Herman Wouk’s ‘The Lawgiver’ Marks Return to Form

At 97, a Writer Remembers the Past

By Rachel Gordan

Published November 26, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

This does not exactly signal “the end of men,” but it is a refreshing transformation within the career of a novelist that Time Magazine once called “a Sinclair Lewis in reverse,” for his championing of traditional values.

At one point in “The Lawgiver,” Margo self-consciously signs a letter as “Almost Marjorie.” With a Wikipedia entry that describes her as a “phenom” in the film industry, it is Marjorie who doesn’t quite measure up to Margo.

Put this way, Margo might seem like literary evidence for our contemporary debate over whether women can “have it all.” But fiction reveals subtler realities. Each of Margo’s choices comes with a cost: a rift with her family after her abandonment of religious practice, a barren love life while she is in the trenches of her career. When Margo is invited to work on a movie about Moses, the consultant with whom she must meet is none other than Wouk himself.

“I didn’t know he was still alive,” Margo tells her mother, but she is hopeful that her association with the famous writer will help redeem her in her father’s eyes. “Tatti’s never read a novel in his life, and never will, but he did read a God book Wouk wrote back in the ‘50s,” Margo writes, referring to Wouk’s 1959 “This Is My God.”

Wouk has met his match in Margo. Her ideas about Moses as a character “at once holy and pathetically human and yet formidable as Caesar” emerge from a childhood of learning with her father. Another thing Margo hasn’t shed is an old flame, Josh Lewin, who — as a senior partner in an international law firm and a Modern Orthodox Jew — would have won many points from Marjorie Morgenstern’s parents.

Margo and Josh eventually make their way towards each other and the strains of Hava Nagila and Jewish wedding dance music are heard in the novel’s closing scene. So, how exactly is this love story different from all other love stories? For one, only Wouk would use Talmudic law as a means of drawing his plot to its joyful close. There is also the surprise that the 2012 ending will strike readers as more unambiguously happy (in a sweet, 1950s sort of way) than that of the original. The difference is where we leave Margo. As a writer, she is much nearer to her dreams than Marjorie. By dint of learning and creative powers, Margo has even achieved a certain insight into Moshe Rabeinu.

Meanwhile, by the end of the story, the character Herman Wouk is still struggling to write his own novel about Moses. That may be a topic for a future Wouk book.

Rachel Gordan is a post-doctoral fellow in American Jewish Religion and Culture at Northwestern University.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.