Since Moses hoisted the tablets on Mount Sinai, Jews have sought to understand our sacred texts and hotly debated the big questions:
Why are we here?
What does it mean to live an ethical or just life?
Is Furby Kosher?
That last question is one of the many hilarious, thought-provoking, niche or ultimately-kind-of-terrifying inquiries (is Furby a bird of prey, and what are the implications?) TikTok users have sent to Zara, AKA @zarazahavah. At time of writing, Zara has created more than 130 videos responding to curious, enthusiastic followers’ questions about Jewish law, culture and tradition, from ranking the Jewish holidays based on how drunk you get to determining which Pokemon key figures in the Torah would have on their teams (Moses’s starter Pokemon is a Squirtle, obvi). Some topics are more serious — Jewish law’s views on abortion, the conversion process — but most are lighthearted and funny, usually with some wildly specific pop culture bent.
“I’m teaching in a comedic way, but people are genuinely learning and asking these questions because they want to learn,” Zara says. “I’ve been in situations where people didn’t care to learn about my culture at all, so it’s really heartwarming to see that people do care.”
Zara’s videos and their subjects are niche and entertaining, but she also backs up her positions with research. She begins with her own knowledge from nine years of Jewish school before going to sites like My Jewish Learning, exploring Wikipedia citations and finding relevant halachic texts and debates.
Lest you think the joyful, curious debate incorporating the fantastical and pop culture is anything new: The community around Zara’s TikTok is an extension of what Jewish scholars have been doing for millennia. There are rabbinical debates about unicorns and about whether or not mermaids can be Jewish.
There’s more than just humor and entertainment value in debating how Jewish law would work in the Pokémon universe; Zara says answering these niche questions can be helpful in getting people curious about other people’s cultures and religions in the first place. She compares it to the way many people show an enthusiastic interest in Greek mythology, also rooted in religion, because they were introduced to it in a fun or engaging way. “It gets people asking questions they otherwise wouldn’t have cared to know,” she says. “So maybe now they not only know whether or not Furby is kosher, but also more about what kosher is.”
When Zara first started on TikTok, she didn’t intend to become the platform’s pre-eminent comic scholar on extremely specific topics in Jewish law — she started out just telling funny stories about her life. Initially, she chose not to mention that she was Jewish at all, knowing that being openly Jewish on the Internet would open her up to more bigotry on a large platform where antisemitism often goes unchecked.
“It’s a real struggle,” Zara says. “I don’t lie about myself, but there are parts I don’t bring up. That’s the same with how anyone presents themselves on social media. I had to ask myself, do I want to open myself up to much more antisemitism or just make silly videos?”
And then something happened.
Another creator posed a series of theoretical questions about whether or not a vampire could keep kosher, and Zara responded. (The answer, in brief: While drinking blood would violate Jewish dietary laws, a Jewish vampire would not be expected to follow said laws if drinking blood, albeit from from Kosher animals, were the only way they could survive.) From there, the metaphoric floodgates opened and curious followers began asking more questions, often at the intersection of Judaism and pop culture.
Within a month of that first video, Zara’s follower count doubled, now sitting at more than 172,000 people. “I really did start growing overnight, which just shows that there is a demand from people who want to learn,” she says.
One popular question among Zara’s followers is whether or not something is kosher — Furby, the Kool-Aid Man, Tide Pods, the food in “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” the animals of “Animal Crossing.” One of her favorite discussions sprang from one of these prompts, in which a Jewish creator asked whether or not body shots — the act of consuming alcohol off another person’s body — would be considered kosher. “That one blew my mind, because I gave my answer and then real rabbis were battling it out in the comments section on whether I was right or wrong,” she says. “I ended up with three or four videos on the same topic because rabbis were coming out of the woodwork. It reminded me of one of my favorite things about Judaism, this constant questioning and encouraging friendly debate.”
Another Jewish creator asked her if it was possible to use a tampon case as a mezuzah holder. She was able to find an answer with the help of relevant texts around how close a mezuzah can be placed to a bathroom. “This is truly a sentence that has never been uttered, and somehow I still found relevant rabbinical debates,” she says.
In addition to the regulars in the chat, lots of strangers email her at her business email address, which has become a new avenue for her to connect with people. She says she gets a lot of joke emails, but also many serious ones, and tries to take the time to respond. “I’ve gotten a lot of comments and emails from complete strangers who point-blank tell me they’ve never met a Jew, and because of the communities they grew up in, they had horrible thoughts about us,” she says. “Watching my content and seeing me be a real human being made them start to deconstruct and take a pause.”
Zara says she’s received at least 50 emails like this from people who have begun to question antisemitic beliefs they had after watching her videos. While she says she’s not naive enough to believe that making funny TikToks will fix the world, it means a lot to her to have played a role in helping viewers she’s never met unpack their antisemitism and commit to doing better. “These people are telling on themselves,” Zara says. “It’s surprising to hear people taking accountability instead of trying to bury that. I have no words to describe how much it means to me. If I could have changed one mind, that would have been enough for me.”
While the community around her TikTok is largely positive, the platform can often be hostile to Jewish and other marginalized creators. Zara says she heavily moderates her comments to maintain a safe experience for her followers, or will warn followers before they scroll through the comments if there is antisemitism she’s unable to moderate. “I will admit, my self-care in terms of TikTok is not the best because I’m so focused on community care,” she says. “I want my comments to be a safe space for other Jewish people. I have to take responsibility as someone who talks about Judaism to protect my community.”
Zara’s content goes beyond Jewish topics: aside from the Talmudic discussions, she’s probably best known for talking about her desire to nuke the moon, complete with an extensive PowerPoint presentation on the topic (for context, the #NukeTheMoon origin story is here). This has inspired other people on the app to declare their loyalty to #TeamNukeTheMoon — and even make fan art of Zara, well, preparing to nuke the moon.
She’s been working on a video about what Jewish law says about nuking the moon, but admits that there is not a single angle she has found where Jewish law would support nuking the moon: It violates “like 50 different laws,” including Jewish laws on war and environmentalism. But she has a solution even for this: “If one of our founders was allowed to wrestle God, I’m allowed to nuke the moon even if God says no,” she says.