Taboo, But Educational
Jewish version of popular Hasbro game gets clues from Encyclopedia Judaica.
07/20/2011 - 20:00
Staff Writer
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When Seth Burstein and Ian Framson started throwing clues at each other while playing the card game “Taboo,” they came up with more than just a way to kill an afternoon.

The two Jewish friends and serial entrepreneurs, amused by the game that requires teams to guess topics without the most obvious hints, began 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 produced Jewish version of the popular game Apples to Apples.

Three years later, the Taboo Jewish Edition, which has been “blessed” by Hasbro, is for sale at several Judaica stores nationwide, as well as retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond. It can also be bought online at 

“[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 Nidrei — was more difficult than it may seem. For research purposes, the two friends ordered a set of Encyclopedia Judaica on Amazon, 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 told 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 holiday 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 geared 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.’”



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I have now read several accounts of how this game was created. Why is everybody celebrating a couple of guys who basically said, "let's knock off a great game"? They even had a knock-off title, Ta-Jew. This isn't the height of creativity. This is the height of hutzpah - going out in public and drawing attention to yourself for planning to steal the reputation and play of someone else's creativity. You wrote the article about the wrong guys!

Oh, and my friends and I have been using Yiddish as replacement clues for years with Taboo. We just never plotted to claim it as our own.

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