How Richard Garfield Made You Jewish

No one can definitively answer this question, and this isn’t the place to discuss my opinion (I think I’m stretching it as it is).

What is a Jew? Well, if you’re not Jewish, this question is probably a lot easier for you to answer. But anyone who’s grown up with a Jewish education knows that this question is not an easy one to answer. Is being Jewish simply defined as believing in one God? Or does a Jew have to reject the belief that Jesus is the messiah? Is being Jewish defined as practicing the traditions, customs, and rituals of Jews? Is being Jewish studying Torah every day? Or is being Jewish simply associating oneself with Judaism?

No one can definitively answer this question, and this isn’t the place to discuss my opinion (I think I’m stretching it as it is). However, recently, I’ve noticed that the Magic community has a lot in common with the Jewish community. An extremely liberal (and non-existent) reform Jew might go so far as to say that Magic players are almost Jewish. I am not saying this; however, I have noticed some similarities. Since I always try to write about something different each week, I thought I’d tackle a subject that hasn’t been discussed before (as far as I know) and present it to you here.

First of all, the biggest similarity between Magic players and Jews is that they belong to minorities. I believe that Jews comprise one tenth of one percent of the world’s population. Magic players probably account for a similar percentage among countries where Magic is played. (In point of fact, Wizards claims Magic has six million players, and there are an estimated thirteen to fourteen million Jews in the world… But keep in mind that Wizards probably inflates their figures dramatically – Statistician Ferrett) Also, Magic players, like Jews, are found all over the world. Although you generally can’t pick out a Jew or a Magic player in a crowd of people, after a few minutes of association, two Jews or Magic players can often discover that the other is like him. Additionally, Jews all have a sort of "Jewish pride" that lets them stick together and relate to one another; similar is the way that Magic players take comfort in each other’s presence.

Although Jews and Magic players have a feeling of connection, there are also distinctions among groups. For example, practicing Jews are generally divided into three groups: Orthodox (very strict observances), Conservative (a mix between Reform and Orthodox), and Reform (questioning tradition and willing to change). Similarly, Magic players are generally divided into three groups: Pro, in-between, and casual players. Sometimes there are conflicts between groups, and some members of one group feel that they are better than members of another group. These separations weren’t around at the beginning of the groups; instead, they evolved over time.

One thing that ALL Jews have in common, though, is the Hebrew language. Though a Jew might come from America, Ethiopia, Israel, India, or Brazil, the one language that they have in common is Hebrew. Magic slang is to Magic players as Hebrew is to Jews insofar as understanding one another, although people might come from different countries. For instance, in a Magic game, a player could convey to another player who’s never heard his language that he wants to kill Mageta, the Lion with Tsabo Tavoc without using hand signals. I feel relatively certain that Mageta and Tsabo don’t translate well into Japanese.*

Another way in which Jews and Magic players are similar is the way in which they lead dual lives. On Saturday mornings (or Friday nights), Jews go to Shabbat Services, while Magic players go to tournaments. In both places of congregation, people with similar interests and common goals (be it to pray, or to win a box of Invasion, or to pray TO win a box of Invasion) come together and share time and experiences with one another. However, once the services or tournament are over, the participants scatter to rejoin their everyday lives. For many Jews, the only place to practice Judaism is at the Temple. Similarly, many Magic players frequent card shops in order to practice Magic. Whereas some Jews have Torah study on Mondays and Thursdays, some Magic players meet with their playgroups on certain nights of the week. Also, many Jews’ religious affiliation remains anonymous – generally, there’s no reason to bring it up in "normal" circumstances. Similarly, Magic players rarely announce that they play Magic, and when they do, it is rarely out of pride.

I believe that one of the reasons that being Jewish or a Magic player isn’t often discussed is that there is much mystery surrounding these affiliations. Most of what people know of Jews is that they read Hebrew, study the Torah, and don’t believe in Jesus as the messiah. Most of what people know of Magic players (if anything) is that they play a card game based on fantasy; then, they’re irritatingly asked, "Is it anything like Pokemon?" There’s no way to describe either topic to someone who knows very little about them; Judaism is more than a religion, and Magic is more than a game. Judaism involves philosophy, tradition, and national (the Jewish nation) pride; Magic involves an involved storyline, countless card interactions to memorize, and a community few could guess at.** There’s quite a lot that the rest of the world doesn’t know about Judaism and Magic, and that sort of "private secret" that we hold in us makes us even closer together.

I feel privy to hold both of those "private secrets." I’m a Jew AND a Magic player, and I know the inside information about both groups. I’m sure that very few people have ever made the connection between Jews and Magic players, and I thought that it was about time that people were enlightened of the similarities between the two groups. I hope this has been an educational experience for you that has acted as a bridge of understanding between your realm of knowledge and mine.

Daniel Crane, the only Jew in Magic?
[email protected]

Isn’t it sad that fifty-five years ago, I would have been killed for writing anything like this after the first paragraph?

* – I invite anyone who speaks Japanese to email me in order to confirm or deny this assumption.

** – I once mentioned, "Mike Long, a famous Magic player . . ." to someone, and I was met with, "You can get famous for doing that?"