A Fantasy Work for Children about Medieval Jews, Muslims, and Christians

Sept. 27 2018

Set in 13th-century France, The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, by Adam Gidwitz, tells the story of a young ex-monk of moorish ancestry, a peasant girl, and a Jewish boy—all with supernatural powers. This novel, Alan Verskin notes, is thus a rare example of children’s fiction with an explicitly Jewish character that is neither aimed primarily at a Jewish audience nor Holocaust-themed. Himself a medievalist who read the book to his own children, Verskin objects to its “heavy-handed moralizing about overcoming religious, racial, and sexist bigotry” and finds the numerous gratuitous historical inaccuracies “grating.” Yet halfway through, the plot shifts its focus to the burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1240, and Verskin discovered much to like about what follows. (Free registration may be required.)

What has been lost and what has been accomplished in Gidwitz’s tale? The loss is primarily located in two matters: first, the mischaracterization of the Talmud and, second, the bowdlerization of this particular episode in Christian-Jewish history. The first is a flaw that distracts from the story. The second is, I believe, a price worth paying. . . .

The conventional wisdom of liberal American Jewish educators is that children (or at least their parents) need Jewish stories that feel relevant, speak to their own experiences, and reflect their values and goals. Too often, this attitude cuts Jewish children off from much of their heritage, which was, after all, forged in profoundly foreign environments, sometimes under terrifying pressures. It has also rendered many Jewish children’s books boring and sterile.

The brilliance of The Inquisitor’s Tale lies in its use of familiar modern values as a bridge to unfamiliar historical situations. Its heroes embody impeccable 21st-century ideals, but they inhabit a dazzlingly foreign landscape where the ideological struggles are as far removed from American life as its monasteries, taverns, and dung-heaps. Adam Gidwitz thereby shows that an obscure historical episode about a recondite text can indeed help children to engage with Jewish history thoughtfully, and even joyfully.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Children's books, Fantasy, Middle Ages, Talmud, Tolerance

 

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror