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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria