Hello all. I am writing a romance story, where one of the MCs (main characters) is a Jewish man. The story is not A Jewish story (with a huge focus on the religion) but it is a romance with a Jewish main character, so I find it super important to make the details accurately, respectfuly and belieavably, even if it’s in the background, and even if the majority of people reading it most likely won’t be Jewish.
I am not Jewish, so I thought I would ask here, to give your feedback on whether or not this character seems believable to you, if there are any glaring issues, and your feedback on some things I was not able to find through research. Please, if there is something I misunderstood, let me know, and know that it’s absolutely not my intention to misinterpret anything.
The MC is a 28 year old man living in New York. He’s a dentist, and a legal guardian to his 4 year old sister. Their parents died 1 year prior in an accident.
His engagement in the faith/level of devotion is very much somewhere between Conversative and Reform, leaning more to Convervative (also being very aware of the Orthodox views, more below), but he spends a lot of time in the Reform community. He wears kippah most of the time (though this is explained in the story more out of respect for his father, more on that below), keeps kosher, says his morning blessings, shema, amidah etc. (usually morning and evening, since he’s busy and sometimes does not manage the afternoon one)
Here I think I would ask for a bit of help, as no matter how much I read, I just can’t seem to fully grasp the difference between Amidah and Shema. Are they both parts of the 3 daily prayer “set”? It is like each article I read gives me a slightly different answer. Some say Shema is essential, others Amidah. Could you please explain like I am five?
His family situation is a little complicated, for the sake of the story. The backstory is that his father comes from an Orthodox (Brooklyn Hasidic) family, while his mother’s family was very reformed/lax. His parents met young, and his mother fell pregnant at 17. Obviously, that was a big no-no (sex before marriage) for the Orthodox side. The dad kind of broke off from that side of a family because of their disappointment in him, and moved in with the mother’s family. The father remained very involved in his faith, but leaning more Convervative. Later on, after years of infertility and trying, they got pregnant with the MCs little sister, while he was finishing school in NY and so they decided to move there, hoping to also reconnect more with the Orthodox side of the family.
Back to the MC. He spends/observes Sabbath with his sister and his Orthodox side of family. He does not hold it as strictly personally though—he drives, uses his phone, but generally tries to not do stuff like watching TV, going to the mall, shopping, working etc. He kind of uses the day to relax and focus on himself and his family.
I especially don’t intend or want to portray the Orthodox side of the family in the story as bad or toxic. The MCs intent is for his little sister is to have the best possible relationship with the family and her faith. From what I found, she would be very much his responsibility as the firstborn/older sibling, and so he feels very strongly about this. His thinking in this aspect is: “I might believe certain more Conservative views, but just in case the Orthodox way is the right way, I’d rather have her be brought up with it as well and then decide when she is older, instead of “dooming” her because I thought xy is not necessary.” He also knows his father would have wanted her to have relationship with them.
Another interesting aspect and a pretty big reason for his specific level of devotion is his sexual orientation. This might get a bit explicit so feel free to skip this section. The explicity is just to explain the reasoning behind his character, I don’t go into any obscene detail.*
Again, I did a ton of research (a LOT of personal experiences, explanations and discussions on this sub as well) about this, and there are many many opinions out there. This character’s view on his homosexuality is: He believes G-d would not make him live a miserable life, and so that his sexuality is an inherent part of him—he doesn’t hate it, BUT he also studies the text and is aware of the issue of him possibly only finding explanations he wants to see to enable himself to do what he wants. He basically always lives with this little fear of “what if what I’m doing isn’t right” and cares for G-ds approval/appeasal. While gay love is not something to change in his eyes, he is still very much about meaningful and long-term relationships, and it basically boils down to the “don’t waste seed” argument. I can’t remember the exact line, basically it said that if man ejaculates, it is meant to be in a woman and with an intent to reproduce, otherwise it is a waste and wrong, which is the reasoning why many more Orthodox scholars are against homosexuality from what I understood. (there are also other arguments, but I won’t go into it)
So if he were to go around having sex with men (which he doesn’t) it would be wrong. I understand Judaism (unlike Christinity) is more about actions than thoughts (don’t do “sin” rather than don’t “think” about sinning) so his intention is always to hold back in these situations, but if he accidentaly slips, he regrets it but he did not plan on it so he doesn’t beat himself up over it terribly. He knows he won’t ever have a wife (it wouldn’t be fair to her or him) or children, so if he does have sex with a man, he just doesn’t finish and sees that as fulfilling the requirements (the above mentioned seed problem) to the best of his ability.*
I know I could have just made him Reform and not worry about this all at all, and just go “all gay is okay” route which is fine, but I really think this more human/realistic struggle is more interesting to explore?
This is also one of the reasons why he wants his sister to have the Orthodox point of view in his life, because otherwise he would feel responsible for leading her astray if his way of understanding things is not “moral” from the godly/spiritual point. Obviously, his sister or Orthodox family don’t know he’s gay. They are a little miffed at him for not being as involved in the faith, for not having a wife still etc, but they mostly don’t have that much of a relationship with him because he did not grow up with them, so they are not portrayed negatively just because they are Orthodox, more like a little awkward around each other and both sides very much try to make things work because family is important.
EDIT: Nearly forgot, the sister is also sick with cystic fibrosis, so there’s another layer to things, I guess? This post is already longer than it should be, sigh. Sorry about that!
One question I have when it comes to the family situation, which I could not really find answers to online, is how would the Orthodox side view this? Would they be okay with him as a single Conservative guy being legal guardian for the sister? Would they be fine with a “shared custody” type of situation, where he lets her spend time with them (often leaving her with aunts and other family memebers in the evening if he has long work days) and in respect to their level of divotion, while the rest of the time he clearly brings her up more Convervative/reformed as his mother would have preferred?
Does this sound like a well rounded character and situation? Does it sound somewhat realistic and nuanced? Is there anything I got super-duper wrong? I am still doing research and already read so much, and truly respect Judaism as a culture and religion.
Mad respect to anyone who managed to read all this and is willing to help. ✊