About six months ago, my sister sent me the link to an interview with Eric Kimmel, the acclaimed children’s author. The popular blogger at Homeshuling chatted with Mr. Kimmel about his retelling of the Purim story, which came out early this past spring.
(Before I go any further, I want to make clear that I’m actually a big fan of Mr. Kimmel despite what follows. I assure you that many of his books are perfectly appropriate for Jewish families, and urge you to purchase them or borrow them from the library.)
One of the central themes of the interview is whether it’s okay to alter the details of a story from the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) or a folktale. Mr. Kimmel feels that “You cannot be absolutely tied to the text or you are going to tie yourself into knots.”
Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/homeshuling/2011/03/an-interview-with-eric-kimmel.html#ixzz1eagiZr1n
He continues later,
I’m writing modern midrash. Because midrash continues to the present day. We are constantly reinterpreting and reinventing these stories. They are not locked in stone. I want children to learn that the stories of the Torah are great stories – they stand with the best of them – Anderson and Grimm – and it all comes down to the story.
Recently, my family purchased the animated movie, Young Abraham
. This film incorporates many elements of midrash
, dropping certain details and streamlining or fictionalizing others. I was a little uncomfortable with the tampering with tradition, but the overall message is the same as in the original midrashim
and completely coincides with frumkeit
so I don’t mind my children viewing it.
This is not the case with Mr. Kimmel’s The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale. The author plays fast and loose with the details of the original text, which is–after all–a sacred work from the Tanach. For example, he “glosses over” the deaths of Haman and his family. However, one of the central points of Book of Esther is that Esther and Mordechai are making a tikkun (correction) for the lack of follow-through King Saul demonstrated when he didn’t kill King Agag of the Amalekites despite HaShem’s instructions to do so. Additionally, it’s very important to a true understanding of the Book of Esther that Achashveirosh is a drunken slob and that Esther doesn’t really want to be married to him. Mr. Kimmel changes that detail, too.
These are changes to essential details, and I wouldn’t want to read this book to my children.
Similarly, in Even Higher, a retelling of the famous I.L. Peretz story about the Rabbi of Nemerov, Mr. Kimmel wanted to give a little context to the story. However, the information he interjects to explain the battles between the misnagdim and the chassidim is incorrect. His mishandling of the chassidus vs. misnaged battles of the 18th and 19th centuries actually makes the subject more murky, not less (and is probably not age-appropriate anyway).
In the same story, Mr. Kimmel shows the Rebbe livening up an old lady by dancing with her. It is highly unlikely a Chassidishe rebbe would dance with a woman, and it sends a message that you can just ditch halachah (in this case, the rules against negiah) if your intentions are okay.
I think that perhaps there is a little “wiggleroom” when you teach children (and writing a picture book is essentially teaching)–but you have to respect the original message and not misrepresent authentic Judaism in the retelling. For this reason, my husband and I generally screen even Jewish books before they enter our home.
What’s your opinion?