On the Importance of Jewish Literature

In the most recent issue of Jewish Action magazine, “The How-To Issue, Summer 5578/2018,” Moishe Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, penned an essay “A Community in Search of a Culture.”

In the article, Bane posited the question of cultural identity as it relates to Torah-observant Jews. “Whether we describe ourselves as ‘modern’ or ‘centrist’ or ‘non-isolationist’ or by some other term, the question must be asked—do we share a communal culture? And if not, does it matter?”

I am not going to address Bane’s many points in the piece, save for one: his points of issue of literature.

“Literature can also serve as a cultural unifier,” the O.U.’s president writes, highlighting the works of famous Jewish authors like Sholem Aleichem, Hayim Nahman Bialik and others noting that though their messages were “frequently offensive to Torah values,” their literary works “nurtured a shared Jewish identity during the late nineteenth century and the tumultuous early twentieth century.”

Then, he asks: “Is there a role for contemporary Orthodox literature in developing a communal identity? If yes, we need to ensure that our day schools are taking this goal into account and preparing future generations of Orthodox Jewish authors. We should encourage the creation of high-quality Orthodox literature for children, teens and adults.”

Thank you Mr. Bane!

This is an idea that I’ve long been a proponent of. It is crucial for the Orthodox community to have books that are engaging, well written and of high-quality that will appeal to all Jewish youngsters.

While there has been growth in the Jewish fiction market recently, particular for children, we need books and authors that will speak to those Orthodox youngsters who are regular readers of popular fictional fare like Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Junie B. Jones and Pinkalicious.

It is something that I try very hard to do with my children’s fiction. I want the children in my close-knit circle—my nieces, nephews and the children of my close friends—to see themselves reflected in my stories. I want them to WANT to read one of my books not out of obligation but because they love the characters and the stories.

Yet, I know that I have not always been so successful. At least one of my stories had a character whose name was very relatable in more “yeshivish” crowds, but not common in more “modern” circles.

Still, I believe it is crucial that books exist which speak to all Torah-observant children.

I truly believe we need to encourage those Jewish readers who buy their books on Amazon or at BN to try “Jewish books.” (I’m not talking about seforim here, I’m strictly talking about fiction for children, teens and adults.)

To that end, I’m putting together plans for a book festival for readers and authors, one specifically geared to Torah-observant families. “Read Religiously” would include workshops for aspiring writers (including one for children who love to write), book-related crafts for kids, a huge book fair with Jewish fiction titles and a chance to meet Torah-observant authors and buy autographed books.

I’d love to hear your opinions on what you’d like to see at a “Read Religiously” Read and Write Day! Is this something you’d want to attend? Do you children have a favorite Jewish author? Would you love the chance to hear from Torah-observant authors? Do you want to learn the ins and outs of being an author with a goal toward publishing quality fiction for the Jewish market?  Leave your comments below and share this link with your friends!

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12 thoughts on “On the Importance of Jewish Literature

    • Faygie says:

      Thanks Yehudis. I really would love to make this happen! I think there’s value in hearing from other writers about their journey, process and more.

      Plus, I love meeting authors in real life, and I can only imagine how much fun it would be for kids!

  1. Henye Meyer says:

    What a marvellous idea! I would suggest you get Menucha on board – they’re focusing on quality literature for children.
    I’ve been hocking this tchainik for decades but only now do people seem to be waking up to the need for literature of a superior standard. Right on!
    Henye Meyer

    • Faygie says:

      Thanks Henye. I’m a proud Menucha author and would be thrilled for them to join up. I think they can provide the much-needed bridge for fiction for Jewish children of all Torah-observant backgrounds. Just look at how they’re bringing David Adler’s books to a whole new audience.

  2. Fayge Y says:

    I will be following this.
    Lots of disparate thoughts.
    How were the Yiddishists offensive? Blatant messages? Compromising situations? Language? Setting?
    It’s going to be hard to please all/most/some of the people all/most/some of the time. There is some beautifully elegant writing out there. Then, there is also the (in)famous young writers contest, the rules of which demand such extreme editing that it redefines bowdlerizing.

    • Faygie says:

      Hi Fayge, thanks for reading and commenting on this.

      Without doing my own research, I don’t think I’m qualified to answer how authors listed were offensive to some in the Torah-observant world at the time. That was a quote from the original article. Perhaps, I need to tweak that sentence in the blog if it isn’t clear.

  3. Rebecca Klempner says:

    I would love to participate in such an event–both as a reader and as an author! Quality Jewish literature that includes representation by those of us who are Torah-observant is a longstanding cause of mine, and if we can get buy-in, I think it would be wonderful.

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