Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Orthodox Judaism and Mormonism in Fiction

I've been reading The Outside World by Tova Mirvis (I love inter-library loan from the L.A. library; you can order stuff online and pick it up at your local branch.) And last week, we Netflixed Ushpizin. They're both set in Orthodox Jewish communities, and while devouring both (what can I say? They're good), I kept saying to myself (and occasionally my husband), "Gee, change the names, a few of the rules, and the setting (say, Moroni instead of Baruch, Sariah instead of Tzippy, BYU instead of yeshivas in Jerusalem) and this could be a Mormon story." They share a feel with LDS fiction that I haven't found elsewhere, including in most mainstream Christian fiction (although admittedly, I have not read everything ever written. ;) )

Why is this? I think it's because they're both communities that believe following God's rules to the letter impacts your faith, and that your faith should impact every part of your life. For instance, in Ushpizin, the main characters are a husband and wife who have been doing everything they've been taught they need to do-- and have no money to pay the rent. They begin praying fervently, and receive a miracle (actually, they are the ones who call it a miracle; the writers create a situation that you could interpret as pure chance, but that you can also see the hand of God working in. Because this is a story of faith, we can see it as a miracle-- another thing in common with LDS fiction and life.) Also, it's normal in both communities to be married young, to have lots of children, to put family and faith above the world. In fact, "In the world, but not of the world" has comes up several times in The Outside World, and we hear that same phrase at church quite often.

Another similarity is the banding together-- and the judgment. Everyone must watch what they wear, what they say, at all times, so that they may appear to fit in to the community. When outsiders come in Ushpizin and make a ruckus, the neighborhood calls the cops instead of accepting that different people will behave differently. When an investigator showed up at church at a ward I used to live in with a leather jacket and a ponytail and tattoos, I'm ashamed to say that he was not welcomed as most visitors to my ward were; instead, people seemed to hope he wouldn't show up again, and I heard one even say it out loud. Instead of taking the new and different people in hand and accepting them for who they were while gently setting an example, both communities, despite their ideals and teachings of gathering in those who are not on the path, cast them as "other" and rejected them. Now, I've seen examples in both communities of people doing what we are taught we should, and reaching out to the "lost and wandering". But it depends on the group, and the time, and the place, and unfortunately too often we do not do as we should. In The Outside World, the father of one of the main characters is offended when he becomes more religious. I can relate to that, too; as a convert, I've had my share of bewilderment and disappointment and even anger from family and friends. It's a very interesting look at human nature when subjected to very demanding religions. And the most interesting part to me is that when I read about this community, I find characters with the same satisfaction in doing what they believe to be God's laws that I find in following the commandments. I guess that's a part of human nature, too, if only we can learn to find it within us instead of the bad parts-- the "evil urge" or "evil impulse", as the Orthodox fiction says, that makes us want to stray from God's path.


talitha said...

Fantastic entry! You've got me putting The Oustide World on reserve at the library, and Ushpizin on my Netflix queue!

I have always felt a connection to the Jewish people as a LDS, and I really appreciated your thoughts about the similarities.

Julie said...

I liked this post. Have you read "The Ladies Auxiliary", also by Tova Mirvis? I recommend it. I thought your thoughts while/after I read that book. I'm putting The Outside World on reserve at our soon as we actually move in and I get a card.

(btw - interlibrary loans ARE the best! - and I'm sure you probably won't put it on the internet, but I'm curious where in LA you are. I grew up in the WW2nd ward.)

Julie said...

Sorry - Westwood 2nd ward

Anne/kq said...

I'm up in the La Crescenta Stake right now, although we're talking about moving down towards Oxnard or Thousand Oaks, since my husband works in Westlake Village.

Kira Marx said...

I've always felt a LDS kinship myself, especially with regards to the importance of family and faith above worldly things.

I would be lost without interlibrary loan myself - our libraries are so spread out. Have you read anything by Naomi Ragen? I think you'd like her stuff, too.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I'm chiming in to agree with Happy Mommy -- I too have always felt a kinship with the Jewish people, although I'm active LDS. There's something about the music, especially, that gets me every time.