By Michelle Albert
Two circus monkeys recently got married, watched by two of their proud monkey parents. Such a scene would usually be reserved for a greeting card, one that pokes fun at a pair of newlyweds while sappily wishing them the best. This particular wedding, however, evoked outrage rather than “aws.”
The monkeys in question are part of a skit performed by the Old Moscow Circus, and the wedding they performed followed the steps of the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony, ynet news reports. The monkey bride and groom, dressed in a wedding gown and kippah, respectively, were led to a chuppah in the center of the circus ring by performers dressed as Hasidic Jews. No other group, religious or otherwise, was portrayed by monkeys. According to ynet, Jews in the audience were not pleased and cited the mocking portrayal as anti-Semitism.
This was not the monkeys’ first performance with the Old Moscow Circus. According to the Circus’ Assistant Director-General Lidia Samoilovna, the monkeys have appeared on several occasions dressed in traditional Russian clothing. They have also performed traditional Georgian dances. Samoilovna insisted to ynet news that “no one complained” about the monkeys’ role in the skits.
The difference between the monkeys dressed as Russians and the monkeys enacting a Jewish wedding lies in the skits that comprise the remainder of the show. According to the JTA, the circus poked fun at many of the different ethnic groups in Russia. A magician was dressed like a mountain man, acrobats were in costume as Cossacks. On the surface, the wedding skit is just another joke about Russia’s diverse population. The problem, however, is that the mountain man and Cossacks were played by humans, not monkeys.
Casting monkeys as Jews amidst a cast of humans as other ethnic and cultural groups places the monkeys, and subsequently the Jews, on a lower level than the other groups. Though the skit might not have been intended to offend – the monkeys’ trainer Aziz Askarian said the skit was approved by the Jewish Cultural Center in Russia – the imagery is undeniably anti-Semitic. Though the Circus has a history of using their performances as a platform for political commentary (it poked fun of German soldiers during World War II), targeting specific religious and/or ethnic groups seems a step in the wrong direction.