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In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  498 ratings  ·  107 reviews
Isaac, 43, a haberdasher, has led a life of “almosts” – almost getting married, almost becoming a rabbi, almost starting a school of his own. After his mother dies, he leaves the Lower East Side and moves to Jerusalem, where he ends up as an assistant to an elderly kabbalist and his wife who daily minister to the seekers who gravitate to their courtyard.

One day on an erran
ebook, 272 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by NYRB LIT (first published January 1st 2013)
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Jan Rice
The Wikipedia section on Inspirational Literature starts out coy, with the contention that Chicken Soup for the Soul is inspirational literature. Then the entry acknowledges that in the U.S., "inspirational literature" means Christian fiction. So let this book constitute a new genre: Jewish inspirational fiction. The writing wasn't bad. I tried to think what it was reminding me of: maybe books I used to read as a child, formulaic below the surface. It had an unrealistic feel, but at the same tim ...more
Nathaniel Popkin
Oct 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Reprinted from my review in: Cleaver Magazine

As I was crossing the street just outside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem one evening this summer, I noticed a Palestinian boy, about 15 years old, flying a kite on the corner. It was about seven and the sun had disappeared already. The light was pink. The sky in the distance was a cloudless blue, but it seemed, at dusk, to have the texture of felt. An orthodox Jewish mother, wearing a headscarf and long skirt, came across to the traffic i
Glenna Pritchett
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I very much enjoyed the story of Isaac, Tamar, and Mustafa, and I was impressed by the wisdom that is packed into it. Jews, Muslims, Christians -- if we would just sit down and get to know one another, we would find that we are more alike than not. We would find, of course, that we are all just ordinary people, trying to get through this life the best way we can. But most of all, we would find that the three religions all funnel back to the same God. So why be enemies?

A quick and very good read.
Sep 17, 2013 rated it really liked it

What a long title for so short a book but what a wallop it packs. I was hesitant to read a book with such a religious sounding title because such books can become preachy and tedious. My fears were needless. This book is set in Jerusalem and its two main characters are a Jew and Muslim however the real theme is not so much religion as it is acceptance, humanity, understanding, and compassion.

Isaac was a tailor in New York prior to coming to Israel to pursue his religious knowledge. He
Andy Weston
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: israel
After the death of his mother, Isaac Markowitz, afflicted by eczema, sells the struggling family haberdashery in New York and moves to Jerusalem. Mustafa is a janitor at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount; tormented and bullied by his own community because of a deformity.
“Don't stand out in any way or bring attention on yourself," a relative had once told him, "It would be like drawing attention to a mistake of Allah."
This is the story of how Isaac’s and Mustafa’s lives bizarrely intersect, and it is won
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: those-crazy-jews
Someone called Ruchama King Feuerman the Jewish Jane Austen. I disagree. I think she's the Jewish Graham Greene, traveling to far-away and war-torn parts of the world, teasing apart tangled knots of religious differences.

Isaac is a bearded Orthodox Jew who works as an assistant to the Kabbalist of the title. Beneath that long black coat, he is suffering under the burdens of loneliness, an unhealed broken heart, and preconceived idealized notions of what his wife should be like. Taken together, t
Dov Zeller
Jan 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Isaac and Mustafa meet early on in this novel, an unlikely pair, a bit of a problematic but disarming odd couple, both suffering from physical and existential malaise. They meet not long after Isaac makes aliyah. He arrives in Jerusalem from the U.S. after his mother's death, and soon becomes the social director of sorts in the titular courtyard of a kabbalist.

Isaac is now an orphan, and with few if any family or relationship ties. Mustafa is also, in his own way, an orphan, because though his
Kressel Housman
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: israel, torah, jewish, fiction
I didn't think Ruchama King Feuerman could possibly beat her first book, Seven Blessings, but if this book didn't do it, it definitely matched. Like Seven Blessings, it's a love story set in Jerusalem, but what's different about it is that in addition to the man and woman in the love story, there's a third main character: an Arab. This allows the book to venture beyond the subject of marriage and into the Arab-Israeli conflict, but to call it "political" puts way too mundane a stamp on it. The c ...more
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: con-ficition
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is one of my favorite books so far this year. Beautifully written with a story that slowly unfolds and reveals wonderful characters who will stay with you for a long time.

The characters are so richly portrayed that I fell in to story at once. This is a novel of individuals, of relationships, of prejudice, of insight and of reflection, of wisdom and understanding.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is one of my favorite books this year, and I've hated having
Dec 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
The prologue draws the reader in immediately by perfectly capturing the atmosphere of the kabbalist and his entreaters. In a dry and dusty courtyard, a rebbe and his wife show kindness to those in need: damaged people, people who are disfigured, emotionally disturbed, poverty stricken, any and all who come to seek their advice and food. They serve the needs of these sad misfits with no place else to go to seek counsel or solace. Somehow, their wise and common sense advice, delivered in the simpl ...more
Holly R W
Oct 19, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this rather gentle story. It reminded me a little of "In My Father's Court" by I.B. Singer. Set in Jerusalem, the book is about American born Isaac Markowitz who becomes an assistant to an inspiring orthodox Rebbe. With the Rebbe's wife's help (Shaindel Bracha), they serve out kindness and spiritual guidance to the Rebbe's followers, along with Shaindel's home-made soup.

The book centers around Isaac, Tamar (his would-be girlfriend) and Mustafa, a Muslim janitor who works on t
robin friedman
Nov 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
A Novel Of Late Twentieth Century Jerusalem

Ruchama King Feuerman's thoughtful, religious second novel, "In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist" (2013) features complex characters and a great deal of feeling and insight together with a plodding story. Feuerman, is an American Orthodox Jew who moved to Israel at the age of seventeen in search of spiritual growth. She subsequently returned to the United States. Her novel undoubtedly reflects her own spiritual searching, questions, and experience.

Set in
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Totally amazing to see hatred born & raised inside communities, cultures & individuals. But when one person faces another of that learned hatred & begins to know them & question their belief is interesting. Just something I took from reading this great story of two long time differences.
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is an engaging, beautifully crafted and courageous novel that shatters stereotypes, going beyond the geopolitical tension of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to reveal the internal struggles and compassion of the heart. Against this backdrop is a multi-layered story of friendship between a lonely Arab janitor -- afflicted with a crooked neck and abandoned by his family -- and a single Jewish man who leaves his unfulfilling life in New York and finds his way as the assis ...more
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel develops around the unlikely friendship between Mustafa, an Arab janitor from the Temple Mount, and Isaac, an Orthodox Jew who has found refuge from the problems of his own life as the assistant to a revered Kabbalist to whom people flock for blessings and advice.

A small kindness from Isaac to Mustafa sets it all in motion. Mustafa suffers both physical and emotional pain from a deformity that makes his neck irredeemably twisted. Shunned by his mother and rejected socially, Mustafa cl
Anna Olswanger
Oct 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is a novel about two expatriate Americans in Jerusalem and a deformed Arab janitor whose lives become intertwined romantically, spiritually and dangerously in the courtyard of an elderly kabbalist. It's literary fiction, but plot driven.

Ruchama Feuerman has told a story different from the stories we've all been fed about the Middle East. The unrelenting streams of information coming out from there—the terrorism, the self-important editorials, the never endi
Jan 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-lit, jewish-lit
Feuerman weaves a number of threads of Jewish tradition to create a satisfying and touching story. The presence and credence given to kabbalah rings true; the prisoners portrayed in the jail chapters called to mind an updated retelling of people from a Baal Shem Tov story. I thought that she struck a balance in creating characters that were likable but not perfect. Feuerman also captured the romantic tension in religious dating and relationships.
I thought she did an adequate job explaining the p
If you are a student of the Kabbalah or even just someone with a more than casual interest, there may be a wealth of symbolism here. The chapter numbers, the progression of the story,and of the emotional state of the protagonists, perhaps the number of vowels, all could very well create a pattern for the universe. If so, it was beyond me to figure out alone, although it wasn't hard to anticipate the trajectory and to delight in this tale of cultural confusion and well intentioned mis-communicati ...more
Nov 27, 2016 rated it liked it
There was at least one detail (Mustafa's ability to bury archeological artifacts on the Temple Mount without anyone noticing) I found unlikely, though I was just barely able to suspend disbelief. During the same period I was listening to the audiobook version of this novel I have been reading (with my eyes) Rhoda Lerman's God's Ear compared to which In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is not in the same league. ...more
Sara Prager
Oct 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book peels away the layers of politics of a charged environment and draws characters from different backgrounds who walk into our hearts and stay for a while. Feuerman gives us Jerusalem in all of its beauty and grittiness and we are enriched by all of it because this tale takes us to a place of hope and redemption.
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely spectacular. I could taste the dust of the Old City and smell the olive tree in the Rebbe's courtyard. A beautiful, romantic and spiritual tale in a classical vein. ...more
Oct 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Like Jerusalem itself - full of byways and misunderstandings and odd collisions of religion and politics, antiquity and modernity. This is a story of false starts, love and redemption.
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was so fascinated by the two main characters of this engrossing novel, the elderly kabbalist's assistant, a never-married man in his forties who has traveled to Jerusalem from New York's Lower East Side to find some meaning in his life helping others -- and a humble Muslim porter whose job it is to sweep and keep clean the Temple Mount, and who begins to discovered fragments and shards from early Judaism in the ground. I loved the language, the setting, the odd and wonderful relationship of th ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it liked it
If I tell you my story,
you will listen for a while
and then you will fall asleep.
But, if, as I tell you my story,
you will begin to hear your own story,
you will wake up.
Hassidic saying

Above is from the opening of this work.
This book could just as easily been called Open Your Eyes.
A seeming fable or maybe it is a story with a touch of magical realism.
This novel has sweetness at its center. It revolves around a group of people who in one way or another are not fully realized in their own lives. In
Oct 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
by Ruchama King Feurman
260 pages

Ruchama King Feurman’s novel opens with a Hassidic saying. “If I tell you my story, you will listen for awhile and then you will fall silent. But, if I tell you my story and you begin to hear your own story, you will wake up.”
And wake us up she does! Set in Jerusalem, the novel is propelled by the friendship between a brilliant, but schlepy, middle-aged, Hassidic former haberdasher from the Lower East Side
Talia Carner
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: jewish-fiction
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist

I was blown away by the originality and details of the two male characters in this novel. Ruchama King Feuerman did an amazing job coming up with very interesting shortcomings for each of these men whose destiny places them in each other’s path in Jerusalem.

It is always astonishing to outsiders to discover the diversity of the characters that populate that city. Probably more than anywhere else in the world, Jerusalem is a magnet to the most varied people, and K
Mar 31, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm so disappointed by this book. The premise was so original. A disillusioned haberdasher from New York moves to Israel and becomes assistant to a Kabbalist, a rabbi who people flock to for help with every problem you can imagine. By chance he meets an Arab who is a janitor on the Temple Mount. The encounter, though brief, has a profound impact on this janitor, who is deformed and has been rejected by his mother. He meets a young woman who has returned to Judaism from a secular upbringing. The ...more
Oct 22, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So... the women in my knitting group have been going on and on about this book. How great it is. How it really isn't a "Jewish" book. etc. etc. I finally decided to read it if only so that I could join in the conversation.

Now I'm not sure how I'll do that.

I found this book to be stereotypical and rather prejudiced. With a good dose of Zionism thrown in.

Yes, the writing was pretty good, but the subject and tone of the book were so offensive to me that I can't recommend this to anyone.
JM Randolph
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved everything about this book. Beautiful writing, great characters. I wasn't at all deterred by the fact that I know nothing about this world and felt like I accidentally learned something by the end. She's a strong writer who trusts her readers and doesn't spoon feed them or wrap things up all neatly with bows at the end. Fed my soul. ...more
Dec 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: religion
Bigotry, even when it's from the perspective of MY tribe, is not ok. In fact, maybe that should be ESPECIALLY not from the perspective of my tribe. I expect more and I would be *mortified* if anybody whose opinion I value read this awful tripe. ...more
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Ruchama King Feuerman was born in Nashville, grew up in Virginia and Maryland, and when she was seventeen, bought a one-way ticket to Israel to seek her spiritual fortune. Seven Blessings (St. Martin’s Press), her celebrated first novel about match-making, earned her the praise of the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News, and Kirkus Reviews dubbed her "the Jewish Jane Austen." She wrote her ...more

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“He chuckled. “Be focused. Direct all your thoughts to one point. Let the prayers take effect. Let them change you into a new person, Tamar. Just like Moses, after forty days of talking to God on Sinai, became a new being.” The tabby crept past and squeezed between his legs.” 1 likes
“couple. It reminded him of a Talmudic tale of a yeshiva student who followed his rabbi all day long, scrutinizing him as he prayed, ate, and studied. Once, the student even entered the scholar’s bedroom at night and hid under the bed to see what he could see. When the ancient scholar peeked under his bed and found his student staring back at him, the boy said, “This, too, is Torah and I have come to learn.” Not that Isaac would ever carry things that far. But” 0 likes
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