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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Phylactery Terror Scare

On an airliner that had left New York and headed toward Kentucky a few days ago, at least one of the passengers experienced a sudden, heart-pounding scare when he saw another passenger, a teenager, pull out two little black leather boxes a couple of inches square and strap one on his forehead and the other onto his left arm.

Suddenly, in today's climate -- the continuing gift given by Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts years ago and which his recipients never tire of fondling, often, I think, for their own nefarious purposes -- visions of a bomb arose, and the plane fell into the grip of a terror alert, with the predictable results -- the pilot diverting the plane to Philadelphia, the FBI and other security people meeting the plane on its landing, the evacuation of the plane and the complete search of it, the breathless press reports, the roll calls of previous terror scares, and the rest of it, including this time real embarrassment.

If I had been in that plane, I would have laughed, and I might even have tried to tell someone what the guy was really into, though no one would have thought I knew what I was talking about, and in any case I would have long forgotten what those little boxes are called, and it felt good to be now reminded. "Phylacteries."

Hadn't these people ever seen pictures of devout Jewish men wearing those little containers of verses in such a weird-looking way? I have quite often seen such pictures, maybe in shots of people at the Wailing Wall. And in fact it seems to me that similar little hats, lacquered ones, can sometimes also be seen perched on the heads of men in Japanese observances of one kind or another. Or maybe those passengers hadn't thumbed through their dictionaries often enough. My Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary says that phylacteries are used for weekday morning prayers.

It would be interesting to know how such a practice got started, especially the part about the left arm. No sense in letting such a good scare go to waste.

All the same, it would also be interesting to learn what El Al, the Israeli airline where security is famous for being airtight, does, probably very quietly, about bringing phylacteries aboard.


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