SO HELP ME GOD! by Herbert Tarr


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Tarr's easy-going and companionable rambles through American Jews' spiritual and secular preoccupations (Heaven Help Us.!, 1968) continue to amuse, but here he explores some deeply serious and disturbing matters such as Vietnam, the plight of Soviet Jewry, and the essence of religion. The narrator is bumptiously floundering Andrew Baron, who applies to the (Reform) Rabbinical Institute in New York in 1970 to escape the draft. After all, as he explains to the admissions committee: ""What else is there? A rabbi is a Jew squared, isn't he?"" But there is Andrew's dreadful secret--his actress mother is a Gentile--and it nags him as the school years roll on: he falls for a handsome female rabbinical student (whom he marries when a practice wedding becomes a real one by mistake); and he is assigned to act as adjunct rabbi at Temple Shalom, a caterer's pink marble paradise, where he has a hilarious debut in sanctuary fright (""Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is Two""). Andrew also observes tragedy and the cost of courage: a friend in Vietnam, later a POW, writes of horror and spiritual degradation; a pair who love one another are separated by religion; a youth flees to a bizarre cult and rejects his godless parents; and, during a frantic few days of acting as couriers in the Soviet Union (this has its antic moments), Andrew and a fellow student witness the results of the government's oppression of Jews. At the close, Andrew finally confesses his deception to a beloved professor, converts, is at last ordained. The comedy gets a big gangling at times, but this is Tart at his most thoughtful and congenially provocative.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Times Books