The Trouble with Making Fairy Tales Jewish.
Apologies to the Princess & the Pea, but you won’t be a Jewish princess!
Once upon a time, a gentile independent publishing firm reached out to me with this email…
Hello! We see you have special skills for making things Jewish. We’ve read about your Jewish Barbies, your Jewish board games, and even a Jewish Twilight Zone. We’d like you to convert classic fairytales into Jewish ones by changing characters’ names so we can have a new book series to sell to synagogue communities across the world. Especially during these times, they need more reading material.. Easy peasy! Are you in?
They tried to be clever by signing it, “Sincerely, The Brothers Grimmstein.”
I couldn’t restrain myself and replied with the following:
Dear Grimm Wannabees,
Unfortunately what you’re talking about will never go over well in the Jewish community. And trying to simplify it by calling someone ‘Rachelella’ instead of ‘Cinderella’ is meshuggah.
To properly convert fairytale characters would entail years of Torah study and must be done under the supervision of an established beit din. They’d need to be individually dunked in a mikvah, (Yes, even the Little Mermaid!) and all the males circumcised, plus it would take a lifetime commitment – which I’m guessing wouldn’t fly with Disney even if presented on a kosher magic carpet.
But let’s pretend somehow we managed to accomplish this – you’d still have major plot holes and character fatal flaws. Consider the following:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will always be three males short of forming a minyan.
No Jewish Fairy Godmother worth her weight in matzo will allow a young girl to go out at the stroke of midnight, wearing only glass slippers on her feet. She’ll catch a deathly cold!
Hansel and Gretel will have zero breadcrumbs to strew in the forest because challah is delicious and there are never enough leftovers to make French toast on Sunday morning, much less use as a navigational system.
Rapunzel can never marry because she cannot let down her hair for anyone but her husband. No exceptions! Her wicked stepmother will have to buy a very tall ladder.
The Elves and the Shoemaker will be out of business during Yom Kippur if they try to use leather. Also elves? Meh. Will need to be referred to as ‘Mensches.’
In the story of Aladdin, Princess Jasmine isn’t going to show her midriff. Ever. No way. And the Emperor isn’t going to parade around naked until one astute child (destined for law school at Harvard no doubt) makes a big fuss. Please become familiar with the strict Jewish laws of modesty.
Belle won’t adamantly refuse to have dinner with the Beast and instead opt to seclude herself in her bedroom. You’ve obviously never had Bubbe’s brisket, but nobody can resist it once they’ve had a whiff.
I don’t want to make it all sound hopeless, so I’ll end by saying that you may have some luck with Little Red Riding Hood as she gathers flowers in the woods for her grandma -- visiting the sick is considered an important mitzvah! I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.
No sooner did I sign and click “send” when I received back this response:
Hello again! We see your point and so we’ll switch to short nursery rhymes. Please name your price for making the most famous ones sound Jewish.
So of course I had to immediately reply:
Sorry again to foil your plans, but keep in mind these logistics:
Jack Spratt can eat all the fat he wants so long as it’s Kosher.
Jack Be Nimble won’t be jumping over any more candlesticks because the flame of a Shabbat candle goes too high up, ascending toward heaven. Besides that, he’ll get swatted away by Jewish women waving their hands over the candles three times.
Little Jack Horner will never be left alone to sit in a corner (at least in peace!) while he pulls out a plum. Every Yente in the social hall will be excitedly interviewing him, (an eligible Jewish bachelor!) to make him a match.
Jack won’t fall down and break his crown because his father (a brain surgeon at Ceders Sinai) will have advised him from infancy not to go up hills carrying a pail.
(Enough with the name Jack already!) Humpty Dumpty’s great fall won’t require all the king’s horses and all the kings’ men to assist him. Only one sharp Jewish attorney will do the trick.
Peas Porridge cold/9 days old?? Sorry! But no Jewish deli is serving soup anything less than piping hot and fresh or it will be unceremoniously sent back to the chef.
‘A Tisket a Tasket, a Green and Yellow Basket’ cannot be used to carry a letter you wrote to your love. We’ve got Purim to think of… Mishloach Manot, people!
Again just to end on a positive note – there are certain possibilities with ‘Twinkle Little Star.’ That star can be one of the three that appear in the sky, designating the start of Havdalah. Do you want me to get to work on that rhyme ASAP?
And . . . crickets! I never heard from this publishing company again, but I assume they found a way to live happily ever after.