A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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St. Louis rabbi defends TikTok as vital for Jewish education amid antisemitic threats

Rabbi Seth Goldstein joined TikTok during the pandemic as “a way of occupying time and being creative.” He has since come to see it as “a wonderful vehicle” for teaching the weekly Torah portion or talking about Jewish holidays. 

So if Congress shuts down the platform in the U.S., as it moved toward doing this week, Goldstein is one of several Jewish TikTokers who said they’d be losing an important tool for educating young people about Judaism. 

Transmitting Jewish learning “doesn’t necessarily have to be from the bimah or a Sunday school setting,” said Goldstein, whose 250-family Reconstructionist congregation in Olympia, Washington, is a lot smaller than the 45,000 people who follow his @rabbi_360 TikTok account. “You see a lot of younger folks who are on social media. This is where their social lives are and where their engagement lives. This is also a place where they can consume Judaism.” 

Goldstein is one of several Jewish TikTok creators who say the platform’s value outweighs concerns about antisemitism that led some Jewish organizations to push for its ban. The Jewish Federations of North America said in a letter to a Congressional committee that TikTok “is the worst offender by far” in the rise of antisemitism online. The House passed a bill Wednesday that would force ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, to sell it to a U.S.-based entity or else lose access to U.S. users. The legislation faces an uncertain path in the Senate.

Daniel Bogard, a rabbi at Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, says politicians and Jewish leaders who want to shut TikTok down are misguided. Even when his videos get thousands of antisemitic comments — as happened in response to posts about visiting Israel after Oct. 7 — he thinks it’s worth it. 

Rabbi Daniel Bogard is one of a number of Jewish content creators on TikTok who uses the platform for education and advocacy.
(Courtesy of Rabbi Daniel Bogard)

“I think the folks who want to shut it down because they think it’s bad for the Jews are mistaking a symptom for a cause,” said Bogard, whose TikTok handle is @ravbogard. “It’s wild that I put so much work and energy into a d’var Torah that maybe 150 people hear. Then I put 15 minutes into making a video that gets 400,000 views on TikTok in a few days.” 

To Bogard, TikTok is a “wonderful avenue for teaching about who Jews really are to the world, educating non-Jews as to the reality of what it means to be a Jew, the reality of Jewish identity, how Jews are feeling and understanding the world post-Oct. 7, and just helping to demythologize us, particularly when we live in these Jewish enclaves and we forget that the vast majority of Americans don’t have a relationship with someone who is Jewish.”

He sees TikTok’s “endless stream of antisemitism” and anti-Zionism as less a problem particular to TikTok and more about the tendency of social media in general to “amplify the worst” of what’s already out there. 

“This is reflective of the discourse of younger Americans, particularly younger progressive Americans,” he said. “It feels misguided and shortsighted to look at the way anti-Zionism and antisemitism are profiled on the platform and see it as a platform problem rather than a generational issue.” He is on TikTok, he said, “trying to be a voice that educates on who we really are.” 

Bogard is also the parent of a “trans kid in a red state,” and much of his TikTok content furthers awareness about anti-trans laws. As a result, many of his followers are progressive activists who support the trans community — and at the same time, some of them also oppose Israel’s war in Gaza. 

“I went to Israel in November and made TikToks knowing how unpopular that was going to be among some of my followers, knowing I’d be called a genocide supporter subject to thousands of antisemitic comments, but also knowing I have an audience that listens to me and trusts me in a different way than they would someone else,” he said. 

Menachem Silverstein — @menachems on TikTok — is a stand-up comedian and film producer in Los Angeles whose videos riff on Jewish stereotypes. He says there’s an important difference between TikTok and platforms like Instagram and X, formerly Twitter, which he considers true “social media platforms, looking to start conversations, looking to share both sides.” 

TikTok, in contrast, “considers itself an entertainment platform, a content platform, looking to get you hooked on certain content. If you engage with a post about Gaza on TikTok, it’s in TikTok’s best interests to send you more videos about Gaza and get you to stay on and watch even more.”

In other words, he says, TikTok isn’t necessarily prioritizing antisemitic content over other types of content, but it is inherently designed to “feed you things that it seems you want to engage with.” Despite that echo chamber, if TikTok is shut down, he said, “I personally will be upset because the reach of TikTok is fantastic.”

To make money, he said, Instagram is  much more lucrative. TikTok, he said, “is more like a hobby for public service advocacy.”

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