Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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P INSKER /THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH-AMERICAN NOVEL
13
gruity, a staple o f Jewish-American fiction. What
God’s Ear
ex­
plores by jux taposing talmudic worship with the American West,
Master o f the Return
achieves by pou ring old obsessions into new,
technological bottles. Here, for example, is how Reich handles
the Bratzlavers’ fascination with Gematria:
Can you imagine [Reb Lev Lurie exclaims] what a blessing
a computer would be at Uman House? All the Gematria work
that I now do by hand, referencing and cross-referencing the
numerical values of the letters and words in the Torah, could
be programmed into the computer . . . Did you know, Roman,
that the numerical value of the word ‘computer,’
mehashev (sic),
is three hundred and fifty, which is only eight less than the nu­
merical value of the word
mashiah,
‘messiah’? Is it too presump­
tuous to suggest that the
mehashev (sic)
of Uman House will lead,
say, in eight years’ time, to the coming of the
mashiah
? (Reich,
61-2)
But Israel, being Israel, there are problems: import duties,
taxes, the differences in electrical cu rren t, warranties, repairs,
spare parts — in short, a wide array o f potential
tsoris.
To all
these, Rab Lev brings an indefatigable spirit and a comic in­
genuity tha t is typical o f Reich’s Dead Hasidim: Reb Lev Lurie
(his last name suggesting Lurianic kabbalism) is Uman House’s
ostensible leader, bu t that does not mean his opinions — es­
pecially about the precise meaning o f Nahman’s words — are
beyond question. Indeed , Abba Nissim (who holds to more fun ­
damental, purist interpretations) can be counted on to argue
vigorously with Reb Lev and his liberal tendencies. But when
Reb Lev “deviated publicly on the issue o f the importance o f
making the pilgrimage to Um an” (Reich, 114), the issue between
them is jo ined with a hasidic vengeance.
GOING TO UMAN
T h e issue at stake is simultaneously serious and comic —
namely, whether certain prayers recited at N ahm an’s grave can
prevent nocturnal emissions in young boys. Rev Lev holds that
the prayers can be said anywhere; Nissim insists that they are
most effective at Nahm an ’s grave. I quote a section o f the re ­
sulting debate to give a sense o f how Reich transmogrifies re ­