Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi's Posthumous Story Gilgul in the New Yorker

New Yorker has published fiction by Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi. It reports that “Gilgul” is a “short story in which a man in crisis consults a medium and considers the transmigration of souls.” The story begins:
“You know,” she said almost shyly, “that I have the ability, if you wish, to look into your eyes and tell you when you will die?” “No, I didn’t realize you could do that.” He hesitated for a moment.
Professor Yerushalmi passed away in December 2009. A New York Times obituary  said about him,

“An elegant writer and mesmerizing raconteur, Dr. Yerushalmi earned his reputation as one of his generation’s foremost Jewish historians by plumbing eclectic subjects like the history of the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s, messianism, the intellectual history of modern German Jewry and Freud’s relationship with his religion.”

The new magazine story closes with a reference to a narrative of a Jewish physician who wanders widely but never makes it to Israel. This may be a thinly disguised bookend of sorts for Yerushalmi, closing his career as a writer and thinker. The Times says that, “Dr. Yerushalmi received a bachelor’s degree from Yeshiva University in 1953 and a doctorate from Columbia in 1966, writing his dissertation on Isaac Cardoso, a 17th-century Marrano physician.” He published the dissertation in 1971 as, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto: Isaac Cardoso: a Study in Seventeenth-Century Marranism and Jewish Apologetics. Wikipedia tells us that, “Isaac… ridiculed the kabbalistic, Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls.” In this fiction piece in the New Yorker the conflicted main character, Ravitch, consults a self-assured psychic, Gerda, at the her home in Jaffa Israel.

It strikes us as somewhat ironic that that this story titled the Hebrew word for the transmigration of souls appears now, nearly two years after the author’s death, embodying how his creative spirit, has move on to its next gilgul, the immortal archives of the New Yorker.

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