So a couple of months ago, this guy puts this piece of jewelry on e-bay. He apparently gets a little over five bucks for it. We guess that he wasn't sure what it was; well, we're absolutely positive he wasn't sure what it was, but we don't exactly know where his guess came from. He referred to it as a sterling silver Navajo Moose.

Navajo Moose? Not quite as much of a non sequitur as, say, Hawaiian Polar Bear, but let's just say that we don't exactly picture Kokopeli riding one.

It's interesting in an In Search Of Ancient Astronauts sort of way. Maybe, in eons past, when Raquel Welch was hanging around with dinosaurs, mooses wandered around the desert mesas of Arizona. Lost mooses. Maybe one developed a crush on a buffalo.

After this buildup, you might be curious as to what exactly a Navajo Moose looks like. To begin with, it's attractively stylized.

This is what the picture on e-bay looked like (I got the picture second-hand and the object itself has of course long since sold):






The story apparently doesn't end here. On an online magazine called Tablet (, a writer reports that he received an e-mail from a guy whose son saw one of these on an unlikely wearer who, upon questioning, identified what he was wearing as a Navajo Moose. The probability that this is the exact object in question is awfully remote, leading one to the conclusion that someone somewhere is now selling these as Navajo Mooses.


For those of you unfamiliar with this piece of jewelry, which is pretty common and typically worn around the neck, it's a Hebrew word, Chai (the ch pronounced more like kh, like you're gathering spit, not like tsh like one kind of tea you can buy in Starbucks; the vowel is a long I). It means "life." In Hebrew writing, letters stand in for numbers, this number is 18. That's why if you or your kid is ever invited to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and you're wondering about a gift, most people give a check in a card and the check is frequently made out for either $18 or a multiple thereof, for luck.

Am Yisrael Chai is both a saying and a song title. It means The People of Israel Live, though it isn't necessarily a reference to the country so much as to the Jewish People.

If you ever see one of these worn with the Moose Head on the right, it's backward. Wearing it like that will not make it a Navajo Moose, it will make it a backward Chai.

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Comment by Sheila Luecht on October 1, 2012 at 2:33pm

Amazing quirky story and love the comments too.

Comment by The_Traveler on October 1, 2012 at 5:10pm

One of the more interesting books I've read in the last few years is Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel.  Hillel Halkin, the author, goes to the very NorthEast part of India to the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur to investigate the claims of several tribal groups that they are Jewish by descent. Many of them had already been relocated to Israel and many more were searching for certification so they could relocate.  The became convinced that this remote group is historically linked to the ancient biblical tribe of Manasseh.

re: Navaho moose - I would guess the Navaho part because of the relative ubiquity of Navaho jewelry that is always in silver.

Comment by koshersalaami on October 1, 2012 at 8:53pm

Oops. I forgot to hit Follow so I didn't know I had comments. Quite a few by local standards, I guess, because at the moment I apparently have the top two spots on the leaderboard. Now That's a change from OS.

Lezlie, there are two issues here and neither is based on race.

Descent: Unless you're a Reform Jew, which recognizes descent from either parent, Judaism is strictly matrilineal. I have a friend, now strict Orthodox, who was raised Jewish, whose father was Jewish, whose mother's father was Jewish, but whose mother's mother was Christian. She eventually converted to Judaism, which means she converted to her own religion. Why? Because only one grandparent counts and, in her case, that was the only one of the four who wasn't Jewish. She is, incidentally, White.

Conversion: Who accepts which conversion is mostly based on level of observance and maybe, to an unadmitted extent, on how available Jews are in your community. The quick rule of thumb is that most movements within Judaism do not accept conversions from movements less observant than they are. This isn't obeyed 100% of the time: If you're in a community without a lot of Jews in, say, a Conservative synagogue, you've got nine adult Jews but you need a tenth for a minyan (quorum) to say certain prayers and somebody is available who had a Reform or Reconstructionist conversion, you'll suddenly see a remarkable amount of tolerance. If, on the other hand, you're in Brooklyn, where the number of Jews is probably somewhere in seven figures, Jews are way more likely to gatekeep.

That's something I've enjoyed about living in smaller communities: Way less gatekeeping.

There was a story a while back in the New York Times. There is a small, extremely wealthy community of Syrian Jews in New York City. They've stayed very traditional and, in order to preserve their life as they know it, their rabbi came out with something called The Edict: They will not accept converts of any kind into their community, period. They refused a woman who had been converted by the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, so he flew over from Israel to talk to them. They had read his work, they respected him, but she was not accepted. This is actually blatantly contrary to Jewish law, per the Book of Ruth. However, gatekeeping goes from lax to ridiculous.

There's another reason there is variation of acceptance in Israel, in one case according to race: There is a group whose name escapes me of Black Americans claiming to be Hebrews who started immigrating to Israel. They actually had beliefs that were different from Judaism as it turns out and they claimed, quite vocally, to be the only legitimate heirs to the ancient Israelites, causing some political problems. Because Israeli immigration felt burned by that experience, they're likely to scrutinize more carefully in the future.


I'm thinking you're right about the jewelry and why the assumption was made that it was Navajo. Though Moose?? Uy, that was a stretch.


Glad to be of help. I played this one two ways, one for those who knew what a chai is and one for those who didn't, that section in italics. That way I could crack jokes and be my usual didactic self in a single post.

Comment by koshersalaami on October 2, 2012 at 7:45am

Alan and Lezlie,

Concerning Jews who don't look it:

I have a couple of friends from college whose father was a lieutenant in the Irgun, which meant he worked for Begin before Israel was founded. He was from Eastern Europe and happened to be blond. When travelling through Czechoslovakia before the war on Irgun business, people assumed he was an advance man for the SS.

Comment by L in the Southeast on October 2, 2012 at 8:01am

My maternal grandfather, who was not a Jew, was often mistaken for one based on his "look."  I have lived around Jews all my life, and I have no delusions whatsoever about being able to spot one based on their looks. 

Comment by Alan Milner on October 2, 2012 at 9:21am

The black Jews called themselves Black Hebrews.

I know a man who had a very strange experience. He grew up in Bangor, Maine, in a very small Jewish community where his father was the town's butcher, which is a highly respected occupation among Jews.  His mother, however, was a non-Jewish woman.  The boy was raised Jewishly, and was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah when a new orthodox rabbi was hired by the community.  He examined the community's records, found that the boy's mother had never been converted, and declared the boy traif, refusing to bar mitzvah him.  More than 40 years later, a group of young Jewish community leaders took this man on a trip to Jerusalem, where they arranged for him to be bar mitzvah at the Western Wall.  There's another version of this story to the effect that the boy's mother had been converted by a conservative rabbi, hence the rejection from an orthodox rabbi.  

Oh, right.  The boy's name was William Cohen, the former senator from Maine and Secretary of Defense in the Clinton Administration.  His biography lists his religion as Unitarian.  

Comment by koshersalaami on October 2, 2012 at 9:39am

I always wondered about his name.

You know of a man or you know a man? You know this guy personally?

By the way, I just had a heavily edited version of an OS post get published on Reform Judaism's blog today, submitted by my rabbis. Who knew?

Comment by Sheila Luecht on October 2, 2012 at 9:42am

Congratulations Kosh!

Comment by koshersalaami on October 2, 2012 at 9:43am

Thanks, Sheila. Hey, I hope I didn't clutter up your post too much with that picture of a melodica.

Comment by Sheila Luecht on October 2, 2012 at 9:53am

No, thanks for sharing that. I left a comment there. I am still trying to figure out how this sight works. I get no comment notifications. I choose the follow comment choice at the bottom of each thread and still get nothing. I am not sure why. I will keep trying to figure it out...Am I supposed to chose the audit the comments thing in my set up? I will try that next. 


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