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Conniving rebbitzin topples a wealthy Jewish community.

Delilah Goldgrab is as acquisitive as they come. As a young girl, she sets her sights on living in a Woodmere Tudor mansion with a large household staff. When she fails to ensnare a wealthy husband from Bernstein Rabbinical College, Delilah settles for the noble dullard, Chaim Levi. Chaim’s grandfather is a prominent Rabbi in the Bronx and heir to a tiny synagogue. When Delilah senses she’s getting locked into a lower-class life, she tramples on Chaim’s unsuspecting congregants and begins her mad grab at affluence. Doltish Chaim refuses to acknowledge Delilah’s sins. Instead, he surrenders to her prodding and applies for a position at the notorious Swallow Lake temple. Swallow Lake’s members are fabulously wealthy and famously divided in their faith. Chaim knows he’s signing on for an impossible task when he accepts the Rabbi position, but he’s helpless. Delilah, now pregnant, calls all the shots in this family. The community quickly sours on Delilah’s lackadaisical piety. Delilah tries to distract her critics by luring a fabulously wealthy Russian Jew and his wife into the fold and succeeds in dismantling the congregation. Ragen (The Covenant, 2004, etc.) does an apt job illustrating the numerous demands upon a rabbi and his wife (the rebbitzin). But she fails to make the job appear to be an unbearable burden—these guys are the equivalent to middle management in a large corporation. The book would be far more entertaining if Delilah possessed admirable traits; alas, she is bland in her depravity. Endowed with blonde hair, a voluptuous figure, the first name of a “wicked whore” and a surname that is synonymous with money grubbing, she does not come across as a morally upstanding member of the shul. For the non-Orthodox crowd, the scandals will seem tame, but the culture exotic. For those enmeshed in Ragen’s culture, this book may stir up some controversy: Have rabbis become too beholden to their benefactors?

Revealing, if long-winded, examination of contemporary Orthodox Judaism.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-312-35238-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2007


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