Friday, August 13, 2010

elementary my dear watson

I'm too tired today to do a serious post and I haven't written about books in awhile, so let's do that for a change. I have tried reading many recreations of Sherlock Holmes, always hoping someone will succeed in bringing the great detective back to life, yet I always end up disappointed. I'm sorry, but Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota (to take one example) just doesn't work. The best I have found so far (and this shows you just how bad the pickings are) is some of the Laurie King stuff, but the substitution of a Jewish girl for Watson reaches its limits. Finally, I have found the holy grail. Will Thomas’ Barker and LLewelyn series is as good as it gets. No, it’s not Holmes and Watson, but the period setting is the same and the characters have so much in common with the original pair that you will love it just the same. My only complaint is that the mysteries are more adventure stories than true puzzles in the Agatha Christie sense, and at times the ending seems a bit forced or abrupt, like the author wasn't sure himself how to wrap things up, but these are really just quibbles and don't detract much from the overall enjoyment of the read. The first in the series, "Some Danger Involved," involves the Jewish community of London. The portrayal of Jewish life is a mishmash of partially correct information mixed with some glaring mistakes, but considering the author lives out there in Oklahoma, I'm willing to give him a pass and say nice try. If anyone knows a better series that imitates the great detective (or a great classical detective series I haven't read), please speak up.

Earlier in the summer I read Jeffrey Gurock’s “Orthodox Jews in America,” which may be of interest to some. Hopefully it comes as no surprise that Orthodoxy has evolved greatly since the early 1900's when most of our ancestors arrived. For example, once upon a time Orthodoxy made a concerted effort to try to keep as many people under its umbrella as possible, with “traditional” congregations that had mixed pews and synagogues that held 8:00 Friday night kabbalas Shabbos services even in winter to accommodate those that had to work late being semi-tolerated on the fringes. Day schools were a rarity, and the survival of Orthodoxy was seriously in question. Thank G-d we have “improved” to the point that we now have Orthodox Jews to spare and can now toss folks out of the fold without batting an eyelash (OK, maybe that was too cynical a comment). Be that as it may, the book’s weakness is its overemphasis on the YU/Ramaz world which the author is most familiar with. I think there is something like 50,000 Satmar in America, perhaps a greater number than all those who identify as modern orthodox, yet I don’t think they get a single page. Lubavitch gets a page or two. A complete history this is not, but it’s still worth a look.

I can't say I have read much else lately that has captivated me. Tyler Cowen is intriguing (I like behavioral economics, social and cognitive psychology, and he mixes it all together). I enjoyed the new bio of Antonin Scalia. I’m in the middle of Eric Metaxes’ bio of Dietrich Bonhoffer, but it is slow going and I would have liked more on Bonhoffer's intellectual output and more insight into his psychology. Any recommendations? My tastes are pretty eclectic, so surprise me.


  1. Neil Gaiman, whose basic yesod is that reality stems from the psyche; and Wendell Berry, who, if you can ignore his religious references, has some interesting thoughts about morality and the human condition, sort of like Flannery O'Connor without the grotesquery.

  2. Anonymous3:47 PM

    The Male,Female Brain
    Its 2 Different books more Psychophysiology but very good. Is it true I forgot which context I heard it from Sherlock Holmes is based on the Mahral of Prauge and the Golem i have some foggy recollection of hearing a connection are you aware of it?

  3. I think I read one Gaiman years ago and it was not my cup of tea, but maybe I should try again. Have not tried Berry, so I will add to my list and try report back in a few weeks. I can't find The Male, Female Brain and haven't heard of a Golem - Holmes connection, but why not? "Holmes and the Golem" might not make for a bad story.

    In fiction I like charifus+amkus+wit, like the Terry Pratchett "Discworld" series.

  4. Anonymous4:38 PM

  5. Anonymous4:39 PM

  6. Daas Yochid1:14 AM

    > I forgot which context I heard it from Sherlock Holmes is based on the Mahral of Prauge and the Golem i have some foggy recollection of hearing a connection are you aware of it?

    From here:

    "Conan Doyle composed a story entitled "the Jew's Breastplate" which deals with a fictitious theft of the artifact from the British museum. The story was first printed in a magazine in 1899 and subsequently included in a collection entitled "Round the Fire," published in 1908. The story is admittedly not one of his better known works, and has rarely been reprinted.

    In 1913, there appeared in Piotrkow, Poland, a book entitled "Sefer Hoshen ha-Mishpat shel ha-Kohen ha-Gadol"--"the Book of the High Priest's Breastplate." The Hebrew volume told a story that was virtually identical to Conan Doyle's with one significant difference: the hero was the 16th century Bohemian Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, better known by his acronym "the Maharal." In the story, the Maharal journeys to London in order to solve the mysterious theft of the breast-plate from the "Belmore Street" museum.

    The author of this story was one of the most popular Hebrew writers of the early twentieth century, Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg. Combining traditional rabbinical education and a broad general literary erudition, Rosenberg authored over twenty works while serving as Rabbi in various Polish communities. He was best known for his collections of wondrous tales about famous Rabbis, especially Hasidic masters. Most of these stories were works of out-and-out fiction, though usually not presented as such.

    The Maharal was one of Rosenberg's favourite protagonists and appears in several of his books. In fact, Rosenberg (who apparently believed himself to be a descendant of the Maharal) is responsible for inventing the one detail about the Maharal with which most people are familiar; the famous "Golem," the artificial monster allegedly created by the Rabbi to save the Jews of Prague from anti-Semitic plots. So popular did this "super-hero" become that we find it difficult to believe that the story had no basis in either fact or legend before Rosenberg introduced it in a book published in Warsaw in 1909!

    It appears that several of Rosenberg's stories, whether about the Maharal or Rabbi Elijah Guttmacher the "Greiditzer Rebbe" or others, were really Judaized versions of popular whodunits and adventure stories.

    The tale of the Priestly Breast-plate was in any case destined to be one of Rosenberg's last stories. In 1913 he left Poland for Canada, where he took up rabbinical positions--first in Toronto, and later settling in Montreal--turning his attentions to more respectable rabbinic activities. From this point onwards, his production of stories ceases.

    Rosenberg had presumably learned the important lesson that in Canada one cannot get away with publishing fictitious accounts about the High Priest's Breast-plate"

  7. Anonymous12:25 AM

    Yeah, That was it an amazing Piece of trivia too and now I think that he even Claimed that Doyle copied Him. Thanks