Letters | Apr. 13, 2022


The Shakespeare Code?
Regarding “Is it time to retire the Merchant of Venice?” (April 7):

Given the robust and opalescent degree of antisemitism of Shakespeare’s day and age, if he had wished to write something sympathetic to Jews, how best would the Bard, as a master wordsmith, have gone about it?

Let us note that he did not select a biblical or Hebrew-sounding name for the highly identifiably Semitic character of Shylock. How odd.

Especially when you consider that he is credited with the invention or introduction of over 1,700 words that are still in use today — and among them is the name Jessica, apparently as an anglicization of the biblical name Iskah.

If, however, one transliterates the word “Shylock” into Hebrew characters and subsequently reads the results right to left, you approximately wind up with — depending on whether you employ the letter kaf or qaf for the “ck” sound and whether you use the vowel vav for the “o” sound — either “kol ish,” meaning “everyman,” or “qol ish,” meaning “voice of a man.”


As Pete Rose might say, figure the odds. Did Shakespeare, or perhaps one of his close acquaintances, know some Hebrew? If this speculation on my part is correct, then this linguistic oddity goes far to remove the taint of antisemitism from Shakespeare’s portrait of Shylock.


Another chapter in Polish antisemitism

“The enemy of our nemesis” editorial in the March 31 WJW made some important points about Poland being a vast Jewish graveyard during World War II. But it left out vicious antisemitic campaign of 1968.

Communist economics has never worked in Eastern Europe or anywhere else. Poland, being the largest Soviet satellite nation, had periodic economic convulsions since 1945. In 1968, the Polish communist government came up with the ingenious idea of blaming their poor economic conditions on the “Zionists.” There were only about 40,000 Jews living in Poland in 1968. In March1968, there were numerous marches through Warsaw, Krakow and other cities with communist operatives banging drums and shouting “Zionists out.” The result of this antisemitic campaign was that more than half of the remaining Polish Jews emigrated to Israel and the West.

Coming only 23 years after the end of World War II, these marches brought back memories of the war and were denounced by the democratic world. In the early 1970s, the communist government issued a feeble apology to its Jewish citizens. After the communists were tossed out of power in the early 1990s, the democratically elected Polish government issued a full and firm apology to its Jewish citizens and put bronze memorial plaques in train stations in Warsaw, Krakow and other cities apologizing to Polish Jews.


‘Survival Nexus’ isn’t a novel

Thanks for mentioning my book, “Survival Nexus,” in your article “Local Authors in the congregation talk about their books” (Jewish Week, March 30). You describe it as a novel.
For better or for worse, it’s not a novel! It’s an alert to Earth-in-the-balance dangers in which science and technology are major dimensions: pandemics, climate change and especially nuclear war, and to other critical issues like cyber, poverty
and biotech.


The author is distinguished professor emeritus at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and past president of Bethesda Jewish Congregation.

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