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If you prick us, do we not bleed?

"If you prick us, do we not bleed?" asks Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.  I just listened to an intriguing presentation by Andrew Gordon, a scholar of Jewish American literature at University of Florida, called "The Jew as … Read More

By / April 19, 2007
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"If you prick us, do we not bleed?" asks Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice

I just listened to an intriguing presentation by Andrew Gordon, a scholar of Jewish American literature at University of Florida, called "The Jew as Vampire: Bernard Malamud's 'The Fixer.'" In it, he examines Jews as vital scapegoats in general and in the context of Malamud's work. Of particular interest, are some of his comments on the history of the blood libel legend, which always involves the sacrifice of a child.

The first explanation for the proliferation of this legend is something called "projective inversion," which he actually quotes from another scholar, and which I find fascinating in a very creepy sort of way. According to this explanation, it is the Christians' own guilt — for turning their god into a sacrifice, and then proceeding to drink his blood and eat his flesh during communion rituals — that is projected onto the Jewish scapegoat.

The second has more to do with the tendency of older siblings to resent, and want to kill, their younger siblings (though this doesn't make complete sense to me since it seems more reasonable that the Jews would represent the older sibling, and the Christians the younger, but whatever). We also see this in the blibical story of Joseph and his brothers — and it seems relevant to me to point out, also, that in the Hebrew bible younger brothers ALWAYS prevail, or are more special (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Benjamin, etc).

I think both of these explanations are interesting for various reasons. I mean, think about it — does it really make sense that Jews, who culturally and religiously shun blood (kosher meat, no intercourse during a woman's menstrual cycle, etc), would be the brunt of such an accusation? Of course it doesn't help that in the gospel of Matthew we are told that "his blood" will be upon us and our children and our children's children. But I think this first explanation does much to untangle the bizarre web of Christians' obsession with Jews and blood.

At any rate, it's always frustrating to try to get to the root of such anti-Semitic legends. As one scholar pointed out today: Whenever you have a biblically-based culture, there you'll have anti-Semitism. In this sense, it is impossible to find one Jew who does not, in the words of Art Spiegelman, "bleed history."

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