Ariel Sam­son: Free­lance Rabbi


December 18, 2018

Ariel Sam­son is just your run of the mill anom­aly: a 20-some­thing black Ortho­dox Jew­ish rab­bi look­ing for love, fig­ur­ing out life, and float­ing between at least two worlds.

Luck­i­ly, it gets worse.

Find­ing him­self the spir­i­tu­al leader of a dying syn­a­gogue, and acci­den­tal­ly falling into viral inter­net fame, Ariel is sud­den­ly cat­a­pult­ed into a series of increas­ing­ly ridicu­lous con­flicts with bel­liger­ent col­lege stu­dents, estranged fam­i­lies, cor­rupt politi­cians, hip­pophilic cowork­ers, vin­dic­tive cler­gy­men, and even attempt­ed mur­der. (And also Chris­t­ian hege­mo­ny, racism, anti-Semi­tism, tox­ic Hotepism, and white Jew­ish priv­i­lege. Because today ends in y.”)

But all that’s the easy part.

Because whether Ariel knows it or not, he’s due for a break­through. Sev­er­al, in fact. And he’s about to find out whether or not he’s strong enough to re-eval­u­ate every­thing he thought he knew about him­self, and own up to the things he didn’t.

Thought leader and provo­ca­teur MaN­ish­tana turns his eye to fic­tion in this imag­i­na­tive, semi-auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el, mak­ing Ariel Sam­son, Free­lance Rab­bi the most daz­zling debut of an Ortho­dox black Jew born on a Sun­day at 2:24AM in a Brook­lyn hos­pi­tal in 1982 that you will ever have the priv­i­lege of reading.

Discussion Questions

Ariel Sam­son: Free­lance Rab­bi, at once hilar­i­ous­ly fun­ny and intense­ly thought-pro­vok­ing, describes how a black Ortho­dox rab­bi becomes a TV per­son­al­i­ty and revi­tal­izes a Brook­lyn shul, break­ing rules and con­found­ing expec­ta­tions by the score. This is a loose­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal sto­ry of the apt­ly named author MaN­ish­tana (née Shais Ris­hon), whose wild­ly orig­i­nal plot and autho­r­i­al voice draw us into the world of Amer­i­can Jews of col­or (JOC’s per the author), a group so lit­tle under­stood that even esti­mates of its size range some­where between 20,000 and 200,000. Imag­ine A Con­fed­er­a­cy of Dunces set in mod­ern Brook­lyn writ­ten by a black Ortho­dox rab­bi, com­plete with New York hip­sters as well as a hos­tile rab­binic estab­lish­ment, and you’ve almost got it. But you don’t have it, and you won’t have it, unless you read this high­ly orig­i­nal and rev­e­la­to­ry book. You will find your­self think­ing about what it means to be an out­sider in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty long after the laugh­ter dies.