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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Travelling by air with a sefer torah

Does anyone have a psak with regards to putting a sefer torah in a suitcase and sending it with checked baggage. Is this allowed? I am travelling soon to do a siyum. I usually take the sefer by hand and sew the eitz chayim, which I check in, when I arrive at my destination. However this trip I will not be able to assemble it before the siyum and it is too big to carry on the plane once the eitz chayims are sewn on.

6 comments:

  1. it is permitted, to cover the sefer tora with one cover and put in the suitcase.
    if it is possible to have it handled with honor and not thrown like many luggage-pieces that should be done

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  2. Perhaps you can arrange for some kind of special storage, like some people do for their pets.

    My father once had to store a sefer Torah in his hotel room at a convention and was carrying it in a crowded elevator with people making jokes about how the aron looked like a coffin. He asked them if they saw raiders of the lost ark and remembered the Ark of the Covenant. When they answered that they had, he said "This. Is. It."

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  3. If the community is prepared to pay for it, then I would get it its own seat. I did this for a siyyum in Edinburgh which was a great story ...

    We had agreed that it would have its own seat as putting in the hold would be awful - we've all seen programmes about baggage handlers not quite taking as much care as we think they are.

    On the day, however the check-in staff found the whole concept a bit difficult to grasp. I and the torah were earmarked to be in seats BUT in different parts of the plane. I patiently explained that even if it was in a protective bag that purported to be a collapsible high backed chair it was very valuable from both a spiritual as well as financial point of view and how it wouldn't be leaving my side. She immediately left my side to seek a supervisor.

    Returning she punched a few keys on her terminal, glumly announced 'that's not right' and left my side again. Returning she announced some measure of success and said proudly 'oh, it's like a cello!'

    'It's not much like a cello', I replied 'but if it helps me get on the plane then it's exactly like a cello'.

    Grasping my two adjacent seat boarding passes. I rushed to the departure gate - well rushed as fast as anyone carrying a Torah in a collapsible high backed chair bag can - and boarded.

    Maneuvering down the isle I was eventually confronted by a little Japanese gentleman sitting quietly in seat 9F - the Torah's window seat! (Now that I think about it, I’m not sure why the Torah got the window seat). Both the Torah and the man had boarding passes with 9F. Attracting a passing stewardess, I explained the problem and she virtually sprinted from my side to go off to see her supervisor. Standing waiting in the narrow aisle, dodging other passengers, I silently cursed myself for not pointlng out that it was not quite exactly like a cello.

    Eventually she returned and the rather puzzled small Japanese gentleman was despatched to another seat. I sat down in 9E relieved and carefully strapped the Torah into the window seat and finally relaxed, well as much as one can relax sitting next to a Torah on an aircraft.

    The chap in 9D turned round to me and said, 'That was interesting. What's in the bag?'

    'Well', I sighed, 'it's kind of like a cello....'

    Story aside, more seriously though the Cello analogy is useful for making the airlines understand how valuable this is as Cellists take great care of their instrument.

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  5. I recommend transporting the Sefer Torah (not with eitzei chaim) in a thick, protective pack, and bring it on board as carry-on luggage. Yes, it may overweight for carry-on, but will hopefully be allowed. Keep the Torah in the compartment above you, and make sure that my fellow passengers do not place anything on top of it. This way the Torah will handled respectfully, and not incur additional cost (of an extra seat) to the client. Having seen how baggage handlers (both human and automated) move bags, and also the risk of lost or damaged luggage, I would make every effort to regard the transport of the Torah as you would your personal Teffilin when flying. And yes, I really like Mordechai's cello story!

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