Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 607
In a taxicab in Manhattan as Charles, a middle-aged, nominally Christian financial analyst, discovers that he has been transformed into an Orthodox Jew during the ride. Charles is so shocked that he tells the cabdriver. His next step is to tell Sue, his wife, but he is nervous about telling her and needs help to approach her about his newfound religion. Charles is depicted as being level-headed and Sue as an ideal wife who has a top-notch job. They have no children.
Charles plans to seek guidance from his psychologist, Dr. Birnbaum, regarding his newly discovered Jewish soul, but he also seeks help from religious individuals. By hunting through the huge Manhattan yellow pages, where he knows he can find anything, Charles locates the Royal Hills Mystical Jewish Reclamation Center (R-HMJRC), a type of clearinghouse for the Judeo-supernatural that deals in messianic issues, dream interpretation, numerology, retreats, and recovered memory.
After traveling to the R-HMJRC, housed in a beautifully renovated Gothic brownstone, he ascends the stairs to the cluttered, dusty attic where Rabbi Zalman Meintz, spiritual leader of the R-HMJRC, has his office. Like Charles’s home, much of the furniture is covered in chintz, but unlike the chintz-covered furniture in Charles’s newly decorated foyer, living room, and dining room, the rabbi’s office couches are old and worn. The rabbi is described as being around thirty years old, wearing a black suit and black hat, and having a long black beard and a large caricaturelike nose. Charles confesses that he is Jewish. The rabbi proceeds to tell him that his statement is quite believable and that he accepts Charles as a fellow Jew.
The rabbi encourages Charles to go home and tell his wife, Sue, an art director for a glamorous magazine. She maintains their home with a decorator’s skill, displaying a preference for chintz and elegant table settings. When Charles states that he is Jewish, she thinks he is having a nervous breakdown. His epiphany affects his workplace as he receives numerous telephone calls from Dr. Birnbaum and personal visits from Rabbi Zalman and has confrontations with his chief executive officer, Walter.
At home Sue ignores Charles and serves foods that do not involve kosher issues. Sue and Charles have been married twenty-seven years and argue frequently. She views Charles’s behavior as a midlife crisis. One incident that reinforces her opinion occurs when Charles takes a mezuzah from a neighbor’s doorpost and nails it to his apartment doorpost. This is inappropriate behavior, and Sue becomes upset. She suggests that he and the rabbi should be committed for their antisocial behavior.
Charles arranges a dinner for Dr. Birnbaum, Rabbi Zalman, Sue, and himself. Sue orders kosher food from a nearby restaurant for the dinner. The elegant service and presentation to which Sue is accustomed are replaced with paper goods and plastic dinnerware that enable the meal to be served in a kosher manner. Sue goes to great efforts to accommodate her husband’s newly acquired need. The only kosher wine she finds in the store is a screw-top kosher wine.
At dinner, Zalman makes rude remarks to the psychologist, and Sue is rendered helpless. She kneels on the floor to pray. She plans to pray for God to remove the newfound Jewishness from Charles so that he will be as he was before his Jewish soul overtook him. Charles joins her on the floor, and they have a frank discussion. Sue likens Charles’s newfound religion to a new lover. Charles wants to keep his marriage with Sue and hopes that she will accept him and love him as he now is.
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