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Book Review - Judas

Howard Mintz

Howard Mintz of Kol Ami gives his take on Judas by Amos Oz, the last novel of the late and great Israeli writer.

About 18 months ago, the Kol Ami Book Club discussed Judas, the final novel of late Israeli writer and political activist, Amos Oz. Oz believed in a vision of both Jews and Palestinians mutually recognizing each other’s national aspirations within two separate nation states. I am dedicating this review of Judas to his memory ....

Life is difficult for Shmuel Ash, a graduate student at Hebrew University in the late 1950’s. His long-term girlfriend has left him to marry someone else, who is financially more established. His parents’ business has gone bankrupt and struggle to support him financially while he studies. Shmuel’s research on Jewish views of Jesus, during his lifetime, seems to have stalled, and much to the consternation of his academic advisor, he decides to drop out and look for work. This is how Judas begins.

Shmuel finds work as a live-in caregiver for a cantankerous old man named Gershon Wald, who is physically disabled and largely wheelchair bound. Wald is a retired history teacher with a passion for heated intellectual discussions with people on the telephone. Part of Shmuel’s duties involve engaging in discussion with Gershon Wald. Shmuel is an idealist who is involved in a tiny socialist group at the fringe of Israeli politics.

Atalia Abravanel is the third presence in the home. She is the beautiful daughter of a deceased Zionist leader and is also Gershon Wald’s daughter-in-law. Shmuel is attracted to her intellectuality and beauty. She sends mixed messages to Shmuel regarding her interest in him and their relationship is fraught with difficulties.

There are two deceased characters in the book. One is Shaltiel Abravanel, Atalia’s father, who was expelled from the Zionist executive, under Ben Gurion, for not supporting the establishment of a Jewish state, but advocating, instead, for a bi-national Jewish Arab state. He was viewed as a traitor by the Jewish public, was shunned, and lived the rest of his life in isolation.

Gershon’s son, Micha, was a brilliant mathematician who was Atalia’s husband; he was killed in the Israeli War of Independence. His body was savagely mutilated. Judas Iscariot (Yehuda Ish Kariot) is also discussed at length by Oz. In Christian tradition, Judas is viewed as a traitor to Jesus for informing on him to the Sanhedrin for 30 silver pieces. Oz claims that Judas was not a traitor to Jesus, but a loving supporter.

The intellectual discussions in this book are often centred around the complexities of the Jewish-Palestinian national conflict and the difficult historical experience of the Jewish people in Christian lands.

To many in Israel, Oz had been considered a traitor due to his dovish views on the Palestinian issue.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is open to considering a range of perspectives on Jewish history, political Zionism, the origins of Christianity, and the concept of being a traitor.

 

Sat, September 18 2021 12 Tishrei 5782