic on all moslims. In case u do not know, Islam means Peace!

      March 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
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.