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What the Jewish Books in Your Carry-On Tell the TSA About You

Taking a Philip Roth novel on your next flight? You may as well declare there’s a sex toy in your luggage

Marjorie Ingall
July 07, 2017

The TSA recently suspended a pilot program that involved screening passengers’ books and snacks. In one recent example of the program in action, UC Davis professor Julie Sze was told in the security line at Sacramento airport to remove her books and food for inspection. In an act of civil disobedience, she put her cookie in the bin but kept her magazines in her carry-on. In other recent cases, a Pomona College student was detained over his Arabic-language flash cards, and an Italian-born professor of economics was questioned–and his flight was delayed–after his seatmate reported that he was doing complex calculations on a piece of paper. (She thought that was terrorist-y.)

But hey, the TSA will now let us keep our books in our purses, backpacks and tote bags! (As the reliably snarky Melville House Press put it in a headline, “Go ahead and bring those Howard Zinn books on your vacation, the TSA doesn’t care.”) Which is really a shame, because it would have been delightful to send coded messages about one’s identity and proclivities to the TSA via Jewish books. Zinn isn’t the only seditious Jew, you know!

What about packing Flavius Josephus’s 75 CE history The Jewish War, about the Judean rebellion against Roman rule? Wouldn’t stuffing that in your Brandeis tote bag tell the TSA that the Jews are a clannish, skulking people plotting overthrow against Christian rule? (Half of Reddit says so anyway!) Or you could have packed Philip Roth’s The Humbling, if you wanted to telegraph cretinous perviness (you might as well shout “There’s almost definitely a green strap-on dildo in my sober briefcase”), or Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar if you wanted to cue the TSA in to the numerous bits of Tiffany’s bling in your Birkin bag. (See, you would have done a mitzvah by silently encouraging those glam-deficient workers to secretly try on your Elsa Peretti Star of David necklace, the way those dudes got nachas from posing with the giant lobster.) Or you might have carried Jacobo Timmerman’s Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, as a commentary on a nation’s determination to muzzle the free press and wage internal war against its own liberal citizens. Another nation. Not this nation. Of course.

Just spitballing here.

The TSA made no statement as to why the book-screening pilot program was abandoned. There is no evidence whatsoever that it was because the country has a chief executive who can’t read.

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.