Friday, August 10, 2012

Haredi Women’s Lit Explodes

The writers and editors behind the astonishing rise of Orthodox magazines and fiction

Photoillustration Tablet Magazine;
original photos Matthew C. Wright/Flickr and Afton Almaraz/Getty Images.
Libi Astaire, who has written three mystery novels, faces a set of challenges quite unlike any other writer in her genre. Here are her ground rules: 1. No murders or gratuitous violence. 2. No unredeemable characters. 3. No inappropriate language or sexual immortality. Of course, she doesn’t write for the same audience that reads Laura Lippman or John Grisham. Astaire writes mysteries for Haredi women.

“Can this be good literature?” she asked during a recent interview. “I personally think so. Because I can’t rely upon sex and violence to sell my books, I have to do old-fashioned things like create vivid characters, insert humor, recreate historical periods in a convincing way.”

Astaire, 57, who has been called (by herself, and also by others) “a Jewish Jane Austen,” is a prominent contributor to the Haredi literary scene. She grew up in Prairie Village, Kan., and now lives in Jerusalem. She is also a frequent contributor to Mishpacha, one of a slew of ultra-Orthodox publications that has found an ever-growing readership over the past 15 or 20 years. Indeed, the three major Haredi magazines are among the most canny negotiators between the requirements of Jewish law and the imperatives of literature. They are all based in New York and are favored reading material for many Sabbath-observant families. There is Binah, “the weekly magazine for the Jewish woman”; Ami, which declares itself the “premier Jewish magazine”; and Mishpacha, which bills itself as a “Jewish family magazine.” All three are glossy publications with high production values, run by professional writers and editors who occasionally solicit advice from rabbis about what they should or should not publish. -- Zackary Sholem Berger, Tablet

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