Maimonides Nutz Is Finding Her Voice Through Jewish Memes

We spoke with Sophia Zohar, who's gained a following tweeting under the name of a famous Jewish sage.

There are few redeeming things about being on Twitter these days: when everyone is making jokes about the same thing (say, Mike Bloomberg dropping out of the presidential race); when different types of animals that should never meet kind of meet each other (thank you, zookeepers); the threads of “person” as “things” or “other person” (like this magnificent one of Dennis Rodman as Moira Rose); following writers I admire; and, last but not least, Jewish memes.

The rise of Jewish memes probably deserves its own oral history essay (I volunteer), but no one is more visible in the Jewish twitter meme-space than @Maimonides_Nutz, the Twitter account of 28-year-old writer and artist Sophia Zohar. As her Twitter bio reads: “Maimonides, as in the Jewish philosopher — and Nutz as in ‘Deez Nutz.’ (I’m not Maimonides but I’m definitely Nutz).” (It cracks me up that she has to clarify she is not Maimonides, AKA Moshe ben Maimon, a famous Jewish scholar born in Córdoba in 1138.)

Sophia began tweeting under @Maimonides_Nutz in the fall of 2019, not expecting much. Now, she has nearly 10,000 followers, a Patreon where you can support her work, and a robust online shop selling Jewish-themed merch. (Personally, I am obsessed with her Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdoff design.)

Her tweets all center on her Jewishness: There are jokes about Kol Nidre, golems, the Talmud, and everything in between. Oftentimes, I won’t even understand the Jewish thing she’s referencing (shout out my Reform Jewish Hebrew school education for teaching me the V’ahavta and only the V’ahavta), but when I do get the joke, I am always (1) laughing and (2) impressed by Sophia’s ability to transform Jewish knowledge into a meme.

When I had the opportunity to chat with Sophia over e-mail, we talked all things Jewish Twitter, good and bad internet moments, and what she would say to the real Maimonides.

Let’s talk about the origin of Maimonides Nutz. What inspired you to take this handle?

Insanity. It was last June in the middle of the night. My dog was dying. I had to wake up every couple hours to rock him back to sleep. I was super sleep-deprived and a little loopy. I woke up with a start with the thought “Maimonides Nutz!” (and also “Who put the Ram in the Rambalamadingdong”) and wrote it in my notes app. I laughed at the note for a good 15 minutes and then went back to sleep. I have *no* idea where that thought came from — I knew essentially nothing about Maimonides at that point.

Has the popularity of your tweets and designs surprised you?

Yes.

But in all seriousness I have no idea how this happened. Until last year I had specially designed my life to hide from the spotlight as much as possible, but then in the midst of great personal grief all my personality came bursting out with a vengeance — I have barely begun to process it. I’ve had a big shift recently from “ok well I guess this is happening” to “ok well I guess this is who I am.” It’s really strange to be confronted every day with who you are after so many years of living in a fog, just trying to make it to the next day. Still don’t know what to do with the “and I guess people love me for it” part.

What’s your proudest internet moment?

I have a bunch, but the one that stands out is the meme I started that we now call “Jewish fuckery.” My friend @coffeespoonie got a reply from an anti-Semitic troll that said “fuck outta here with that Jewish fuckery.” The reply was already hilarious because it came out of nowhere (the tweet wasn’t even about Judaism), but it was also hilarious because it just seemed to me like something Jews would say to each other, or to themselves, or characters from the Torah would say to God. So I took it out of context and turned it into part of a dialogue between God and Jonah — who was kind of a little weasel and would totally say that to God in my opinion:

It caught on immediately, and all of Jewish Twitter started making their own version of the meme. After that, taking other anti-Semitic tweets out of context and turning them into dialogue became a widespread practice on Jewish Twitter — though “Jewish fuckery” has a special place in our hearts, and is the only one that has really stuck.

I’m proud because that’s how I want to see people dealing with trolls. They want you to fight with them and it’s never as simple as just ignoring someone who is purposefully trying to make you feel bad. I want people to see the third option — just have fun with them. Take their words and make them your own. They’re trying to shock you and they’re trying to be ridiculous — so do the unexpected: be even more ridiculous. That is a Jewish skill that we don’t tap into enough.

What’s been the worst part of being online?

The worst part of being online is being online. The only thing worse than being online is being online when working through some pretty painful things in your personal life. A lot of things that are just a casualty of getting big online were unbearable to me because they brought up painful stuff I was dealing with in my personal life. To be catapulted into stardom is jarring already. I had “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse playing on repeat for a very long time.

How have you found the experience of being Jewish online? What does it mean to be a part of “Jwitter” (or is it “Jtwitter”)?

The Jewish online community is great! Finding an IRL Jewish community isn’t always an option, so to be able to find a big Jewish space right at your fingertips is HUGE. I love how we have become a cohesive group who hang out, have inside jokes, and even study Torah.

(And I’ve taken to just calling it Jewish Twitter because I am expected to keep the peace.)

What does your Jewish identity mean to you?

Finding a home. The calm of walking through the door after being roughed up by the wind. The relief of the moment your head touches your pillow after a long day. The idea that hypothetically you could be anywhere in the world and walk into a Kabbalat Shabbat service and think “I’m home.”

Jewish identity is also the pain of how often this isn’t the case. It breaks my heart that this isn’t the case for so many Jewish people (Jews of Color, converts, patrilineals, etc.). But I see the potential and that drives me. This is what the Jewish community could be. This is what we need to strive to create.

What artists are your biggest inspirations?

Mostly writers. I would say my three biggest influences have been Susan Sontag, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and John Mulaney.

If you could talk to the OG Maimonides, what would you ask him?

I feel like he’d have a lot more questions for me… Oh God, can you imagine trying to explain Twitter to Maimonides?

Header image design by Emily Burack. Photo of Sophia by Sara Underwood; background via Liyao Xie/Getty Images.

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