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A Crash Course in Jewish Memes

The good, the bad, and the weird

Theo Canter
May 11, 2018

Jewish thinkers have given us “if you will it, it is no dream,” (Herzl) and “there is nothing new under the sun…to everything there is a season and time.” (Ecclesiastes.) A popular Internet saying about memes unconsciously combines these two: “If you can imagine it, it already exists.” In that same vein, if it can be imagined, there’s also a Jewish version of it. That applies to pop songs and the plethora of Jewish parodies thereof, but also to one of the most ubiquitous cultural branches of the internet, memes. The term was first coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene, defined as “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” As the internet has grown all-encompassing of our life and society, it brings the popularity of memes with it.

While they were once only to be found in the periphery of the Internet, memes have spread to not just “darker” corners like Reddit and 4chan, but also to mainstream platforms like Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Youtube, shared widely by everyone from commoners to celebrities, across geographic, religious, and political divides. In many cases, the unfortunate but obvious truth is that the anonymity of the Internet leads to fertile ground for anti semitic content. Yet the Internet has also given us the marvel of a vast array of wholesome and positive Jewish memes.

As meme culture and trends are constantly changing, this is but a basic overview of the current best Jewish memes and Jewish meme sources. The majority of individual Jewish memes today are based on general meme trends, so to understand those and view them in context, Know Your Meme is a safe bet.

For meme connoisseurs, and those who like their memes spicy, the clear platform of choice is Reddit. R/Jewdank is a subreddit specifically dedicated to cool Jewish memes. The content of these includes jokes about the Bible and Israel, as well as cultural inside references, mostly “relatable Jewish problems” about food, prayers, and family. R/Israel, although not explicitly a subreddit for memes, has a good share of memes, though these tend to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli inside jokes, mainly about politics. R/Judaism also has a nice selection, though less about Israel and more about Jewish life and culture. With some searching, r/polandball has some comic strips about Israel as well.

For the yeshivish youths out there, the Facebook group “goyishe memes for off the derech teens” and the Instagram account Yeshiva Girl Problems are nice shelters for incessant kvetching. If you like your memes more political, specifically about Israel, the Facebook group “J Street memes for pro-peace teens” provides some nice content, but be warned, it usually aligns more lefty, and content is not as frequent as on Reddit. Though you’ve surely heard of Instagrammers like @Thefatjewish, @Hebrewmemes is a less popular (and mostly in Hebrew) but wonderful page whose content goes across the spectrum. And for something more palatable, but far lower meme quality, the Milstein Meme Competition is an annual competition among teens, with cash prizes of $500, for pro-Israel memes.

Enjoy getting lost down the rabbit hole of off-color Internet Jewish humor, and be warned: Some (okay, much) of what you see may offend you. Meanwhile, to send you off on a right note, here’s a recent work of genius, riffing on T’Challa, the beloved superhero also known as the Black Panther, and, well, you’ll see:

Theo Canter is a graduate of Abraham Joshua Heschel high school in New York, and will be attending Oberlin College after spending a gap year on Kivunim.