THE GENIZAH AT THE HOUSE OF SHEPHER by Tamar Yellin

THE GENIZAH AT THE HOUSE OF SHEPHER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A warmly portrayed, densely researched fictional history of a scattered Jewish clan migrated to Jerusalem.

In alternating chapters, English-born biblical scholar and first-novelist Yellin brings the various threads of the Sepher family together through the story of the so-called Sepher Codex—a priceless 13th-century copy of the Five Books of Moses—supposedly smuggled into the Holy Land by great-grandfather Shalom and hidden in the family home’s “genizah,” or attic, for decades. In the present, Shulamit Sepher, a 40-year-old unmarried English lecturer in biblical studies, has returned to Jerusalem to say goodbye to her family home at Kiriat Shoshan, run by aged Uncle Saul, before the house is torn down in the name of progress. She has spent many memorable summers in that house (“a visiting child, pale and alien in [her] English skin”), accompanied by her brother Reuben, now an echt Englishman who, unlike her, does look back. Uncle Saul, however, assumes Shulamit has come for the Codex, and soon she learns how precious it is—when she’s followed by a persistent, religious, and not unattractive fanatic who claims he’s from the tribe of Dan and commissioned with the task of returning the Codex to its rightful owner. Meanwhile, great-grandfather Shalom’s ancient history unravels: a corrector of scrolls by profession, he first leaves his home (and wife) in Vilna for Jerusalem in 1861, starts a new family, then eventually sets off for Babylon on a long search for the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. His story, with the history of the Codex, makes for a fascinating, labyrinthine journey, joined to the modern-day suspense surrounding the treasure’s mysterious whereabouts. In the end, it all encapsulates in one family the history of the Jews from Moses’ reception of the Torah on Mt. Sinai on through the Diaspora, culminating in the forging of the Zionist state—all via the pious adherence to the holy books.

Cohesively combines the epic and personal sense of sorrow and nostalgia rooted in home.

Pub Date: April 15th, 2005
ISBN: 1-59264-085-0
Page count: 358pp
Publisher: Toby Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2005