Jewish Journal


April 28, 2009

Florida gets rid of Shylock



There is a reason the Great Schlep urged young Jews to travel to Florida in the weeks leading up to the 2008 election, and it wasn’t just so they could experience “Recount” the reality tour.

Florida is for many Jews, particularly those from the East Coast, where their bubbes and zadies go to die. (Cue Jesse Jackson.) The association makes this bit of news all the more surprising: Until yesterday there were laws in Florida against usury that included the term shylock.

“Today I am proud to sign legislation that honors Florida’s Jewish community by removing harmful language from Florida’s criminal money-lending laws,” Gov. Charlie Crist said. “Harmful terms that communicate hate have no place in our society—and especially not in our laws—and the removal of this language is long overdue.”

Shylock, of course, was a key character in Shakepeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” A Jewish moneylender who demanded a pound of flesh for an unpaid debt, Shylock has done more damage to the Jewish reputation than anyone short of Judas, who I also think is unduly considered one of history’s greatest villains. And calling someone a Shylock or Judas, as opposed to Heeb or Yid, is a serious slur.

Before there was Bernie Madoff, there was Shylock; before there was the myth of the money-grubbing Jew, there was Shylock. And I guess before Monday, there were anti-Shylock laws in Florida.

Quite the legacy for a man who never lived but did embody the European resentment and distrust of, as Yuri Slezkine would say, the Mercurian Jew.

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