Tradition & Travel
Judaism is a way of life on the road no less than at home. Kosher food and a Sabbath-friendly place to stay are essential considerations for Jewish travellers. Tefillin worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers, prayer books, psalms, and the Hebrew Bible are familiar travel companions.
For millennia, Jews journeyed for commerce and pilgrimage. Travellers connected far-flung communities whilst bridging between and amongst other civilisations.
Travel could be difficult and perilous. Embarking on a journey – whether by land, sea, or nowadays air, Jews recite a travel prayer appealing to Divine providence to guide them safely to their destination and back.
It is an ancient prayer cited in the Talmud with emendations made over time and according to rite:
“May it be Thy will, O Lord my God, to lead me forth in peace and direct my steps in peace and uphold me in peace, and deliver me from the hand of every enemy and ambush by the way, and send a blessing on the works of my hands, and cause me to find grace, kindness, and mercy in Thy eyes and in the eyes of all who see me. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who hearkenest unto prayer.”
Jewish travellers could reasonably expect hospitality from co-religionists. Study halls might serve as makeshift hostels. A friendly welcome is a biblically-grounded virtue recalling Abraham’s embrace of the stranger. The dictum “let all who are hungry come and eat” – is hallowed in Talmud and enshrined in the Passover Haggadah.
During the Middle Ages, European communities provided meals and lodgings for itinerant Jews. It is commendable to have a table guest – especially on the Sabbath – ideally, one who is religiously erudite, displays business acumen, and enjoys engaging in matrimonial matchmaking.
Finally, when our traveller was safely home, it was time to recite the Benediction of Deliverance in the synagogue before a Torah scroll.