Meeting with Herod

February 8, 2012 at 9:18 am Leave a comment

Book review:


the Man who had to

be King

Author: Yehuda Shulewitz
Completed and co-edited by Malka Hillel-Shulewitz
Published by Penina Press. 495 pages

I can’t imagine that there’s another town like Jerusalem when it comes to the number of published authors per capita. I personally know a few dozen people who’ve written books and had them published. Novels, non-fiction, poetry, volumes of short stories;.books in English, Hebrew and German. My wife’s boss has had a few books published in Hebrew and German. Her cousin is having a novel published. A neighbor’s published book in Hebrew graces my bookshelf. Even my electrician has had a novel published and it’s pretty good. Every time we are invited to a social gathering I find myself engaging in a discussion with someone about their latest published or soon-to-be published novel or treatise on philosophy or science. There must be something in the air here … or the people!

And now it emerges that the husband of my wife’s former boss, who is also a personal friend, has also had a book published posthumously. Yehuda Shulewitz had been the editor of the Bank of Israel Publications Department in English for 27 years before going back to university and earning an advanced degree in Jewish history, which also focused on the Herodian period. Anyone who has read the Wars of the Jews by Josephus can attest to the fact that it’s very, very hard going indeed. There are so many characters, intrigues, twists, wavering loyalties covering a broad canvas encompassing the Land of Israel and neighboring regions all the way to Rome. Shulewitz wrote a novel about King Herod. It takes unusual grit to tackle such as vast, complex subject.

But Yehuda Shulewitz was the type of guy who would savor a challenge. As a young man during Israel’s War of Independence, needing to get to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, which at that time had been under siege for months, he simply packed a backpack and walked most of the way, through mountains, hills, wadis and plains, skirting past Arab encampments and patrols.

 Subsequently, he served in Israel’s nascent army in Galilee, where coincidentally, this book begins. Galilee has vistas that can readily infuse long-lasting impressions – impressions it seems, that found their way into this book many decades later. After Shulewitz’ advanced studies he began to put together this novel, which is about one of the most controversial figures of the ancient world. However, Shulewitz felt that he had to do a lot more studying – of the subject itself. A thorough man, he also made a study of fiction writing – which is not quite the same as writing economic treatises.

In his last years Shulewitz took ill. He tried to complete the book, but died before he could finish it. His wife, Malka Hillel-Shulewitz, a writer and editor in her own right, had seen the enormous effort that her husband had put into the novel, and she wasn’t prepared to let it all go to waste. She spent a year going over what her husband had written, studying the subject, editing and writing the novel’s concluding pages.

“Herod the Man who had to be King” was published recently by Penina Press. As a writer and editor on fiscal matters in his earlier job, which had demanded totally impartial, coldly objective, humorless factuality molded in maximum brevity, Yehuda Shulewitz needed to make a switch in his writing mode. As a novelist he needed to construct scenes, characters and events that come to life in the readers’ minds; scenes that evoke smells and sounds, and create characters with very human traits that come alive in the events that have the reader eagerly turning pages. Shulewitz’ scholarship, writing skills and a self-critical nature, laced with empathy and humor have made this an eminently readable book, especially for anyone who has tried to understand the Herodian Period and couldn’t penetrate within any depth because of its enormous complexity. It is also marvelous reading for the history buff, curious about the personalities involved.

Available through Amazon and bookstores, including Steimatzky’s and Pomerantz.


Entry filed under: Jewish survival, Religion and belief. Tags: , , , , , .

Redeeming the world through truthfulness Winter showers and flowers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


%d bloggers like this: