Why I think speculative fiction is just SO Jewish (& you should, too)

One of the things I most like to write (and find it hard to sell) is Jewish speculative fiction. Speculative fiction is a wide-ranging label that includes genres like fantasy, science-fiction, and horror. Basically, in speculative fiction, the author suggests a scenario that proposes the question: “What if_______?”

What if…

…you found out that you weren’t a friendless orphan but a powerful wizard with many supporters? (Harry Potter)

…you discovered the back of the wardrobe led into a magical realm where you became royalty? (Narnia)

…you discovered there was a way to communicate with aliens through your dental work? (Fat Men From Space)

…you accidentally returned to the time of the Holocaust during your Pesach Seder? (The Devil’s Arithmetic)

While Isaac Asimov, Jane Yolen, Harlan Ellison, Daniel Manus Pinkwater, and many other secular Jewish Americans (as well as the Orthodox writer, Michael Burstein and the Israeli writers Lavie Tidhar and Nir Yaniv) have written speculative fiction to great acclaim–even Jewish speculative fiction–specifically Orthodox Jewish speculative fiction is much harder to find. As I have mentioned previously on my blog (and again, and again), there has been movement into this direction. But still, I get a lot of funny looks when I tell people what I most like to write.

But I don’t get it. I think speculative fiction is just SO Jewish, and so should you. Here’s why:

Many cases in the Gemara are based on the “What if_______?” format.

mourning dove nest

What if this nest were on a man’s head?

What if…

…you’re in a rishus harabim (a public thoroughfare) on Shabbos–where a Jew can’t carry something more than 4 amos (cubits) without an eruv–and you only intend to toss something 2 amos, but it travels more than 4?

…a guy wants to divorce his wife and instead of handing the writ of divorce to her, he tosses it into her yard? Does this count as delivering the divorce decree?

…you see a bird’s nest, and you want to do the mitzvah of shooing away the mother before collecting her eggs, but the nest is on the head of a man?

…you prepared your house for Passover, cleaning it of all leavened grain products, when a mouse enters with a piece of bread in its mouth? Do you have to clean and check your house again?

…someone drives his wagon using a goat and a fish? We know you can’t pull a wagon with a donkey and a bull–what about other animal combinations?

What’s really interesting is that several of the more whacked-out “what if” scenarios that appear in the Gemara have proven to be quite useful, for they provided the answers to halachic questions (queries about Jewish law) about things like prayer while on an airplane, IVF, and more.

Kinda like sci-fi, no? Like how most of us walk around today with “communicators” a la Star Trek, scientists are learning how to create an “invisibility cloak” a la Harry Potter (and Star Trek), and astronauts have visited the moon a la Jules Verne and H.G. Wells?

(At least one person agrees with me. Check out this cool post about how RavYonasan Eibeshutz thought the Tower of Babel might have been a space elevator.)

2 thoughts on “Why I think speculative fiction is just SO Jewish (& you should, too)

  1. Rebecca,

    If you haven’t read He, She and It by Marge Piercy. It is a wonderful sci-fi novel that takes on many feminist themes, but it also directly relates the creation of robots to that of the Golem story from the Jewish tradition.


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