An American rabbi who lived and worked in China for over a decade is fighting antisemitism on Chinese social media using educational videos.
Rabbi Matt Trusch was sharing Jewish parables in fluent Mandarin on Douyin (China’s version of TikTok) from his Texas home last year when he came across users spouting Jewish stereotypes online.
Trusch describes himself in his Douyin bio as a rabbi who shares “wisdom of the Talmud,” “interesting facts about the Jewish people,” “business thought” and “money-making tips.”
A holder of two degrees in Asian studies, Trusch has gained a significant following on the online platform, where he highlights life and business lessons from the Talmud and the book “Tanya” by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who founded Chabad Hasidism.
As of this writing, his account has accumulated over 180,000 followers while his videos have attracted nearly 700,000 likes.
The comment sections of his videos are filled with a large amount of hateful messages and mixed opinions on Jewish people.
In one of his videos in which he explains how China helped Jewish refugees fleeing from Europe during World War II, several commenters appreciated Trusch for sharing this information while many others used stereotypes and antisemitic language to mock him.
The clip, which has over 7 million views, received comments such as “You don’t want to take my money, do you?” and “Wall Street elites are all Jews.”
In videos that do not even involve Israel, some commenters can be found chiding Trusch for not commenting on Palestine.
Based on the commenters’ messages, many of his viewers perceive the Talmud as a get-rich scheme rather than a Jewish religious text. Such perception has become so popular that it has created an industry of self-help books and private schools that claim to teach about Jewish money-making secrets.
Trusch, who works with an Australia-based Chinese-speaking Jewish partner on creating content to educate others about Jewish people, shared that he intentionally included Chinese people’s stereotypes about Jewish people in his Douyin bio to attract and reach more Chinese viewers.
“We do sort of exploit the fact that [Chinese people] are interested in listening to Jewish business wisdom to get them to follow us. We have sort of played to that before,” he was quoted as saying.
The Chinese people’s view of the Talmud as a business guide also helps Trusch and his partner navigate China’s complicated religious environment, where Judaism is not among the five recognized religions.
“Pirkei Avot and the Talmud do not mean religion in China, even though those are Jewish texts that we learn Torah from,” Trusch noted. “If I were to say, ‘I’m going to teach Torah concepts in China,’ that will be forbidden, probably. But if I talk about things from the Talmud, then it’s not threatening.”
Trusch spent 12 years in Shanghai doing business in a range of industries after completing an undergraduate degree in Asian studies at Dartmouth College and a master’s degree at Harvard University in the late ’90s.
He shared that while he was already aware of the stereotypical way Chinese people think about Jewish people, he noted that, “When I was in China, I very rarely felt anything but a fond appreciation of Jews.”
In 2009, he returned to the United States and settled in Houston with his family. While in the U.S., he still found time to visit China frequently but was forced to stop in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.