Around the table in Seven Jewish Children

Around the table in Seven Jewish Children

A 10 minute play is being performed at the Royal Court theatre in London. And it might be heading to an off Broadway venue in NYC. “Seven Jewish Children,” by Caryl Churchill, is a very short play with seven scenes. There are nine adults around a table. In the scenes, grandparents, parents, and relatives discuss and debate what the kids should be told and what they should not be told about how Israel was founded in 1948, the Holocaust, various Israeli wars and the current issue with Gaza. Each line opens with “Tell her…“ or “Don’t tell her…”

Should the kids be told that “..they want to drive us into the sea.” or that “…they don’t.” Should they be told that Israel is an “…iron fist,” or that errors happen in the “…fog of war,” or that “…we won’t stop killing them till we’re safe.” In one scene, a character says, “Tell her there are still people who hate Jews.,” Another says, “Tell her there are people who love Jews,” and a third says, “Don’t tell her to think Jews or not Jews.” In a final scene it is said, “…Tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policeman, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out, the world would hate us is the only thing, tell her I don’t care if the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.”

David Horovitch in Seven Jewish Children

David Horovitch in Seven Jewish Children

The show, as many dramas are supposed to do, is creating a debate in London. Is it anti-Zionist? Is it anti-Jewish? Is it hubris? Is it dramatic propaganda? Are Israelis being demonized on the London stage instead of just in British universities? Should the play’s author, knowing full well that most Israelis do not call themselves the “chosen people” or teach kids to hate, put outrageous lines in their mouths? Is that responsible? The play’s author, a Patron of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, is allowing the work to be performed for free, as long as admission is free, and as long as audience members make donations to the Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP): Emergency Appeal for the People of Gaza.

I for one will stick to the more enlightened London shows and characters: Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” and Fagin in “Oliver.”

About the author



  • Wow. A pro-Palestinian activist taking it upon himself to teaching Jews not to think in black and white terms. How impressive.

    I never realized that Jews are just so in need of a lesson in moral ambiguity. Would that agenda-driven, ignorant goys like the playwright only acknowledge the depth of his lack of any sense of moral judgment, though.

  • “I for one will stick to the more enlightened London shows and characters: Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” and Fagin in “Oliver.””


  • Shakespeare’s description of Shylock isn’t anti-Semitic. There have been plenty stage depictions of the character that were. Al Pacino does the original drama justice in the film version.

    Sociological studies as well as the influence of Yiddish on vagrant languages suggest that the character of Fagin was anything but far-off. Not all Jews were intellectual fiddle players cum bankers. That would be positive anti-Semitism.

  • I dunno, last time I saw the play it seemed pretty spot-on anti-Semitic. And this was one of those companies that tried to honor the original intent of the bard.

  • Trust me, Middle, one of the things I teach is literature, Shakespeare’s a personal love of mine. The theory of drama wants it that Shakespeare portrayed a hero that couldn’t avoid his fate that was determined by higher forces. The play is rather critical of the hypocrisies of the Renaissance society towards Jews.

  • ‘He hath 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 mine
    enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath
    not a Jew eyes? hath 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.’

  • Froylein, I’ve read essays similar to what you’re saying about the intent of the play and they sound lovely in theory. When I’ve seen the play, it struck me as plainly anti-Semitic. That’s just me and I understand if you disagree, as do many others.

  • Middle, there’s research in drama / literature / theatre theory and history specifically concerned with stage depictions of Shylock. The performances were often used to draw an anti-Semitic caricature rather than reflect Shakespeare’s actual character. Also, there is the matter of reception: how has Shylock been understood by the audience? Since drama theory is part of what an average high schooler learns over here somewhere in either language they learn nowadays, the fate of Shylock is generally understood as that of a tragic hero (those that don’t learn such things generally don’t bother with Shakespeare either). Things certainly were different when Shakespeare served as entertainment for the plebs as well, but at that time, at least in Britain, the Bard’s influence on directing / directors of the play was still strong. Cromwell, as you certainly know, brought about a discontinuity in theatre performances in Britain in general. Shakespeare was as little anti-Semitic as Chaucer, as in consciously anti-Semitic. What Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales reflect was “common sense” anti-Semitism that prevailed in his society. What he probably could not foresee was that through the popularity of the Tales, anti-Semitic stereotypes got spread even farther, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that Chaucer was deliberately anti-Semitic or driven by relgiously motivated anti-Judaism. His Tales sufficiently mock the complacency and shallow piety of much of the clergy of his times.

  • ‘Anti-semitic’ is a blunt word to describe what is often a crude emotion, an irrational point of view. Shakespeare invests his plays with sufficient complexity to compel a more nuanced response. The passage quoted above strikes me as an eloquent denunciation of ethnic and religious hatred.

  • I’m often confused as to what to think of “Merchant of Venice”. Is it a tragedy or a comedy? If it’s a tragedy, it’s certainly one that isn’t structured in the way Shakespeare’s other tragedies were. Rather, it looks much more like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in structure (climax in Act IV rather than in Act V, as seen in Macbeth and Hamlet). The distinction is important, as if it is a tragedy, then we can indeed see Shylock as the tragic hero. However, if it is indeed a comedy (and there is supporting evidence for that, especially with Shakespeare making Shylock look foolish when he discovers his daughter ran away with a goy, but he didn’t so much focus on that as much as he focused on her taking his money), then indeed it can only be classified as antisemitic, as it portrays Shylock (and, by extension, all Jewry) as the villain.

  • It’s a tragedy as Shylock cannot escape his fate predetermined by a higher force (his environment in this case). Whether a character appears foolish or whatnot is not what differentiates a tragedy from a comedy. Shakespeare deliberately broke with the classic Ancient / Aristotelic unities of time and place.

  • I would prefer to see a play on British people trying to explain/justify what they have been doing in Iraq for the past 6 years. Any Israeli writers available?

  • imagine if a someone wrote a play called “7 muslim children” and tried to present it in london.

    man, i hate england right now. this liberal “tolerance” they’re trying to feed us is unacceptable.

  • Anyone truly interested in the portrayal of Shylock, you simply owe it to yourselves to read “Shylock in Germany” by W. Beatty-Kingston, written back in 1880 (waaaaay before the Nazis). I suck at providing links, but a simple Google search takes all of two seconds. Don’t miss this!