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By The Way – A Guide To Tefilas Haderech

By The Way

“… and when you set out on the road, take counsel from your Creator, and only then depart…”

  • Words of Eliyahu HaNavi to Rav Yehuda, Berachos 29b

As the Gemara continues, this sagacious advice would ultimately be enshrined eternally in Halacha, with a full-fledged Rabbinic ordinance to “consult” with Hakadosh Baruch Hu as we embark on a journey. It is with Tefilas HaDerech that we turn to Him, requesting His assistance both in reaching a safe arrival at our destination as well as in seeing success and fulfillment in all our endeavors.

Among the many Halachic details of Tefilas HaDerech, one question which affects nearly every traveler is that of location. Where is the ideal point for reciting this Tefila? Beyond the ideal point, may the Tefila still be recited? If yes, up until what point?

As is the case with all facets of Halacha, it is important to stress that correct conduct should be guided by clear Halachic understanding, and not mere assumption or general estimation. Nor should conduct be based on hearsay or recounted stories. With even the most precise recounting of any incident, there remains much risk, as the observer is likely to be unaware of subtle nuances. Be it a piece of background or fine detail, or be it a piece of Halachic minutiae unknown to the observer, the details are often Halacha altering.

Tefilas HaDerech in particular lends itself to such lack of clarity. Its laws are dependent on a number of physical factors, among them those of townscape and topography, all of which are subject to change at any time. This can lead to conflicting accounts, which in fact may all be true. They merely reflect evolvement in the realities upon which this body of Halacha is based. It would be impossible to draw any conclusive evidence with regard to the realities we view today.

How in fact does Halacha guide us in navigating this issue?

To gain a proper understanding of this topic, it is necessary to understand that the correct answer will hinge upon the resolution of two independent questions. Although interrelated, these are two distinct questions, with very different sets of criteria. Often, however, the two are subject to erroneous conflation, leading to an incorrect and less than ideal recital of the Tefila.

The first question to be addressed is whether or not the trip is sufficiently significant to warrant a Beracha. The second question, presupposing the condition of significance has indeed been satisfied, is at what point during the trip one should recite the Beracha. One is a question of if; the other a question of when.

In regard to the first question, the Halacha is as follows: Chaza”l mandated a Tefila for safe travel only in scenarios where travel was determined to possess a certain potential for risk of harm. In making this determination, they calculated both the potential of danger, as well as the ability to seek aid and assistance should any mishap occur. As a general rule, for a trip to be considered significant it must include travel of one “Parsah” through uninhabited areas. This measurement is roughly equivalent to a distance of four kilometers[1]. There is, however, no Halachic difference at which point within the trip the traveler will traverse this area. If at any point between departure and arrival this condition will be met, the entirety of the trip, from the very first moment of departure, is deemed significant, and qualifies for Tefilas HaDerech.[2]

  • Travel from Montreal to New York contains many open stretches meeting the 4km requirement, and is therefore considered a significant trip. Although the traveler will not encounter these areas until well south of the city, the entire trip, from the moment of departure, is deemed significant.

However, as the ultimate factor is the element of risk, there is a notable exception to the rule. Should one be traveling in a particularly dangerous region, where even travel of a short distance would contain a significantly elevated level of risk, the recital of Tefilas HaDerech would be mandated as well.

  • Travel from the perimeter of Kiryas Arba to the Me’aras Hamachpela extends just over one kilometer. Additionally, the vast majority of that stretch is densely populated. Nonetheless, as this area is one of highly elevated risk, Tefilas HaDerech should be recited.

Having determined that one’s travels do in fact meet the condition of significance, it is then possible to move on to the second question, assessing the correct location to recite the Tefila.

To provide clarification in this regard, it is necessary to view the travel as comprised of different zones.

The first zone is from the moment one sets out from his home, office or place of departure, until he reaches the city limits of the departure city. Although technically one has in fact begun one’s journey, there is a possibility that upon remembering some forgotten item or unfinished business, one would turn back and postpone his travel plans. As such, one should not recite Tefilas HaDerech at this point. If however, one mistakenly went ahead and did so, he has fulfilled his obligation and should not repeat the Tefila at a later point.

The second zone begins at the city limits, and extends for the next 4 kilometers. This is the ideal zone for the recital of Tefilas HaDerech and the only zone which satisfies all Halachic opinions.[3]

It is imperative to understand that the city limits referred to here are the Halachically determined city limits, not the limits established by governments or officials. Halacha views all contiguous residential areas as one city, regardless of whether that holds true for taxes, snow removal or other. Conversely, Halacha views the areas beyond the residential and inhabited areas to be outside the city, even if they are technically under the jurisdiction of the same city.

Of paramount importance is the understanding that once one has moved beyond the limits of the original city, he is determined as being within this zone regardless of whether this stretch passes through populated or unpopulated areas. There is no requirement whatsoever that Tefilas HaDerech be recited in an unpopulated area. The concept of having an unpopulated area pertains to the initial question of determining overall trip significance, and to that question only. These areas have bearing only on whether the Tefila should be recited, not where the Tefila should be recited.

Providing these concepts with tangibility:

  • Traveling from Montreal to New York, via Decarie and the Champlain Bridge: The Champlain Bridge itself is certainly not part of the residential landmass of Montreal, and is thus beyond city limits. Placing the city limits at the approach to the bridge, the ideal zone covers the area from the approach to the bridge and extends for 4 kilometers. As the length of the span (inclusive of the approach) exceeds 4 kilometers, the end point of the ideal zone will be reached before exiting the bridge. As such, it is only upon the bridge itself that the ideal zone is achieved, and it is within this area that Tefilas HaDerech must be recited.
  • Traveling from Montreal to New York, via downtown and Victoria Bridge: Similar to the above, the ideal zone begins at the approach to the bridge, and extends for four kilometers.
  • Traveling from Montreal to New York, via downtown and the Champlain Bridge: In this case, immediately upon exiting the downtown area and beginning travel on the Bonaventure Expressway (Route 10), one has already reached the city limits. The four kilometer ideal zone thus begins well before the bridge. The start point of this zone is near the beginning of the Expressway, and continues for four kilometers. Coming from this approach, one reaches the Champlain Bridge at approximately 3.8 km from the start point, leaving a very minimal amount of the bridge within the ideal zone.
  • Traveling from Montreal to Mont Tremblant: The city limit in this instance is the northern shore of the island of Montreal. The ideal zone will commence immediately, from the beginning of the span crossing into Laval, and continue for 4 kilometers. That the majority of these four kilometers pass through well-inhabited areas has no impact whatsoever on the Halacha.[4]
  • Traveling from Montreal to Toronto or Ottawa: As with other instances of leaving Montreal, the city limits are certainly reached at the edge of the island of Montreal. As such, the Tefila should be recited on the bridge connecting Montreal and Vaudreuil (Pont de l’Ile-aux-Tourtes). It should be noted however, that in this scenario it is quite possible that the Halachic city limits have in fact been reached at empty expanses prior to the bridge. Therefore, the most ideal solution would be to recite the Tefila immediately upon reaching the bridge. If indeed the exit point is truly earlier on Autoroute 40, it is nonetheless quite likely that the very initial portion of the bridge is still within the 4 km perimeter of the ideal zone. For reference, the bridge, and the ideal point for recital, begin just after Exit 40.
  • Traveling from Brooklyn to Montreal: Although the five boroughs of New York comprise one municipal entity, this characterization is one of arbitrary legal nature, and not of Halachic relevance. Thus, crossing between Brooklyn and Manhattan via the Brooklyn-Battery (Hugh Carey) Tunnel, Brooklyn Bridge, or other, would be viewed as departing a residential landmass. Due to the fact that the journey will eventually traverse significant open stretch, the trip warrants Tefilas HaDerech, which should be recited immediately upon these East River crossings. Likewise, if departing from Manhattan, the Tefila should be recited on the George Washington bridge or on any other Hudson River crossing, or immediately thereafter, within the four kilometer zone.

Of note, these first two zones hold true in regard to initial travel from one’s hometown or conversely, when leaving one’s destination to return home. However, if one were to segment a trip, stopping at a random midpoint not merely for a short nap but rather to sleep overnight, the Halacha would differ. In such a case, Tefilas HaDerech must be recited twice, as the trip has effectively been split into two.[5] In regard to the initial hometown departure, the above stated guidelines would hold true. However, in regard to departure from the midpoint, the four kilometer ideal zone begins immediately as one prepares to embark, prior to entering one’s vehicle or actual departure.[6]

The third zone covers the area beginning at the four kilometer mark, at the endpoint of the second zone, and continues until one has reached the final four kilometers adjacent to one’s destination city. Although not on par with the previous zone, should one have failed to recite Tefilas HaDerech earlier, one can continue to recite the Tefila at any point throughout this zone.

  • Traveling from Montreal to Monsey: Should one have forgotten to recite Tefilas HaDerech at an earlier point, he may nevertheless do so in the Adirondacks, Albany, Kingston, or at any other point until the final four kilometers before Monsey, a point roughly in the vicinity of the Ramapo (Sloatsburg) Travel Plaza. It is completely irrelevant if at the time of recital one is passing through a city or through an open area.

The fourth zone is that of the final four kilometers, those adjacent to the destination city. At this point, one is considered within the safe environs of his destination, and the Tefila may no longer be recited in full. One should recite the Tefila up until the final words, omitting the concluding Beracha of “Baruch Atah… Shomeya Tefila”.

Tripping Up: Applying the Concepts to Air Travel – Until this point, the parameters have been established in regard to road trips. How do these guidelines pertain to air travel? In many cases, merely traveling from one’s departure city to the local airport requires travel beyond the original city limits. Examples would include leaving from Yerusholayim for a flight from Ben-Gurion airport, or leaving Cleveland for a flight from Hopkins Airport. In these scenarios, the Tefila should be recited immediately upon exiting the departure city. In other instances an airport may be located within the confines of the departure city, as is the case with Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. In this case, the Halachic consensus is to recite the Tefila on the plane, as the plane begins the final acceleration on the approach to take-off. This setting would benefit the incorporation of a number of factors. Firstly, it is quite likely that Halacha considers the wide open expanses of the runway area to be outside of the city. Secondly, as noted, the concern with reciting the Tefila within the departure city is due to the potentiality of aborting the trip and returning home. At the moment of take-off, the travel has assumed a definitiveness, beyond any such reasonable concern. Lastly, from an angle of risk assessment, the moments of take-off are generally considered to carry the greatest danger, and would as such be most apt for Tefilas HaDerech. If one did not recite Tefilas HaDerech at such time, one could nonetheless do so up until the final stages of descent prior to landing.

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[1] For purposes of simplicity, the measure of a Parsah is referred to throughout this article as approximately 4 kilometers. In truth, however, there is much dispute in calculating the precise distance. The Parsah might feasibly be assessed at 3.84 km (opinion of Rav Chaim Noeh Zt”l), 4.318 km (opinion of the Iggros Moshe), or a bit more than 4.6 km (opinion of the Chazon Ish). Any mention, at any point in this article, of a 4 km distance should be understood to be a reference to this dispute.

[2] The above follows the basic reading of the Shulchan Aruch and accepted Halacha among Ashkenazic communities. Many Sephardic communities, however, utilize a measurement of travel time as opposed to one of distance, generally assessing the requirement at 72 minutes of travel through uninhabited areas. [It is unclear how this opinion would factor traffic conditions]. As a practical example of the ensuing disparity, travel from Montreal to St. Agathe would require Tefilas HaDerech according to Ashkenazim, but not according to the aforementioned Sephardic practice.

[3] As per the above footnote, here as well many Sephardic communities would follow said measurement of time in place of a measurement of distance. All the examples listed below should be adjusted accordingly [e.g. When traveling from Montreal to Brooklyn, adherents of this opinion would have the ideal zone stretching from the beginning of the Champlain Bridge until a point in the vicinity of Plattsburgh, NY, as opposed to a mere 4 kilometers].

[4] Travel from Montreal to Laval or Boisbriand, however, would not warrant Tefilas HaDerech, failing to meet the first criteria, that of containing a four kilometer open stretch.

[5] As an extension of this scenario, were one to enter any town along the route with the intention of “calling it a night,” and subsequently change his mind and continue onward, the trip will have been considered segmented, and require a new Tefilas HaDerech. The mere intent, when within the intended stopover city, is enough to be considered a termination of the initial phase of travel.

[6] As mentioned previously, the restraint upon recital of Tefilas HaDerech within one’s initial departure city, immediately upon beginning a journey, is due to the possibility of one returning home and deferring travel plans. In this instance, as the stopover point is neither one’s hometown nor the final destination, such a risk is negligible.

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