Master of the Return

Tova Reich, Author
Tova Reich, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P $19.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-15-157880-1
Reviewed on: 04/01/1988
Release date: 04/01/1988
In Mara, Reich, herself the scion of a rabbinical family, took aim at the mores of American Orthodox Jewry. Here, she casts her sly, sardonic eye upon those at the opposite end of the spectrum, so to speakIsraeli penitents. With vigor, irreverence and devastating accuracy, she limns a flock of zany zealots, intoxicated by the rarefied Hassidism of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. These cultists, former hippies who are now ""high on the One Above,'' are at once delightfully absurd in their revival, even invention, of bizarre customs (such as the paramount pilgrimage to Rabbi Nahman's Ukranian grave to terminate ``nocturnal emissions''); poignant in their misguided, miseducated search for identity and redemption; as self-indulgent in their expiation as they once were in their passions; and alarming in their patent misogyny, racism, deceit, self-righteousness and extreme messianic political agenda. In Reich's hands, plot and character development are sacrificed to an extravagant religious and social parody cum cautionary tale. The penitents remain symbolic figuresas exemplified by an elderly midwife, whose name, Shifra-Puah, evokes her righteous colleagues from the biblical book of Exodus who disobeyed the pharaonic decree to murder male newborns, and Avraham Ger, whose surname, Hebrew for convert, proclaims his adoption of Judaism. (April)
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