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El Al Security: What Yeshiva Do You Learn At?

by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Sefas Tamim Foundation

QUESTION:  I am a Yeshiva student who is studying in one of the Brisk Yeshivos in Yerushalayim.

Every time I go back to Eretz Yisroel, there is a non-religious Israeli man or woman who, allegedly for security purposes, asks me where I am learning, who the Rosh Yeshiva is, and what Mesechta I am learning.  I know that they have absolutely no idea what they are asking at all, and probably just cull their information from asking such questions to other Yeshiva students.  I am quite tempted to just make up the most preposterous responses such as, “I am studying in the Volozhin Yeshiva under Reb Naftoli Tzvi Huda Berlin. and we are studying the Ktzos HaChoshain straight on meseches Bava Genush.  The goal is know every Ktzos on the Mesechta.  Am I allowed to do such shtick?

ANSWER:  While one can certainly see and understand the temptation to do so, you should definitely NOT DO IT.  The  reasons for avoiding it are as follows:  1] We should first and foremost demonstrate hakaras hatov for the fact that they are on guard and on watch fr our safety.  A wise person once said that they look for bombers not only for a bomb.  As hakaras haTov we should not tease them or take them for granted. 2] The Chofetz Chaim in the 7th chapter of his sefer “Sfas Tamim” cites the Sifrei on the pasuk of “vehalachta bidrachav – and you shall walk in His ways” that since Emes is one of the traits of Hashem, it is a negation of a positive Mitzvah in the Torah to lie.  This is called a “bitual Assei.”  Most people are entirely unaware of this ruling of the Chofetz Chaim.  3] There is a three-way debate regarding the Pasuk in the Torah that states, “Midvar Sheker Tirchak – stay far away from a false matter” (Shmos 23:7).  Some say that it only applies to Dayanim (judges) involved in adjudicating a ruling (Orech Meisharim 9:1). Others say that by Torah law, it applies to all – but only when harm can come to someone through the lie (Sefer Yereim Mitzvah #235). The third opinion, which is Halacha L’maaseh (the practiced law) and the conclusion of most Halachic authorities is that it applies to everyone – even when no harm will come from the lie. (Chareidim Mitzvas Assei 4:26). This is your case.

4] And then there is also the higher level concept found in a Rashi at the end of Makkos (24a).  “And speaks truth in his heart”; this is referring to one such as Rav Safra.  Rashi explains that Rav Safra was reciting Krias Shema when a customer approached him to purchase an item. He intended to accept the man’s offer, but was unable to respond because he was in the middle of Shema. The buyer misinterpreted Rav Safra’s silence and raised and raised his offer. Rav Safra, however, insisted on selling him the item for the original amount.  This was because of his quality of being true to himself and being dedicated to always being absolutely truthful.

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18 Responses

  1. Putting aside the halachic rationale for not providing such a response, there is a more pragmatic reason. While still an exception, there are increasing numbers offrum individuals working for El Al in security screening and even some secular types who will recognize such a stupid response. At a minimum, you risk being diverted to secondary (aka more agressive) screening and miss your flight. In a worse case scenario, you may face legal charges and/or be added to El Al’s version of the “no fly” list.

  2. Answer a fool according to his foolishness. We are under no obligation to compromise our safety or the safety of our fellow Jew by providing information which even by statistics only could compromise our safety, by which read our security and liberty.

  3. A very clever question. It shows the zionists are not so dumb. If the student didn’t have a credible answer, I assume he would have been immediately dragged away by the Shin Bet on the assumption he was a spy (or terrorist, or both) pretending to be a fum Jew.

  4. Maybe, just maybe, they are trained to ask questions in order to see HOW the responder answers, if he hesitates for a split second, or answers immediately. (Security people aren’t just put to work off the street) it doesn’t matter if they know Yeshiva names or not. (Do I know them all, and their Roshei Yeshivos?) Have some hakaros hatov that these people are doing their jobs to try to protect passengers, instead of wasting your time with narishkeit

  5. I’ve flown El Al multiple times over decades and their security people, while occasionally a bit annoying, still provide an order of magnitude greater sense of comfort than the minimum wage TSA screeners and airline check-in desk personnel asking “if I’ve packed my own baggage” at U.S. airports.

  6. Maybe they ask questions to make you think they don’t already know everything about you from having you under constant surveillance…

  7. I do not get why rabbi hoffman didnt state the obvious namely that the security people don’t care about where you are they are testing if you have right sounding answers without hesitating and they are trained to tell if someone is inventing stories. Thus if you pulled your shtick they likely either know enough inherently to know its nonsense or will be able to tell from the way you look and sound that you are lying so if you want to miss your flight and or be detained or banned from elal then go ahead with your shenanigans and you will get what you deserve

  8. 5. Use the opportunity to share a yiddishe vort of Torah, from your mesechta, or what you heard from Rosh Yeshiva, or even the derech halimud that makes your yeshiva special. מצוה הבא לידך, to be מרביץ even one word of Torah. When was the last time this security guard heard דבר ה’? Don’t squander the opportunity. אשריך וטוב לך as we ask ללמוד וללמד.

  9. Now, after about 8-10 years of “alerts”, “special advisories” and meetings between TSA and Agudah et. al. we apparently have gone through the yom tovim w/o a single reported incident of a frum yid being stopped at the security gate or pulled off a plane for attempting to carry a lulav/esrog on board. Progress comes slowly….

  10. It happened to me as well. She asked which Yeshiva am I going to? I answered Brisk.
    She then asked (really!) “Why didn’t you go to the Mir?” I and my group were so amused by her question that I didn’t bother to respond! (And they still allowed me to pass)

  11. Rule of thumb when dealing with police or security don’t make jokes. They don’t usually think its funny. I was once in as serious car accident. B”h no one was really hurt. One of the passengers was an elderly rov who spoke only Yiddish. A state trooper asked him his age so i translated. The rov said “tell him I’m 65.” he was obviously much older then that. I told the trooper” he says he’s 65″ He became very serious and told tell him this is an official document.

  12. And, speaking of stupid, my earlier comment (October 20, 2022, 5:18 pm) was stupidly worded. I will try again: How many Jews are stupid enough to need an answer to the question discussed in this article?

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