Episode 25: Jews on Stage


Jews in space? No, Jews on stage. What was the world like for Jewish actors during the Middle Ages? Well, it was a bit of a mixed bag, honestly. Yes, there were times and places where Jewish life was severely proscribed, but there were also places where Jewish actors and playwrights were celebrated for their skills and performed at the highest echelons. Join Em and Jesse as they discuss the world of Jewish theater from the Middle Ages up to the mid-twentieth century. Also we talk about The Merchant of Venice some more, because of course we do.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Outside of Israel, a number of holidays are celebrated for two nights so that people can be sure of celebrating them during the time when they’re celebrated in Israel.

2/ Re the revolution: I think we won?

Hopefully, you still have power and an RSS feed to be able to listen to this podcast.

3/ If you’re interested in Yiddish theater, check this out.

4/ Yiddish is mostly spoken by Haredi and Hasidic Jews. I don’t have a great source for how many Yiddish speakers there are worldwide right now. One source says at least 150,000 in the US and Canada. I assume 90% of them live in Brooklyn and the rest in Montreal.

5/ Indecent on PBS.

Indecent by Paula Vogel: https://www.amazon.com/Indecent-TCG-Paula-Vogel/dp/1559365471

Indecent is available on broadwayhd.com:
https://www.broadwayhd.com/categories/plays and sometime available via PBS https://www.pbs.org/video/indecent-zvm9ct/

Info on Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance here: https://web.uwm.edu/yiddish-stage/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-god-of-vengeance and here (includes an image of the entire cast after their arrest for obscenity): https://www.jewishboston.com/read/sholem-aschs-god-of-vengeance-challenges-modern-theater-audiences/

Info on the obscenity trial here (includes images of the complete pamphlet published in defense of God of Vengeance): https://web.uwm.edu/yiddish-stage/an-open-letter-by-sholom-asch-author-of-got-fun-nekome
and here: https://news.yale.edu/2015/10/15/defending-indecent-play-god-vengeance-yale-university-library-archives-0

5/ Jewish wizards in Harry Potter = Anthony Goldstein (Ravenclaw) https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/17/jk-rowling-confirms-that-there-were-jewish-wizards-harry-potter

6/ Erith Jaffe-Berg, “Performance as exchange: Taxation and Jewish Theater in Early Modern Italy” in Theatre Survey 54.3 (Sept 2013): 389–417.

7/ Leone de Sommi (c.1527–c.1592) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leone_de%27_Sommi

8/ At least one high profile case of a Jewish child secretly baptized was the Mortara case, which actually happened later on, in the 1850s. The Church held that it had the authority to remove the child based on the papal bull Postremo mense, which was written by Pope Benedict XIV in 1747 and lays out the guidelines under which it is allowable to baptize a Jewish child without its parents’ consent. The Church was still doing this as of WWII.

In Australia: The Stolen Generation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generations

In the US: https://www.vox.com/2019/10/14/20913408/us-stole-thousands-of-native-american-children

In Canada: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/06/decades-after-government-seizure-of-children-indigenous-canadians-will-receive-compensation

In Canada, there used to be laws specifying that once a person had less than a certain percentage of tribal blood (possibly 25%), they could no longer register as part of a tribe. Since a fair number of people marry outside of the tribe, this would have the effect of shrinking the tribal membership relatively quickly. [These are known as “Blood Quantum” laws, and the USA has them as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_quantum_laws Here’s an interesting discussion of Canada: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/josiah-wilson-indian-act-hereditary-governance-1.3668636 –Jesse] [I think the Canadian laws are also discussed in Thomas King’s excellent The Truth About Stories.–Em]

9/ Jesse: This specific discussion of sumptuary laws is taken from Jaffe-Ber’s article (especially p. 392). We’ve previously mentioned Sara Lipton’s Dark Mirror, which is a great resource.

10/ It’s good to be the king (NSFW).

11/ Recommending Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages https://www.amazon.com/Invention-Race-European-Middle-Ages/dp/1108435092/

12/ Em: When I say my skin is clear, I don’t mean “unblemished,” I mean it’s see-through.

13/ Jesse: Our discussion is based largely on Ötzi, who was discovered in 2012 to be most closely related to modern-day Sardinians but also closely related to prehistoric remains from Bulgaria and Sweden. https://www.livescience.com/24667-iceman-mummy-otzi-closest-relatives.html However in 2013, it was discovered that Ötzi has at least 19 close genetic relatives *still living* in the Austrian Tyrol region (where he might have originated himself). https://www.nbcnews.com/sciencemain/scientists-say-otzi-iceman-has-living-relatives-5-300-years-8C11392771

14/ We talked about the hats in episode 10 note 39.

15/ Sara Lipton “Where Are the Gothic Jewish Women? On the Non-Iconography of the Jewess in the Cantigas de Santa Maria” Jewish History, vol. 22, no. 1/2, The Elka Klein Memorial Volume (2008), pp. 139–177 (quote from p. 142).

16/ The Bechdel (or Bechdel Wallace) test: a test named for but not invented by Alison Bechdel (who popularized it), which states that in order to pass a film must contain 1) two female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) and their discussion can’t be about a man. Here’s the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test And here is Bechdel’s comic where she describes it (and shows her friend Liz Wallace inventing it): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test#/media/File:Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin).jpg

The last film I (Em) watched was Inception, and I don’t think it passed the test.

17/ Plessy v Ferguson (1896) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_v._Ferguson

18/ Caster Semenya https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/sports/olympics/caster-semenya-court-ruling.html

David Roche writes about trans* athlete rights: https://trailrunnermag.com/people/transgender-athlete-rights-are-human-rights.html

Jesse asks, somewhat rhetorically, why women can’t play baseball. As far as I can tell, the answer is probably Kennesaw Mountain Landis. [Probably! He was evil.–Jesse]

19/ Lucerne Easter play: http://theaterhistoryonline.blogspot.com/2014/08/lucerne-passion-play.html (some good images of the staging diagrams by Renward Cysat.)

20/ English play–the Croxton Play of the Sacrament https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croxton_Play_of_the_Sacrament (no one is killed!)

French play: Mistere de la Sainte Hostie See Jody Enders “Theater Makes History: Ritual Murder by Proxy in the ‘Mistere de la Sainte Hostie'” in Speculum Vol. 79, No. 4 (Oct., 2004), pp. 991–1016.

Judenfrage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Question
(Na ja, wir haben die Judenfrage, aber was ist die Judenantwort?)