Book Review: Moses the Heretic, By Daniel Spiro

What if…an American Rabbi sparked a worldwide movement for peace? What if he advocated full engagement and alliance with Arabs and recognition of the value and beauty of Islam? What if he suggested that Jews and Muslims and Christians have equal claim to the rich inheritance of the Abrahamic religions; that we are all, indeed, People of the Prophets?

And what if he did all this and looked like Osama bin Laden?

That’s the premise of Daniel Spiro’s novel, Moses the Heretic. Moses Levine is indeed regarded as a heretic by more conventional American Zionists. Spiro creates compelling arguments for his modern Moshe, and places him in a story with lots of action – kidnapping, murder plots, fistfights, synagogue politics. I found the philosophy and theology absorbing and convincing. If Moses Levine really walked among us, I’d probably join his movement.

Unfortunately, Spiro’s writing and characerizations are far less compelling. We know Moses only through the eyes of his friend, Richie Gold, who narrates the story, and much of the action seems to take place offstage. We don’t see the exciting stuff happen; we read Richie’s after-the-fact account. Moses himself never fully takes shape, despite the wealth of biographical information that Richie delivers, and the secondary characters are even more sketchily drawn. Women, in particular, seem to exist only to move the plot forward and to provide pleasant scenery and the required quota of sex – which is again described mostly after it has happened.

Despite those flaws, I enoyed the book. It would be an interesting choice for a discusson group. Spiro forces his readers to confront their own assumptions about Israel and Zionism, and offers a provocative and persuasive alternative to the standard arguments.

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