A group of British teenagers at a Jewish comprehensive school refused to sit at a Shakespeare test because they believe the Bard was an anti-semitic writer. As a result they were stripped of their marks for the English national curriculum test for 14 yer-olds. The girls were supported by their parents and refused to answer questions about Shakespeare or write their names on the top of the paper, even though the play being studied was The Tempest, not The Merchant of Venice. Rabbi Abraham Pinter, the school’s principal commented: “I think Shakespeare was reflecting the ethos of the time in his portrayal of Shylock. If he was alive today, he would be probably going on anti-war marches.”
As a Jewish chlld who read Shakespeare and even studied The Merchant of Venice in school, I find the actions of the students misguided. Perhaps, someone might inform these young people that in the 20th century when Yiddish theater was alive and vibrant in America, Shakespeare was performed by Jewish actors, and The Merchant of Venice was a well noted successful offering. I assume Shakespeare is performed in Israel. Somehow, their teachers and parents have neglected the education of these children. No other 16th or 17tth century writer delved into the mind of a Jew in the manner of Shakespeare. Yes, he was anti-semitic, but as the school principal notes, he reflected the bigotry of his era. I wonder how those students feel about reading the works of Muslim authors.