Here’s a report that has recently hit the headlines:
Teenagers at a Jewish comprehensive school have refused to sit a Shakespeare test because they believe the Bard is anti-Semitic. Nine students at the single-sex Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Hackney, east London, took their stance as part of a protest against the portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. As a result, they were stripped of their marks for the English national curriculum test for 14-year-olds – and their school plummeted from top of the league tables to 274th.
The girls, supported by their parents, refused to answer any questions on Shakespeare or even write their names on the top of the paper, even though the play they were studying was The Tempest – not The Merchant of Venice.
There are so many questions unanswered here! Why did the girls refuse to sign their names? How come it was the parents taking the initiative to protest and not the school? Why did Rabbi Pinter not seem to know what was going on; isn’t it the school’s responsibility to protest if it feels there is a problem? Is this a case of the tail wagging the dog? Why did the girls refuse to answer questions about The Tempest which was their text, while The Merchant of Venice was not in the curriculum? Isn’t it better to protest expressing exactly what is one objects to, instead of a blind refusal to respond? No wonder their points were deducted.
There are wider issues here. One is the refusal to deal with secular culture, warts and all, reflecting a certain ideology. Virtually all Western Culture is infected with Christian anti-Semitism. Of course William Shakespeare, like all Christian Englishman of his day, regarded Jews as subhuman, in league with the devil, and cursed for rejecting their saviour. It is only amazing that he is so critical of Christian hypocrisy. If one refuses to deal with anti-Semitism in English literature and culture, then one might as well stop trying to pretend one is giving a secular education that conforms to the law in order to garner state financial support. Better to be honest and refuse the pact with the devil altogether.
There is a current climate in Europe so willing to allow any minority to demand what should or should not be taught, that governments and authorities are scared to take a stand, so simply appease aggressive, evangelical monoculturalists.
If Britain is now so frightened of offending religious extremists that it removes anything from the press or the school curriculum that upsets them, or allows some doctors to refuse to do anything professionally that they do not religiously approve of, like treating alcoholics or sexual diseases, or makes concessions to religious rules on bigamy, female circumcision and abuse, then why should ultra-Orthodox Jews not demand concessions on what they find offensive?