The Psychic and the Rabbi: A Remarkable Correspondence
by Uri Geller and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Published by Sourcebooks
285 pages, 2001
Buy it online
The Spoon-Bender and the Dating Rabbi
Reviewed by Margaret Gunning
I was prepared to scoff. This is, after all, a collection of correspondence between the world's best-known paranormalist (author of such mind-bending titles as Uri Geller's Little Book of Mind Power and Change Your Life in One Day) and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, famous for how-to books such as Kosher Sex and Dating Secrets of the Yen Commandments.
The spoon-bender and the dating rabbi: will this be completely ridiculous? But I plunged in, committing myself to the first 50 pages before allowing myself to condemn. Fifty pages ... 60 ... 70 ... I was becoming engrossed, almost against my will. Surprisingly, The Psychic and the Rabbi is more than just enjoyably hokey (though with its unconditionally loving foreword by Deepak Chopra and its special blessing by the Pope, it is that). It deals with some genuine human concerns in a way which is more than glib or superficial.
These two celebrities don't claim to have all the answers on such matters as violence, war, parenthood, human cloning, UFOs, the pressures of celebrity, the need for redemption, the rigors of marriage and Princess Diana's untimely death. But they're more than happy to provide lots of discourse, colorful, opinionated and sometimes surprisingly thoughtful.
Though at first glance these two men seem worlds (or should I say universes) apart, there is more common ground here than you might think. Geller's roots are deeply Jewish, though he admits, "By the time I was twenty, I thought religion was a steaming pile of platitudes." As a young man he served in the Israeli army and fought in the Six Day War. "My Jewishness has always been something private and personal," he writes. "Many members of the public seem to assume I am a Muslim or a Christian, and most UFOlogists are convinced I didn't come from this world at all."
Both men are children of divorce, with unhappy childhood memories leading to great personal insecurity. Both are almost unbearably intense. And neither seem particularly happy with the fame they chased so hard in youth. Both feel misunderstood and have been held up for public criticism and even ridicule.
Though both of these unlikely spiritual brothers are showmen in their own right, gleefully dropping the names of celebrities whenever possible, they stop short of being mere vaudevillians. In particular, Boteach lives his Judaism fiercely, his lifetime commitment boiling up in every sentence. On the topic of human suffering, he holds particularly bold views:
I reject utterly the balderdash that tells us that suffering ennobles our character and teaches us to value the truly important things in life. There is no good which suffering helps us to achieve that could not have been attained through a more painless means. ... That's why there does not exist, and never has existed, a proper rejoinder to the problem of suffering. Because the proper response is never to seek to understand it, but rather to obliterate it from the earth.
What a refreshing change this is from the puerile New Age belief that "our souls choose the lesson of suffering" (thus getting us off the hook for trying to alleviate it in our fellow humans). Boteach cuts through a lot of modern-day nonsense with ferocious verbal swipes:
It is a heresy that today young men and women are taught that the most noble thing they can live for is their own happiness.
Though Boteach is virtually obsessed with the greater good, Geller's musings are more self-absorbed, even narcissistic. Often they take the form of confessions: he fathered a child at 20 which was given up for adoption; he killed a man during the Six Day War. Boteach replies in turn, addressing Geller's problems in detail and finally granting him a kind of absolution. It's both touching and a little strange. Boteach can be intensely moral, but he seems to be able to tolerate no end of immorality in his psychic friend.
"I believe, though I don't know for certain, that human cloning will occur within ten years," Geller proclaims. "And when it does, I may be ready to overcome my terror of doubles. I shall want to purchase a clone of myself."
What concerns Geller most of all is whether his alter-ego will be similarly gifted: "Will the Uri-child be psychic? Is that in my genes? Will it be in his? Will I be able to train him in MindPower, teach him to read minds and break metal with a brush of his fingertips, help him to see with his psychic eye events that happened scores of years ago and thousands of miles away?"
When the paranormal blathering gets to be too much, Boteach brings things down to earth with a thump: "The world barely knows what to make of the first Uri Geller, and here you are telling us that we will have to contend with another? Perhaps even a whole tribe of Geller spoon-benders, circumnavigating the globe, destroying the earth's eating utensils."
Without Boteach's solid spiritual grounding, The Psychic and the Rabbi would likely become too silly to bother with. Though he is in some ways ultra-orthodox (he believes we should follow the commandment "honor thy father and thy mother" even if our parents have been flagrantly abusive), his convictions are unshakable:
When a man or a woman is missing a spiritual center, a convictional core, a purpose-oriented essence, then they quickly burn out on the inside and the outside. Boredom becomes the bane of their life and they begin to tire of their own existence.
Boteach is anything but bored, jaded or complacent. Though he clearly sees what a mess the world is in, he insists a messiah will eventually come to rescue us (and a male one at that; apparently those few inches of dangling flesh are still extremely important). "But until that time comes," he writes, "each one of us is the messiah. God has given each of us a part of the world that only we can redeem, that only we can uplift. And for that corner of the world, we are indeed the messiah.
In proposing this belief to the self-absorbed Geller, Boteach is merely preaching to the converted. But it is an idea that the rest of us would do well to consider. | August 2001
Margaret Gunning has reviewed many books but never gets tired of the grand adventure of reading. Her poetry has appeared in Prism International and Room of One's Own. She has written a novel (A Singing Tree) and a book of poems (Nonsongs and Neopsalms), and is currently at work on her second novel, Better than Life.