What is Fiction?

Responding to an essay in the NY Times Sunday Book Review about Orthodox Jews in fiction, Sara Irvy of Nextbook.org says that fiction “is invention, after all, not a sociological inquiry or an educational primer. Readers turn to it to gain entry into other worlds, real and unreal. Unlike Orthodoxy, fiction encourages rule breaking, and its consequences can be sublime.”

The essay by Wendy Shalit complains, “Authors who have renounced Orthodox Judaism — or those who were never really exposed to it to begin with — have often portrayed deeply observant Jews in an unflattering or ridiculous light.” Shalit believes these stories give outsiders the wrong ideas.

“There will always be people who fail to live up to their ideals,” she writes, “and it would be pointless to pretend the strictly observant don’t have failings. But before there can be hypocrisy, there must be real idealism; in fiction that lacks idealistic characters, even the hypocrite’s place can’t be properly understood.”