The Rabbi of Lud

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jerry Goldkorn is the rabbi of Lud, a town in northern New Jersey where all the living residents are transients and all the permanent ones are dead, for Lud is a “company town” operated by the rabbi’s employers, owners of the town’s cemeteries. Goldkorn’s ministry is confined to burying the dead, a job that all too nicely fits the man, for Goldkorn, who never felt called to his vocation, was trained at an “offshore” yeshiva situated on the Maldive Islands and rather willingly accepts the fact that he is less a rabbi than a part of a burial package offered to the bereaved by the rabbi’s employers. Such a man in such a job must necessarily undergo the most absurd crisis of faith in all of literature: a schlemiel’s dark night of the soul, a considerably less than divine comedy.

In a flashback to the “sabbatical” year he spent as rabbi of the Alaska pipeline, the extent of Goldkorn’s absurd dilemma becomes even clearer as the gap between his benignly confident “rabbi mode” and his less professionally practiced and more human doubts widen: “Dread and awe ... were hard in such a awesome, dreadful world,” he learns, but no harder than in the suck-and-sell of his ironic hometown of Lud, where death is big business and fear is so rampant that AIDS victims have to be smuggled into their perpetual-care burial plots so as not to frighten off those who will be dying of less infectious causes. The absurdity of Goldkorn’s situation is...

(The entire section is 438 words.)