THE RABBI'S LIFE CONTRACT by Marilyn Greenberg


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Tempest in a synagogue teapot--as first-novelist Greenberg (herself a rabbi's wife) mixes shrill comedy and edgy emotionalism through a small tale of a middle-aged rabbi betrayed by his congregation. Rabbi Joshua (""Shoe"") Rosenstock and wife Myra return from a sabbatical year in Israel. . . only to learn upon arrival home in suburban Chicago that a synagogue committee (headed by Milton Winegarden, Ph.D.) has decided to break Shoe's lifetime contract. Why? Because he's too expensive, and/or too unresponsive to the congregation's needs. A lot of people--with tacky complaints--seem to be siding with Winegarden. Others sympathize with Shoe but feel he should (for his own sake) accept the firing and move away. Encouraged by some of his six kids and a lawyer or two, however, Shoe decides to fight--first at a synagogue meeting, later with plans for a court hearing--while Myra rather whiningly moves from fury to petulance to self-pity to remorse. And finally, after an interim defeat, Shoe begins holding services at an alternative-shul. . . until arch-enemy Winegarden commits suicide, clearing the way for a congregation/rabbi reconciliation. (""Just tell him we need him and want him. lust tell him we love him,"" says Winegarden's widow after Shoe nobly presides at the funeral.) Greenberg sometimes succeeds in eliciting embarrassed, grim laughter--from the hypocritical letters written to Shoe by his former friends, from the wretched remarks of the squabbling synagogue members. (As Shoe says, ""I have a right to tell the judge what kind of drek we're dealing with. . . . They're an antisemite's delight!"") But the portrait of enemy Winegarden--a racist, psychosexually disturbed dwarf with skin problems and a homosexual attachment to the substitute-rabbi--goes beyond satire to mere grotesque ugliness. Likewise, Shoe is a good deal too saintly and eloquent, admired by all the novel's good people. And, though flecked with talent (an ear for dialogue, a nice sense of the absurd), this thin, uneven fiction debut too often seems written more as self-righteous petty revenge than as social-comedy entertainment.

Pub Date: July 22nd, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday