Professor Rina Lapidus
Bar Ilan University

Antisemitism in Fairytales

Snow White and Rose Red

The lecture is base on the Grimms tales for young and old.

Here is the original text (translated to english by Ralph Manheim)

Snow White and Rose Red PDF

In today’s lecture, I will discuss the antisemitism that is hidden in the fairy tale "Snow White and Rose Red" from the Grimm brothers' fairy tale collection.

First of all, I want to point out that tales are not children's literature as we know it today. The tales are not meant for children. During the Middle Ages there was no separation between the world of adults and that of children, as both adults and children lived and worked together. The tales were told in the company of both adults and children who sat together at leisure, especially during the long winter evenings when agricultural work was not conducted and the darkness would descend early and leave time for tales to be heard.

What was the intent of these tales? First of all, telling tales is enjoyable and helps passing leisure time. At the same time, the tales incorporate a moral messages and lessons that are intended for both adults and adolescents. The tales teach their listeners how to treat different phenomena and how to behave in different situations in real life. The tales present us with a kind of life teachings for the peasants who listen to them. For example, the messages contained in the tales show how a girl can escape poverty, that is, by seducing a rich man (represented in the tale by a prince) and marrying him. A tale can also demonstrate how a teenager can escape poverty, that is, by boldness, diligence, and deceit

The tales also feature Jews represented as dwarfs. The dwarfs are reminiscent of the Jews as the non-Jewish local population sees them: the dwarf is of low-stature, has a beard and often also a bonnet, is ungrateful, he is rich and misery, and his treasures are stolen from the local population. The dwarf desires local women, but when he comes to a meeting with them, he turns out to be impotent because his penis is damaged and cut. Tales also include examples of how the local population should be treating the dwarfs. The local people have to destroy the dwarfs and thus protect their wives and at the same time regain the treasures that the dwarfs have stolen from them. Such treatment is appropriate and the dwarfs who are Jews have well deserved it. The tale "Snow White and Red Rose" illustrates these messages.