May 3, 2001
Exploring Faith’s Price
"Love and Liberation: When the Jews Tore Down the Ghetto Walls" by Ralph David Fertig (Writers Club Press, $17.95)
On Jan. 9, 1807, Prince Jerome of Prussia decreed that the fortifications of the ancient city of Breslau could be destroyed. After 540 years of isolation, the Jews of Breslau tore down the ghetto gates. Under Napoleonic law, they were now free to pursue their religion while becoming citizens of the state.
For some, this meant breaking away from the strictures of Orthodoxy and embracing a new religion; for others, it meant a splintering of Judaism's moral authority. Nothing would ever be the same again: under the new guard, freedom brought justice, but with it, a loss in faith.
It is exactly the price of this faith that author and retired judge, lawyer and civil-rights freedom fighter Ralph David Fertig dissects in his new historical novel, "Love and Liberation." The story of three Jewish protagonists is played out against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the collapse of the Roman Empire, the emergence of capitalism and the birth of Reform Judaism. Like any satisfying puzzle, the pieces of this book intertwine through fiction and historical fact to give us a bird's-eye view of the forces that ended feudalism and ushered in the Age of Enlightenment.
Like "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant, a biblical fiction about Dinah, "Love and Liberation" reveals more truth than historical fact. We feel, along with the characters, a time when the spirit of revolution was fueled by new movements in literature, philosophy and religion: how some Jews held on, desperate to maintain the old, familiar ways of the ghetto, while others, like Fertig's protagonists, became energized in the discovery of change.
Despite some overly long expository dialogue that works against the flow of narrative, the book is finely written, bold and direct. It dishes up such a wealth of interesting historical accounts and believable characters that we feel rewarded and entertained. Fertig is a fresh voice in Jewish historical fiction.