A Taboo That’s Kosher


From pork to intermarriage, traditional Judaism is known for its many taboos.

But there’s never been a Jewish “Taboo,” the Hasbro board game in which teams of players give each other clues to try to guess words.

Now, thanks to two Jewish friends and serial entrepreneurs, “Taboo Jewish Edition,” which has been “blessed” by Hasbro, can be had at Judaica stores nationwide, as well as at retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond. It can also be bought online at www.taboojewishedition.com.

Seth Burstein and Ian Framson came up with the idea a few years ago when, while playing “Taboo,” they found themselves offering a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish phrases to help one another.

That led to a brainstorm. “We should make a Jewish version of ‘Taboo,’” they decided. Initially calling the project Ta-Jew, they began compiling hundreds of Jewish-themed clues. They soon got in touch with Abe Blumberger at Jewish Educational Toys, which created “Kosherland,” an adaptation of “Candyland.” JET also produced a Jewish version of the popular game “Apples to Apples.”

“[Taboo] is a popular game that everyone knows about,” Blumberger says. The Jewish version “helps to create a very positive sense of Jewish pride.”

Coming up with nearly 1,000 clues — including plotz (to freak out), ima (mother), and Kol Nidre — was more difficult than it may seem. For research purposes, the two friends ordered a set of Encyclopedia Judaica on Amazon.com, visited the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco and a Jewish library there and called up Framson’s grandmother for her help in procuring additional Yiddish words. The two also consulted with Burstein’s brother, who is a rabbi.

Several of their clues didn’t make the cut. Some were deemed “too Talmudic” — obscure references that JET feared only Orthodox Jews would understand. Others were nixed for the opposite reason: they weren’t Jewish enough. “Adam Sandler” was one of the clues Burstein particularly liked that didn’t make the final cut. “Who has done more to popularize Judaism in pop culture than Adam Sandler?” he asked The Jewish Week. Nevertheless, “they didn’t think he necessarily was famous for ‘the right reasons,’” says Burstein, who grew up in a Reform household

One of the difficulties in producing the Jewish version of “Taboo” was providing clues that would appeal to both the Jewish knowledge base of a secular Jew as well as an observant Jew, says Brian Hersch, the original creator of “Taboo,” who is Jewish. As a result, the 504 cards are double-sided, with the green sides bearing harder “guess words” than the blue sides.

Hersch, who grew up in a Conservative home in Los Angeles, was instrumental in encouraging Hasbro to license the Jewish version of “Taboo,” despite the smaller number of games produced. His daughter, he said, enjoyed the Jewish version so much that she folded in her favorite Jewish-themed cards into her regular “Taboo” game.

For Burstein and Framson, the foray into the game business was more hobby than business. They also run Trade Show Internet, a company that provides Internet access to exhibitors at trade shows and other events. Burstein, who recently finished up an MBA at Babson College in Massachusetts, is also in the process of launching a new company, Golden Health Guide, which will serve as a “Consumer Reports” for walkers, shower seats and other products for senior citizens.

Most of Burstein’s college friends are doctors, lawyers and consultants, he says. “They tell me, ‘It’s so cool that you’re actually making something instead of just throwing ideas around.’”