Book Review: Kabbalah: A Love Story

Review By: 
Bonny V. Fetterman

When is a predictable love story more than a predictable love story? When a teacher of mysticism like Rabbi Lawrence Kushner uses it as a parable. Kushner spins fables within fables to explain the history and worldview of the Kabbalists-and has them all taking place concurrently, colliding with and illuminating each other.

The novel begins with Kalman Stern, a professor of mysticism, finding an ancient handwritten letter in a copy of the Zohar that he acquired in Safed. Is it a love letter, or a spiritual insight on the creation of the cosmos? Was it written by Moses de Leon, the likely author of the Zohar in thirteenth-century Spain? And to whom was this letter addressed?

Stern embarks on a scholarly investigation of this intriguing document at the same time that he is starting to date again after a painful divorce. Isabel Benveniste, his lady friend, is an astronomy professor and a lapsed Catholic with an old Spanish-Jewish name. She shares his fascination with the Big Bang and the space-time continuum. Despite all the interests they have in common, the relationship of these two lonely academics languishes, until the mysterious letter gives them some important hints on how to love again.

Bonny V. Fetterman is literary editor of Reform Judaism magazine.