Traveling today for a religious Jew is quite different than it was years ago, and a simple airplane ride has come a long way. For example, food is readily available for a religious Jewish traveler, and kosher meals, snacks, drinks, and even alcoholic beverages can be had at one’s beckoning; a person is not lacking when he travels on a plane. When Rav Yaakov Moshe Kulefsky zt”l, the Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, would travel, however, he refused to eat the plane food even if it had a proper hechsher and, instead, his wife would prepare him the requisite meals for his travels. On one occasion, Rav Yaakov was flying to another city for the purpose of meeting an important donor to the Yeshivah. The flight duration was a few hours, and since he wouldn’t eat the food being served anyway, his wife had prepared a sandwich for him prior to the flight. A short time after takeoff, when the Rosh Yeshivah saw that the flight attendants began to give out food trays to the other passengers, he opened up his hand luggage and took out the package that his wife had prepared for him.
The sandwich she had made contained bread and meat, and Rav Yaakov rose from his seat in order to wash his hands before partaking, as per Jewish law. On his way to wash, he suddenly remembered that he had left his food unattended on the folding tray in front of his seat – and there was meat there. The people sitting next to him were non-Jews and, according to halachah, one is not permitted to eat meat that has been left without supervision; in Talmudic terminology, this is known as basar she’nisaleim min ha’ayin – “meat that has been hidden from the eye.” At first, a thought entered his mind: What kind of prohibition could be involved here? Each one of the gentiles was having the food served to him personally, and there was no reason to suspect that anybody would tamper with his food package. Why would they even want his sandwich? However, he knew that he had no right to question the validity of Jewish law in any case. It was incumbent upon him to follow this halachah, too, although according to human reasoning there was seemingly no cause for concern.
Immediately, Rav Yaakov returned to his seat and sat down. He left his meal on the tray without touching it since the main part of the sandwich consisted of meat. The non-Jew sitting next to him ate his meal with great appetite and noticed that the Rosh Yeshivah was not eating anything at all. The non-Jew started to ask him questions about why he did not eat. When the Rosh Yeshivah replied that he was not hungry, the non-Jew said, “But I saw you open your case and take out your personal food package. Obviously, you were preparing to eat your meal. If so, what is the reason why you are not eating now?”
Rav Yaakov was unsure how to respond. Perhaps, he thought, he should not respond at all. How could he explain to this gentile that Jews don’t eat meat that had been concealed from his eyes because of the non-Jews sitting next to him?
However, his non-Jewish neighbor did not want to let the matter go. For some reason, he kept repeating his question time and time again: Why isn’t the rabbi touching his food? Was there something wrong? Did he suddenly lose his appetite? Was it because he saw the food that the airline was serving, and it caused him distress?
With such a persistent seatmate, the Rosh Yeshivah felt he had no choice but to explain the true reason. “Well, you see, I am Jewish, and we follow a strict code of law called halachah. The Jewish people are very particular about eating only kosher food. One of the halachos or laws for keeping kosher states that meat that was left unattended cannot be eaten, since somebody might substitute this meat for non-kosher meat. One might think that this law is a bit archaic; however, the nature of halachah is that it still applies even in a situation like this where there is no real reason for such suspicion.” The non-Jew listened intently and with alertness to his explanation.
After a long pause of silence, the gentile smiled sheepishly and responded, “Rabbi, I’m going to tell you the whole truth. When you rose from your seat in order to wash your hands, I smelled the tempting aroma from the meat you had put on the tray. It actually looked much tastier than the food being served to me on the flight. I was unable to resist the temptation, and I exchanged the meat portions, putting my meat in your package, and I ate your meat! I hope that you will forgive me for what I did. It is quite clear that G-d watches over the Jews who fulfill His wishes!”