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

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THE SATURDAY WIFE

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. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-35238-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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