Jewish online publication CHARGING readers to comment

By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini
Apparently This Matters: The Column

Rarely does anything good come from the commenting sections of online media.

With the exception of learning new, creative ways to curse without actually spelling the four-letter words, it’s mostly just a bunch of 8ull$hlt.

Anonymous, mean-spirited vitriol. The kind of hurtful, sexist, homophobic, racist hate-speech that, really, you should be saving for your kid’s little league baseball game. You know, where it’s more appropriate.

After all, the Internet is sacred. It’s where we keep our kittens and porn.

The reality is that, save for a few well-meaning commenters, trolling and the complete lack of civility has gotten so bad that more and more media outlets are throwing in the towel and saying enough is enough. 

Alas, commenting sections are going the way of the dodo. And it’s something I fully support. They’re just not worth it.

(Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic by commenting below. In my commenting section. It's for comments.)

But one online publication recently pushed out a fresh new idea on how to combat these dolts who, apparently, are allowed full access to keyboards and all three of their functioning brain cells. This new idea: Pay to play.

On February 9th, Tablet, a leading online magazine for Jewish news and culture, started charging a fee to readers who wished to comment on their stories. A day-pass costs $2, a month is $18, and the yearly rate is $118.

In a message to readers, Tablet explained, “The donation rates are small because we are not looking to make money, but instead to try to create a standard of engagement likely to turn off many, if not most, of the worst offenders. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.”

So, if you really REALLY like spirited conversation and want to participate, you can. If it’s worth it to you and your wallet.

Their commenting policy is obviously very new, so who knows if this will work. But, it’s a wild idea. And it's definitely a little out there.

Of course, Jews, in general, tend to be a little out there.

I should know. I am one. Technically.

These days I’m just not very good at it. You see, being an upstanding Jew requires, at a minimum, going to high holiday services. 

Which requires putting on pants. And leaving the house.

So, yeah, I'm not very good at it. 

Though, to be fair, I was never very good at it.

My crowning non-achievement in Judaism was when I went to Israel back in 1996. The security lady at Ben Gurion Airport asked me if I spoke Hebrew. I said I did, and proceeded to recite the first line from my Bar Mitzvah Torah portion.

“Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Adoinai Eloheichem.”

I think it roughly translates as:

“You stand today before your eternal God.”

Surprise! I’m here!

So, yeah. We can be a little weird. Guilt and self-loathing will do that.

But, on the plus side, we also get to claim some great, comedically weird minds like Woody Allen. And Marc Maron. And Sarah Silverman.

And Mel Brooks, for crying out loud! We get Mel!

Nevertheless, despite our weirdness, we tend to be a forward thinking and creative bunch. And that’s why Tablet is going hilariously rogue with this new pay to play concept for comments.

I say hilarious because their pricing - in true Jewish form - is sort of an inside joke. For Jews.

It all has to do with the number 18. Which I shall now explain.

For starters, you have to take a step back and know that, in Hebrew, letters also have a numeric value. The letter “chet” has a value of eight, and the letter “yud” has a value of ten.

Together they make 18.

The letters "chet" and "yud" also spell the Hebrew word “Chai.” Chai means “life.”

Thus, the Hebrew word for life is associated with the number 18. Which, in turn, is considered a lucky number.

So, at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, it’s not at all unusual for guests to write a check in denominations of 18. Thirty-six dollars, for example, is referred to as double-chai. And to give gifts in such a way is considered a Mitzvah. A good deed.

Technically, a “mitzvah” is a commandment from God. The God from the Torah. Not the pimply-faced teenaged American one at Ben Gurion Airport security in 1996.

He was just an idiot with a passport.

The point is that Jews use "mitzvah" in different ways, and we verbalize it when good things happen.

“I just made Pizza Rolls!”

“It’s a mitzvah!”

I have a rather loose interpretation of a mitzvah.

Guilt and self-loathing will do that.

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