One Hun­dred Philis­tine Fore­skins: A Novel

  • Review
August 26, 2013

Dead Jew­ish man believed to be com­ing back as mes­si­ah? Chris­tian­i­ty. Dead Jew­ish man believed not to be dead and to be com­ing back? Some adher­ents of Lubav­itch Hasidism. Dead Jew­ish woman believed not to be dead and com­ing back as mes­si­ah? The pro­tag­o­nist of Tova Reich’s newest satir­i­cal nov­el, One Hun­dred Philis­tine Fore­skins. Reich is not afraid to take on the chal­lenges women as pow­er­ful spir­i­tu­al lead­ers will rep­re­sent to the Jew­ish world in this crafti­ly writ­ten nov­el that is so laden with Bib­li­cal ref­er­ences, a con­cor­dance is sug­gest­ed for the read­er to keep at her side.

One Hun­dred Philis­tine Fore­skins doc­u­ments the life jour­ney of Tema Bavli from her child­hood in a dys­func­tion­al fam­i­ly in Brook­lyn with a clin­i­cal­ly depressed moth­er who loves Anna Karen­i­na and a shochet (rit­u­al slaugh­ter­er) father; to a young bride who makes aliyah to a rad­i­cal com­mu­ni­ty in Israel, who then flees to a com­mu­ni­ty of Black Hebrews in the Israeli desert run by head func­tionary Abba Kadosh (born Elmore Sin­clair in Sel­ma, Alaba­ma); to becom­ing HaR­av Temi­ma Ba’alat Ov (the rab­bi Temi­ma, mis­tress of the egg, con­sul­ter of ghosts; see I Samuel 28:7), in her own sites spir­i­tu­al leader in the Old City of Jerusalem; and final­ly, to the last home of her group of devo­tees in the for­mer Hansen Lep­er Hos­pi­tal in the Tal­biya neigh­bor­hood of Jerusalem. If this sounds like a great deal of move­ment and antic action packed into one nov­el, it is. But each scene and sit­u­a­tion is per­fect­ly pitched and set up and delight­ful­ly fun­ny to read, par­tic­u­lar­ly to those who look up the Hebrew names and references.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for book groups and as a com­mon read for Jew­ish groups seek­ing a text to dis­cuss with a great deal of sub­stance as well as read­ing pleasure.

Discussion Questions