Gershon Hepner

Unprofitable Belief in God and Politicians

A cantor on the day that’s designated for atonement, Yom Kippur,

praying in a synagogue whose congregation all were disbelievers,

wondered whether God preferred the prayers of all the people who were sure

that He existed. Although most rabbis do, cantorial prima divas

more often don’t, their income correlating with the beauty of their voices which

elicit only rarely a response from God who, like politicians,

relies on the performance of voices of supporters whose melodious pitch

programs their pitches for what often are unprofitable petitions.

Though in the olden days — according to the Bible — they were profitable,

in our times and our disbelieving world no citizens are prophetable.

In “Leapsniffing through the Vimveil: Avram Davidson’s Fantastic Fiction,” Jewish Review of Books, Winter 2024 , Yosef Lindell writes:

Adolph Abram Davidson—who went by Avram from a young age—was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1923, but he didn’t stay there, flitting from New York to Israel to Mexico, Belize, San Francisco, and Washington State, among other places, during his topsy-turvy life.

Despite his penchant for rabbinic allusions and his bushy black beard, Davidson was no rabbi. In fact, he never received a degree of any sort, though he attended New York University for two years and later took a short story writing class at Yeshiva University (where he was classmates with Chaim Potok). Yet he knew the Talmud well enough and quite a bit about seemingly everything else. He was a scrupulously observant Orthodox Jew for much of his adult life, until he became just as zealous a practitioner of Tenrikyo, a Japanese religion that many of his former coreligionists would have considered idolatry. In short, Davidson’s life story was full of the kind of misdirection and obfuscation his stories routinely spring on their readers.

He wrote science fiction, fantasy, and mystery, churning out more than two hundred short stories and nineteen novels of uneven quality. He won the Hugo Award, science fiction’s most prestigious medal, for “Or All the Seas with Oysters,” a short story heralded for what the critic Guy Davenport called “its crazily plausible concept that safety pins are the pupae and coat hangers the larvae of bicycles.” Davidson’s best tales, like “Goslin Day” and “Or All the Seas with Oysters,” emerge from forgotten or invented corners of our own world and blend fact and fiction in ways that are hard to disentangle. At the same time, much of his oeuvre is unremarkable: pulp mysteries that turn on a small revelation in the penultimate line and novels that tend to meander, weighed down by his learned antiquarian digressions.

Despite these contradictions—or perhaps in part because of them—Davidson, who was never well known to any but devoted science fiction fans, still has a small but fervent following. In the thirty years since his passing, his work has been steadily lauded and republished. The Avram Davidson Treasury from 1998, edited by Robert Silverberg and Avram’s ex-wife, Grania Davis, collected much of Davidson’s best short fiction, including “Goslin Day,” and included tributes to Davidson from more than two dozen science fiction luminaries. In his contribution, Ray Bradbury remarks that Davidson would not be ashamed in the company of Rudyard Kipling, Saki, John Collier, and G. K. Chesterton, calling him “a maker of gyroscopes that by their very logic of manufacture shouldn’t work but—lo! there above the abyss they do spin and hum.” Ursula K. Le Guin lauded “Avram’s ear for weird ways of talking,” and Peter S. Beagle wrote that “when it comes to pure sensitivity to the human use of words, the man has few peers and no equals.”….

Such angry zeal was characteristic of Davidson’s writing in these years. His 1957 preview of the Jewish Publication Society’s forthcoming translation of the Torah for Jewish Life was biting. He accused the work of not “being prepared on the Torah’s terms” and questioned the legitimacy of relying on a translation prepared by non-Orthodox scholars who departed from the Masoretic text in light of archaeological discoveries.

In another short story (collected in Everybody Has Somebody in Heaven), Davidson imagines a cantor at a non-Orthodox synagogue who had the gall to not only fast on Yom Kippur but to wonder, for the first time, “These hymns, these prayers, these declarations of belief in the might and power of God . . . and of the Day of Judgement—what if they should all be true?” The possibility that reality might exceed the expectations of realism animates almost all of Davidson’s best fiction.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at