The Cubs and the Kabbalist

Byron L. Sherwin
  • Review
By – July 9, 2012

Byron L. Sher­win calls his book, The Cubs and the Kab­bal­ist, a nov­el, but after the Chica­go White Sox swept this year’s base­ball World Series, per­haps this is less a fan­ta­sy than a pre­dic­tive work of non­fic­tion. No mat­ter. Let’s just say that this book describes how a rab­bi pro­vides the extra push the Chica­go Cubs need to sur­mount 93 years of futility. 

Sherwin’s pro­tag­o­nist, Rab­bi Jay Loeb, is moti­vat­ed to direct his atten­tion to the per­for­mance of a base­ball team because of his wife’s obses­sion with the Cubs. Their fail­ures affect her pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al life, and ulti­mate­ly Loeb’s, as well. A des­per­ate man, Loeb acts des­per­ate­ly: he con­ducts an after-hours exor­cism rite on the mound at Wrigley Field; he sets aside his teach­ing duties to become the mul­ti-eth­nic Cubs’ spir­i­tu­al advis­er; he brings about a city­wide day of prayer and repen­tance” on, coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Yom Kip­pur, in con­cert with his friend, the Arch­bish­op of Chica­go; and he cre­ates a Golem, whom he names for the two most famous Jew­ish base­ball Hall of Famers, Sandy Koufax and Hank Green­berg. Through­out, he intro­duces the read­er to Jew­ish val­ues and the­o­log­i­cal tra­di­tions as he acts on and reveals his beliefs. 

Fan­tas­tic, of course. But this mod­ern-day Joe Hardy, unlike the one in Damn Yan­kees who slew the mighty pin­stripers, becomes more than a mere base­ball play­er. This is not a human being trans­formed; our Golem becomes human, dis­play­ing a soul, a neshama, that is at once empath­ic and com­pas­sion­ate. He is unlike the Golem cre­at­ed by Rab­bi Judah Loew of Prague: While Loew’s Golem had turned destruc­tive and had to be destroyed, [this] Golem had become a real human being, as well as a famous athlete.” 

Sherwin’s book is fun, not to be tak­en seri­ous­ly. His char­ac­ters are rep­re­sen­ta­tions rather than com­plex, believ­able indi­vid­u­als, but this is exact­ly the point. What is impor­tant is the decon­struc­tion of base­ball and Jew­ish thought, to make both acces­si­ble to the read­er. When Rab­bi Loeb observes that he can hear fans all over the ball­park recit­ing the she­hechayanu bless­ing, Blessed art You, our God, Mas­ter of Worlds, who has kept us in life, who has sus­tained us and who has allowed us to reach this moment,” the fans have become wit­ness­es to the pow­er of faith. Not a bad achieve­ment for a rabbi. 

I can hard­ly wait until the next base­ball sea­son. Sor­ry, Mets, but Let’s go, Cubs!”

Noel Kriftch­er was a pro­fes­sor and admin­is­tra­tor at Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly served as Super­in­ten­dent of New York City’s Brook­lyn & Stat­en Island High Schools district.

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