book essay by Ilana Kurshan

One Hundred Philistine Foreskins

This new novel by Tova Reich (Counterpoint, $25) is a shockingly daring and cuttingly brilliant portrait of a fictional Bible scholar known as Ha’Rav Ima Temima Ba’alat Ov of Brooklyn. She is accompanied by her wry prophetess the Kol-Isha-Erva (who lifts her “woman’s naked voice” — a literal translation of her name — to record the teachings of Ima Temima), and her priestess the Aish Zara (formerly known as Essie Rapoport, whose “strange fire”  burns fiercely by Temima’s side and who wears “the tall white mitre of the high priestess with an Urim and Tumim jewel-encrusted breastplate…. ordered on the internet from the Yale University website”). The names of the characters alone attest to Reich’s dazzlingly allusive prose style, which frequently echoes, invokes and puns on Biblical verses and classical rabbinic interpretation.

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