Jewspotting, for Good and for Ill
New iPhone app provokes ambivalence about one of our favorite hobbies
If you’re like me, hardly a day goes by when you don’t wonder: Jew or not Jew? A new iPhone app likely has the answer, along with detailed statistics and even a “Random Jew” feature. (Apple deems it appropriate for those 12 and older due to “Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content or Nudity,” presumably for when you look up Ron Jeremy.) Yet, in France, where the app was made by one Johann Levy, it is being heavily criticized, and there is even talk that Levy is vulnerable to prosecution. This development is in part a reflection of French society, with its heavy emphasis on laïcité—an insistence on public secularism that goes well beyond the separation of church and state (which tolerates personal religious display)—as well as France’s history as a place where at one point “Jew or Not Jew” lists were used for much less benign purposes. Indeed, Jewspotting is weird in that it is both a hobby or something even more important for Jews (in the early Philip Roth story “The Conversion of the Jews,” the narrator’s grandmother scans a list of people who died in a plane crash, looking for the Jewish names) yet something sinister for anti-Semites. I frequently encounter its dual nature in a professional capacity: scouring the Internet to figure if out if so-and-so is a Member of the Tribe, some of the Websites that most frequently pop up name Jewish figures only to demand boycotts of their businesses or to argue that they unduly influence world politics and finances. Still, it is the American way to tolerate, and even appreciate, such things as Jew or Not Jew, and I’ll happily download it onto my iPhone.
Still, if it makes you uneasy, may I suggest an alternative? Presenting Guess Who’s the Jew!, an online quiz where you are presented with various celebrities and must guess yes or no, while the site keeps your ongoing score. What I love about this is that if you get it wrong, you are offered the following opportunity: “Disagree? Click here if you think that this information is incorrect!” One Jew, two opinions.