TF: Oy vey!

TF: Oy vey! November 23, 2010

Tribulation Force, pp. 289-293

Before reading these books I would have said that, as a rule, introducing broad ethnic stereotypes into a story is never a good idea. They're insulting and stale and they can't really function as characters since they're indistinguishable from and interchangeable with one another.

Yet here in the World's Worst Books, the arrival of such a stock caricature actually turns out to enliven the storytelling. "Rabbi Marc Feinberg" may be nothing more than a familiar stereotype borrowed from a thousand other stories, but those other stories are all better stories more capably told than this one, and so Feinberg — as cartoonishly unreal as he may be — comes across as more vivid and human-seeming than Buck or Rayford or any of the other supposed characters here in Tribulation Force.

Jerry Jenkins introduces the rabbi as "one of the key proponents of rebuilding the Jewish temple." This lets Jenkins use him to provide a dose of explanation about the history and meaning of the temple, but it also further sets him apart from the other characters because it means he wants something.

Some actors believe the key question for getting into any character or scene is to ask, "What do I want?" Imagine you've been cast to play the role of Buck or Rayford or Chloe. How would you answer that question? It would seem difficult to provide any answer that wasn't quickly contradicted by your character's actions or inactions in the script. We're halfway through the second book and I still have no idea what Buck wants or what Rayford wants.

But I do know what Feinberg wants and so — despite all the awkwardness of the stereotype — he seems more understandable and more real than our heroes. He has a sense of urgency that the others are sorely lacking. Even if he weren't introduced in a frantic rush to get to the airport, he would still seem to have more momentum than just about any other character we've met so far. For all the time these books have spent going to and from the airport, the rabbi may be the first character who actually seemed like there was somewhere he needed to go.

"Walk with me," Feinberg orders Buck as he heads to hail a cab. We're told that Buck scrambles to pull out a notebook and pen, and that he races to take notes on what the rabbi is saying, but care to guess whether he'll ever use those notes for a future article?

"Let me say this: Today I have become a bit of a politician. Do I believe God is a concept? No! I believe God is a person! Do I believe that all the religions of the world can work together and become one? No, probably not. My God is a jealous God and will share his glory with no other. However, can we tolerate each other? Certainly."

That's the first semi-reasonable response to Nicolae's declaration of the "Global Community Faith" as his official one-world religion. It's nice to see the authors conceding that someone other than the raptured real, true Christians is sincere in his faith. But one wonders why they don't imagine that everyone — Muslims and Mormons and atheists — wouldn't respond in much the same way. Again, they really seem to believe that the vast majority of believers and nonbelievers are insincere — pretending to prefer something other than RTCism just to be obstinate.

"But, you may ask, why do I say I have become a politician? Because I will compromise for the sake of rebuilding the temple. As long as I do not have to sacrifice my belief in the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I will tolerate and cooperate with anyone with a good heart. I do not agree with them or their methods, many of them, but if they want to get along, I want to get along."

So he's willing to compromise as long as he doesn't have to sacrifice his core principles, and he's happy to work with others of good will and he wants to get along with everyone as best he can. Sounds reasonable enough, right?

Sure, to you it does, you heathen — but to real, true Christians it sounds downright evil.

The tell-tale words and phrases here are tolerance, compromise, good heart and get along. These are all clear signals to LaHaye & Jenkins' readers that Rabbi Feinberg is a deluded hippie, embracing an empty-headed, feel-good, kumbaya liberalism instead of the cold, hard, absolute truth. Tolerance and compromise are, for this intended audience, always bad. And Feinberg's belief that anyone could have a "good heart" without Jesus living inside it is meant to show his foolish inability to understand the utter depravity of the unsaved Reavers inhabiting this planet. As for getting along — what fellowship hath light with darkness? As anyone who has ever played Left Behind: The Video Game knows, "get along" is not an option for interacting with others. The only options are convert and destroy.

Rabbi Feinberg continues:

"… Above all, I want the temple rebuilt on its original site. This was virtually done as of today, I predict the temple will be constructed within the year."

The rabbi burst through the front doors and asked the doorman to hail him a cab. "But sir," Buck said, "if the head of the new one-world religion considers himself a Christian –"

Here the rabbi interrupts him, which is a shame, because maybe if he had finished his question it wouldn't have seemed like such a complete non sequitur.

"Ach! We all know it will be Mathews, and that he will likely be the next pope, too! Considers himself a Christian? He is a Christian through and through! He believes Jesus was Messiah."

The take-away here is meant to be that the silly rabbi naively believes Mathews to be a Christian even though we readers know he's just a left-behind phony. What Feinberg doesn't understand is the vital difference between "Christian" and real, true Christian. Sure, there are hundreds of millions of people still on earth after the rapture who, in Buck's phrase, "consider themselves" Christians, but they were all left behind because they're not really, truly Christians. Remember Caryn Litewski, the kindly flight attendant who goes to Mass every Sunday? She's going to Hell.

So is Feinberg if he persists in rejecting Jesus. And that's more or less the working definition here of Judaism: The explicit and defiant rejection of Jesus. You can see that definition underscored in the full quote here from the rabbi:

"He is a Christian through and through! He believes Jesus was Messiah. I'd sooner believe Carpathia is Messiah."

"You're serious?"

"Believe me, I have considered it. Messiah is to bring justice and lasting peace. Look what Carpathia has done in just weeks! Does he fit all the criteria? …"

Tim LaHaye's notion of what he calls "biblical prophecy" is all about "criteria" and check lists. He naturally imagines that this must be how every other religion views the world and how every rabbi must think about the Messiah. He assumes that they must view every biblical prophet and every word about the Messiah the same way he does — as exclusively predictive, a foretelling of the future that has no other, present-tense application.

Feinberg starts to discuss the big Tsion Ben-Judah research project, but Buck cuts him off and steers him back to the subject of the temple:

"What is so important about the rebuilding of the temple?"

Rabbi Feinberg … gave Buck the short course, as if teaching a class of gentiles interested in Jewish history.

He starts telling Buck about King Solomon's temple when a cab pulls up:

The doorman loaded the large valise into the trunk. "Pay the man and ride with me," Feinberg said. Buck had to smile as he pulled a bill from his pocket and pressed it into the doorman's hand. Even if he had to pay for the cab ride, it would be a cheap interview.

Rabbi Feinberg, you see, is Jewish. And as everyone knows, all Jews and Scotsmen are cheap. And pointing this out is always funny.

"Kennedy," Feinberg told the driver.

"Do you have a phone?" Buck asked the driver.

I didn't edit that. That's what it says. Even in a cab, in the middle of an interview, Buck has to stop to make a phone call.

You get the feeling that if the TARDIS were to materialize in Buck Williams' bedroom and the Doctor stepped out to invite him to travel anywhere in time or space, Buck's first reaction would be disappointment that it wasn't actually a phone box.

It turns out that the hyperkinetic rabbi had rushed off so fast with Buck in tow that Buck had no time to get the bag he left with the concierge and now he has to phone the hotel to tell them "he would need his bag stored longer than he had expected."

If you're wondering how the cabbie's carphone works or how Buck got the number for the concierge, Jenkins covers all of that in extensive detail in a fascinating half page of storytelling magic. We'll skip over that here to where the concierge informs Buck that, "Someone took that bag for you."

Buck was stunned. "You let my bag be taken by a stranger who claimed to be a friend of mine?"

"Sir, it's not as bleak as all that. I think the man could easily be located if necessary. He's on the news every night."

"Mr. Carpathia?"

"Yes, sir. One of his people, a Mr. Plank, promised he would deliver it to you."

So, even though Buck's dilemma wasn't mentioned until just now, when he asked to borrow the cabbie's carphone, it's possible you may have been worried about his bag. Don't be. Steve got it.

Weirdly, Jenkins decided to put the conversation with Feinberg on pause for an entire page to tell us that. Even more weirdly, this mundane favor is portrayed as though it were further evidence of Nicolae's unlimited power and unspeakable evil.

(What's next? "A chill ran down Buck's spine when he realized that the fine for his overdue library book had already been paid … by the Antichrist!")

Feinberg seemed pleased when Buck finally got off the phone.

You and me both, Rabbi, you and me both.

Feinberg is still only the sketchiest, broadest outline of a character — what does he look like? where is he from? we don't know — but he's already just as real, and more fun, than any of the characters we've spent the previous 12 chapters following. This account of Buck's first meeting with Feinberg ends with a bit that is, surprisingly, intentionally and successfully amusing:

"Back to the temple!" he shouted, and the driver pulled his foot off the gas. "Not you!" Feinberg said. "Us!"

Buck wondered what a man with such unbounded energy and enthusiasm might do in another profession. "You'd have been a killer raquetball player," he said.

"I am a killer raquetball player!" Feinberg said. "I'm an A-minus. What are you?"


"And so young!"

None of that is terribly original, but it works better than almost any other segment of dialogue in these books so far. Rabbi Feinberg the broad ethnic stereotype turns out to be more interesting than either the Antichrist or his supposed sworn foes.

So let me amend and qualify the general rule we started out with here. Broad ethnic stereotypes are hackneyed and insulting and you should never stoop to including them in your writing — unless, that is, you are such a bad writer that these demeaning clichés might actually be an improvement over the rest of your story. (Of course, in that case, before resorting to broad ethnic stereotypes you might want to consider just not writing.)

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