“Nothing Is Sacred”

Photo by Tony RinaldoPhoto by Tony Rinaldo
Julia Hanna

“This is a book I had to write at some point,” says Tova Reich RI ’12. The novel in question is “One Hundred Philistine Foreskins,” a reference to the bride-price demanded by King Saul for the hand of his daughter. The title is startling but not surprising for readers familiar with Reich’s earlier works, which include a hilarious satirical indictment of those who would use the Holocaust for personal and financial gain (My Holocaust: A Novel, HarperCollins, 2007). “As a writer, I don’t consider anything off-limits or sacred,” she says.

A charismatic female rabbi is at the center of her newest work. “Temima is a brilliant leader who insists on living the life of a woman, a sage, and a spiritual guru—with shattering consequences,” says Reich. Her protagonist is a fictional creation inspired in part by the Maiden of Ludmir, a 19th-century Hasidic female rabbi, and by Anne Hutchinson, the Puritan Bible teacher and dissident.

During her fellowship year, Reich also wrote a novella, drawing from time spent living in the Indian holy city of Varanasi. “I’ve written a great deal about Jerusalem, and I see a connection between the two places,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in spiritual places and any sort of extreme religious devotion.”

As for the hard work of writing, Reich observes that the “pressure comes from within; it doesn’t matter to the world if you do it,” making her appreciate the combination of  “community and solitude” found at Radcliffe all the more.

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