Jewish Literature As It Ought To Be: Naomi Alderman’s “Disobedience”

Haim Watzman

Last month I published an essay in the Jewish Chronicle of London in which I asserted that something is missing from most of the literature being produced by and about Jews today: “What I seek are books that, without being bound by conventions of religion and history, nevertheless use familiarity with and respect for the past as an instrument for thinking about the future of the Jewish people and what it means to be part of that collective.”

Had I read Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience before I wrote that, I would have written: I’ve found it. This is exactly what I mean.

Disobedience presents us with the most intriguing, unusual, and complex love triangle I’ve seen in contemporary fiction for quite some time. Rabbi Krushka, the spiritual leader of a small, straight-laced, insular, and conventional Orthodox community in London’s Hendon neighborhood, has passed on. He groomed as his successor his nephew, Dovid, but Dovid lacks his uncle’s charisma and native wisdom. Even worse, Dovid is married to Esti, a woman known for her long silences. She doesn’t mix much with the community’s women, she’s born no children, and everyone thinks that she’s more than a tad weird.

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