The only rodent in the entire spread is the critter on the cover.
Tim Whitaker, editor of PW, said that “it never occurred to us” that the front page could have been seen as offensive. Originally, he said, the idea was to use the dog on the sleigh as the lead image—that is, until the hamster one was presented.
That animal is the pet of Liz Spikol, the newspaper’s senior contributing editor.
Spikol said that once it was decided to have “cuteness” as the theme for this year’s guide, cute animals came to mind. She immediately thought of her male hamster, whose name is, coincidentally, Tinsel, and whom she described as “super cute.”
But why dress him as an Orthodox Jew? Why the overtly Jewish symbols to highlight the least religious of the religion’s holidays?
Spikol said that the paper’s art director created the “hat ensemble” for Tinsel to wear; it was geared to be “more graphically appealing” and “to make it readable as a Jewish observance.”
She added that, as a Jew herself, she doesn’t find the image offensive, and she doesn’t “understand why Orthodoxy would be offensive.”
“I just thought it was a fun image in context of our theme,” said Spikol.
A rodent as a symbol for the Jew has a long and notorious history, which becomes apparent even if you do a rudimentary search on the Internet.
Nazi propaganda throughout the 1930s—films, posters and other images—depicted Jews as rats and other vermin; the point was to portray Jews as subhuman creatures who were unclean and in need of extermination.
The rodent family is a large and varied class of animals, replied Spikol. There is a huge difference, she added, between a rat and a hamster—and hamsters, she said, were never used in Nazi propaganda.
Despite Spikol’s reasoning, some are upset with the cover.
“Where did your art director receive her training?” wrote Solomon Moses in an angry letter he sent to PW and then forwarded to the Exponent. “At the Heinrich Himmler Academy of Design?”