I have always wondered what fellow passengers on trains, planes, buses, and cars have thought of the box strapped to my head with black leather. My Tefillin. What do they think of these bobbing mumbling semitic folks with outlandish headgear? Well, it seems in the age of Homeland Insecurity, and Orange Terror Alerts, these leather boxes we Jews have been strapping to our heads and arms for millennia are a perceived threat. Ynetnews reports:

A Jewish passenger on a Chicago train was arrested after fellow passengers accused him of being a suicide bomber.

The incident took place on a train that left Chicago early in the morning – when Jewish men are obligated to put on tefillin (phylacteries). The passenger began strapping the head-tefillin to his forehead and passengers unfamiliar with the custom rushed to the conductor and told him there was a man on board who was fastening a box to his head with wires dangling from it.”

The conductor approached the passenger but the latter refused to answer him as he was in the middle of the prayer, heightening the conductor’s suspicions.

Meanwhile, the passengers grew even more frantic when they noticed that the passenger sitting next to the Jewish man had a Middle-Eastern appearance and wore a turban.

“That was too much,” said the Bob Byrd, NICTD chief of security.

The passengers panicked and the engine driver stopped the train. Police officers rushed into the train with a bomb-sniffing dog.

Police investigators soon realized their mistake and apologized to the passenger.

“This incident has given us all an opportunity to learn about other religions and their customs,” said the chief of security.

About the author

Rabbi Yonah


  • I have heard the same story with a Lubavitcher Rebbe in a German hospital putting on tefillin and reciting the morning prayer. He was mumbling “strange stuff” and he was bouncing back and forth very intensivly. The nurse who saw this, asked him if everything was alright. As he did not respond she tought he was not doing well and called a doctor. As he still did not stop the davening they wanted to inject him a tranquilizer. Luckily for him, he finished his prayers before the doctor was ready.

    I can understand the passengers in Chicago and the hospital stuff in Germany very well.
    If you are not used to this custom you start wondering. If then the person does not stop or reply but just continues to shake his body fore-and-backwords and mumbles wired sounding words … what would you do?
    I know that it is forbidden to stop during prayer, but I think this guys should have taken some prudence and stop their prayers, explain everything and then start allover again.
    Or even better, explain their neighbours or nurses their actions before they start.
    (Would it be sarcastic, if I would recommend getting up 15 minutes earlier and do it at home???)

  • I’m with Daniel…no need to do it on a train. I’ll bet he was a bal tshuva.

  • Are “The Bob Byrd” and “The Middle” related?

    Anyway, it’s always the choo-choo’s fault.

  • Eitan Says:
    September 3rd, 2008 at 1:12 am

    Does sombody knows of a good post on how to lay a tefillin?

    Start here.