And the winner of the Fifth Annual Sixth & I Pickle Eating contest is…

Last year Max described — in epic format — how he won the Fourth Annual Sixth & I Pickle Eating Contest.  This year — the fifth year — Max placed second behind Ben S., a former Jewish Guy of the Week and our new Pickle Eating Champion.  

All photos taken by Sarah A. of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.


Ben and Max competing side by side.

What weighs two ounces these days?

Some pocket lint. A few feathers. A $20 drink from a bartender with sunglasses on.

Oh, and the amount of pickles that cost me my crown.

I thought I sized up my 11 other competitors pretty accurately, who mostly sized me down — my lanky frame belies the nuclear reactor churning my digestive track within.

Across our stage were a few gluttons for punishment who I dominated in last year’s victory, as well as a couple of new huskier gentlemen that gave me a little cause for concern. Nonetheless, I was sure this was in the bag, again.

The contest began and the beasts were unchained. I quickly outpaced the 10 others but noticed the bowl of dills to my left rapidly diminishing.  To my absolute astonishment, the contestant behind it, Ben, grabbed a last handful and motioned for a second bowl. I never got to my second bowl last year.

The Sixth & I crowd looks on.

I strengthened my resolve.

In a fury I started choking down the dills, three bites to a swallow, no chewing, no breathing. I had the solace of knowing that if I happen to suffocate, I’d go out the American way — eating.

Give. me. another. bowl.

I did damage on that second bowl but with about 10 seconds to go, I knew my fate.  Ben gained an insurmountable lead.

With a last, desperate stroke,  I scooped up all the remaining nubs, bits, and pieces I could muster and shoved them into every nook and cranny of my mouth. Time was called and we had 15 seconds to swallow.

Gains were measured, the results were in – Ben over Bluestein by 2 ounces.  Two measly, freaking ounces.

Now my blood is running white as salt, I haven’t been able to sweat in a full week, and my Cheerios still taste like pickle in the morning.

Lesson learned: When you play the game of pickle eating, you either win or you smell like dill for 2 weeks for no reason.

That being said, Ben, usurper, consider this an official and very public challenge to a rematch.

I’m thinking 4 pound burrito or the Strassburger. To hell with the sprint, let’s do a marathon.

Max hands over the plaque to Ben. His two fingers are held up for the two ounces he lost by. Also... his second place finish.











Before things got started


Another ... a weaker ... competitor ... David C.


The competitors


The Champ!







Vegetarian Pasta Carbonara

The suggestion for adapting this recipe comes from one of my readers, and it seemed like a great one post-Passover.   (Please note the hint to send me ideas!)  Traditional pasta carbonara has an egg and cheese sauce and is flavored with bacon or pancetta—a double no-go on the kosher front.  Rather than lose the cheese in the dish by going with turkey bacon, I decided to look for a vegetarian substitute.  I settled on smoked tofu.  It’s precooked, so it’s denser than uncooked tofu, and works as a good substitute for pancetta.  To up the smokiness in the dish a little bit, I added a few dashes of liquid smoke.  I also added a little bit more oil, since you can’t render fat from tofu.

The one execution trick to this dish is adding the egg mixture while the pasta is hot enough to cook it but avoiding scrambling the eggs.  I will admit that I was not entirely successful in this.  I recommend making sure there is a cook surface onto which you can move the pan readily available and stirring quickly as you add the mixture to the pan.  The original recipe is courtesy of Tyler Florence.


© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

Total time: 25 min.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Level: Intermediate


  • 1 pound dry spaghetti
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces smoked tofu, diced into 1/4” pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
  • 3-4 dashes liquid smoke
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)
  • Dried red pepper flakes (optional)


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for about 1 minute less than the package directions indicate, or until al dente.  Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish.

While the pasta is cooking, beat the eggs, cheese, and liquid smoke in a bowl until well blended and there are no lumps.  Set aside.  Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu and saute for about 3 minutes, until the tofu is crisp. Add the garlic and saute for less than 1 minute to soften.

Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the oil.   Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir the egg mixture again briefly and pour into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble.  Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.

Serve with chopped parsley, red pepper flakes, and additional cheese.


Chesed Project Meets Mother’s Day

Please join The Chesed Project and Montgomery County Moishe House, where they”ll be making small Mother’s Day baskets for the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA) to distribute to women in their shelters.

WHEN: Sunday, April 29 from 2:00 -4:00 pm

WHERE: 2000 N St NW (by the Dupont Circle Metro), in the Party Room

The Chesed Project will be providing cellophane, ribbons, and items to decorate cards, and are asking people to bring at least one mom-friendly thing to donate (lotions, bath salts, teas, chocolates,* etc.).

For the first hour of the event (2:00 – 3:00 pm), a member of JCADA will come talk about the group’s work and about opportunities to get involved. Feel free to drop in any time. Snacks will be provided.

Please sign up on the Facebook event page. For questions, contact Samantha at samantha.hulkower @

*Please make sure that any edible items have a hechsher


Take Me Out to the Ballgame – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 37)

With baseball season upon us (and the Nats actually winning for once), it brings about thoughts of beer in the Bullpen, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and a warm day with nothing but the outfield, some peanuts, and a half smoke in front of us.

Of course, we all learned about the bases in elementary school (well, except for those of us who learned about them in middle school from a girl named Sarah on the way to a theater competition).  But how many of us know the strikes to keep in mind when it comes to mixing dating and baseball?

Strike 1: A baseball game is a great date idea!  It’s not, however, a great first date idea, especially when you’re meeting someone from JDate or OKCupid for the first time.  First dates should consist of either drinks or coffee, not a game that could last over 3 hours… not to mention the long, stuffy Metro ride home.  Save the game for a later date, when you’re more comfortable spending that many hours together.  And don’t forget to put on your deodorant.

Strike 2: It’s a real turn-off for anyone when you curse at the top of your lungs or heckle because you didn’t like the call that the ump just made.  On a baseball date, try to keep the cursing, bad-mouthing of the other team, and general rudeness to a minimum.  And please don’t sulk all the way home if your team loses.

Strike 3: It’s really easy on a beautiful afternoon to sit at a game and not notice exactly how many beers you’ve had.  Was it 3, or was it more like 13?  Keep things under control, and stick to the limits you’d normally use at a bar.  I can’t think of anything worse than that long, stuffy Metro ride home with a date who’s too drunk to stand up and hold onto the hand rail.

Now that you’ve mastered the baseball date, it may be time to plan some other fun outings.  Feel free to refer to these warm-weather date ideas for things to do in the DC heat.

Go Nats!

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.


Dance in the Circle RESCHEDULED!

As GTJ reported earlier, GTJ staffer and organizer extraordinaire Michael Lipin has been working to produce a multi-group dance festival in Dupont Circle Park.

The aptly named “Dance in the Circle” (DITC) was originally scheduled for tonight, April 21. However, due to the threat of inclement weather (80% chance of thunderstorms and rain), the event was rescheduled for May 13. Same location, obviously.


Rishay vs. Weinberg vs. Ettin vs. Briks vs. Glickman vs. Savin … etc. — Danny’s Heroes Karaoke Battle of the Century

This is going down tonight:

Can Jews sing?  We’ll find out.

Email me if you’re interested:

Danny’s Heroes Karaoke Teaser Video! from Casey Girard on Vimeo.



Stephen’s Prayer Teach

Some of you were kind enough to ask for a copy of the remarks I shared with Sixth & I on Friday night.  They are below.  Just imagine a goofy redheaded kid sharing them and you’ll have the full effect.

The prayer teach is a component of the Sixth in the City shabbat and service hosted by Sitxh & I Synagogue on the second Friday of each month.


Shabbat shalom!

The last time I prayed was nine years ago.  I was 17, and a senior in high school.  I prayed to God to help me get really good grades, and I prayed that he somehow trick my high school crush into asking me to the fall formal.

God went 0 for 2.  I thought this was statistically significant, so I stopped praying.

But I still believe there’s a lot merit to the textual analysis of prayer, so I said “yes” when the Sixth &I crew asked me to say a little something about the Mi Chamocha prayer.

Mi Chamocha is the prayer that we sometimes sing at Sixth & I that goes a like – *** sing *** — except it sounds a lot better when Rick Recht, Erika Ettin, and the like sing it.

It’s the prayer that the Israelites sang after allegedly crossing the Red Sea that Moses split.  And – as we are celebrating Passover – it’s appropriate for this time of year.

Translated – courtesy of Yahoo! Answers – Mi Chamocha reads:

“Who is like you, Adonai, among other gods?

Who is like you, glorious in holiness, awesome in praises, doing miracles?


With a new song, the ones You rescued praised your name at the sea shore.

All of them in unison gave thanks and praise Your rule, and said: ‘Adonai will reign for ever and ever.”


Now, in all likelihood, this prayer was probably just intended to be a simple flattering ode to God in the hopes that he would reward us with tasty manna in the desert.

But, in the spirit of modern academia, I’m going to say three things about Mi Chamocha that the original author undoubtedly didn’t mean.


Number 1:  This prayer serves a litmus test for your type of personality.  Before there was the Myers-Briggs INTJ personality test, there was Mi Chamocha.  If you’re like I am, then you likely read this prayer and said, “Nice work God, but where the hell were you for the previous 400 years of slavery?”  This means you’re likely the type of person who complains when it’s 65 degrees as being both simultaneously too hot and too cold.

Alternatively, if you’re the type of person who reads this prayer and says “This is a really nice prayer.  God definitely deserved thanks,” then you likely can appreciate a pretty flower in the middle of torrential downpour.

I suspect that the latter of these two outlooks produces the happier life.  But I similarly suspect that my disposition toward the former is immutable.  Oh well.


Number 2:  Mi Chamocha teaches us that we can celebrate victories of freedom even when our when our enemies suffer death and misery.  After all, this joyful prayer and song comes on the heels of the drowning of the Egyptian army and on the heels of ten plagues of Egypt – both pretty big on the scales of death and misery.

But there’s a caveat to our celebration.  The song or celebration should be about our savior or defender, not the death of our enemy.  Accordingly, regarding the death of Bin Laden, our celebration should have focused on the merits of either the administration, the US Armed Forces, or Seal Team 6.


Number 3 and last point, because, let’s be honest, this needs to be over:  The Mi Chamocha prayer challenges the notion of the self-made man.  Can any person really have great success simply under his own steam?  Even though it seemed that the Israelites did a lot under their own steam, they always had God helping them.

The same holds for most of today’s highly successful people.  President Obama had Dick Durbin to help him launch his electoral success.  Mark Zuckerberg had investor Peter Thiel.  For most success stories, it’s a supportive family that enabled success.

This message has been carried through up by the Western Cannon:

In Leviticus – the book we’re reading during this time of the year – it says:

“Any man of the House of Israel, who slaughters an ox, a lamb or a goat inside the camp, or who slaughters outside the camp, but does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to offer up as a sacrifice to the Lord before the Mishkan of the Lord, this [act] shall be counted for that man as blood he has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people.”  (Lev. 17:3 – 17:4)

John Donne said that “No man is an island.”

Fabulous and Ne-Yo rapped that:

You plus me it equals better math
Your boy a good look but she my better half
I’m already bossing already flossing
But why have the cake if it ain’t got the sweet frosting?

I’ma need Coretta Scott if I’m gonna be king

I’m a movement by myself
But I’m a force when we’re together
Mami I’m good all by myself
But baby u make me better
U make me better [X8]


And last, but not least, consider the Harry Potter novels.  The force of good, and the eventual victor, Harry Potter, even when he seemed like he was going it alone he depended on people like Dumbledore, Hermione, Sirius.

Voldemort, on the other hand, was famously independent: he didn’t want friends, and he didn’t even want to drink unicorn’s blood because it would make him dependent on another creature.


And so, in the spirit of Mi Chamocha, I want to quickly say that though it has been my privilege to take some of the credit Gather the Jews, it absolutely could not have been done without the amazing GTJ team (such as Mike Weinberg and Jon Halperin), and it could not have been done without an amazing Jewish community.  Following on the heels of Julia Moss’s speech last week, it is now my turn to say goodbye.  I will be leaving this summer, but it has been an amazing four years in DC, and I appreciate the DC Jewish community for really making me feel like this has always been my home.

Happy Passover.








The 8 finalists

Drum roll please………………………

It is with great pleasure that I present to you — the Jews of the world (and the gentiles who oddly surf around on Jewish websites) — this year’s eight finalists:

Ben jumping higher than I can... And doing something magical...




These finalists will enter the second round (and final) of the competition to do battle in a caged match interview with the man, the myth, the maniac…  … … me.

Yes, that’s right, we’re taking the second round out of the hands of the voting public (democracy is overrated) and putting it into the hands of some very wise judges who will watch the video clips of the interviews I conduct with these 8 exemplars of the greatness that is the Jewish DC young adult community.

Stay tuned for these videos and our eventual Jewish Guy and Girl of the Year victors.

In the meantime, go to these pages (GuysGirls) to take another look at all of our amazing contestants.  And check out some of their added material for the contest (for instance, did you know that Dan killed Gumby or that Rossella made an amazing 10 point list?)





In Defense of “Creepy Spreadsheet Guy” – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 36)

The internet moves fast, doesn’t it?  In the course of several days, a guy goes on a date from, thinks there’s potential for a second date, and then gets publicly humiliated, hereby being named “Creepy Spreadsheet Guy.”  Click here for the full story.

Honestly, I feel badly for him.  Before I started A Little Nudge, most of you know that I did online dating myself for many years and kept a… wait for it… spreadsheet.  Granted, it was not as detailed as his, but there is certainly merit to staying organized.  (And, like him, my background is in finance/econ, so when you have a tool like Excel, why not use it?)

His only mistake (and, granted, he used extremely poor judgment!) was sending it out.  But sometimes when guys like girls (and when girls like guys, for that matter), they do dumb things.  Perhaps in his mind he thought the girl would be flattered since he only had positive things to say about her, and after one date, he trusted her – a huge mistake.  It was the girl, in my opinion, who is in the wrong for sending it to her friends.  Ok, she didn’t like him, but did she have to humiliate him?  When you put something in writing, there’s no telling how far it can go.

To this day, I still have my JDate spreadsheet from when I was dating.  And I gave italics to anyone I wanted to see again, Jeremy getting the coveted last set of italics.  And now I keep spreadsheets for all my clients.  Would I want them to be embarrassed by e-mailing the same person twice?  Nope.  There’s merit in the spreadsheet, and I’ll go on record saying that.  But to this day, I have never shown anyone that spreadsheet… and I think I’ll keep it that way.

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.






Unite with Yachad to Help the Community

Last week, a group of DC’s young professionals set out to make this Mother’s Day life-changing for two Washington, DC moms.  Yachad (which means “together” in Hebrew), a DC non-profit that builds bridges by building communities, launched their first ever young professional network, Yachad United.

“Yachad United is a group of DC’s young professionals looking for an alternative way to network,” says Jason Kastner, Yachad Board member and co-founder of Yachad United.  “We won’t just be meeting people at a happy hour, but getting to know people as we go out into our community, roll up our sleeves, and work together with neighbors who need our help.”

As the new members of Yachad United learned at the launch party, this Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 13th) they will help a family in the Trinidad neighborhood rehabilitate their home.  Yachad Uniters, as they are called, will help to fundraise at least $2,500 to cover the cost of the repairs to the home (including flooring, painting, drywall and plumbing).  The repair work would cost closer to $8,000, but Yachad uses volunteer labor and partnerships with local contractors to stretch the  donations exponentially.  Once the goal is met (Yachad Uniters will be split into teams — Singles and Couples — to compete for the most collected donations), they will meet on May 13th, supervised by a Yachad Construction Manager, and do the hands-on repairs side by side with the family.  After the repairs are done, they will all go out to a local H Street bar and celebrate.  The winning fundraising team will enjoy a donated keg.

The family being assisted consists of the homeowner, a fifty-seven-year-old woman who has lived in the house for 30 years, her adult daughter, and her nine-year-old grandson.  Both women work but have found it impossible to keep up on all of the older house’s needs. This is a common issue for many homeowners in DC, and something that Yachad works year-round to address.

If you would like to join Yachad United, you can contact Kendra Rubinfeld at


Why I Want to Be A Matchmaker For The GTJ Jewish Girls and Guys of the Week (And their Friends):

One of my favorite features of the GTJ site is the Girls & Guys of the week. It’s fun to read about what makes people of our generation tick (and the pictures of good-looking Jewish men are a bonus) but I think what makes me smile the most is hearing about the ways everyone is contributing to our community.  To me, the characteristic of wanting to make a difference in the community is the ultimate turn-on.

Which brings me to the title of this article, why I want to be matchmaker for Girls/Guys of the week (and their friends).

Now I know not all of these talented people of the week are single, but the ones who are should listen up. And so should their friends…..

As a former GTJ girl of the week and former ALMOST GTJ girl of the year, I too want to make the Greater Washington area just that more amazing. This week especially has been a great time for me to reflect on how the young professional DC Jewish community has grown exponentially in the past year and how many amazing individuals I have met through my involvement in it. I think that most guys and girls of the week probably feel the same way about the community and their friends in it.

One of the projects I have been working on this year is creating more of a buzz in the Jewish young professional Northern Virginia community and providing events that are held beyond the city.

Next Wednesday April 18th my organization, NOVA Tribe Series, is hosting a speed dating  event benefiting the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes and Homestretch Inc. (this the part where the playing matchmaker to all the guy and girls of the week and their friends comes in.)  You can register here and also have the option to not speed date and just attend our happy hour by using the promo code FRIEND

Can’t make it then? On April 29th we are having Sunday Funday and holding The Big Schlep Scavenger Hunt. Grab your friends, form a team or we will make one for you! Good luck to you all that are in the girl/guy of the year contest…don’t let the Jewish trivia round stump you if they throw it in again this year!


Stacy is a proud ALMOST Jewish girl of the year who is happy to play match-maker anytime. You can reach her at or check out her organization’s website:



Ridiculous Deal Breakers. Part 2 – GTJ Dating Series with Erika E. (week 35)

I actually overheard this conversation recently when I was on the Metro, and it inspired me to write another article about ridiculous deal breakers.  (In case you missed the first, feel free to read it here.)

Friend 1: I think I found a guy for you.  He’s cute, smart, tall, and has a dog.

Friend 2: What kind of dog?

Friend 1: A miniature schnauzer I think.

Friend 2: Are you serious?  What kind of guy has a small dog?  No thanks.

When it comes to dating, especially online dating, people invent lists of “deal breakers” that may sound like nothing individually, but when you add them all together, no one stands a chance of making the cut.  When Gestalt said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, who knew that he was talking about people’s dating laundry lists?

I thought back to the days when I was having four or five dates a week (I was a woman on a mission), and some of my deal breakers were:

  • Not intellectual enough
  • Didn’t pay for me on the first date
  • Not Jewish
  • Was rude to the waitstaff (or someone else)

But if you’ve ever noticed yourself saying things like those in the list below, then maybe it’s time to reassess what’s important to you:

  • “He got this gross pimple on his face that I can’t stand to look at.”
  • “I can’t believe she has a cat… she must be a cat lady.”
  • “He doesn’t like chocolate ice cream?  What is that?!”
  • “She writes love poems on the fridge with her magnetic poetry.  She must be some kind of nut.”
  • “OMG – he wore a flannel shirt on our date.  That was so 1995.”
  • “She paints her nails with sparkles and flowers.  This just won’t work.”  (It’s a good thing Jeremy didn’t have this ridiculous deal breaker because we wouldn’t have lasted.  I love a good nail flower.)

When we read them, they sound pretty silly, right?  But people say things like this every day.  These “deal breakers” are the things that make people quirky and unique.

As I mentioned last time, while I may not be as blunt as Patti Stanger (thank goodness for that), I do agree with her rationale that you should narrow your list down to five or fewer non-negotiables and stick with it.  If you really want to put, “I don’t want to date a vegetarian,” on the list, then that’s okay, but limit the others to four things so that the person you’re looking for may actually exist in real life.  Remember, chemistry is the “wild card,” so list or no list, these deal breakers may go out the window when you feel a connection with someone.

So the next time you want to nix someone because he has a small dog, or she has a fondness for sparkles, remember – if it’s not on the list, give it a chance.  That one thing you thought you didn’t want may end up being your favorite part of the person.

Erika Ettin is the Founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps people stand out from the online dating crowd and have a rewarding experience. An archive of all of Erika’s columns is also available.  Want to connect with Erika?  Join her newsletter for updates and tips.


The President (and our neighbor) wishes us a Happy Passover


GTJ: The Next Episode

Traditional Judaism sees time as a spiral:  what happens at one period in the Jewish calendar is connected to what happened during the same period 100 or 1,000 years ago.

Gather the Jews (GTJ) has fit this model pretty well.

During the ancient time of Purim, Esther told Mordechai, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Shushan, and fast for me.”  It was during Purim (March) 2010 that we launched Gather the Jews and similarly started gathering Jews (though not fasting).

Rosh Hashanah celebrates the Jewish New Year.  Around the time of Rosh Hashanah 2010, GTJ celebrated a new website.

Now we’re celebrating Passover — a time of transition and change for the Israelites who would become the first Jews.

And so it’s similarly time for GTJ to have a “passing-over” of our own.

I will be leaving Washington, DC this summer and Aaron (The WOLFf) will be taking on new, non-directly-Jewish projects.  This will take both of us out of the day-to-day GTJ game.

Our departure, however, will not be the end of GTJ.  It will simply require a new model.  We’re in the process of exploring which model is best, but, because this has been, and will continue to be, a community project, we want to open it up to the community to let you know what we’re thinking.  And we want your advice.

Two ways forward for GTJ:

  1. Keep GTJ independent by establishing a Board of Directors and raising the necessary funds to pay one full-time staff member.
  2. Become part of an existing DC Jewish organization.
For more information on these two ideas, please see this document.


If you have any ideas or suggestions, or if you know anybody who would really like to see GTJ continue to gather, please email me at


This isn’t quite yet our swan song — I plan to be out of here by mid-July or early August — but I did want to take a second to let you know or ideas and to thank you for your support over these past 110 weeks — it has been a blast to run GTJ.


Stephen Richer
Gather the Jews




The Mediocrity of the Tenth Plague

Yet another way to get out of plague 10.

This opinion piece appeared in the Washington Jewish Week last week.

Stephen Richer is the President of Gather the Jews. 


No Biblical story can compete with The Ten Plagues of Passover.  God pulls out virtually every trump card: water-into-blood, hail, locusts, etc.  But like all good performers, God knew that he needed to close his performance with his biggest bang:  The Death of the First Born.

There’s just one problem: the Tenth Plague is highly underwhelming.  Close examination shows that though the Tenth Plague is impressive in terms of glitz and glamor (there’s a reason why Indiana Jones incorporated the Angel of Death), it falls short on actual death and destruction.

Here’s the text of the Tenth Plague:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt.  Every firstborn in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.” (Exodus 11:1–12:36)

Let’s dig deeper.  Namely, let’s consider:  1) Infant mortality, 2) Childhood mortality, 3) The number of children per family, and 4) The coverage of the plague.  Finally, let’s compare the Tenth Plague with a different, all-encompassing, plague.

Historical statistics before the year 600 BCE are scant and somewhat unreliable, but estimations do exist.  One such estimation is the rate of infant mortality.  According to the academic article “Pregnancy and Childbirth,” “Pregnancy, childbirth, and infancy were the three most dangerous times in [Ancient Egypt].”  Other studies put infant mortality in the ancient world between 33 and 50 percent.  Things in Egypt were even worse because of the absence of midwives (the Ancient Egyptian language lacked a term for “midwife”).  All told, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to guess that 45 percent of all Ancient Egyptians died at infancy.

Even beyond infancy, the life of the average first born Ancient Egyptian was precarious.  Malnutrition plagued most ancient societies, and the uncleanliness of the Nile River – Ancient Egypt’s main water source – bred swarms of diseases.  Finally, it wasn’t only the Israelites who did hard labor – most Ancient Egyptians also worked slave-like jobs that were not conducive to longevity.

Together, points one and two lead to the estimation that the average Ancient Egyptian firstborn had a less than 40 percent chance of living past age six.  Accordingly, he or she likely wouldn’t have been around for the tragedy of the Tenth Plague.

The third point addresses the comparative value of the average first born child.  Seen in today’s terms, the loss is much more tragic – the average American family has just over two children, and almost none die at childbirth.  That’s 50 percent of children lost.  But most historical estimates show us that Ancient Egyptian families were large.  Very large.  Even bigger than today’s Mormon and Orthodox Jewish families – seven or eight children on average.  The prolific nature of Ancient Egyptians resulted both form circumstance: effective birth control did not exist, and by design: parents recognized children as the day’s Social Security.  But regardless of cause, the large number of children serves to dilute the importance of the first born child.

Finally, the extent of the Tenth Plague is not as broad as initially imagined.  Pharaoh is a first born child, and yet he is not struck down by the Angel of Death.  This has led some Torah students to conclude that firstborns are exempt from the Tenth Plague upon starting their own families.  Considering most Ancient Egyptians started their own families in their early teen years, this limits the window of the Angel’s opportunity for death and destruction.

To summarize the argument at this point, we have established that 1) Firstborn children were likely already dead at the time of the Tenth Plague, 2) Firstborn children, if still alive, accounted for only a small fraction of a total family, and 3) Firstborn children were exempt from the Tenth Plague upon starting their own family, something that happened fairly quickly.

See in this light, the potency of the Tenth Plague is severely limited.  In fact, it now pales in comparison to a plague that affected all Egyptians equally.  Take, for instance, locusts (plague eight):

“The locusts ascended over the entire land of Egypt, and they alighted within all the border[s] of Egypt, very severe; before them, there was never such a locust [plague], and after it, there will never be one like it.  They obscured the view of all the earth, and the earth became darkened, and they ate all the vegetation of the earth and all the fruits of the trees, which the hail had left over, and no greenery was left in the trees or in the vegetation of the field[s] throughout the entire land of Egypt.” (Exodus 14:14 – 14:15)

Not only did these locusts destroy all crops; they also likely carried fatal diseases that couldn’t be countered by Ancient Egypt’s primitive medicines.  Any disease that was born from the locusts would know of no artificial limitations pertaining to birth order.

So what happened?  Did God play his Ace of Spades too soon and only have a Jack left for his tenth play?  Or did he simply know that we Hollywood suckers would really love a swift spirit with a formidable name and good visual effects?



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