Oct 29, 2011

Is It True?

"Fiction can often be the best vehicle for helping us see our behavior objectively and pinpoint our mistakes, especially when it's written with true-to-life characters that are easy to identify with."

This is why mashalim (parables, fables) have long been used by Torah sages.  The most famous are in the book of Mishlei by Shlomo Ha'Melech and many years later, the parables of the Dubna Maggid and the Chofetz Chaim. 

However, when contemporary Jewish authors think that their novels and short stories, works of fiction, will change the world, I think they're deluding themselves as to the importance of their work.  Frum novels, by and large, are for the purpose of kosher entertainment.

I was surprised when, in a discussion about fiction and non-fiction in frum publications, the person I was talking to did not particularly care whether the writing was true or not.  I maintain that just as I have no reason to empathize with make-believe characters, I have no reason to be inspired by characters that are the figment of an author's imagination.  When a real person does something heroic, that can be moving and inspiring.  Why would I want to read about fictional people in the Holocaust, for example? What impact can imaginary characters who do extraordinary acts of chesed or kiddush Hashem have on me? None. 

The parables used by maggidim were tools meant to highlight our foibles in a way that slips under our defensive radar.  The parable Nosson the Navi told Dovid Ha'Melech enabled Dovid to see his error when a direct confrontation would not have worked.  It's important to differentiate between the parable as a tool for improving middos as opposed to a work of fiction that is not primarily a teaching tool.

1 comment:

  1. I bought my grandchild a historical novel that was based on a real life family. It helped us both understand a period of history that shaped the current American Jewish community as well as helped her to get a perspective on what childhood was like before modern times. As an American child with a pantry full of snacks, a wardrobe full of clothes, and a playroom full of toys, as well as full day school education for girls until adulthood, it was quite a shock to her to realize that Jewish kids did not always have it so good.