TikTok has given rise to a new crop of Jewish personalities who are profiting from creating popular content for the Jewish community (as well as Jewish content for non-Jews, too).
Unless you’ve been hibernating for the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard of TikTok. It’s a social networking app that features short videos and has taken the world by storm. Today, you can watch the latest dance craze or see teens doing pranks and stunts. You can also watch actual video footage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine shot on cell phones along with stay-at-home dads telling their favorite jokes and highlights of the latest sporting events.
The Chinese-owned TikTok only allows the upload of short (15 seconds to three minutes) videos and has gained in popularity since the demise of similar apps like Vine and Musical.ly (another Chinese-owned app that merged with TikTok). It became the first non-Facebook mobile app to reach 3 billion downloads globally this past summer.
Like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, Jewish content is readily available on the TikTok platform. The app has given rise to a new crop of Jewish personalities who are profiting from creating popular content for the Jewish community (as well as Jewish content for non-Jews, too). A recent NBC News article interviewed several Jewish creators on the TikTok app who said they feel they have been subjected to a type of censorship, with the app regularly flagging and removing their content. Additionally, there have been many antisemitic slurs in the comment section of videos uploaded by these Jewish content creators. Nevertheless, these new Jewish internet celebrities have persevered and continue to churn out videos that go viral, even educating people about Judaism and dispelling myths along the way.
So, who are these Jewish TikTok content providers?
Crazy Brothers-in-Law (@JewCrazy)
Tommer and Yossi are brothers-in-law who must have looked at the typical dance memes on TikTok and determined that they could do those with a Jewish flavor. This duo has half a million followers, 10 million likes, and make money selling JewCrazy-branded merchandise.
In one of their most popular videos, the two men appear to be getting into a fight with a gangster who tells them to come back to the alley strapped. Instead of returning strapped with guns, they reappear wearing the leather straps of their tefillin.
Tommer and Yossi regularly answer questions from commenters in a cynical manner, but ultimately educate the public about what it means to be observant Jews. Many of the comments on their videos bring up millennia-old stereotypes about Jewish people (e.g., do Jews have horns, do Jews control the banks, etc.), but @JewCrazy responds to these misguided commenters by setting the record straight.
Many of their videos just put a Jewish spin on viral TikTok dances and memes. For example, they remade the famous Island Boys video substituting the lyrics with “I’m a Menorah Boy.” Like other popular Jewish TikTok users, @JewCrazy has had Jewish- and Israel-related videos censored on the app and has even been banned for several weeks. The pair does not do anything more obscene or offensive than many other accounts on TikTok, but they have been targeted for their Jewish content.
The Jewish Home (@RealMelindaStrauss2.0)
Despite being kicked off the TikTok platform several times for no apparent reason, Melinda Strauss continues to build her following by offering practical Jewish advice. As her website explains, “Melinda Strauss rose to fame with her Kosher Food Blog … Over the years, she has become a health coach, podcaster, influencer, conference organizer, business coach and amassed an impressive TikTok following where she shares the nuances of life as an Orthodox Jew.”
Her TikTok channel is essentially answering viewers’ questions about all things Jewish. In recent videos, Strauss has discussed how Jews repent, how to get the home ready for Shabbat and what Type 1 diabetics should do on a fast day.
She’s dispelled the myth that kosher food is healthier, shown how to find kosher food at a farmer’s market and, of course, how to braid a challah. One of her most popular videos is showing her son, who has diabetes, putting on tefillin after his bar mitzvah (a proud Mom moment).
Talmud TikTok (@miriamanzovin)
Miriam Anzovin has been spreading Talmudic teachings to the world thanks to her popular TikTok account. Anzovin began the new cycle of Daf Yomi before the COVID pandemic started in January 2020, and she’s amassed a whole following of students who start their day with her TikTok channel. She opens each video with her motto, “Shalom, Friends!”
Anzovin is certainly not what most people think of when they think of a Talmud scholar, but her modern, creative way of teaching the daily page of Talmud (known as Daf Yomi) has caught on and helped a whole new generation of Talmud students fall in love with the ancient Jewish learning process.
Anzovin’s approach is to bring the sometimes bizarre stories of the Talmud to life by adapting them to 21st-century language, full of analogies and references to pop culture. The way she makes the ancient Talmud (written in Aramaic) accessible to the modern student is akin to retelling Shakespeare as a high school love drama set in the current period.
Jewish Jokes (@SalvadorLitvak)
There’s a certain skill involved in telling Jewish jokes well. Salvador Litvak has that skill. The Chilean-born filmmaker and social media influencer in his mid-50s has a wonderful cadence to telling age-old Jewish jokes. Known as the Accidental Talmudist, Litvak has close to 40,000 followers and a quarter of a million likes.
While some of the 72 greatest jokes of all time that he tells will undoubtedly be familiar to most, you’ll still chuckle with Litvak’s delivery. He often makes himself laugh after telling the joke. A longtime Jewish educator, Litvak peppers some Jewish teachings into each video, often explaining Jewish concepts that non-Jewish viewers might find confusing.
Baking and braiding challah became a very popular activity during the COVID pandemic. In fact, at the beginning of the quarantine period, it became impossible to buy yeast at the grocery store because everyone seemed to be staying home and baking.
Idan Chabasov has taken the lead as the most popular challah baking artist of TikTok. His tens of thousands of followers learn to bake the most creative challah breads and rolls by watching his TikTok channel. A Sephardic Jew with roots in Turkey and Uzbekistan, Chabasov says that he didn’t grow up watching his mother braid challah dough. He considers himself an artist who didn’t have much of a connection to Judaism. That was until he was in Germany and was seeking out Shabbat dinners. As a guest at these meals, he began baking challah and, then during the COVID lockdown, he would watch YouTube videos for challah-braiding tricks. After creating an Instagram account to show off his heart-shaped challah creations, Chabasov discovered how many others were equally passionate about new ways to shape traditional bread. His artistic challah baking creations have provided him with a huge global following and brought him closer to his Jewish roots.
Rabbi Jason Miller is a local educator and entrepreneur. He is the president of Access Technology in West Bloomfield. He also officiates bar and bat mitzvahs around the country (mitzvahrabbi.com).