CONVERSATIONS WITH RABBI SMALL by Harry Kemelman

CONVERSATIONS WITH RABBI SMALL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

No mystery this time, and only the most feeble fictional framework--as theological centrist Kemelman explores Judaism via a series of dialogues in which a non-sleuthing, much-pontificating Rabbi Small holds all the high cards. The creaky setup: secularist, agnostic Aaron Freed wants to marry Joan Ardmore, an unaffiliated Christian who's eager to convert--so they come to the rabbi for guidance. And in the ensuing chats, Aaron's comments glint occasionally while Joan proves herself a twit. But Rabbi Small--who discourages the conversion plan--speaks easily and endlessly: on the existence of God, teleologically speaking; on the origins and then parting of the ways of magic and religion; on evil and free will; on God as a God of justice. The rabbi stresses that Judaism ""has no official point of view. . . no dogma""; he comments on the errors of the Chassidim in sanctifying leaders, on the disadvantages of English translations of Hebrew prayers. There are excursions into ritual and custom, Biblical explications re labor laws and charity, some dubious comparisons between Judaism and Christianity (which fail to distinguish among the countless variations in ""Christian"" dogma), and a defense of ritual and ceremony being solely in ""masculine hands"" (because women are ""not particularly interested in it"") that won't cut the mustard with the Sisterhood. But what about Aaron and Joan, you ask? Well, it tums out that Joan was really Jewish all along--a cop-out which highlights the problems of Kemelman's particular theological position. A zero as fiction, then, and somewhat limited even in its most obvious role: as a text for debate in synagogue study groups.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1981
Publisher: Morrow