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Former Winnipegger Brenda Barrie


by Brenda Barrie, September 24, 2011

[The following is a book review by former Winnipegger   Brenda Barrie and if you read the aericle by her daughter, Aviva  Cohen, you will see that Aviva Cohen defines herself as the  Non-Persian Bride. Does that mean that her mother is the Non-Persian mother in law?]


Rabbi Milton Steinberg, author of the noted work As A Driven Leaf, died around the age of fifty, more than sixty years ago. He was one of the super-rabbis of his age. The novel he left behind, about the noted scholar Rabbi Ben Abbuya, even today is listed as one of the most influential modern Jewish novels lists, alongside works by Potok, Roth, Ozick and other notables.

Now, another Steinberg novel, or most of a novel, The Prophet’s Wife, has been published. This is an unfinished novel about the prophets Hosea and Amos. Steinberg chose his protagonist carefully. Not  Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or other major figures among the prophets, but characters we probably don’t understand, living in times that many Jews have not studied much about.

Why study the eight century BCE of the Northern Kingdom, when we know the Assyrians are going to swoop down on it and take the ten tribes away. We can’t ask Steinberg, but a close reading will tell you much. Did Steinberg believe that the Jews of North America, even the God-fearers, had integrated so much ‘pagan’ worship that they no longer recognized the danger it represented, or what the consequences of such interpolations might be? Was he setting a fairly clear parallel? Were they (either in Steinberg’s time, or in the time he describes) not able to clearly distinguish between moral and immoral behavior?

Also, one must keep in mind that Steinberg wrote this book as the Jewish community was just beginning to deal with the ‘lost’ Jews of the Holocaust. Was he asking if they presented an apt parallel to the Ten Lost Tribes?

Was he asking how was it possible to heed the word of prophets, if they are men from the fringes of society, men the king distained, men married to women of questionable standing in the community?

The character and position of Gomer in the story of Amos, remains one of the most problematic interpretations in prophetic literature. Is the woman a stand-in for the relationship of God and his people? And if she is, why?

Feminists beware. Standard Jewish text overlaid with 50’s thought, even from a rabbi as sensitive as Steinberg — and he was very sensitive to ‘women’s issue’-- remains opaque and troubling.

Numerous scholars were asked to finish the Steinberg novel, which is almost complete. For various reasons, all of them decided to leave the book as it is, a “cliff hanger.”

Our hero is left facing a major moral dilemma. And, oddly, he is only on the edge of his career, or calling, as a prophet. Perhaps that’s why people as disparate as Rabbi Harold Kushner, and feminist writer Norma Rosen, choose not to finish the book, but to comment on it.

The Prophet’s Wife is well worth reading. Book Clubs will find the various forwards and commentaries (which are voluminous and probably should not be swallowed all at once) will make for excellent discussions.

As well, the study guide questions offer markedly better questions than most such offerings. The more knowledge the reader has about the Judaism, Jewish history and text, the more they will find in The Prophet’s Wife.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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