Detroit Judge Apologizes for Shylock Quotations, Erases Offending Remarks

Portia’s famous words uttered in the courtroom scene in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” deriding Shylock’s covetousness, repeated here by a circuit judge in an opinion rendered during injunction proceedings, aroused much resentment on the part of Detroit Jews and resulted in an apology by the court to the Jewish race yesterday.

Louis Berry, a Jewish creditor of the Detroit Trust Company, sought an injunction restraining the company from reorganizing. The company owed Berry $6,139. Circuit Judge Ormond F. Hunt handed down his opinion refusing the injunction, and quoting Shakespeare.

Aaron Kurland, attorney for Berry and a well-known Jewish leader here, after listening to the Judge’s opinion, was indignant.

“If your honor please,” he said, “I want to state that the Court has been provocative in making the Shylock allusion. The plaintiff has a perfect right to come in here and ask a review without being subject to such an allusion.”

Complaints came pouring into the offices of Judge Hunt during the subsequent three days. He expressed a desire to withdraw the offensive portion of the opinion. Through Henry Rottman, a Jewish attorney and a personal friend, the judge called together twenty-five outstanding Jews of the community and in open court read a statement of his apology, which follows:

“In the opinion I illustrated the point of insistence upon strict legal rights as opposed to equity by inserting a portion of Portia’s speech from ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

“At that time I had no thought that anyone would draw any reflection on the race or religion of any one involved in the case. If the case had centered around a Christian the quotation would have been just as apt in my mind.

“This morning I was informed that some members of the Jewish race had construed my opinion as at least a veiled reflection. Never in my life have I spoken of the Jewish race or religion except in the highest terms. Christianity is based upon the Jewish religion and literature. Two members of the United States Supreme Court are members of that race. Our statesmen, poets and leading business men in every walk of life belong to it. The roster is full of prominent names.

NO REFLECTION ON JEWS

“The illustration was neither intended nor thought of as reflecting on the Jewish race, but to make certain there has been no thought of this nature, the court now amends the opinion, leaving out every reference to the quotation from Shakespeare. It is an opinion, not a judgment, and can be amended at any time.

“I personally have drawn a pen through every reference to this quotation. I have instructed my stenographer to redraft the opinion and have it ready Tuesday morning, when I shall sign it as the opinion in the case.”

Rabbi Leon Fram, Sidney L. Alexander and Abraham J. Levin and Judge Arthur J. Lacy, who opposed Mr. Kurland in the original hearings in the case, commended Judge Hunt for his action.

Mr. Kurland thereupon made a final statement in which he pointed out to the judge that Shakespeare did not know the Jew because there were few Jews in England in Shakespeare’s day. He told Judge Hunt that neither his nor his client’s feelings entered into the matter but when “the revival of an ancient and unfounded prejudice threatens to harm a race it is the duty of members of that race to call attention to it.”

He thanked the judge for his action and the incident was declared closed at that point.

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