Before I begin this short blog post, I’d like to ask my readers to do this: Search on Google for “Lamed Vav.”
Now as some of my readers here might know, Adam Kirsch is an American poet and literary critic, whose books include ”The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.” This week he dipped his toes into what one might call “Jewish cli-fi.”
You see, Steven Pressfield, at the ripe wonderful age of 76, has written a Jewish cli-fi novel titled “36 Righteous Men,” and Adam Hirsch reviewed it for Table Magazine.
While Christian novelists have had their hands full writing all kinds of cockamamie mysteries and thrillers about the Vatican and the Louvre and insane prophecies left and right, it’s a whole new ballgame for Jewish novelists now.
Do Jewish readers have anything to compete with the likes of novels by Dan Brown or Tim La Haye and his writing partner Jerry B. Jenkins?
“A handful of arty novels about golems” is about it, Adam Hirsch quips.
But then he asks: “Surely readers deserve at least one book where the hero unravels an ancient Jewish mystery and staves off the end of the world by shooting an RPG at the devil to knock him back through the portals of Gehenna? Right?”
Well, now readers have one, he announces. Enter Steven Pressfield’s ”36 Righteous Men.”
Turns out that Pressfield published his first novel, “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” when he was in his 50s — and, according to Hirsch, he “writes fast-paced, stripped-down prose that is regularly interrupted by lovingly technical descriptions of computers, cars, and weaponry.”
”One episode in this new novel, where the good guys enter an IDF armory to select the guns they will use to fight the bad guy, evokes the opening of countless shoot-’em-up video games,” Hirsch notes.
The story Pressfield tells?
It’s about a Jewish private eye trying to unravel a strange case he is assigned to: a series of murders where the victims are found choked to death and with the letters ”LV” stamped into the flesh, Hirsch explains.
In Hebrew, the mythical numerical value of the LV letters is 36, and they refer to a legend that in each generation, there are 36 perfectly just men, the ”lamed-vavniks,” on whose merit the existence of the world depends.
If Tom Hanks gets cast as main character in the movie version of Pressfield’s novel, he might say something like this: ”In a passage of messianic speculation in Tractate Sanhedrin, the rabbis say that the world has no fewer than 36 righteous people in each generation who greet the Divine Presence. But the catch is that no one seems to know who exactly these people are: So they are called ”tzadikim nistarim” in Hebrew, the hidden righteous ones. And even the tzadikim themselves, in some tellings, don’t know that they belong to the group.”
This novel has Hollywood written all over it.
The story takes place in the near future, in the year 2034, and as Pressfield imagines it, all of the LV victims are, in one way or another, fighting against climate change.
“Goodness is no longer a religious concept but an ecological one,” Hirsch, the master quipper, quips again.
Count me in. I’ve ordered this book today.