Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tefillin on Airplanes

If I was Al Queda, I'm pretty sure of how I would next try to attack an American airplane.
I would do it with Tefillin.
If September 11th taught us anything, it taught us that the enemies of freedom would attack America at its point of greatest weakness: its desire for fairness, honesty and openness. Americans still refuse to profile people based on ethnicity and appearance, instead choosing to scan old ladies in wheelchairs with the same intensity and scrutiny as a Middle-Eastern man in his twenties purchasing a ticket for cash with no luggage. (Did the airlines learn nothing at all during the past eight years?)
The brilliance (if you can call it that) of September 11th was the knowledge that during a hijacking, Americans would herd in the back of the plane and hope for the best. That's no longer the case, which is good.
But Americans are still not only good-hearted, but naively so. It's easy for me to imagine that following the recent Tefillin scare, the TSA sent out a bulletin to its thousands of employees about Tefillin, explaining that they are items of a religious nature that pose no threat to fellow passengers.
Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein wrote on his blog,
Mark Weitzman of the New York office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (my employer) had the conversation with an official of Homeland Security three or four years ago. He spoke of the need of a manual about America’s different religious communities, and what they might be bringing on planes at different times of the year. We offered to provide the Jewish content. They were receptive, but there was no follow-up that we are aware of. (On a different occasion, I wrote such a piece for TSA, which has been more than cooperative each year in assuring that frum passengers will not be detonated for carrying their lulavim around Sukkos time.) At this point, Homeland Security will hopefully swing into action, and find a way to share the information with the airlines.
That's just the kind of thing that Al Queda is looking for. Can a TSA employee in Des Moines tell the difference between a Jewish Middle Eastern looking man carrying Tefillin, and a non-Jewish one? You or I could just by looking - but could they? Would they know the difference between a kosher pair of Tefillin filled with klaf, or a fake pair filled with C4?
I doubt it. Only now, with newly issued instructions, American openness, and a desire to avoid another international incident, I fear that the TSA might be all too happy to let the "Tefillin" through without the proper scrutiny.
Which is just what America's enemies are hoping.