Travel Safely With Your Tefillin
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Travel in cars, buses, trains and planes is part of everyday modern life. Are you aware of what travel in these vehicles can do to your tefillin and how you must take care of them?
Many of us go to shul by car in the morning to daven. Most of the time we go straight home afterward and put our tefillin back in the cabinet or on the shelf where we store them until we take them out the next morning. If this is the case then all is well and fine. But there are other situations that are potentially problematic:
- The person who drives to shul and then continues directly to work or to a day-long outing
- The person who drives to shul and then does errands, sometimes lots of them, before returning home
- The bus and train commuter
- The plane traveler
The first 2 situations, the person who drives to shul and then remains away from home for the rest of the day, as well as the person who spends a lot of time after shul running errands, may involve leaving the tefillin in a car for an extended period of time. Add to these any circumstances in which tefillin are left in a vehicle, whether in the passenger compartment or the trunk. This exposes the tefillin to extremes in both humidity and temperature which can easily damage them.
During the summer months, a vehicle parked in direct sunlight quickly reaches extremely high temperature. The heat coming in through the windows is absorbed by the car's interior and the glass acts as an insulator, keeping the heat inside. The temperature can reach up to 150 or even 200 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the temperature outside, the kind of vehicle, and how long it sits in the sun.
If someone told you to put your tefillin in an oven for a few hours and heat the oven to 200 degrees you would say that's crazy. But this is exactly what you're doing by leaving those tefillin in the car in the summer!
The situation in the winter is equally bad if you leave your tefillin in a car or even in an unheated synagogue or other room in extremely cold weather.
Extremes in temperature, both heat and cold, commonly cause several different types of damage to tefillin:
- The batim can crack
- The paint of the batim and the retzuot, straps, can shatter
- Even the ink of the writing can crack or split away from the parchment inside the batim
When you're not wearing them, store your tefillin at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. Never, never leave them in an automobile for a long period of time, summer or winter.
Bus and train commuters in general have far fewer temperature issues. Their main problem is what to do in those situations when their tefillin are with them and they need to go into a bathroom. The guiding rule here is that tefillin and similar religious articles must be enclosed within a double cover. This is known as “kis b’toch kis,” a pocket within a pocket. Most people commonly have their tefillin bag within an outer protective plastic bag or a talis bag. This outer bag is then generally placed within a briefcase, backpack, small suitcase or carry-on. The cloth tefillin bag itself is not counted as it is not considered a separate cover according to many Rabbinical rulings. This arrangement fulfills the halachic requirement of a double covering and allows you to take your tefillin into the bathroom. Tefillin should never be left unattended outside the bathroom as the unattended bag may be moved, taken, or even destroyed by security personnel who may view it as a suspicious object.
When traveling by airplane, even on a very short flight during which you don't plan to use them; always take your tefillin on board with you. Never leave tefillin in your suitcase. Changes in temperature, pressure and amount of moisture in the air can all do damage to your tefillin. An airplane's luggage compartment is normally unheated and everything there, including your tefillin, are exposed in most cases to major fluctuations in temperature in a relatively short period of time. An airplane's boarding temperature on the ground of 70 degrees Fahrenheit can rapidly drop to -70 degrees as it reaches cruising attitude. Although the temperature in the baggage compartment may not reach all the way to -70 F, it will be very cold, cold enough to do damage to the scrolls, the batim, the bond of the ink and the bond of the paint. The damage potential is intensified by the subsequent change from extreme cold back to hot or warm ground temperature when the plane lands.
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