Religion in Society

Confusion Over Jewish Prayer Ritual Forces Emergency Landing

| by Mark Berman

A scare in the skies Thursday, as a Kentucky-bound plane was diverted to Philadelphia when upon landing, a teenager was questioned and the plane was searched for bombs. The reason -- confusion over the teen's Jewish prayer ritual.

The 17-year-old boy was using tefillin, which is a set of small boxes containing Bible passages, that are connected with leather straps. The boxes are attached to the head and arms using the straps. Orthodox Jews use these every day, but most people have never seen them before.

Aboard the U.S. Airways Express flight from New York City to Louisville, crew members became alarmed after seeing these unfamiliar little boxes strapped to the teen. He explained that what he was doing was harmless. But the crew "did not receive a clear response," according to a statement by Republic Airways (which operated the flight for US Airways).

"Therefore, in the interest of everyone's safety, the crew decided to land in Philadelphia, where a more complete investigation and follow-up with authorities would be possible."

The plane was searched, and police questioned the teen, his sister, and the other passengers. Authorities are quick to point out no one was ever taken into custody, and that the boy and his sister were very cooperative.

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"They were more alarmed than we were," FBI spokesman J.J. Vanore said.

They were allowed to resume their travels. The small plane was carrying 15 passengers -- they were all rebooked on other flights.