Wendy Shalit in the NYTimes Book Review
Here is the link to Wendy Shalit’s insightful essay in the New York Times Book Review about the depiction of charedim in contemporary fiction.
I had posted it here, but concerns have been expressed by loyal readers that the Times, having tolerated this dissenting pro-charedi voice, might just be grumpy enough to complain about the piece being posted on C-C.
Wendy reveals the faux-insider phenomenon that animates much of recent mass-market fiction set in charedi society and why it seems so often hostile. Wendy talks about insiders, outsiders and outsiders who pretend to be insiders. While she mentions some notable exceptions to the witheringly hostile treatment of charedim in fiction (these exceptions being primarily the work of recent baalei tshuva), it points I think to another inside/outside phenomenon – FFBs (or, at least CFBs) are far less likely to write popular fiction. Is it narrowness? guardedness? tznius?
In any case, Wendy’s is a perspective well worth reading.
I’m actually shocked at the author’s attack on Tova Mirvis and others. I find her work refreshing.
Everyone with an ounce of sense realizes that stories are about characters, be they characters that remind us ourselves, those we know, or ideas personified by charicatures of those traits. Characters who make us smile because there’s a little of all of them in each of us.
Tova Mirvis’s tales are ones of love for her Southern Jewish memories, and for the beloved silliness we bring to our own lives.
(If you want an attack dog with an agenda, on the other hand, Naomi Ragen’s your gal).
It’s time people relaxed a bit. Sure, some folks won’t know any better.
But for those of use who do, we can smile at the little bit of fun, comfort, and recognition that we find in a Tova Mirvis novel.
Her take on life inside the shidduch bubble and the craziness of being a new BT, or of being Jewish and Southern, is dead on smile-making to those of us who’ve been there, and recognize a bit of ourselves in those beloved characters.
Besides – if you’re so frum as to be upset, why are you reading such narishkeit! Bitul Torah! Bitul Torah! 🙂
Really, I’m considering writing a work of fiction that includes a small episode involving a book ban. What do you think my childrens’ prospects for shidduchim will be?
I actually think that wendy is right on the money as usual. Tova Mirsis may be amusing but that doesn’t make her works any less than objectionable because her amusement producers are at the expense of a community that hardly deserves it and it causes a tremendous Chilul Hashem. Sorry, but I’m not great at dealing with Chilul Hashem. Call me sensitive but that’s how I am. Espaklarya, please do write a book about book-bannings. It will definitely help you with Shidduchim. After all, all the sane and rational people will flock to you, won’t they?
Tova Mervis has written a response that appears in this week’s Forward.
For those of us fortunate to live in LA, we UNfortunately have to put up with (or totally ignore) the LA Jewish Journal. This week, having nothing about the Los Angeles Orthodox community to scream about, writer Ruth Andrew Ellenson wrote an outlandish piece highly critical of several imaginary comments attributed to Shalit (see http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=13627). First, she claims that Shalit’s piece “reads as the musings of someone who…has found Jesus and become more Catholic than the pope. For Shalit, there is one correct way to write about Judaism and infinite ways to transgress. For her, anyone who has left the fold is unworthy to write about it.” Disclosing that “I have not been, nor ever will be, part of the ultra-Orthodox world,” Ellenson calls Shalit’s words “dangerous,” and claims Shalit “has an agenda” (This from someone who confirms that she will never be ‘ultra-Orthodox’) and “spends her time making personal attacks.” Smugly, Ellenson concludes that she ” hope[s] that Shalit could find within her piety the strength to believe that Judaism is strong enough to hold up to whatever depictions of complexity come its way. I, for one, have faith that it can.” It’s sad that a Los Angeles writer needs to reach New York to find a topic to criticize. It is sadder that there’s nothing of any substance which she criticizes.
The oddest part of Shalit’s criticism of Mirvis is that, as I recall, the women in the book about Memphis are not ultra-orthodox, and Shalit specifically calls out Haredim as the target of these authors. And I do think her arguments were a little too ad hominem – couldn’t she just focus on the content of the books and lament the dearth of what she considers to be pro-orthodox? After all, a Jew who eats pork could just a easily sentimentalize Orthodoxy, the literary equivalent of a secular family displaying pictures of Hasidim at the kotel (a none-too-rare phenomenon). I admit, of course, that’s there’s a difference between consuming swine and crowing about it. One last thing – didn’t the shrimp-eating character mend her ways at the end of the book? That works for me.
Okay, one more last thing: I remember hearing on the radio a review of “A Price Above Rubies,” the egregious film by Boaz Yakin starring Renee Zellweger as a Haredi who must for some reason express her feminism by eating treif and shacking up with a gentile. The reviewer identified herself as a non-practicing Jew but said she found the film preposterous since surely the community couldn’t be so cartoonishly horrible, otherwise it would have no adherents at all. I guess that doesn’t make the film any less of a chilul Hashem, but at least I don’t think it’s inevitable that it will make others see its subjects as negatively as the author does.
I was extremely disturbed by “A Price Above Rubies” for the reasons pointed out, but I’m not sure that the non-Jewish public would pause to reflect that not everyone could be so bad. An even more disturbing film whose agenda was clearly anti-Haredi is “Kaddosh” (which I was asked to review by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal). The film is relentlessly anti-Haredi. There is not one character with any redeeming qualities, and the world presented is bleak and forlorn. I write crime fiction with Jewish characters, and I am always concerned about how readers–Orthodox and non-Orthodox, and non-Jewish–will perceive my characters. Still, I doubt that I will please everyone.