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!”