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The Judges

The Judges

4.5 4
by Elie Wiesel

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From Elie Wiesel, a gripping novel of guilt, innocence, and the perilousness of judging both.

A plane en route from New York to Tel Aviv is forced down by bad weather. A nearby house provides refuge for five of its passengers: Claudia, who has left her husband and found new love; Razziel, a religious teacher who was once a political prisoner; Yoav, a terminally


From Elie Wiesel, a gripping novel of guilt, innocence, and the perilousness of judging both.

A plane en route from New York to Tel Aviv is forced down by bad weather. A nearby house provides refuge for five of its passengers: Claudia, who has left her husband and found new love; Razziel, a religious teacher who was once a political prisoner; Yoav, a terminally ill Israeli commando; George, an archivist who is hiding a Holocaust secret that could bring down a certain politician; and Bruce, a would-be priest turned philanderer.

Their host—an enigmatic and disquieting man who calls himself simply the Judge—begins to interrogate them, forcing them to face the truth and meaning of their lives. Soon he announces that one of them—the least worthy—will die.

The Judges is a powerful novel that reflects the philosophical, religious, and moral questions that are at the heart of Elie Wiesel’s work.

Editorial Reviews

Paul Evans
This tale of mystery and terror from Nobel Prize winner Wiesel concerns five passengers bound for Israel from New York who are forced by a storm to land in a remote rural area. Their host for the night turns out to be a kind of malevolent inquisitor, a self-appointed judge who insists that he'll expose each guest's darkest secret and announces that, at the end of his interrogation, one of them will die. It's a melodramatic, somewhat hoary premise (think of a metaphysical take on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None). But it's riveting. As Wiesel's cast of archetypal characters are compelled to examine their lives, we're gifted again with the kind of philosophical earnestness that the author has brought to all of his thirty-six books. That the novel ends with an explosive plot twist only intensifies its power.
Publishers Weekly
There are two strains in Nobel Peace Prize$winner Wiesels work. One is testimonial. Beginning with his classic, Night, Wiesel has made himself one of the great witnesses of our time. The other strain derives from Wiesels fascination with parables and fables. In the 1950s, when Wiesel became known, the allegorical mode (suitably fitted out with existential meanings, as in Sartres No Exit) enjoyed a brief vogue. His latest novel even refers to Sartres play as it portrays a sort of metaphysical hostage taking. A plane bound from New York to Israel is forced to land in a snowstorm in Connecticut, and five passengers are taken to the house of a local man who has the delusion that he is a judge in a capital case. As the guests respond to the judges more and more personal and insinuating questions, their characters are revealed. Claudia, a pretty theater press agent, wants to get out of the situation by complying; Bruce, a self-described playboy, opts for childish defiance. George, an archivist, and Yoav, an Israeli soldier, respond in more restrained ways. The most thoughtful figure, Razziel, is the principal of a yeshiva. His impressions provide the frame of the drama. Each character, caught in the facts of his or her past and oriented toward future projects, must confront a present threat that crystallizes their existences. Wiesel is obviously closest to Razziel, whose past experiences in a Romanian prison and interest in mysticism mirror, in lightly fictionalized form, factors in Wiesels own life. There is a certain creakiness about the plot, reminiscent less of Sartre than of the Twilight Zone; the story seems more suited to the stage than the novel form. However, the authority of Wiesels public persona always invests his writings with interest. 40,000 first printing. (Aug. 27) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This harrowing moral fable continues Wiesel's masterly and important work in exploring the nature of good and evil in our world. As the novel opens, a flight from New York to Tel Aviv is forced to make an emergency landing in rural Connecticut owing to a massive snow storm. Five of the flight's passengers are given refuge for the night by a man who identifies himself only as "the Judge." Both hostile and dangerous, he regards himself as a kind of Grand Inquisitor. After taking the passengers hostage, the Judge asks a series of questions that force them to examine the most intimate and essential aspects of their lives. What ultimately emerges from this ordeal is a triumphant affirmation of the power of love, honor, service, and faith in human life. Courageous and profoundly philosophical, this novel skillfully explores moral questions that have never been more relevant. In these dangerous and confusing times, this powerful novel should be required reading for us all. Enthusiastically recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/02.] Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From the prolific Nobelist, a novel rather artificially constructed-but for the worthy purpose of looking inside to find what meaning life can hold for any of us. An airliner en route to Israel is forced down at a small airport on the blizzard-swept east coast, where the "survivors" are picked up by locals and given shelter until as the plane can take off again. Five of them are so unlucky as to be escorted home by a very strange man indeed, who puts them-imprisons them-in a sealed room, announces himself a "judge," and declares his intent to play "games" with what's most precious to them, "the power of their imagination." As the "games" grow increasingly sinister-the judge at first insists only that each reveal something personal, but before the long night is over he'll demand that one be chosen as an assassination victim-the travelers, increasingly frightened, become also increasingly introspective, so that we learn more and more about each of their lives. There is Claudia, a theater producer and director; Bruce Schwarz, an aging roue; Yoav, an Israeli soldier with a secret deadly disease; George Kirsten, a scholarly archivist; and, most central, Razziel Friedman, head of a Talmudic school in Brooklyn. As the life of each is revealed, so is the reason each has for continuing to live: a love affair, a historically important paper to deliver, or, as in Razziel's case, an appointment with a mysterious figure who is to restore to him the memory of his life before age 18, lost in the ruinous trauma of his having been a political prisoner. There will be moments of memory, kindness, breakdown, pensiveness, and terror before an ending that (engineered by the judge's hunchback "servant") willseem convincing perhaps to few. But no matter. Wiesel, by then, will have entered the hearts, rewardingly, both of his characters and of his readers. Human, unpretentious, compelling explorations of what we are, and why. First printing of 40,000

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.19(w) x 7.93(h) x 0.61(d)

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Outside, the wolves, if there were any, must have been jubilant; they reigned supreme over a doomed world. Razziel pictured a pack of them in full cry, anticipating the delight of falling upon sleeping prey, and that reminded him dimly of the troubling landscape of his youth. Were these the only things that seemed familiar to him, his only points of reference? Was there no face he could have called to mind for reassurance? Yes, there was one: that of an old wise man, wise and mad, mad with love and daring, with thirst for life and knowledge, the ravaged face of Paritus. Whenever Razziel thought about his own past, Paritus always surfaced in his memory.

The storm was violent, driven by the fury, both blind and blinding, of a thousand wounded monsters; when would its howling cease? It seemed as if it were pitilessly bent on uprooting everything, sweeping everything away to a land dominated by white death, and that this would engulf the log cabin in which he sat in this little village hidden away somewhere in the mountains between New York and Boston. Was it the end of the world? The end of a tale whose origins were unknown to Razziel? Was he to die before having met once more with his great protector, his guide, the messenger of his destiny? Surely not; it was just a fantasy, an illusion that arose from the nightmares buried deep in Razziel's memory, from which he himself had been barred for time beyond measure.

A strange orator roused him from his reverie. Theatrical, with a harsh, emphatic voice, he was delivering a speech as if he were onstage or standing before a gathering of learned men.

"I salute the gods who have guided you to this modest dwelling. Welcome. Warm yourselves, and may our meeting have a significance worthy of us all," said the man, smiling.

Were the five survivors, four men and one woman, too exhausted to be astonished at the solemn, not to say pompous, tone of these remarks? They did not react. Their host seemed to be relishing his role; no doubt this was one he had played in front of other travelers who had sought shelter beneath his roof on stormy nights.

They appeared content, these tourists who had become refugees; they were relieved–in good spirits, even. Their nightmare was over. In this room, which resembled a large monastic cell with bare, immaculately white walls, they had no cause to be uneasy. Quite the reverse; they felt lucky: Had they not just escaped catastrophe? After those interminable minutes of apprehension before the plane's forced landing, the universe had rediscovered its contours, its anchor. Their fear was dissipated. The elements would surely calm down. With solid ground beneath their feet, they enjoyed a sense of security here in this light, warm room with a host who gave evidence of the kindness of the human heart. He was smiling at them, a good sign. They had been fortunate to come across him. From now on all would be well. The other passengers would surely envy them when they exchanged stories, once back on the plane. For the moment they congratulated themselves on the outcome of an adventure that could have ended so badly.

"Damn it," murmured one of the travelers, a squat, morose man; he was rummaging in his pockets, searching for lost documents. No doubt he had left them on the plane.

Razziel understood his anxiety: They all lived in a world where a human being counts for less than a piece of paper. He almost proffered him a friendly word of reassurance–Don't worry; you know, in situations like this the authorities are understanding–but decided not to. He uttered a silent prayer, thanking the Lord for having taken care of him. The third man, tall, well-dressed, with a fedora, a mustache, and a red scarf around his neck, much in the style of a movie star, smiled at the woman, who was swathed in a fur coat. The danger was barely past and he was already beginning to flirt. The woman, who was put out at having left her gloves behind, blew on her fingers. Razziel glanced at the youngest of the group, who seemed indifferent to what was happening to them. This young man had something on his mind, something that was of no concern to his fellow travelers. If he was in a hurry to continue his journey, he did not show it. His eyes were focused on their host: There was something forced and false about him. His smile was disconcerting rather than reassuring. There was a fixity about his stare, a rigidity about his movements, like an actor; he seemed to be cooking up some secret plan, although his guests were not yet aware of it.

"First let us thank you for your hospitality," said the woman, an ebullient young redhead, offering him her hand, which he appeared not to see. "Truly–"

"It is I who must thank you," replied her benefactor, assisting her, with exaggerated courtesy, to remove her elegant fur coat. "If you only knew how dismal and monotonous existence can be here, especially in winter. The local people get depressed. All they can think about is the weather. And all the world does here is grow old. Sometimes we feel forgotten, both by History and by men. By the gods too. Thanks to you, things will happen. What would life be without its little surprises? I am obliged to you for the Creator's gift to man: his capacity to surprise."

Then he introduced himself.

"I am the owner of this modest house. My name would mean nothing to you; besides, it's of little significance. What's in a name? I could give you a dozen. But instead let me tell you my profession. I am a judge. And, indeed, tonight I will be your judge."

What a showman, Razziel said to himself, still unaware that the nightmare was beginning. How subtle this fellow is. And crafty. In putting on this performance for us, he's trying to make us forget the danger we have just escaped and help to pass the time while we wait. Only later did he realize that the real source of danger was this character himself. At this moment he seemed overly amiable and welcoming, eager to win the confidence and gratitude of his guests, which they were fully disposed to accord him.

"Please be so kind as to listen to me carefully. This little house is not exactly paradise; it does not allow me to offer you bedrooms. These are already occupied by my staff. You will be meeting my chief assistant shortly. His correct name is–oh, forget it. As he's not very tall, he prefers to be called the 'Little One,' or, as he's not very handsome, you could call him the 'Hunchback' because he's–"

"Fine. We get the picture," the young woman interrupted, laughing. "If you're not careful he might sue you for assault on his dignity."

The Judge glanced at her reprovingly. "Interrupting a judge can be a serious offense."

"Or an enjoyable sin," intervened the elegant man.

"Oh, well, sins. I know a thing or two about them," said the young woman.

The Judge ignored these remarks. "This room is heated by two electric radiators, which my assistant can regulate from outside. If you are too hot or too cold, let us know. The bathroom is behind me–the narrow door there, you see? Does anyone need . . .?"

No volunteers. In fact, Razziel would have liked to make a visit, but it was not urgent.

"When we have completed our preliminaries, an interesting task awaits us," resumed the Judge, rubbing his hands as if to warm them. "You will see. I have everything ready: pens, notebooks . . . and even some good strong tea–or is there anyone among you who would prefer coffee? I have that too. I have all you need. While you are in my house you will have nothing to complain of." A silence. "Afterward–well, afterward is another story."

The room was pleasant, furnished with simplicity: chairs around a circular table, a sofa, dictionaries in a corner on the floor. The dandy was the first of the men to remove his overcoat, which earned him mildly ironic congratulations from the Judge: "Well done, sir. I can see you make yourself at home wherever you go."

The Judge, in his turn, removed his heavy fur-lined cape, that of a shepherd or mountain dweller. Razziel was expecting to see the man casually dressed. But he was dressed in a dark gray suit, white shirt, navy-blue tie. Very smart. As if he had just come from a dinner in town. In an indefinable way he compelled respect. Everything he said and did was calculated. If Razziel, disconcerted by the fixity of his stare, had had to guess his profession or vocation, he would have opted for undertaker in a superior funeral parlor, Protestant minister, or professor of canon law.

"So. Please be seated. Look, take this chair, it's quite comfortable. They all are. And you, madam, that one over there. You other gentlemen, take any chair. You must be exhausted. I shall remain standing."

He waited for everyone to be seated before continuing.

"Everything all right?"

Yes, everything was all right.

"If anyone wishes to change places I have no objection."

No, no one wanted to do so.

"Good. In that case, let us begin. You know who I am–that is to say, I have disclosed my profession to you. Now it is your turn. After all, we are going to spend this long night together, and perhaps others too. It's only natural, don't you agree, for all of us to introduce ourselves?"

Yes, they agreed. Oddly enough, the Judge was right. The five survivors did not know one another. Thrown together by chance, first in the same airplane, now in this place, why should they not explain their reasons for traveling? Five lives, five stories had come together in a strange convergence. After all, any one of the Judge's "guests" could have been elsewhere; any one of them could have changed schedules or arrived too late for boarding.

"To begin with," the Judge continued, starting to pace around the table, "let us limit ourselves to basic biographi- cal details: surname and forename, profession, place of birth, marital status, purpose of travel. Imagine you're checking in at a hotel. Making a passport or visa application. So? Who will speak first?"

The five visitors stared at him, bewildered: Was he serious? He guessed what they were thinking and added, "Let us say that this is a game, a parlor game that . . . that later, if heaven wills it, might become seriously interesting."

His "guests" were beginning to show irritation: What had they walked into? Who did he think he was, this apprentice demagogue, so abusing the situation as to make them talk about their private lives? Who authorized him to give orders? The young woman was the first to pull herself together.

Meet the Author

Elie Wiesel is the author of more than forty books, including his unforgettable international best-sellers Night and
A Beggar in Jerusalem, winner of the Prix Médicis. He has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States Congressional Gold Medal, and the French Legion of Honor with the rank of Grand Cross. In 1986, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and University Professor at Boston University. He lives with his wife, Marion, in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
September 30, 1928
Place of Birth:
Sighet, Romania
La Sorbonne

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Judges 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In his "Night" Trilogy, Elie Wiesel explores a lot of the human psyche - and he does not fail to do so in this book either. The lives of five characters are pulled together in a stranger's house, and each character's background is slowly brought forth. At some points the characters' stories get slightly dull, but destiny, metaphysics, and personal significance are all touched upon. However, it is hard to tell just what exactly the book is a metaphor is for - the characters, the situation, and the judges are a bit hazy and left me intrigued, but also a bit confused. All and all, I would recommend this book, but do not expect the same drama and emotional impact that many of his other books deliver.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading night, Then saw judges on the book shelf. This is the most different kind of book I read. and loved the book though for the concept. I have a feeling that Elie Wiesel, who I have great respect and love.I cant describe it but if you are a religious Jew you will underrstand at the end. In jewish thought we have no right to judge and no one has the right to judge you only god. The book was slow but you have to savor up to the end. But I loved it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If your quest is mystery, this is it -- via the enfolding of this gripping story and the characters portrayed. As a bonus, there are philosophies expressed by several of the characters that provide challenges to our way of thinking of the meaning of life. Re the latter,with the High Holidays coming in a few months, this book makes for timely reading as an exercise in reviewing our personal thoughts.