- Rabbi Josh Flug
The Prayer for the Traveler in Contemporary Times
- Rabbi Josh Flug
- Jul 3, 2009
The Prayer for the Traveler in Contemporary Times
The Gemara, Berachot 29b, states that when one travels on the road, he should recite a prayer for his safety and welfare. This prayer is known as Tefillat HaDerech. In this issue, we will present some of the discussions relating to Tefillat HaDerech and how they relate to contemporary travel.
The Nature of the Prayer
The laws and text of Tefillat HaDerech reflect the dangers of travelling in earlier times. First, the text of the prayer as it appears in the Gemara addresses the dangers of enemies and ambushers (oyev v'orev). Some texts add a concern for bandits and wild animals. Second, the Gemara, Berachot 30a, states that one should not recite the beracha until he is on the road. R. Yisrael M. Kagan (1838-1933), Mishna Berurah 110:29, writes that this means that one should not recite the beracha until he leaves the city limits (as defined by the laws of techum Shabbat). Third, the Gemara states that one may recite the beracha until one parsah (approximately 2.35-2.85 miles). Rashi, ad loc., s.v. Ad Parsa, writes two interpretations of this rule. He cites R. Yehudai Gaon that one may only recite the prayer if the trip is longer than one parsah. Rashi's own interpretation is that one must recite the prayer within the first parsah.
There are a number of differences in contemporary times. First, the greatest concern for danger is automobile accidents and not enemies, ambushes, bandits or wild animals. Second, the concern for an automobile accident applies equally within the city limits and out of the city limits. Furthermore, in contemporary times, one can travel great distances without leaving the halachic city limits (defined by a break in houses of greater than 140 and 2/3 amot (approximately 221-265 feet). Third, the distance of a parsah is significant if one is travelling by foot or on an animal. However, it is not significant if one is travelling in an automobile or a train. Should contemporary methods of travel affect the laws of Tefillat HaDerech?
R. David Urtenberg (19th century), Tehillah L'David, Hashmatot to Orach Chaim no. 110, addresses these concerns regarding train travel. He notes that ostensibly, one should not recite the prayer because the prayer was instituted in situations where there is a concern that someone will be attacked. Regarding train travel, there is less of a concern. He suggests that if one were to argue that there is an obligation to recite the prayer during train travel, there is no reason to be concerned about the city limits factor or the parsah factor because the concern for an accident applies equally when one is within the city limits and when one is not.
Both Mishna Berurah 110:30, and R. Yechiel M. Epstein (1829-1908), Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim 110:11, rule that one should recite Tefillat HaDerech when riding on a train. Nevertheless, one cannot necessarily compare the danger of railroad travel in the 19th century to automobile or railroad travel nowadays because in the 19th century, the concern that someone may be attacked while riding the train was more prominent.
R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910-1995), Minchat Shlomo Tinyana 60:4, seems to take the approach that the prayer still addresses the concern that one might be attacked while travelling. In discussing whether someone recites the prayer when travelling from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim, R. Auerbach asserts that one would only recite the prayer if one passes through an area where there is a significant break in houses or a neighborhood where he is subject to attack. He further suggests that perhaps nowadays, when there are always other travelers on the road and there is a greater presence of security, one may not be obligated to recite the prayer even in uninhabited or dangerous areas. He concludes that one should recite the prayer without stating the name of G-d.
R. Moshe Shternbuch, Teshuvot V'Hanhagot 1:199, quotes R. Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (1878-1953) that the prayer should reflect the fact that the primary danger nowadays is automobile accidents. In principle, one should recite the beracha every time one enters a vehicle. However, since the beracha was only instituted for one who leaves the city, one can only recite the prayer when leaving the city. Nevertheless, since there is an immediate concern for danger, one may recite the prayer upon entering the main road that one travels on to leave the city. [See also, Orchot Rabbeinu Vol. I page 62. It is important to note that there is a ruling of R. Ya'akov Y. Falk (1680-1756), P'nei Yehoshua to Tosafot, Berachot 29a, s.v. Mipnei, that may influence this discussion as well as other halachic decisions in cases of doubt. R. Falk suggests that there is no concern of beracha l'vatalah (blessing recited in vain) if one recites a prayer of request that concludes with the beracha of "Shomei'a Tefillah." As such, Tefillat HaDerech, which concludes with the beracha of "Shomei'a Tefillah" may be recited voluntarily without any concern for beracha l'vatalah.]
Calculating the Parsah
As we noted earlier, according to Rashi, one can only recite the prayer within the first parsah. According to R. Yehudai Gaon, the trip must be at least one parsah in distance in order to recite the prayer. Rabbeinu Asher (c. 1250-1328), Berachot 4:18, adds to R. Yehudai Gaon's opinion that if one forgot to recite the prayer while travelling, he may only recite the prayer until he is within one parsah of the city where he is heading.
R. Yosef Karo (1488-1575), Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 110:7, rules in accordance with the opinion of R. Yehudai Gaon. He also incorporates Rabbeinu Asher's addition. Rama (1520-1572), ad loc., rules that ideally one should show deference to Rashi's opinion and recite Tefillat HaDerech within the first parsah of travel.
A parsah is classically defined as the distance one covers by foot in seventy-two minutes. There is a dispute among the Acharonim as to whether the parsah should be measured by time or by distance when using contemporary means of travel. Mishna Berurah 110:30, writes that in order to fulfill Rashi's opinion, one who is on a train should recite the prayer immediately upon embarking. This implies that the parsah is a function of distance and therefore, one should recite the prayer immediately because within minutes, the train will have travelled a parsah. R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer, Orach Chaim 1:13, asserts that it is a function of time. As such, one should not recite Tefillat HaDerech if he is within seventy-two minutes of the destination city (or the trip is less than seventy-two minutes).
The Gemara, Chullin 139b, states that the skies are only considered a derech (path) for birds. Based on the Gemara's comments, R. Yosef Rozen (known as the Rogatchover Gaon 1858-1936) rules that one should not recite Tefillat HaDerech when travelling on an airplane because the prayer was only instituted for travel on a derech. [R. Rozen's ruling is recorded in Ishim V'Shitot page 80.] R. Menachem M. Schneerson (1902-1994), Sha'arei Halacha U'Minhag, Orach Chaim page 223, questions R. Rozen's ruling on two grounds. First, he asserts that the prayer was not instituted specifically for travel on a derech but rather for any situation where one leaves his original place. Second, most trips on an airplane begin with a trip to the airport. Even if the trip to the airport per se does not warrant reciting the prayer, if it is the beginning of a longer journey, it is justifiable to recite the beracha on the way to the airport. R. Simcha Rabinowitz, Piskei Teshuvot no. 110 (note 16), observes that most Poskim are of the opinion that air travel is subject to Tefillat HaDerech.