If you prick us do we not bleed? A shakespearean take on the the logical fallacies of antisemitism
In response to recent anti-Semitic incidents that have taken place in major cities across the globe, including New York, London, Paris, Jerusalem, and my hometown of Los Angeles, a quote from a 16th-century play by William Shakespeare comes to mind. In the first scene of the third act of Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare conveyed an unprecedented message for his time that can be applied to the social climate of today. Shylock, a primary character, contends that his Judaism does not discount the biological components of his existence—the very components that tie the human race together. Shylock exclaims:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew
hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?
Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons,
subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as
a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? (3.1. 53-58)
In this quote, Shylock explains the biological similarities that relate a Jew to a Christian and to every other human being and implies the irrationality of thinking otherwise. Shakespeare’s message is clear: people, despite the religion in which they believe, embody the same biological principles; therefore, all individuals warrant the same level of equality and respect.
“Anti-Semitism has for centuries too long been inherently endemic, lying one inch below the surface, ever so easily triggered.“-David Kerendian
Shakespeare ventured the societal biases of his time and directly challenged the predominant Christian belief system that painted Jews as both mythical and evil (his intentions, whether highly bigoted or genuinely sympathetic, is open to debate).
On Tuesday, May 18th, 2021, residents of the Los Angeles community were gathered for dinner at a local sushi restaurant when they were verbally and physically attacked by a gang of at least four men. As the perpetrators assaulted the local diners, they yelled anti-Semitic slurs, including the words “dirty Jew.” The victims were assailed for simply being Jewish. Anti-Semitism has for centuries too long been inherently endemic, lying one inch below the surface, ever so easily triggered. Jews have been routinely reviled, dehumanized, and discriminated against for no logical reason, as seen by both ancient, and now present, history.
To the perpetrators, I ask the same question Shylock asked over four centuries ago: if you prick us, do we not bleed?