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Ten Reasons Why ‘Shrek’ Is Jewish

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Nathan Abrams provides ten reasons why Shrek is Jewish.

Every year, the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry chooses 25 films of historical, cultural, or aesthetic significance to be marked for preservation. Among this year’s inductees is Shrek (2001).

The Registry commended the film thus:

Even by DreamWorks standards, the charm and magic of ‘Shrek’ seemed extraordinary upon its initial release almost 20 years ago — and its power has yet to diminish in the intervening years. With this story of a green-skinned, solitude-loving ogre, Shrek, who embarks on a noble quest, alongside his new friend, a lovable donkey, the film manages to be both a send-up of fairy tale tropes and an affectionate tribute to them. Entertaining and emotionally impactful at levels to be appreciated by both children and their adults, ‘Shrek’ was a mega-hit upon its release and has been followed by three equally enchanting sequels, a TV holiday special and a Broadway adaption. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz lead the strong voice cast.

Here are ten reasons why we consider it to be a film of Jewish significance.

  1. Shrek is a big, swamp-dwelling ogre with trumpet-shaped ears and green skin. Of course, he’s Jewish.

  2. Shrek’s name derives from the Yiddish word meaning fear or terror.

  3. Shrek was originally created by Jewish cartoonist William Steig.

  4. Shrek 2 was written by David N. Weiss who, in interviews, explained that its basic theme is based on some traditional Jewish wisdom that he heard from a rabbi.

  5. Shrek fits into the use of animals to analogize the Jewish condition. Kafka often wrote about beetles, jackals, apes and mice.
  6. Shrek was embodied on stage by a Jewish actor, Nigel Lindsay, who told the Jewish Chronicle: ‘I make most of my characters Jews’. ‘It’s easier, even when they’re not Jewish on the page. I know who I am then. Even Barry the Muslim [in Four Lions] was in my mind secretly a Jew who had converted. Shrek is going to be Jewish too’.

  7. Shrek was made by Dreamworks, a studio headed by three Jews: Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

  8. Shrek farts a lot. And, as we know, farts are very, very Jewish. As Mel Brooks proclaimed apropos of his Blazing Saddles, ‘Farts Will be Heard.’

  9. While Mike Myers (who voices Shrek) isn’t Jewish, he does pepper his movies with lots of Yiddishisms. For example, he directed the documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon in 2013.

  10. Shrek’s swampy segregation is basically a ghetto, and others have seen parallels to the Book of Numbers’ talking donkey as well.

All photos: Wikipedia, Youtube

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I teach film studies at Bangor University in north Wales where I live. I research, write and broadcast regularly (in Welsh and English) on transatlantic Jewish culture and history.
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