The Temple of HaShem
By Hyam Yona Becker Gefen, Jerusalem & New York: 1997
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 9, 2004
Witty, imaginative, and enthralling; The Temple of HaShem, by Hyam Yona Becker is a thrilling science fiction adventure story, with a twist. The twist is that this is a Jewish science fiction story. It interweaves Kabbalistic and Midrashic lore, as well as traditional religious practices, along with the plot elements that you would expect to find in a mainstream science fiction novel, such as space ships, aliens, and hard science.
The characters in this book are diverse and realistic. The main character is Shlomo Tzadok, an archaeology professor at the University of Tel Aviv who is afraid to eat anything mushy, and who recently became a baal-tshuva (a non-religious Jew who has become Torah Observant). He became religious while on an expedition in Greenland where he met Enki. A self-reliant member of the Inkachou tribe, Enki happens to be a Jewish Eskimo who also has a tendency to speak Aramaic in his sleep. Tzadok is in the process of giving up his teaching position so that he can study full time at his Rebbe's Yeshiva.
Yet, before he can totally throw off the yoke of the secular world and devote himself full time to his religious studies, Tzadok has one last task to complete. As a former member of Israel's elite Golani ski patrol military unit, and based upon his academic and field work experiences in Greenland, Tzadok is tasked by the Israeli Institute for Polar Research and Development (IIRPD) to lead a team to Antarctica. His job is to claim, for Israel, the small sliver of land there that was recently given to Israel by the United Nations when it partitioned Antarctica among the various members of the UN. This is a mission fought with many dangers, and many unusual problems. For instance, when do you put on teffillin (phylacteries) when you are in a land that has days 24 hours long? This and many other unique Halachic (religious law) questions are ably answered by Tzadok's Rebbe, the world famous Rabbi Weinstock.
Tzadok is joined on the expedition by Joe Miller, a mountain climbing Texan-American emigree to Israel, and by the hard drinking Russian, Major Igor "Crudd" Cruddofsky. A survivor of a Russian Gulag, Crudd is well versed in survival skills - skills that they will all need to survive their harrowing journey. Led by Enki, Tzadok's Eskimo friend, the four men must battle the elements and the terrain as they cross the barren antarctic ice sheet. Their destination, a mountain nicknamed, Mt. Sinai. What they find when they reach Mt. Sinai will forever change not only their lives, but the lives of everyone in the world...
I don't want to say too much as it will give the story away. But let it suffice to say that the intrepid travelers discover the remnants of a people who survived Noah's flood, they meet an eight-foot purple alien who walks with a limp, Enki has a life changing experience, and Tzadok meets the girl of his dreams. The only problem is, she's not Jewish and, therefore, is not someone he can marry! Thrown into this eclectic mix are questions about the origin of the Torah, the coming of Moshiach, and a Pesach-like exodus story that is a pivotal element in this epic tale.
The Temple of HaShem is an all-around rousing story. It is liberally laced with witty puns, and Becker's droll humor will have you chuckling at odd moments throughout this eccentric tale. Not only is this story wonderfully entertaining, but it will also cause you to think. Not just on the plausibility of his story, but also on the many social issues that he addresses, ranging from what motivates people to make aliyah to Israel to Israeli bureaucracy. He also, lightly, touches upon the influence that a religious Jew can have on those around him who are not yet religious, i.e., the importance of teaching by example rather than bashing people over the head!
This book is infused with Jewish nuances, religious passions, and Torah observant practices. However you don't have to be observant, or even Jewish to fully appreciate and enjoy this masterful work of science fiction. A short glossary is included at the end of the book that defines many of the 'Jewish' terms that may be unfamiliar to some.
The Holy Land, by Robert Zubrin.
A satirical look at the Palestinian - Israeli conflict, and the ongoing war on terrorism, in the guise of a thrilling science fiction space opera.
Lies My Father Told Me, By Ted Allan and Never Had it so Good, by Charles Israel.
Two vintage radio plays on two audio cassettes. The first play is a story of intergenerational conflict, and a young boy's coming of age in the Montreal of the 1920's. The second radio play, Never Had it so Good, centers around a group of concentration camp survivors and their desire to move to Israel and form a Kibbutz, a goal that is in danger of being thwarted by an anti-Semitic American Army Colonel.