Is there such a thing as Jewish Inspirational novels?

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Viola2007

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Everytime I run into the label "inspirational", it deals with Christian subjects. Since the genre is defined by spiritual quest and faith struggle, could there be inspirational novels dealing with Judaism and Jewish characters? I have finished writing a historical fantasy and starting another. In both, Judaism and Jewish mysticism play a huge role. Moreover, my characters undergo religious transformations and faith struggle. I'm having trouble finding similar books to compare to mine (for marketing purposes) so I would like to know if there is a genre or sub-genre and I would be very grateful if you throw in some titles.
 

alleycat

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I'm not sure if it's exactly what you're looking for, but maybe Man's Search for Meaning.
 

StephanieFox

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Jewish practice is much more based on What You Do, rather than What You Believe. There is no requirement to have belief (which is why you can have secular and atheist Jews), but certain practices and actions are required.

Charity is very very high on the list, so I'll use this as an example.

Jews don't really care what goes on inside someone's head; if
you have a strong belief in God, but don't give to the poor (and
you can afford to do so), you are not as good a Jew than a Jew who does't believe in God but helps the poor and gives to charity.

Does that help?
 

bylinebree

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can we revive this thread?

I thought Viola2007 (if you are still out there!) was asking if anyone knew of novels similar to hers?? This thread is pretty old but hey, I'm game.

"Jewish Inspirational novels"? According to the CBA and ABA agents or editors I've come in contact with, the answer is 'no' there isn't a 'genre.' They say that the term "inspirational" applies only to Christian-themed novels, not anything else.

I found this out when pitching my second novel (and current WIP still)
-- It centers around a knight of Jewish origins, forced to convert to Christianity, whose story is partly a spiritual journey. He falls in love with a Christian widow. The agent asked me 'is this a conversion story, that is, does he become a Christian at the end?' The answer is no. He doesn't. He converts back to Judaism, and decides to face the consequences of it in the hostile medieval world of his time. 'Then it's not an 'inspirational,' the agent told me -- 'don't try to pitch it as that.' Well...ok!

Although this seems to be the way it is, I think it's hooey. Why does 'inspirational' have to refer only to Christian lit? But maybe there just aren't enough Judaic-centered novels to justify a 'genre' -- a section in the bookstores? There a Catholic imprints though, and they have their own bookstores; so do the Mormons. But in the world of writing conferences and such, you don't see a specific religion having a 'genre' of its own.
 

StephanieFox

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I think one reason that there are no Jewish inspirational genre is that Jews aren't focused on the conversion experience. It's true that historically, Jews have been forced to convert and today, Jews are targeted by some Christian groups* for conversion. But, the stories of spiritual struggle just don't seem to be a part of the culture of most western Jews. Jews are uncomfortable with conversion – for a couple of thousand years, it's not be the practice of Jews to try to convert others. In fact, a lot of Jews consider conversion attempts to be a kind of assault. It's not inspiring, it's a bad thing whether we do it or 'they' do it.

Even religious Jews (I am not speaking of the ultra-religious Hassids or other groups) do not focus on the spiritual life of others. Jews are much more concerned with ACTIONS. While Christians are concerned with belief and the world to come, most Jews are concerned with actions (repairing the world, doing good, charity) rather than what goes on inside the heads of other Jews. This is why you can have secular Jews, but not secular Christians.

Jews are more likely to read books like "The Chosen" or simply books with Jewish lead characters (they don't have to be religious), but they're not looking for inspiration from these, just entertainment.

Jews are also not concerned with the afterlife. It is the world around them that matters and making that world better for everyone. When Jews refer to themselves as 'chosen' it's taken to mean that Jews have more of an obligation than other religions to God's rules (there are laws that apply ONLY to Jews) and to making the world better.

As story of a convert coming back to become Jewish within a historical context again might make a compelling novel to the general public. I think that liberal Christians might like it, or even peop[/COLOR][/COLOR]le who like romantic novels (in the literary sense, not the love sense) might be an audience. I think that this sounds like a great book, so don't give up on it. Don't sell it as a religious book, just as a book with an interesting plot. Besides, the population of Jews is very small, so they're not going to be a big enough audience if you want a best seller. Good luck with this.


[B]*[/B]Just yesterday (Mar 28, 2008) there was a one-page ad in the NYTimes from a group of prominent Protestants (many British) about how they feel it's their Christian duty to target Jews for conversion. They ad basically said that the bible compels them to do this because the conversion of the Jews is one of the main tenants of Christianity. This kind of thing is not unusual and one of the reasons that Jews are so sensitive about this subject. In the view of many Jews, we find this just another attempt by (some) Christians to try to eliminate Jewish people. I do not mean to imply that all Christians are like this, by the way.[/I]
 
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Unique

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I saw a book on the shelf at the library that seemed like a Jewish inspirational but I didn't read it. I'm not Jewish.

That's all I've got. Oh. It was in between 158 - 248 or there abouts...(~I think~)
 

Viola2007

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I am hereee!

First, thank you very much for answering my question. Both of you are right. Jews are not looking for proselytes, and Judaism is centered more on actions than faith.
Judaism is also rich in mysticism, but average Jews seldom encounters it.
The idea behind my novel came after reading The Zion Covenant and The Zion Chronicles series by Bodie and Brock Thoene, writers known for their inspirational novels. The series are set during and after World War Two and take place in Europe and Israel. Although the slant is obviously Christian, Jews are portrayed sympathetically even if they do not convert. I thought it would be interesting to write something similar but from a Jewish point of view.
In the interim, I have finished my novel and will try to sell it as fantasy since, surprisingly, there are no fantasy novels in the market dealing with Kabbalah or Jewish folklore.
 

StephanieFox

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If you write fantasy, the Kaballah is HUGE now. Of course, this is not the Jewish experience of Kabbalah, where you have to be male, married, speak fluent Hebrew and be over 40 years old even to study it. It's the new age Kabbalah where wearing a red string does magickal things. But that's ok. No one will know the difference anyway. You are not trying for historical fiction, where every detail has to be exact and accurate. This sounds like a very fun idea.
 

StephanieFox

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If you haven't read any of the works of Shalom Alechem, I'd recommend that you do so. It's mostly short stories, originally written in Yiddish, but they'll give you a good feel for Jewish soul. Some are about mysticism, too.
 

Chumplet

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You might want to check out the works of Michael Wex, a Canadian writer with books like Schlepping the Exile, Just say Nu, and Born to Kvetch. He writes fiction and non-fiction from the Jewish point of view. Is his writing spiritual or inspirational? I like to think so, and I'm not Jewish. He is certainly funny!
 

bylinebree

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I'm so glad we could do a little 'resurrection' here, of this thread! :D

Viola2007, it's nice to hear of someone else who's a fan of the Thoene's books -- I LOVED them, read all a few yrs ago (even the westerns, which I don't think are as good but are still entertaining)

Your idea sounds interesting. Play with it and start writing a scene or two!

And thanks to Chumplet & Stephanie, et al, for the recommended readings; I am a Gentile trying to create a character with a "Jewish soul" and need to delve into it alot more. The more I write it, the more I realize how hard it is to capture the essence of a religion not your own!
 

Smiling Ted

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Just a cautionary note:

A lot of the things that people associate with Jews - the Yiddish language, for instance - are really traditions or folkways of Ashkenazis, or Jews from Eastern, Central and Northern Europe. Mediterranean Jews, from Spain, Italy and North Africa are Sephardis, and Jews from the Near East - Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc. - are Mizrahis. Sephardis spoke Ladino instead of Yiddish, and Mizrahis speak Arabic or occasionally Aramaic.

Most of the Jews in the United States are from Ashkenazi families.
 
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Viola2007

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I'm so glad we could do a little 'resurrection' here, of this thread!

I am glad too

Viola2007, it's nice to hear of someone else who's a fan of the Thoene's books -- I LOVED them, read all a few yrs ago (even the westerns, which I don't think are as good but are still entertaining)


Aren’t they awesome? I bought Daughter of Zion a couple of years ago and I couldn’t put it down. I had to order the complete series and then I went on with the Zion Covenant. I was touched and bewildered by their philo-Semitism especially since they are such staunch Christians. I was also awe-struck by all the historical material they covered. Their research is impeccable and vast. Of course, I made the mistake of trying to imitate them, which is ill advised specially for a first novel. End result, I got two novels that are too long and deal with too much material in not such an artful or subtle way as the Thoene´s do

Your idea sounds interesting. Play with it and start writing a scene or two!


As I was saying. I finished two novels that are similar to the Thoene´s series but include fantastic elements. None is publishable, at least as first novel. So I grabbed a couple of elements from them and started a new and much more modest project.

And thanks to Chumplet & Stephanie, et al, for the recommended readings; I am a Gentile trying to create a character with a "Jewish soul" and need to delve into it alot more. The more I write it, the more I realize how hard it is to capture the essence of a religion not your own!


It is hard even if you are Jewish.

I want to add to your reading list a couple of random titles that have assisted me in the past, and not only in my writing endeavors

Michael Levin: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish Spirituality and Mysticism
Elie Wiesel: Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters
Harold Kushner. To Life: A celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking (I recommend everything written by the remarkable Rabbi Kushner.)

When I say “Jewish folklore” I mean folk beliefs (what many might call superstition) and mythology. I have found these very useful books on the subject.
Geoffrey W. Dennis. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism. (Rabbi Dennis also has a website.)
Ronald H. Isaacs. Divination, Magic and Healing: The book of Jewish folklore.

Raphael Patai. Gates to the Old City: a book of Jewish legends
And Howard Schwartz has several folktales collections that deal with Jewish folklore. One of the best is Lilith´s Cave: Jewish tales of the supernatural.
It is traditionally believed that Judaism excludes women from ritual, Talmud learning and mysticism. I was pleased to find two books that disavow such claim.
Ytzhak Buxbaum: Jewish Tales of Holy Women
Tirzah Firestone. The Receiving: reclaiming Jewish women’s wisdom.

As Smiling Ted has pointed out, Jewish Folklore comes in several brands, not only Ashkenazim. I was fortunate to find an e- book that helped me delve in the folklore of Balkans Jews and was fundamental for writing my first novel. Its name was
Rosemary Levy Zumwalt. Ritual Medical Lore of Sephardic Women: Sweetening the spirits, healing the sick.
Sadly, that book is no longer available online, but I recommend it wholeheartedly. Despite its title, it covers much more than folk medicine. For me, it was an eye-opener to a new way of being Jewish and dealing with the supernatural.

Last but not least, Nobel Prize winners I. Bashevis Singer and S.Y. Agnon did not shy away from using Jewish mysticism as a literary subject. But what surprises me is that in Harry Potter´s era, there are no Jewish fantasy novels.

 

StephanieFox

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The Jewish Soul

I think a little Klezmer music might help you understand the Jewish soul.


We are a people driven by a love of learning, a penchant to argue, a love of food and an inability to talk without using our hands. We invented the American style of comedy.

For a people who are less than .01 percent of the world population, we have more Nobel Prizes than any other ethnic group. When I was in grad school (in the 1980s) I learned than 25 percent of the masteer's degrees and 35 percent of the Ph.Ds belonged to Jews. I think that is changing with this new generation, often the 3rd generation since getting off the boat. We'll see if they change.

We also used to be politically liberal because we knew what persecution was like. Now, it's not such a sure thing. One think most Christians in the USA (and Canada) do not realize is that we still have a 'keep your bags packed' attitude. We carefully follow the attitudes against Jews because we know that anti-semitism could happen agian.

I think you might enjoy watching John Steward (very Jewy) and seeing the movie The Hebrew Hammer (very silly and very funny).
 

rugcat

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One think most Christians in the USA (and Canada) do not realize is that we still have a 'keep your bags packed' attitude. We carefully follow the attitudes against Jews because we know that anti-semitism could happen agian.
My dad's generation (WW II veteran) had a habit of keeping very informed about politics and current events, and the question was always " Ahh, and how does this development affect the Jews? Half kidding, half not.
 

bylinebree

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Just a cautionary note:

A lot of the things that people associate with Jews - the Yiddish language, for instance - are really traditions or folkways of Ashkenazis, or Jews from Eastern, Central and Northern Europe. Mediterranean Jews, from Spain, Italy and North Africa are Sephardis, and Jews from the Near East - Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc. - are Mizrahis. Sephardis spoke Ladino instead of Yiddish, and Mizrahis speak Arabic or occasionally Aramaic.

Most of the Jews in the United States are from Ashkenazi families.

Yes, Smilin Ted! And, in (trying) to write a novel dealing with a Sephardic Jew, I'm having to dig for reliable references. Now I'm a bit afraid that everything I think of as "Jewish" is Ashkenazi, and thus inaccurate! Or do they have much more in common than I realize? (can you tell I'm not Jewish? and I do apologize, too)

The more I write this character/male protag, the more I realize that I have to abandon my original perceptions of the "Jewish soul" as Stephanie put it. My assumptions were pretty shallow, wrong, cliche, too modern. I'm having to dig much deeper, and its harder than I thought -- but I feel very compelled to pursue this.

Someone else on this forum graciously told me about Ladino, and I do refer to it as the MC's 'first language' along with Spanish, Hebrew, some Latin from his scholarly studies, and a bit of Moroccan that he's picked up on the streets. Then he's forced in his new life to learn "French."

Since I can't learn or find actual Ladino, I use phrases/words in Spanish, French, and Hebrew instead; very, very carefully w/ dictionaries close at hand.

Any other suggestions are most welcome.

**Aside to Viola: There are no books out there like yours, because the world is waiting for yours. They just don't know it yet!**
 

Smiling Ted

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Yes, Smilin Ted! And, in (trying) to write a novel dealing with a Sephardic Jew, I'm having to dig for reliable references. Now I'm a bit afraid that everything I think of as "Jewish" is Ashkenazi, and thus inaccurate! Or do they have much more in common than I realize? (can you tell I'm not Jewish? and I do apologize, too)

The more I write this character/male protag, the more I realize that I have to abandon my original perceptions of the "Jewish soul" as Stephanie put it. My assumptions were pretty shallow, wrong, cliche, too modern. I'm having to dig much deeper, and its harder than I thought -- but I feel very compelled to pursue this.

Someone else on this forum graciously told me about Ladino, and I do refer to it as the MC's 'first language' along with Spanish, Hebrew, some Latin from his scholarly studies, and a bit of Moroccan that he's picked up on the streets. Then he's forced in his new life to learn "French."

Since I can't learn or find actual Ladino, I use phrases/words in Spanish, French, and Hebrew instead; very, very carefully w/ dictionaries close at hand.

Any other suggestions are most welcome.

**Aside to Viola: There are no books out there like yours, because the world is waiting for yours. They just don't know it yet!**

If Ladino were your MC's first language, he would have grown up as a Sephardi Jew. This means he would have had to convert to Christianity before becoming a knight. Knighthood was based on vassalage, landholding, and Christianity. To be made a knight, you would have to swear by Mary and the saints to be loyal to an overlord. No Jew would make such an oath, and no noble would accept a Jew as a knight.

If your MC had fought for the Moors instead of the Christians, he might have been a warrior, but he wouldn't have been a knight per se - knighthood as a Medieval caste was specifically Christian.
 

StephanieFox

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French!? Mais oui! (or as we would say; maze oy!) LOL!

Don't use this. I'm just joking.
 

Ralyks

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I would consider Chaim Potok's Davita's Harp an "inspirational" novel. Inspirational novels are, as far as I understand them, about personal religious quest/journey--coming to terms with one's own beliefs and place in the spirtual sense. The Chosen and The Promise might fall into that category too, along with My Name Is Asher Lev. I guess it depends how you are defining the term, but I have always thought of it as personal spiritual journey, and many of Chaim Potok's books fall into that category. I personally found these books "inspirational" anyway.
 

Jamie Stone

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As someone who has converted to Judaism based on a spiritual journey of my own, I have always wondered why "inspirational" is confined to Christianity. I would love to write a story about an MC who finds Judaism--for his/her *own* reasons, not for a spouse--and converts, or someone who was born Jewish but reconnects with it over the course of his/her unique trials. I don't think this would be the main theme of my story, but I would def. like it to be a big part. But I just don't know if anyone would be interested in that sort of story, since Jews are only 2% of America's population. :\
 

Medievalist

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I've got a couple in Yiddish in storage that are inspirational.
 

Viola2007

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I would be interested

But I just don't know if anyone would be interested in that sort of story, since Jews are only 2% of America's population. :\[/QUOTE]
a) There are Jewish readers outside USA
b) Not only Jews would be interested in reading such a novel. Spirituality is a unversal thing
 

donroc

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When I was about twelve, I read Howard Fast's HF novel My Glorious Brothers about the Maccabbean revolt against the Selucid Syrians, which I found inspirational at the time.

I suppose any novel about a Holocaust or pogrom survivor could be inspirational as well.
 

Medievalist

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Since I can't learn or find actual Ladino, I use phrases/words in Spanish, French, and Hebrew instead; very, very carefully w/ dictionaries close at hand.

Any other suggestions are most welcome.

**Aside to Viola: There are no books out there like yours, because the world is waiting for yours. They just don't know it yet!**

I note that there are several Ladino dictionaries, and that you can study Ladino literature in Spain and in Israel; I'd try the public library.

There are Ladino speakers in Los Angeles, by the way.
 

donroc

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Of peripheral interest --The 1980s film Everytime We Say Goodbye set during WWII Jerusalem has him involved with a girl from a Ladino-speaking family complete with subtitles.
 

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