Shalit Responds

Wendy Shalit, whose NY Times essay about the representation of Orthodox Jews in literature drew quite a response in the literary community, has a riposte in this this piece.

All the authors I discussed are great writers, and I’m sure they are good people too. Nevertheless, they are simply not from the fervently-Orthodox community that is featured so negatively in their novels. Unfortunately, the media (and many readers) seem to feel that these writers are representing the traditional Jewish community – one “grants us the illicit pleasure of eavesdropping on a closed world,” and another describes wacky newly religious types with “devastating accuracy” – when by their own admission the authors do not identify with these worlds.

In quoting the authors’ public statements about themselves, such as Nathan Englander’s explanation that he’s disillusioned with his Modern Orthodoxy or Tova Mirvis’s considering herself “liberal, feminist, open Orthodox,” I am not critiquing their personal choices. I am examining why sometimes their haredi characters lack realism. The fact that these authors do not come from the specific subgroup they often write about would not be an insurmountable obstacle, so long as they didn’t rely on negative stereotypes. Unfortunately, sometimes they do. The traditional Orthodox characters in their novels tend to be hypocrites.

Do you agree? Disagree? Send an email with your thoughts to llalami AT yahoo DOT com

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