Last year, Aimee Bender—two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize and contributor to GQ, Harper’s, and The Paris Review—kicked off Tablet magazine’s new series of original fiction. This week, the piece is featured as part of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading series. “The Doctor and the Rabbi” is a short but intense story about the modern interplay of faith and reason, and it moves quickly to the heart of the matter, from the doctor’s doubt to the rabbi’s dependence on his care. Its two characters remain unnamed, at once specific and universal, a rationalist doctor and his fiercely patient rabbi struggling with the eternal questions of doubt, belief, mercy, and love—over coffee and over medical tasks—as they sort through donation piles for a holiday gift drive. In lines like this, Bender expertly sketches out intellectual conundrums in a deeply human way: “He wondered if giving her atheist blood might in fact turn her into an atheist, and he felt guilty at the thought but also pleased—like she could come over to his house and they could browse his bookshelves, shoulder-to-shoulder, and read Sartre together, or a dash of Camus, and then stand on chairs in old-fashioned hats and drop apples from great heights to the floor.”
As part of Tablet’s mission to explore Jewish news, ideas, and culture, the magazine’s year-old fiction series has showcased the best in contemporary and rediscovered short stories by Jewish writers. Published authors include Joshua Cohen (Witz, Four New Messages); bestselling writer and poet Justin Taylor (The Gospel of Anarchy); novelists Susan Daitch (Paper Conspiracies), Tova Reich (My Holocaust), and Ellen Ullman (By Blood); newcomer Emily Firetog; and, in original translation, the Israeli writer Dror Burstein. Newly translated Hebrew fiction from Israel Prize-winner Aharon Appelfeld is scheduled to appear this fall. Tablet’s fiction has been named Best of 2012 by Longform.org, and was listed as one of the year’s “coolest literary magazine innovations” by Flavorwire.