“The Polemic of the Jews”

“I’ve got no interest in the polemic of the Jews,” a colleague once told me on reading The Finkler Question. And I wasn’t surprised. Because all my surprise had been used up years back at Uni when I asked a friend about her literature and religion course. I knew that there were a couple of Jewish books on it and was curious what people thought about them. “Oh no one but me bothered to read them,” she informed me. As to whether she liked them, she replied with a scrunched up face “It was very Jewish-y.”

Now as someone Jewish I get this *a lot*. And because of that I wasn’t sure I’d ever make this post. But after you were all so positive about representation the other day, I thought it would be fun to talk about my experience of Jews in books- and no, I’m not going to talk about Jews dying in the Holocaust or as the villain- but positive representations- which are few and far between. I managed to compile a list of 5:

daniel deronda1. Daniel Deronda– the first one on here is by someone who was not Jewish- but I guarantee this is one of the best books about Jews there is. It really gets to the heart of what it is to be Jewish- the complexities and the differences- not simply putting everyone in one bracket.

 

the chosen2. The Chosen– I absolutely loved this one in the way it personified the internal debates of Jewish identity through the two boys at the heart of the story. Review to come soon… (hopefully)

 

King-of-Schnorrers3. King of Schnorrer’s– this is the most “out there” book on the list. It’s effectively a comedy about the king of “scroungers”- and is super hilarious.

 

Invisible

The_Golem_(Isaac_Bashevis_Singer_novel_-_cover_art)4. The Golem– I mentioned this on my blog after I went to Prague- Singer’s version is undoubtedly one of the best books on the subject, making the fairytale real by transposing it on the history of pogroms. You can read more about it here (and in general you can’t really go wrong with an Isaac Bashevis Singer book- the Manor and the Estate in particularly are a grittier more realistic version of Fiddler on the Roof)

 

letters-to-auntie-fori5. Letters to Auntie Fori– this one’s non-fiction, but is really unusual in that it was written as a series of letters to Gilbert’s “adopted” Auntie Fori about her Jewish roots. Hence the title “Letters to Auntie Fori”. It traces the birth of the religion to the modern day ethnicity and makes for a surprisingly invigorating read.

 

Today I want to ask you about *your* culture- what books from your country or culture do you like the most? What books do you feel represent *you*? Anything goes!

(Hoping a skinhead somehow finds their way here and says Mein Kampf- sometimes I live for the random trolls… I have a weird sense of humour)

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32 thoughts on ““The Polemic of the Jews”

  1. daleydowning says:

    Actually, I will admit I’ve never heard of any of these – and while I’ve read some Holocaust books (both non-fiction and fiction) – you’re right, there is always much more to any culture than the stereotypes or than one period in their history. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I mention ancient Jewish culture a little in my fantasy series – when I was doing my research, I grew very interested in some of the ancient Hebrew beliefs about angels and demons, and some of it I’ve never seen used in fantasy lit before, so I jumped on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Briana says:

    That’s really interesting (or, well, sad). I haven’t brought up Judaism much in conversation with other people, but I had no idea so many people were so dismissive. (Of Judaism in particular. I know plenty of people who are dismissive of religion in general.) I took one religious studies course in college and honestly don’t even remember when Judaism came up, though I assume it must have. I remember discussing a bunch of other religions, and most people were in the “Ugh, Christianity” camp.

    Chaim Potok is one of my very favorite authors. I think people are put off a bit because “Oh, it’s about a religious person?” But even though his stories are steeped in Judaism and his characters trying to find their identities while wrestling with religion, I think Potok just understands human name in general very well. I actually just reviewed In the Beginning on my blog on Monday. I’ll have to check out some of the other authors.

    Liked by 2 people

    • daleydowning says:

      This is very true that many people don’t want to hear about any kind of religion in literature – but since religion is a major part of cultures across the world, that’s impossible. They’re going to have to change their minds if they want to broaden their literary horizons.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Briana says:

        Exactly! I think it’s important to realize that religion is a major part of many people’s lives. You don’t have to believe the religion yourself to respect that it’s important to others.

        Liked by 2 people

      • theorangutanlibrarian says:

        Yes that’s true- I found that at university- especially while studying Christian texts. So much of literature is steeped in religion and there’s nothing wrong with that! Most notably I remember people really struggling with Hans Christian Anderson (who I love) and entirely missing the point- unless you view his fairytales through the lens of Christianity you will miss that they are in fact about hope- and then you will miss how beautiful they are. Unfortunately too many of my fellow students were too wrapped up in the mention of religion so they failed to interpret it correctly :/ but that’s their loss!

        Liked by 1 person

        • daleydowning says:

          In recent years, Christianity has become a metaphor for “racism, politically incorrect, intolerant, bigoted, and generally not nice people” among the political/social/educational elite. The exact same could be said of almost any culture in history, based who you were asking in what time period. So people need to stop thinking of “religion” as just one group’s way of living, and recognize that “religion” means a spiritual belief system, often defined by culture and national/racial heritage (but not always), that shapes a person’s morals/values and lifestyle. And that’s all it means.

          Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Well, I’m actually not religious, but being Jewish is also an ethnicity, so it’s less the criticism of my ideas (which I can handle 😉 ) and more a criticism of who I am (which I can also handle- but in all honesty makes me more cranky).
      People do frequently quiz me on the religion thing too- what with not being religious 😉 But obviously I don’t think people should be so dismissive of religious people (I actually read a couple of atheist’s works recently and have been working on my critiques along those lines)
      Chaim Potok is fantastic! I’m so glad you like him! I haven’t read that one (it’s not in my mum’s collection 😉 ) I’m going to have to check out that review!! I think you’re right- a lot of these works are about a quest for identity and struggling with faith (not all with positive outcomes)- I think that is what is universal about them and why I thought they would be worth sharing.
      Thank you so much for your lovely comment!

      Like

  3. Bookstooge says:

    I read several of Potok’s books as a teen and in my bibleschool days. His writing blew me away.
    Thank you for bringing him back to remembrance. I’ll have to go track some of his stuff down and put it on my ever growing tbr 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Liam @ Hey Ashers! says:

    I loved Daniel Deronda, both because (like you said) it’s a fascinating (heartbreaking, enlightening) look into what it means to be Jewish, and because Gwendolen’s story makes me physically ill. I haven’t read any of the others on your list, but I’m definitely curious about them now! Excellent post, and thank you for sharing these. =)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nicola Alter says:

    That’s terrible people are so dismissive and that positive representations are so few and far between. I wasn’t aware of that – and I confess, I had not heard of these books before, but they look really interesting, especially ‘The Golem’ (I guess that’s my fantasy preference coming through!). I’ve seen Golems in fantasy books several times, as well as Jewish characters and Hebrew words, but I don’t think they were a central focus in the stories, except perhaps in ‘The Golem and Djinni’.

    As for your question at the end, I’m not sure if any books represent me, as I don’t have a very culturally distinct background. However, I lived in India as a child and several generations of my family were Americans living in India, so growing up I loved the stories and poems of authors like Rudyard Kipling, Jim Corbett and Ruskin Bond, perhaps in part because they described the country around me and were written from a familiar Anglo-Indian/British-Indian perspective. They also reminded me of the stories of jungle walks and tiger or leopard sightings that my grandfather told me from his childhood. I still have a positive feeling toward those books and they remind me of my family. Not really the same I know but they are what come to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Aww that’s sweet of you- don’t worry though- I’m ok with it 🙂 Ahh yes- Terry Pratchett for one does a great golem story! (in my opinion 😉 ) It’s a really great version if you’re interested in the original myth- very beautifully written, but nice and short! Ahh wow that’s really interesting!!! What a lovely answer!! Trust me that was a perfect response 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicola Alter says:

        Yes I’m definitely keen to read ‘The Golem’! It’s been added to my TBR 🙂 I love reading original myths (or stories that closely follow the originals), esp. if I’ve only ever read references or later interpretations.

        I didn’t know Terry Pratchett did a golem story – but he wrote a lot of books so even though I feel like I’ve read many of them, the truth is I’ve only scratched the surface. And I obviously haven’t read the right ones to encounter golems yet!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Zezee says:

    I’ve seen bits of myself reflected in a few of the books I’ve read, but so far, I haven’t read a book that truly represents me. However, Soledad by Angie Cruz came close because it’s about the immigrant experience and wanting to be part of a new culture while still holding on to the one you were raised in (well, the book touched on this but didn’t explore it as fully as I’d like).
    I might take a look at some of the books you’ve listed here though because I’ve never read a book about Jews that isn’t about the Holocaust.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Donna says:

    Books I need in my TBR! It’s hard to know what to look for when you’re interested in learning about others cultures and religions because there are so many misrepresentations. Thanks for this list! We need more positive representations!

    Liked by 1 person

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