Friday, February 04, 2005

'OBSERVANT READER': INTRODUCTION/RECAP

This is the fourth time I'm trying this through Blogger. Damn it. Keeps trashing my posts even after I've saved them as drafts. The damn URL links erase the rest of the post....

I cannot wait to move to Typepad.

Take 4 begins now.

For those of you who missed it (and this is admittedly an oversimplified summary), in her piece in last Sunday’s New York Times, Wendy Shalit points to the new trend in contemporary Jewish fiction: protagonists who grapple with Orthodox Judaism. She points to prominent writers who “have renounced Orthodox Judaism—or those who were never really exposed to it to begin with” as portraying “deeply observant Jews in an unflattering or ridiculous light.”

She tells of her own embrace of observant Judaism, and her joy at seeing that the stereotypes of religious people that she had been exposed to were not true. She also brings up the notion of outsiders and insiders, and who has a more authentic perspective.

The whole issue of inside versus outside is a question of authenticity, itself a matter that is the source of much personal struggle and communal contention for Jews of all stripes. Who has the right to call themselves a Jew? Who has the educational background that qualifies them to speak on Jewish issues? Who among us has been sufficiently immersed in a particular expression of Judaism to become an expert, even a fictionalized one?

I don’t consider myself Orthodox. Or necessarily affiliated with any major label of Judaism. Except maybe LOBSTr. But I’m fairly knowledgable Jewishly and Hebraically, and I’m also a writer; I'm in a state of constant questioning, and juggling my various identities to avoid from dropping any of them. So perhaps that makes me enough of an insider and an outsider to be able, at least, to write this essay semi-intelligently. One hopes.

(To be continued...)

4 Comments:

At 12:02 PM, February 04, 2005, Blogger DovBear said...

I am looking forward to your thoughts, though I don't understand Shalit's attitude, or the commotion she caused:

The writers under discussion (1) are not especially mean to the Jews and (2) even if they were it should be forgiven IF it was done in service to their art.

Englander, IMHO, the best artist of the bunch, is also the meanest, and IMHO, his scenarios are the most unlikely. But I don't care because his stories and his language are wonderful. Mirvis, IMHO, is the worst artist of the bunch, and also the most genuine: I liked her work because it was real, and because reading it was like evesdropping on people I know. Not because it was any good as art.

 
At 12:24 PM, February 04, 2005, Blogger Esther Kustanowitz said...

DB--you just summed up my longwinded essay, which is just getting longer and longer...

I've not read Mirvis yet. I admit being reluctantly spellbound by Englander, not because I thought what he was doing was bad for Judaism, but because he was a) overhyped, and b) was able to do the kind of work that I would have done if I had his fictional talent and apathy for traditional Judaism. I would have really enjoyed a 6-figure advance for my first book.

 
At 12:42 PM, February 04, 2005, Blogger DovBear said...

He was overhyped; the absence of a follow-up makes that clear.

He may have been one hit wonder, but one or two of the stories in that one hit are, inho, solid second-tier. And because they are so good, it doesn't matter to me, and it should matter to anyone, that they aren't flattering to Jews. Anyway, only a simp would take an unflattering portrait of one Rabbi to be an unflattering portrait of all Jews everywhere.

--Reminds you of IBS and Ozik's "Envy; or Yiddish in America," no?

 
At 6:38 PM, February 22, 2005, Blogger Z said...

Granted I have only read "Ladies Auxiliary", I think Mirvis is quite talented at giving a glimpse into an Orthodox community..her technique was decidedly "different" - that is the person telling the story told it as "we" and in and of itself very intriquing. I am aware that more Hasidic women who read it felt it a betrayal and little more than trash but I didn't think so at all.

I agree with Dov. I didn't think she painted a negative image of Orthodoxy so much as she was telling a story about human beings. They just HAPPENED to be Jewish but this could have been ANY community.

 

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My Urban Kvetch: 'OBSERVANT READER': INTRODUCTION/RECAP

Friday, February 04, 2005

'OBSERVANT READER': INTRODUCTION/RECAP

This is the fourth time I'm trying this through Blogger. Damn it. Keeps trashing my posts even after I've saved them as drafts. The damn URL links erase the rest of the post....

I cannot wait to move to Typepad.

Take 4 begins now.

For those of you who missed it (and this is admittedly an oversimplified summary), in her piece in last Sunday’s New York Times, Wendy Shalit points to the new trend in contemporary Jewish fiction: protagonists who grapple with Orthodox Judaism. She points to prominent writers who “have renounced Orthodox Judaism—or those who were never really exposed to it to begin with” as portraying “deeply observant Jews in an unflattering or ridiculous light.”

She tells of her own embrace of observant Judaism, and her joy at seeing that the stereotypes of religious people that she had been exposed to were not true. She also brings up the notion of outsiders and insiders, and who has a more authentic perspective.

The whole issue of inside versus outside is a question of authenticity, itself a matter that is the source of much personal struggle and communal contention for Jews of all stripes. Who has the right to call themselves a Jew? Who has the educational background that qualifies them to speak on Jewish issues? Who among us has been sufficiently immersed in a particular expression of Judaism to become an expert, even a fictionalized one?

I don’t consider myself Orthodox. Or necessarily affiliated with any major label of Judaism. Except maybe LOBSTr. But I’m fairly knowledgable Jewishly and Hebraically, and I’m also a writer; I'm in a state of constant questioning, and juggling my various identities to avoid from dropping any of them. So perhaps that makes me enough of an insider and an outsider to be able, at least, to write this essay semi-intelligently. One hopes.

(To be continued...)

4 Comments:

At 12:02 PM, February 04, 2005, Blogger DovBear said...

I am looking forward to your thoughts, though I don't understand Shalit's attitude, or the commotion she caused:

The writers under discussion (1) are not especially mean to the Jews and (2) even if they were it should be forgiven IF it was done in service to their art.

Englander, IMHO, the best artist of the bunch, is also the meanest, and IMHO, his scenarios are the most unlikely. But I don't care because his stories and his language are wonderful. Mirvis, IMHO, is the worst artist of the bunch, and also the most genuine: I liked her work because it was real, and because reading it was like evesdropping on people I know. Not because it was any good as art.

 
At 12:24 PM, February 04, 2005, Blogger Esther Kustanowitz said...

DB--you just summed up my longwinded essay, which is just getting longer and longer...

I've not read Mirvis yet. I admit being reluctantly spellbound by Englander, not because I thought what he was doing was bad for Judaism, but because he was a) overhyped, and b) was able to do the kind of work that I would have done if I had his fictional talent and apathy for traditional Judaism. I would have really enjoyed a 6-figure advance for my first book.

 
At 12:42 PM, February 04, 2005, Blogger DovBear said...

He was overhyped; the absence of a follow-up makes that clear.

He may have been one hit wonder, but one or two of the stories in that one hit are, inho, solid second-tier. And because they are so good, it doesn't matter to me, and it should matter to anyone, that they aren't flattering to Jews. Anyway, only a simp would take an unflattering portrait of one Rabbi to be an unflattering portrait of all Jews everywhere.

--Reminds you of IBS and Ozik's "Envy; or Yiddish in America," no?

 
At 6:38 PM, February 22, 2005, Blogger Z said...

Granted I have only read "Ladies Auxiliary", I think Mirvis is quite talented at giving a glimpse into an Orthodox community..her technique was decidedly "different" - that is the person telling the story told it as "we" and in and of itself very intriquing. I am aware that more Hasidic women who read it felt it a betrayal and little more than trash but I didn't think so at all.

I agree with Dov. I didn't think she painted a negative image of Orthodoxy so much as she was telling a story about human beings. They just HAPPENED to be Jewish but this could have been ANY community.

 

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