January 22, 2021 An overview of Hasidic entertainment #1: Novels for Grownups
This post is adapted from a PowerPoint presentation I prepared a few years ago for Yiddish week. At the time, I had the help of some people (thank you!) and I worked quite hard at putting the material together. I recently wanted to reference some of this material and realized that it was not available online. It is by no means comprehensive, and it is a few years out of date, plus it needs more work in order for it to be user-friendly, but I think there is a great deal of useful information here nonetheless.
As always, you are welcome to use any of the material I put together on my site, just make sure to include the source and proper attribution. A comment on my site with a link to any inspired work would be extra appreciated.+
- Part 1: Books for grownups
- Part 2: Children’s books
- Part 3: News, leaflets and mags
- Part 4: Hasidic internet
- Part 5: Audio/Visual
- Part 6: Games
Novels for Grownups
This section is a review of adult reading/novels for Hasidic Yiddish readers. The classic secular Yiddish novels of Scholem Aleichem et al (and the material of Yiddishists like Harry Potter in Yiddish) are not kosher. I think there are three main categories of kosher Yiddish novels: the classics, the newer books and the translations from English or Hebrew.
This is an example of a book by Menachem Mendel. I don’t know who Menachem Mendel is, I don’t know if his identity was known. But his novels were THE novels of my childhood. They were trite and tired and filled with fantastical miracle stories, but we read anything that we were allowed to.
This book, Three Brothers, is part of a series that is probably the strangest, most absurd, most nonsensical yet memorable literature of my childhood. I bet anyone born from the 70s to the 90s would have a good laugh at remembering this series. The stories made no sense and included tiny people on strange islands — in our world, where this type of trope was completely absent, the ridiculous nonsense of the Three Brothers provided endless amusement. I heard rumors about the authorship which I would love to verify and spill, but as I have not been able to, let’s just say this whole series is notable for how completely irregular it is.
This is a newer novel. It is titled Torn Feelings I think.
The very first word of the back blurb is “suddenly.” This is very on the nose. All dramatic Hasidic tales must include a “suddenly….!” And the whole blurb is essentially a dramatic scene where a woman SUDDENLY comes up on a paper that is torn while all the other papers were not. A lot of drama is milked of just this moment. Hasidic literature really lays it on thick.
This page contains the rabbinic approvals for the book. It’s what’s called “haskuma” — something like a kosher symbol.
On this page, the author writes a bit of a foreword. He clarifies that the events in this story never happened, and that thankfully, the protagonist Ben Heller found his way back into the fold, but that sadly many people who run after their egos and money never do. He also says that when the story ran in serialized form readers begged him to give the story a happily ever after by marrying Ben off, but that Ben’s actions have consequences so alas, the happily ever after could not be offered to the audience. I guess it’s the clash of morals versus crowd-pleasing.
This book, out in 2019, is clearly a science fiction book. By the ad’s own admission, it’s a “brand new concept.” The blurb says it’s about robot overlords and an evil mastermind. This is so very telling of how much Hasidim hunger for the sweet pleasure of pop-culture and the efforts they are making to find ways to adopt it.
Next up: Children’s books