Tefillin to Go

From: Marty

Dear Rabbi,

I have had a problem while traveling of what to do with my tefillin when needing the restroom. I can’t leave them outside of the bathroom unattended; but I can’t bring myself to taking them inside the bathroom either. What do people do about this, and what should be done?

Dear Marty,

This is a very common dilemma, and certainly worth clarifying.

Of course, if you can leave your tefillin outside the bathroom with someone you know and trust without causing an imposition, that would be best.

The problem is when you don’t know anyone. Should you leave them unattended outside the bathroom? Or alternatively, leave them in the hands of a stranger, to avoid disrespecting them by taking them in? Or somehow take them inside the bathroom, despite the obvious slight to the tefillin by doing so?

The Talmud (Berachot 23a) addresses this very question. It states that initially, people were required to leave their tefillin outside the bathroom in the public area to avoid disgracing the tefillin by bringing them in. But since passersby were abusing the tefillin, it was decreed to bring the tefillin into the bathroom and leave them near the inner side of the partition wall, at a distance from the inside of the bathroom area. But even there, the tefillin came to harm through vermin, so it was permitted to actually carry in and hold the tefillin while taking care of one’s needs.

The Talmud then goes on to clarify that such special precaution is needed only when the tefillin are temporarily covered by one’s clothing, but if they are in a specially made cover, and all the more so if they are in an additional covering like a bag or suitcase, there is no problem.

Accordingly, leaving the tefillin outside and unattended is certainly not an option. Firstly, out of concern for the tefillin themselves; and secondly, because of the security concern of leaving what may look like suspicious objects in public.

Leaving them with a stranger is also not a good idea, because you have no idea what he may do to them. And even if it’s an honest person, it would be wrong to leave the tefillin with him because, for one, it’s an imposition; and two, out of security concerns, you shouldn’t be asking someone to receive something from someone they don’t know.

If leaving them outside the bathroom is not an option, one might be inclined to bring them inside, but to leave them in the entrance area where there are no toilets and away from the stalls. However, we see from the Talmud, that even this should be avoided where the tefillin might come to harm. In this case, even inside the bathroom area, in order to protect the tefillin, and for security concerns, the tefillin should not be left unattended.

So, despite the awkward feeling, for the protection of the tefillin and for security concerns, what really should be done is that the tefillin should be taken into the bathroom and be kept near to oneself, even into the stall, regardless of the particular need that’s being attended to. And based on the conclusion of the Talmud mentioned above, this is certainly the case where, as in most scenarios, we travel with the tefillin in their special bag, which itself is stored inside luggage.

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