Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Tova Reich

GET UPDATES FROM Tova Reich
 

One Hundred Philistine Foreskins (EXCERPT)

Posted: 04/22/2013 5:39 pm

Below is an excerpt from the novel One Hundred Philistine Foreskins, by Tova Reich, the author of My Holocaust and The Jewish War. It's a dark satire about a charismatic woman rabbi in Jerusalem, known as Ima Temima (Tema Bavli in her Brooklyn childhood), a brilliant teacher of the Hebrew Bible and a guru with a huge and devoted following.

The Oscwiecim Rebbe was already in place in his designated chair at the head of his dining room table in which only he was permitted to sit and which stood empty as if occupied by his ghost when he was not there to fill it. Behind him in the shadows stood his son, Kaddish, his chief shammes and right-hand man. Reb Berish, his major donor, took a seat to the rebbe's right, with Tema, Reb Berish's daughter, standing before them to their left like a defendant in the dock, and the rebbetzin, with her everyday oxblood- shoepolish-coloured wig slightly askew on her head and in her flowered housecoat with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows, listening in through the open kitchen door as she continued rolling and shaping more than two hundred matzah balls for the forthcoming Sabbath's chicken soup.

Stroking philosophically his long white beard yellowed around the mouth by tobacco and tea, the rebbe mumbled a few perfunctory questions in Yiddish to Tema since he was already familiar with the main points of the case through her father and chose to avoid being troubled by probing her side of the story--her reasons for refusing to marry and her rejection of every suitable prospect. After a brief consultation with his wife, who now stood beside him mopping the sweat from her forehead with a dishrag, the rebbe announced his diagnosis that Tema was possessed by a dybbuk, the naked soul of a dead sinner condemned to wander the earth in restless torment, possibly even the girl's own mother, who had invaded the vessel of Tema's body to take refuge there. It was this dybbuk that was speaking through Tema's mouth insisting she would never get married, the rebbe explained, these were not the words and certainly not the thoughts or desires of a respectable and sensible girl like Tema Bavli herself from such an outstanding and reputable family.

It would be necessary to expel this dybbuk from the vessel of Tema's body, and since they already had her there in the room, it made perfect sense to proceed with the exorcism at once. Tema briefly considered turning and running out of the house of the Oscwiecim Rebbe to make her escape, but where could she go? She was trapped as if in a dream in which she was both actor--or acted upon--and observer. It was a Thursday evening in early winter, darkness was descending. Ten men were rounded up, trudging in from the street in their galoshes with their shopping bags, to make up a minyan. The rebbetzin turned on a lamp, and for atmosphere she lit the candles in all of her Sabbath sterling silver candlesticks, which approximated, since one is forbidden to count, the number of her children and grandchildren, close to one hundred.

She directed Tema to remove her shoes and stockings, and pointed to the chair in which Tema must sit. Pinning Tema in place for the procedure with one arm encircling her neck in a kind of headlock and the two fingers of her other hand pressing down firmly on Tema's pulse where the demon resided, the rebbetzin whispered urgently into Tema's ear, "Push! Push! Push that dybbuk out, daughter!"

At the same time, the rebbe, her husband, was stationed at Tema's bare feet, which were resting on a stool. At his wife's behest, he was holding out a bowl to catch the exiting demon while intoning Psalm ninety-one over and over again, forward and backward, for what seemed like an eternity--You who sit in the high mystery, You who rest in the shade of Shaddai--his eyes glued to Tema's big toe as it was sinful for his gaze to stray any higher up for the sign of the blood that must trickle down to mark the exit of the dybbuk.

"Shmiel," the rebbe's wife called to him from her end, "do you see anything yet?"--but the rebbe only shook his head despondently. The rebbetzin brought her mouth close to Tema's ear and hissed, "So nu, what about getting married already? We don't have all day. I have fifteen kugels to make for Shabbes!"--but Tema raised her hand, the one that was not being pressed down by the rebbetzin at the pulse, and motioned with her index finger from side to side--No.

They were dealing with an exceptionally stubborn dybbuk who was not co-operating at all, the rebbetzin indicated to her husband. A more extreme measure was now called for to finish this business. Dutifully, the rebbe gave the nod to Kaddish, who joined forces with his mother at Tema's head with a shofar clutched in his fist, which he raised to his mouth and blasted directly into Tema's ear, into the very same ear that she had plugged with a finger when the names and attributes of eligible young geniuses scouting for a rich bride were presented for her consideration. The rebbe's son Kaddish now filled that ear with a ringing so intense that Tema thought she was hearing voices, and all of the voices were chanting in chorus, No, No, No.

Excerpted with permission from Counterpoint Press. Copyright Tova Reich 2013.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Searching for Zion

    This moving, personal book sees the author traveling to African diasporic communities around the world to uncover different ideas of what homeland means to each of them. Dave Eggers said about this book, "I doubt there will be a more important work of nonfiction this year." Atlantic Monthly Press Published on January 8th, 2013

  • The World Until Yesterday

    Author of <em>Guns, Germs and Steel</em>, a new book by Diamond is always going to be a big deal. This one promises to be his most personal yet, based on his years of anthropological field work. Technically it's a 2012 book, but its publication date of the last day of the year makes it a big book for the year ahead. Viking Published on December 31st, 2012

  • David Sedaris

    The popular author's books are events in themselves. <em>Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls </em>, apparently a title taken from a real antique book, will doubtless be another bestseller. We can't wait. Little, Brown Published on April 23, 2013

  • My Brother's Book

    Maurice Sendak's last book is a tribute to his late brother, Jack. HarperCollins Published on February 5th, 2013

  • The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family

    A title like that is always going to win over bookstores and libraries. This one is non fiction and comes from <a href="http://worldsstrongestlibrarian.com/">a blog of the same name</a> by a man with Tourette's who has found the strength to overcome his disability. Gotham Published on May 2nd, 2013

  • The Ocean At The End of the Lane

    This new adult novel by Neil Gaiman is described <a href="http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2012/10/the-ocean-at-end-of-lane-other-bits-of.html">by him</a> as "an astonishingly personal sort of a novel" about creatures from beyond the world, and, of course, the power of stories. William Morrow Published on June 18th, 2013

  • Gulp

    Mary Roach takes a look at our insides, and tells us more than we ever needed to know about how our bodies work, in an entertaining and compulsively quotable manner. WW Norton Published in April, 2013

  • Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell

    This book on female sexuality and desire was already published in the UK where it received mixed reviews - some loved its unconventional narrative style, others found it frustrating. All, however, found it a moving and memorable read. FSG Published on June 4th, 2013

  • Odds Against Tomorrow

    Nathaniel Rich is a talented author whose new book sounds like an intriguing literary thriller. FSG Published on April 2nd, 2013

  • red doc>

    Anne Carson is one of America's most talented experimental writer/poets. This story, the sequel to her breakout work <em>Autobiography of Red</em>, is a tricky read, but an important addition to her growing canon. Knopf Published on March 5th, 2013

  • Letters to a Young Scientist

    Edward O. Wilson is the world's leading authority on ants, as well as a leading public intellectual. Now aged 83, this book is a handover of knowledge and advice to the next generation, written in the form of 21 letters. Liveright Published on April 15th, 2013

  • Stephen King

    The sequel to <em>The Shining</em>, <em>Dr Sleep</em>, comes out next year. That's all you need to know. Scribner/ Hodder & Stoughton Published on September 24, 2013

  • TransAtlantic

    McCann's latest novel ties together the real-life histories of Frederick Douglass, Alcock and Brown, and Senator George Mitchell. This National Book Award winner is a talented and skillful writer - we're looking forward to learning how he manages to weave these narratives together. Random House Published on June 4th, 2013

  • A Memory of Light

    The 14th and final book in The Wheel of Time saga brings this bestselling series that began in 1990, to a close. To say that fans are excited is a vast understatement. Tor Published on January 8th, 2013

  • The Tragedy of Mr Morn

    Already published in the UK, this rare early Russian play by the master wordsmith isn't as good as his best - but what is? It is, however, a decent read in its own right. Also, he wrote it when he was 24, which is deeply irritating. Knopf Published on March 19th, 2013

  • Detroit: An American Autopsy

    This is our pick for a sleeper nonfiction hit next year. Charlie LeDuff is a remarkable journalist, and this book is filled with incredible writing as he witnesses his home city crumble through neglect and corruption. Penguin Press Published on February 7th, 2013

  • Gun Guys

    It's looking like a big year for discussions over America's relationship with guns.<em> Gun Guys</em>, a road trip through the south's love affair with small arms, is by a former New Yorker writer with an ear for a good line. Also out next year, and presumably from a different part of the political spectrum, is <em>American Gun: A History of the U.S. in 10 Firearms</em> by a former Navy SEAL. Gun Guys: Knopf, published on March 5th, 2013 American Gun: William Morrow, published on May 14th, 2013

  • The Atlantic Ocean

    Fans of <em>Pulphead</em> looking for another intelligent nonfiction writer will take easily to O'Hagan. His first-hand look at British homelessness is unforgettable. Mariner Published on January 22nd, 2013

  • Big Brother

    Lionel Shriver, the author of <em>We Need To Talk About Kevin </em>takes on the topic of obesity in a book that is sure to be a harrowing must-read. Harper Published on June 4th, 2013 (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images For The BFI)

  • American Savage

    Dan Savage is a hugely popular sex advice columnist and creator of the <a href="http://www.itgetsbetter.org/">It Gets Better project</a>. His words are often wise and funny, and point to a happier America where people aren't judged by their sexuality and beliefs. Dutton Published on May 21st, 2013

  • Lean In

    Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg has strong words for women and for the society that hinders their progress. This could become the Bible for a new movement that tries again to shatter the eternal glass ceiling. Knopf Published on March 12th, 2013

  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove

    <em>Swamplandia!</em> was a remarkable first-time success story. <em>Vampires in the Lemon Grove</em>, another short-story collection, will be sure to get plenty of critical attention. Knopf Published on February 12th, 2013

  • Going Clear

    This look at Scientology and Hollywood is based on a controversial <em>New Yorker</em> article that discussed Tom Cruise and John Travolta's connection to the group. Expect plenty of discussion around this one. Bantam Published on January 17th, 2013

  • The Blue Book

    A.L. Kennedy is a highly skilled Scottish writer whose prose is often achingly beautiful. Her being published by Amazon Publishing means that it won't get the bookstore attention it deserves, but it'll be worth tracking down. Amazon Published on March 12th, 2013

  • The Shining Girls

    This thriller is being pushed hard by Mulholland Books. Could it be 2013's <em>Gone Girl</em>? <a href="http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/2012/10/11/start-reading-the-shining-girls-by-lauren-beukes/">Read the first chapter here.</a> Mulholland Books Published in June 2013

  • Chuck Todd's book on Obama

    Currently untitled, Todd's book about Obama's first term and second election victory could change our perspective on the president and his intentions. Little, Brown Published on April 9th, 2013

  • All That Is

    James Salter is perhaps the best living American writer that most people haven't heard of. His <em>A Sport and a Pastime</em> is a modern classic, and this book is his first major work for seven years. Though he is now 87 years old, this is a typically wonderfully written love story, sparse, elegant and unforgettable. Expect to see this talked about a lot this spring. Knopf Published on April 2nd, 2013

  • I'll seize the day tomorrow

    Goldstein is the writer-presenter of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio show <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/wiretap/">Wiretap.</a> If you're a fan, you'll know his writing, and eagerly await this book. If you're not a fan, then go and listen to it/download the podcast. It's ok, we'll wait. You're welcome. Pintail Published May 28, 2013

  • American Isis

    On the fiftieth anniversary of her death, this new biography is the first to draw from Ted Hughes's archive. This book promises to reassess both her life and her legacy. Expect to see English majors everywhere devouring it. St Martin's Press Published on January 29th, 2013

  • Wool

    We're not big on "The new XXXX" headlines, but there is one way in which this could be the new Fifty Shades, and that is in being a self-published/small published work taken on and launched big by a major publisher. This sci-fi tale already has an incredible following, was a number 1 bestseller on Amazon, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hugh-howey/self-published-book-wool-movie_b_1540211.html">Ridley Scott has optioned it. </a>. Let's see what Simon and Schuster's muscle can do to help it reach a wider audience. It probably won't go wrong, but if somehow it does, this could become the lazy journalist's shorthand for why big publishing is on the slide. Simon and Schuster Published on March 12th, 2013

  • Point Your Face At This

    Demitri Martin's <em>This Is A Book </em>was a huge hit. This is another surreal joke/sketch-filled tome that will doubtless please his ever-growing fan base. Grand Central Published on March 19th, 2013

  • The Dark

    Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen take on the ultimate enemy of nighttime imagination. Little, Brown Published on April 2nd, 2013

  • The Madness Underneath

    So, it turns out that Maureen Johnson writes as well as <a href="http://twitter.com/maureenjohnson">tweets</a> (though we have been known to get involved in the occasional Twitter squabble with her.) Book Two of her teen thriller series Shades of London is both sinister and fun. Just don't tell her we said so. Putnam Juvenile Published on February 26th, 2013

  • Why knot?

    One of the strangest titles of the year, famous Man on Wire tightroper Philippe Petit helps you tie "beautiful, life saving knots" while also sharing something of his philosophy. Abrams Published on April 1st, 2013

  • Year of the Jungle

    How do you follow up a series like The Hunger Games? Suzanne Collins's response is to write something for younger readers, about war and its impact. Doubtless going to be huge. Scholastic Published on September 10th, 2013

  • Z

    A fictionalized tale about Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age romance. The perfect accompaniment to 'The Great Gatsby' movie that we're worried won't be as good as we want it to be. St Martin's Press Published on March 26th, 2013

  • Happiness, Like Water

    This debut collection by Nigerian American writer Chinelo Okparanta is getting some interesting buzz around its elegant tales of womanhood and loss. She was one of Granta's six New Voices in 2012. Mariner Published on August 13th, 2013

  • You Don't Know Me but You Don't Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music's Most Maligned Tribes

    Onion AV Club's head writer tracks down fans of Phish and the Juggalos to examine both pop culture phenomena in his own unique fashion. Scribner Published on June 11th, 2013

  • The Dinner

    This barbed tale of two families is entirely set over one evening in an expensive restaurant. A smash hit overseas, Gillian Flynn called it "chilling, nasty, smart, shocking and unputdownable," and she ought to know. We enjoyed it a lot. Hogarth Published on February 12th, 2013

 
 
 
FOLLOW CANADA LIVING