What “The Merchant of Venice” Gets Wrong about Divine Mercy

Some readers of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice have noted the parallel between the heroine Portia’s speech to the Jewish moneylender Shylock and the opening of Moses’ valedictory song in Deuteronomy, which is read in synagogues tomorrow. Thus Portia opens with “The quality of mercy is not strained./ It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,” and Moses with “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;/ Let the earth hear the words I utter!/ May my discourse come down as the rain,/ My speech distill as the dew.” But despite this biblical resonance, Kate Rozansky argues, Portia’s claims here diverge greatly from the biblical notion of mercy—at least the way Jews have understood it:

She says the “quality” of mercy is not “strained”—that is, constrained. Portia argues that your mercy should flow freely from you, like rain from the sky. If someone were forcing you to be merciful, it would sully the purity of your mercy. If I give you $100 because I owe you, I’m just doing what I have to do. If I give you 100 dollars for no reason, I’m extraordinary. Godlike, even.

When Jews entreat God’s mercy, in our sliḥot [penitential prayers], and in our prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we reminded God over and over and over again that God MUST be merciful to us. We remind God of the promises God has made to us over the generations. Remember the covenant. Remember that we are your people. Remember the merit of our ancestors.

God’s mercy does not flow from His infinite power or His infinite freedom, but from God’s relationship with us. God’s choice whether or not to grant mercy is constrained by His own promises. The God of the Torah is an obligated God, and the Jews owe our continued existence as a people—and perhaps the existence of the whole world, to this fact.

Portia was wrong. For Jews, the quality of mercy is constrained. Our acts of mercy are not acts of superfluity that make us extraordinary. They are obligations that force us to be our truest selves.

Read more at Google Docs

More about: Deuteronomy, Judaism, Repentance, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria