Is Rugrats anti-Semitic?

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Oct. 22 1998 6:03 PM

Is Rugrats anti-Semitic?

Last Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 20), the Washington Post ran a comic strip based on the popular kids' TV show Rugrats , in which the main character, the half-Jewish toddler Tommy Pickles, is taken to synagogue. He listens in fascinated befuddlement as all the adults around him utter the Hebrew words to the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. He sits on the lap of his grandfather Boris, who is very old and has a long nose.


On Oct. 11, the Washington Post issued an Editor's Note declaring that its editors should have known better than to run the comic strip and reporting that the newspaper had complained to Nickelodeon, which produces it, as well as to the company that distributes it.

What was wrong with the Rugrats strip? The Editor's Note said "the depiction of Jewish worshipers and use of the Kaddish were inappropriate." A Post editor, interviewed in the Jewish newspaper the Forward, said it had had scores of calls and that most of the callers were upset about the inclusion of the Kaddish, although a few were incensed by the length of the nose.

Culturebox thinks the Washington Post was faced with a genuine dilemma but made exactly the wrong call. There is a tradition of anti-Semitic caricature featuring Jews with hideous noses, some of which has been used to justify persecution. (Think of the Nazi publication Der Stuermer.) That might have been cause for an Editor's Note pointing out that while some people may have taken offense, none was intended. But there's no excuse for censoring cartoonists (even after the fact) because they've used religion as their subject matter. That's like saying Peanuts can't focus on Christmas, or that when Brenda Starr prays, she can't use language from the Lord's Prayer. Since there was no mockery in the Rugrats depiction of the Kaddish--just one toddler's curiosity-- one can only conclude the callers deemed the comic strip, as a medium, insufficiently dignified for serious Jewish subjects. That would be news to Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus--comic-book accounts of the Holocaust.

As it turns out, the Rugrats TV show is much beloved among Jewish parents with young children for its helpful and sympathetic depictions of Hanukkah and Passover Seders. So the complainers were not only trying to abridge freedom of expression, they were wildly off-base. But what's shocking is that one of the nation's leading newspapers gave in to them.

--Judith Shulevitz



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?