We went there. We saw the trend on Twitter with people asking their followers about their most controversial opinions on a certain subject matter, and we wanted in on it. We did it knowing that the words “controversial” and “Judaism” could create a bit of a stir.
We considered a more softball version — what’s your most controversial opinion about challah, or Chanukah (beyond how to spell it) or, heaven forbid, bagels. But we saw other Twitter communities having thoughtful conversations and wanted to hear our diverse readers’ thoughts on the complexities of our shared religion and identity.
So we stuck with the straightforward: “What’s your most controversial opinion on Judaism?”
What’s your most controversial opinion on Judaism?— The Forward (@jdforward) November 26, 2019
It’s not like we don’t address these questions indirectly on Jewish Twitter every day. And it’s definitely not like we haven’t talked amongst ourselves about this very topic since the dawn of Jewish time. (Remember the old adage: “Two Jews, three opinions?”) Or, in this case, 700 responses in less than an hour.
Love all the responses here acting like we don’t argue about Judaism on here every day— Alex (@JewishWonk) November 26, 2019
And yes readers expressed their concern over us even asking the question, but what gave us pause was the amount of concern we received.
We knew we were opening ourselves up to the hate that we and other Jewish publications and individuals receive on social media each and every day. And we got a little of that. It’s an occupational hazard when you work in the media, especially at a Jewish publication. We reported it to the Twitter police, as we always do, and moved on.
But what was a surprise was the overwhelming number of Tweets criticizing us for even posing the question in the first place.
Controversial opinions about Judaism shouldn’t be part of a media outlet’s membership drive.— Edo Konrad (@edokonrad) November 26, 2019
These are charged times for our community and there was a vocal group of people who viewed our question as either a ploy for clicks, in bad taste, or, even worse, an attempt to feed the trolls.
What certainly surprised me was the number of people who condemned the very act of asking the question. Have we really become so afraid of being attacked that we can’t even convene a conversation about our controversial opinions? 3/— Jodi Rudoren (@rudoren) November 26, 2019
It was not a ploy for clicks — indeed, there was no article linked to the Tweet, it was just a question to provoke conversation, reflection, debate. At The Forward, we start each morning asking, “What are American Jews talking about today?” Asking this question on Twitter was a natural extension of that. Anti-Semites and bigots are a sad fact of life, and as one Tweeter (and former Forward colleague) put it, “if you let the anti-Semites dictate public conversations about Judaism, they win.”
The anti-Semites didn’t win in this case, because amidst the fracas about whether the question was appropriate were some very thoughtful personal statements on what it means to be Jewish in America today. Many frank and honest conversations soon developed.
That a lot of halakha is actually just minhag.
(While I understand the people saying we shouldn’t give antisemites a template to further harass us, I’m not going to let them kill my fun either.)— Stephen Michael Tow / Zek J. Evets (@stowZJE) November 26, 2019
All Jewish classical literature - Torah, Midrash, Talmud, Codes, etc are simply the history of a people’s wrestling with the question of what God or the universe wants from its members and from humanity— Rabbi Arnie (@JewishConnectiv) November 26, 2019
You can both oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine 🇵🇸, support IsraelI Democracy, and practice Judaism at the same time. #EqualityForAll#walkandchewgum— Corey Coon 🌹 (@coreycoon75) November 26, 2019
That Judaism and Zionism are in fact two different and distinct things— LHOOQ (@BoarInChurch) November 26, 2019
The high, specific fees which some synagogues require for membership and Hebrew school deter non-affluent Jews from being religiously active and from raising their kids as Jews. Not only does this impair Jewish continuity; it perpetuates the stereotype that “all” Jews are rich.— Kate Pryde (@Mutant187) November 26, 2019
There were also many moments of levity, with food being a common uniter (and divider).
Challah bread french toast is twice as good as other french toast.— ya_boi_wimpy (@datboiwimpy) November 26, 2019
well challah should obviously be available for the entire shabbat meal and not just at the end but more to the point why on earth would you ever tweet this— rax king (@RaxKingIsDead) November 26, 2019
Cheese with poultry should still be kosher! Birds don’t lactate! I will die on this hill! I WILL DIE!— Ugly&Proud (@keyliebug) November 26, 2019
Also, some people *like* matzo— Laurie (@IRSFUNFACTS) November 26, 2019
Boston Bagels are better than NYC Bagels.— (((AbuNivi))) (@SteveKrasnow) November 26, 2019
Matzo ball soup tastes better with Louisiana hot sauce. Ok I’m done. 😂— Ugly&Proud (@keyliebug) November 26, 2019
At The Forward, we value your input and we want to keep the conversation going. As @illgirlsdontcry put it, “I also felt the act spoke of our very specific sense of humor while also prompting intellectual dialogue.”
Thank you for letting us be your kvetching board and let’s keep talking.
John Kunza is The Forward’s audience editor. Follow him on Twitter @johnkunza.