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Brush Up your Shakespeare: Tribune Apologizes to ADL for Shylock Clue

It's official: the word "Jew" is an ethnic slur.
Al Pachino as Shylock.

Al Pachino as Shylock.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Friday called on the editors of Tribune Media Services to apologize for a clue in a crossword puzzle that used the clue “Shylock, e.g.” to elicit a three-letter response, with the correct answer being “Jew.”

It’s official, then, the word “Jew” is a racial slur. Much as if they were to use the clue, say, “Othello, e.g.” for the five-letter word “Black” (could also work with “Louis, e.g.”

The syndicated crossword puzzle included a clue with the name “Shylock,” which, according to the ADL, “is a reference to the grotesque stereotypic fictional Jewish character from Shakespeare’s play, ‘The Merchant of Venice.’”

Now, it’s true that many have opted to play Shylock as a grotesque, diaspora Jew, but I’ve seen many who played him as an angry, vengeful man, who doesn’t take insults from anybody:

He has disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated my enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew.

Has not a Jew eyes? Has 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? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

This is the single most coveted bit of text in the entire history of Theater—or, at least on anyone’s top 10 list. Now the ADL is saying to associate Shylock with the universal image of a Jew is… racist.

Honestly? What’s more natural than that in a puzzle clue? This is the same as those repulsive PC boards of education who censor the word “nigger” out of Huck Fin. What’s wrong with these people? Have they no sense of cultural history? When you prick them, do they censor the P word?

In a letter to Tribune Media Services, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, said:

“Perhaps the puzzle authors were unaware of the use of Shakespeare’s Shylock character throughout the years as a vehicle for antisemitism. Selecting Shylock to elicit the answer ‘Jew’ demonstrates cultural ignorance and an extreme lack of sensitivity. Even if done inadvertently, such a linkage perpetuates classic antisemitic stereotypes of Jews as evil and money-hungry.”

ADL urged Tribune Media Services to print an apology and refrain from using clues that reinforce negative stereotypes about Jews or other groups in the future.

And, according to JTA, Tribune Media Services apologized for using Shylock as a clue.

The media syndicate said in its apology that appeared in newspapers on Sunday, that the puzzle “should not have been distributed with that clue.”

Tribune Media added that it “is very sensitive to racial or cultural references in the content we distribute and regret that this slipped through.”

Where do you get off this crazy planet? Seriously, crossword puzzles depict the most common bits of data, things we all know because we picked it up sometime along our drudge-course of organized education. It’s a little late to pick a fight over the Bard’s artistic choices now – and, unlike the ADL, he described his Jewish character with nuance and depth, with graceful notes alongside notes of rage.


About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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