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Jewish Problems (2011) [pdf] (arxiv.org)
37 points by sillysaurusx 42 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

A thread from 2017: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15424117

2016: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10923934

2012: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4759642

2011: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3096793

The title is a provocation of course but also the historical term, so it's legit. If you're going to comment, please make sure you've fully metabolized the provocation before posting. That way we can have curious reactions rather than reflexive ones, which make discussion tedious. HN can do better than those two earliest threads. 2012 was particularly a shitshow.

Does anyone think this happens nowadays in interviews? I am not in favor of any kind of “standardized test” for software engineer interviews, but it seems like the practice of picking just 1 or 2 problems could easily be used to reject an undesirable candidate, under the veneer of meritocracy.

I'm sure that happens sometimes in interviews. I think more often there are multiple qualified people for a given position and the chosen candidate is the one that the interviewers feel more comfortable interacting with. People usually feel most comfortable interacting with people who have a similar background to themselves. Also, a lot of people's sense of identity, self worth, and community standing is based on their jobs. Hiring people from groups that diminish or clash with that isn't in the interest of the people doing the hiring. That's the main reason I don't think most hiring is meritocratic, including in tech.

I don't think the intent is the same. It may be that current interviews have outcomes that aren't egalitarian, but I haven't personally seen any evidence that would suggest that interview questions are specifically chosen to discriminate against a particular minority.

To be clear, I'm not saying the interview process is good or perfect or shouldn't be interrogated.

One of my colleagues loathes competitive programmers and picks much harder problems for them. His grumpy rationale is that they shouldn't have it any easier just because they do interview problems as a sport. Usually the ICPC world finalist types will still ace it since he's too dunning-kruger to judge beyond his own skill level.

The US instituted similar measures in the form of "literacy tests"[0] to disenfranchise non-white voters during the Jim Crow era. The questions are intentionally confusing and ambiguous, such that anyone taking them is likely to fail no matter what[1][2]. Whites were exempted from taking the test thanks to a grandfather clause (the origin of the term, incidentally, though now it usually applies to cellphone contracts) that meant you were exempt from the test if your grandfather could vote which of course was only true for well-off white citizens, or other workarounds with similar end results.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy_test

[1] https://allthatsinteresting.com/voting-literacy-test

[2] https://www.crmvet.org/info/lithome.htm

"Grandfathered" - any time a preexisting status means newer rules don't apply.

Another example, a licensed occupation, requirements made stricter, those already licensed don't need to meet the new requirements.

The sinister origins of the phrase are now almost completely forgotten.

I love Tanya Khovanova! She saved my ass when I was taking and failing linear Algebra in my freshman year. Amazing TA with a kind heart, great sense of humor, and lovely Eastern European accent.

This is also how the "white australia" policy was manipulated to exclude "undesirables" -A famous instance was the use of gaelic as a language test on somebody: and what do you know, it was a Jewish political activist!


A representative of the Communist International trying to infiltrate a country under false pretexted through a front organization is hardly a mere "Jewish political activist". It's quite the stretch, and quite the spin, to try to portray Egon Kisch's adventure as something related to jewishness.

The substantive point was the use of a language test, subject to manipulation of what was the Anglo Celtic language.

I referred to your gross misrepresentation of this case as "what do you know, it was a Jewish political activist!".

A member of the Communist International trying to infiltrate a foreign nation under false pretenses to further their geopolitical agenda is hardly related to religion or race or cultural makeup of the agent.

A quick skim of the Wikipedia article shows that the same technique was used on other people who weren't communists; for instance, an Irish anti-war activist was asked to complete a test in Dutch. Seems like a perfect example of the phenomenon we're talking about.

In the US it's called "holistic admissions process".

The reason I submitted this was, incidentally, that I discovered I am Jewish. My father was the first to marry outside of the faith, so it’s apparently a long lineage.

I’m not sure how to feel. Reactions range from “So what?” to “I have a culture?”

I’ve been at least trying to study some history.

It’s still kind of amazing it never came up once. It was almost accidental that I found out at all. (Random census question my wife didn’t know the answer to, which led to my father’s brother mentioning it.)

I don't mean to attack your recent revelation, but my understanding was that Judaism is matrilineal, so if your mother isn't Jewish and you don't practice then you're not Jewish (unless this has made you want to convert). It's also certainly possible I don't fully understand the situation or the custom.

That is true among the orthodox and some hardline conservatives, not reform or reconstructionists

Only reform Jews in America and they require jewish upbringing. I would recommend sillysaurusx going trough the conversion process at your reform Synagogue. (Reform is mostly about knowledge, basically classes). It’s there for a reason, you learn a lot if you didn‘t have an upbringing.

My situation was similar, matrilineal but my mum is baptized. I wasn’t required to, but I am glad to understand now what rabbinical judaism actually is.

Did you not have a culture before?

Congratulations! I would love to discover something like that. So your father knew but didn't tell you? Do you know why?

Thanks for sharing. Best wishes in exploring your newfound heritage.

You had a culture all along. You are American.

Of course similar things happened in the US (well things with a similar goal):


Here, I have one. Let's see...

Given five numbers, prove that there are always two, x and y, such that |(x-y)/(1+xy)| < 1.

Hint: rot13(sbhaq va n gevt obbx)

How many digits does the number 125^100 have? Im breaking my head here :(

100*log10(125) ~ 210?

We've reduced a tedious elementary problem to a slightly harder problem!

(We can observe that 125 = 1000/8, so 100log10(125) = 300 - 300log10(2) = 300 - 30log(1024). From here we merely need the bound 90 = 30log(1000) < 30log(1024) < 91, or equivalently 1 < 1.024^30 < 10. There are probably better approaches but I'm partial to 1.024^30 = (1.024^15)^2 < (1.024^16)^2 < 3^2 < 10, since 1.024^16 is easy to upper bound by repeated squaring and rounding up: 1.024^16 < 1.03^16 < 1.1^8 < 1.3^4 < 1.7^2 < 2.9.)

observe that log10(125) = log10(100) + log10(1.25)

log10(100) = 2

log10(1.25) = log(1 + 0.25) / log(10) ~ 0.25 / log(10) < 0.25 / 2 = 0.125

Thus log10(125) ~ 2.12 but probably a little less.

The extra contortions are to get a bound tight enough to admit only one integer.

I cannot solve any of them.

How many correct answer did you need to pass? What was the passing rate?

According to the paper, they would just keep asking questions until you failed, there was no passing if they didn't want you to enroll.

Something similar, but not as severe, existed in the US.


One of the people excluded due to that system was Richard Feynman.

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