David Small is the new rabbi in the small Massachusetts town of Barnard’s Crossing. Although he’d rather spend his days engaged in Torah study and theological debate, the daily chores of synagogue life are all-consuming—that is, until the day a nanny’s body is found on the rain-soaked asphalt of the temple’s parking lot.
When the young woman’s purse is discovered in Rabbi Small’s car, he will have to use his scholarly skills and Talmudic wisdom—and collaborate with the Irish-Catholic police chief—to exonerate himself and find the real killer.
Blending this unorthodox sleuth’s quick intellect with thrilling action, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late is the exciting first installment of the beloved bestselling mystery series that offers a Jewish twist on the clerical mystery, a delightful discovery for fans of Father Brown and Father Dowling or readers of Faye Kellerman’s suspense novels set in the Orthodox community.
About the Author
Aside from being an award-winning novelist, Kemelman, originally from Boston, was also an English professor.
Harry Kemelman (1908–1996) was best known for his popular rabbinical mystery series featuring the amateur sleuth Rabbi David Small. Kemelman wrote twelve novels in the series, the first of which, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late, won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. This book was also adapted as an NBC made-for-TV movie, and the Rabbi Small Mysteries were the inspiration for the NBC television show Lanigan’s Rabbi. Kemelman’s novels garnered praise for their unique combination of mystery and Judaism, and with Rabbi Small, the author created a protagonist who played a part-time detective with wit and charm. Kemelman also wrote a series of short stories about Nicky Welt, a college professor who used logic to solve crimes, which were published in a collection entitled The Nine Mile Walk.
Aside from being an award-winning novelist, Kemelman, originally from Boston, was also an English professor.
Read an Excerpt
Friday the Rabbi Slept Late
A Rabbi Small Mystery
By Harry Kemelman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Ann Kemelman
All rights reserved.
They sat in the chapel and waited. They were still only nine, and they were waiting for the tenth so that they could begin morning prayers. The elderly president of the congregation, Jacob Wasserman, was wearing his phylacteries, and the young rabbi, David Small, who had just arrived, was putting his on. He had withdrawn his left arm from his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeve to the armpit. Placing the little black box with its quotation from the Scriptures on the upper arm — next to the heart — he bound the attached strap seven times around his forearm, and then thrice around his palm to form the first letter of the Divine Name, and finally around his middle finger as a ring of spiritual betrothal to God. This, together with the headpiece which he now placed on his forehead, was in literal response to the biblical injunction: "Thou shalt bind them (the words of God) for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be for a frontlet between thine eyes."
The others, who were dressed in silken-fringed prayer shawls and black skullcaps, sat around in small groups talking, glancing idly through their prayer books, occasionally checking their watches against the round clock on the wall.
The rabbi, now prepared for morning service, strolled up and down the center aisle, not impatiently, but like a man who has arrived early at the railroad station. Snatches of conversation reached him: talk about business, about family and children, about vacation plans, about the chances of the Red Sox. It was hardly the proper conversation for men waiting to pray, he thought, and then immediately rebuked himself. Was it not also a sin to be too devout? Was not man expected to enjoy the good things of this life? the pleasures of family? of work — and of resting from work? He was still very young, not quite thirty, and introspective, so that he could not help raising questions, and then questioning the questions.
Mr. Wasserman had left the room and now returned. "I just called Abe Reich. He said he'd be down in about ten minutes."
Ben Schwarz, a short, plumpish, middle-aged man, got up abruptly. "That does it for me," he muttered. "If I have to be beholden to that sonofabitch Reich to make up a minyan, I'll do my praying at home."
Wasserman hurried over and halted him at the end of the aisle. "Surely you're not going now, Ben? That will leave us only nine, even when Reich gets here."
"Sorry, Jacob," said Schwarz stiffly, "I've got an important appointment and I've got to leave."
Wasserman spread his hands. "You have come to say Kaddish for your father, so what kind of appointment can you have that can't wait a few minutes longer so you can pay respects to him?" In his mid-sixties, Wasserman was older than most of the members of the congregation, and he spoke with a faint accent which manifested itself not so much in mispronounced words as in the special care he took to pronounce them correctly. He saw that Schwarz was wavering. "Besides, I have Kaddish myself today, Ben."
"All right, Jacob, stop churning my emotions. I'll stay." He even grinned.
But Wasserman wasn't finished. "And why should you be sore at Abe Reich? I heard what you said. You two used to be such good friends."
Schwarz needed no prompting. "I'll tell you why. Last week —"
Wasserman held up his hand. "The business with the automobile? I heard it already. If you feel he owes you some money, sue him and get it over with."
"A case like this you don't take to court."
"Then settle your differences some other way. But in the temple we shouldn't have two prominent members who they can't even stand to be in the same minyan. It's a shame."
"Look, Jacob —"
"Did you ever think that's the real function of a temple in a community like his? It should be a place where Jews should settle their differences." He beckoned the rabbi over. "I was just saying to Ben here that the temple is a holy place, and all Jews who come here should be at peace with each other. Here they should make up their differences. Maybe that's more important for the temple than just a place to pray. What do you think?"
The young rabbi looked from one to the other uncertainly. He reddened. "I'm afraid I can't agree, Mr. Wasserman," he said. "The temple is not really a holy place. The original one was, of course, but a community synagogue like ours is just a building. It's for prayer and study, and I suppose it is holy in the sense that anywhere a group of men gathers to pray is holy. But settling differences is not traditionally the function of the temple, but of the rabbi."
Schwarz said nothing. He did not consider it good form for the young rabbi to contradict the president of the temple so openly. Wasserman was really his boss, besides being old enough to be his father. But Jacob did not seem to mind. His eyes twinkled and he even seemed pleased.
"So if two members of the temple quarrel, what would you suggest, rabbi?"
The young man smiled faintly. "Well, in the old days I would have suggested a Din Torah."
"What's that?" asked Schwarz.
"A hearing, a judgment," the rabbi answered. "That, incidentally, is one of the rabbi's main functions — to sit in judgment. In the old days, in the ghettos of Europe, the rabbi was hired not by the synagogue but by the town. And he was hired not to lead prayers or to supervise the synagogue, but to sit in judgment on cases that were brought to him, and to pass on questions of law."
"How did he make his decisions?" asked Schwarz, interested in spite of himself.
"Like any judge, he would hear the case, sometimes alone, sometimes in conjunction with a pair of learned men from the village. He would ask questions, examine witnesses if necessary, and then on the basis of the Talmud, he would give his verdict."
"I'm afraid that wouldn't help us much," said Schwarz with a smile. "This is about an automobile. I'm sure the Talmud doesn't deal with automobile cases."
"The Talmud deals with everything," said the rabbi flatly.
"The Talmud doesn't mention automobiles, of course, but it does deal with such things as damages and responsibility. Particular situations differ from age to age, but the general principles remain the same."
"So, Ben," asked Wasserman, "are you ready to submit your case for judgment?"
"It wouldn't bother me any. I don't mind telling my story to anybody. The more the better. I'd just as soon the whole congregation knew what a louse Abe Reich is."
"No, I mean it seriously, Ben. You and Abe are both on the board of directors. You've both given I don't know how many hours of your time to the temple. Why not make use of the traditional Jewish way of settling an argument?"
Schwarz shrugged his shoulders. "As far as I'm concerned ..."
"How about you, rabbi? Would you be willing —"
"If Mr. Reich and Mr. Schwarz are both willing, I will hold a Din Torah."
"You'll never get Abe Reich to come," Schwarz said.
"I'll guarantee that Reich will be there," said Wasserman.
Schwarz was interested now, even eager. "All right, how do we go about it? When do you have this — this Din Torah, and where do you have it?"
"Is this evening all right? In my study?"
"Fine with me, rabbi. You see, what happened was that Abe Reich —"
"If I am to hear the case," the rabbi asked gently, "don't you think you ought to wait until Mr. Reich is present before you tell your story?"
"Oh sure, rabbi. I didn't mean —"
"Tonight, Mr. Schwarz."
"I'll be there."
The rabbi nodded and strolled away. Schwarz watched his retreating figure and then said, "You know, Jacob, when you come right down to it, this is a kind of silly thing that I've agreed to do."
"Because — because here I've agreed to what amounts to a regular trial."
"So who is the judge?" He nodded in the direction of the rabbi, moodily, noting the young man's ill-fitting suit, his rumpled hair, his dusty shoes. "Look at him — a boy, like a college kid. I'm practically old enough to be his father, and I should let him try me? You know, Jacob, if that's what a rabbi is supposed to be — I mean, a kind of judge — then maybe Al Becker and some of the others who say we ought to have an older, more mature man, maybe they're right. Do you really think Abe Reich will agree to all this?" A sudden thought occurred to him. "Say, Jacob, if Abe doesn't agree, I mean if he doesn't appear at the what-do-you-call-it, does that mean the case goes to me by default?"
"There's Reich now," said Wasserman. "We'll begin in a moment. And about tonight, don't worry; he'll be there."
The rabbi's study was on the second floor, overlooking the large asphalt parking lot. Mr. Wasserman arrived as the rabbi drove up, and the two men went upstairs together.
"I didn't know you were planning to come," said the rabbi.
"Schwarz began to get cold feet, so I said I would be present. Do you mind?"
"Not at all."
"Tell me, rabbi," Wasserman went on, "have you ever done this before?"
"Held a Din Torah? Of course not. As a Conservative rabbi, how would I have been likely to? For that matter, in Orthodox congregations here in America, who thinks to go to the rabbi for Din Torah these days?"
"But then —"
The rabbi smiled. "It will be all right, I assure you. I am not entirely unaware of what goes on in the community. I have heard rumors. The two men were always good friends and now something has come up to upset their friendship. My guess is that neither one is very happy about this quarrel and both are only too anxious to make up. Under the circumstances, I ought to be able to find some common ground between them."
"I see," said Wasserman, nodding. "I was beginning to be a little worried. As you say, they were friends. And that for a long time. In all probability when the story comes out it will turn out to be the wives that are behind it. Ben's wife, Myra, she's a regular kochlefel. She's got a tongue on her."
"I know," said the rabbi sadly. "Only too well."
"Schwarz is a weak man," Wasserman went on, "and in that household it's the wife who wears the pants. They used to be good neighbors, the Schwarzes and the Reichs, and then Ben Schwarz came into some money when his father died a couple of years ago. Come to think of it, it must have been a couple of years ago today, because he came to say Kaddish. They moved out to Grove Point and began to hobnob with the Beckers and the Pearlsteins — that crowd. I suspect that a good part of this is just Myra trying to break away from her old associations."
"Well, we'll know soon enough," said the rabbi. "That must be one of them now."
The front door banged and they heard steps on the stairs. The outer door opened and closed again and in came Ben Schwarz and, a moment later, Abe Reich. It was as though each had waited to see whether the other would show up. The rabbi motioned Schwarz to a seat at one side of the desk and Reich at the other.
Reich was a tall man, quite handsome, with a high forehead and iron-gray hair brushed back. There was a touch of the dandy about him. He wore a black suit with narrow lapels and side pockets aslant in the continental style. His trousers were slim and cuffless. He was the division sales manager of a national low-price shoe company and he had an air of dignity and executive decisiveness. He strove to hide his present embarrassment by looking indifferent.
Schwarz, too, was embarrassed, but he tried to pass off the whole matter as a joke, an elaborate gag his good friend Jake Wasserman had cooked up and which he was prepared to go along with, as a good guy.
Schwarz and Reich had not spoken since entering the room; in fact they avoided looking at each other. Reich began by talking to Wasserman, so Schwarz addressed himself to the rabbi.
"Well," he said with a grin, "what happens now? Do you put on your robe and do we all rise? Is Jacob the clerk of the court or is he the jury?"
The rabbi smiled. Then he hitched up his chair to indicate that he was ready to begin. "I think you both understand what's involved here," he said easily. "There are no formal rules of procedure. Normally it is customary for both sides to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court and willingness to abide by the rabbi's decision. In this case I won't insist on it, however."
"I don't mind," said Reich. "I'm willing to abide by your decision."
Not to be outdone, Schwarz said, "I certainly don't have anything to fear. I'll go along, too."
"Fine," said the rabbi. "As the aggrieved party, Mr. Schwarz, I suggest that you tell us what happened."
"There isn't very much to tell," said Schwarz. "It's pretty simple. Abe, here, borrowed Myra's car, and through sheer negligence he ruined it. I'll have to pay for a whole new motor. That's it in a nutshell."
"Very few cases are that simple," said the rabbi. "Can you tell me the circumstances under which he took the car? And also, just to keep the record clear, is it your car or your wife's? You refer to it as your wife's, but then you say you will have to pay for the motor."
Schwarz smiled. "It's my car in the sense that I paid for it. And it's her car in the sense that it's the one she normally drives. It's a Ford convertible, a 'sixty-three. The car I drive is a Buick."
"Nineteen sixty-three?" The rabbi's eyebrows shot up. "Then it's practically a new car. Isn't it still within the guarantee period?"
"Are you kidding, rabbi?" Schwarz snorted. "No dealer considers himself bound if the damage is due to the owner's negligence. Becker Motors where I bought the car is as reliable as any dealer in the business, but Al Becker made me feel like a damn fool when I suggested it to him."
"I see," said the rabbi, and indicated that he should proceed.
"Well, there's a group of us who do things together — go on theater parties, auto trips, that sort of thing. It all started as a garden club made up of a few congenial couples who lived near each other, but some of us have moved out of the area. Still, we meet about once a month. This was a skiing party to Belknap in New Hampshire and we took two cars. The Alberts drove up with the Reichs in their sedan. I took the Ford and we had Sarah, Sarah Weinbaum, with us. She's a widow. The Weinbaums were part of the group, and since her husband died we try to include her in everything.
"We went up early Friday afternoon — it's only a three-hour ride — and were able to get some skiing in Friday before nightfall. We went out Saturday — all except Abe here. He had caught a bad cold and was sneezing and coughing. Then, Saturday night, Sarah got a call from her kids — she has two sons, one seventeen and one fifteen — to the effect that they had been in an automobile accident. They assured her it was nothing serious, and that's how it turned out — Bobby had got a scratch, and Myron, that's the oldest boy, had to have a couple of stitches. Still, Sarah was awfully upset and wanted to go home. Well, under the circumstances I couldn't blame her. Since she had come up with us, I offered to let her take our car. But it was late and foggy out, and Myra wouldn't hear of her going alone. So then Abe here volunteered to drive her back."
"Are you in agreement with what has been said so far, Mr. Reich?" asked the rabbi.
"Yes, that's what happened."
"All right, proceed, Mr. Schwarz."
"When we got home Sunday night, the car wasn't in the garage. That didn't disturb me, because obviously Abe wasn't going to leave it at our house and then walk to his. The next morning, I went off in my own car and my wife called him to make arrangements about delivering her car. And then he told her —"
"Just a minute, Mr. Schwarz. I take it that's as far as you can go with the story from your own knowledge. I mean, from here on you would be telling what your wife told you rather than what you yourself experienced."
"I thought you said we weren't going to have any legalistic rules —"
"We're not, but since we want to get the story down first, obviously it would be better to let Mr. Reich continue. I just want the story in chronological order."
"Oh, all right."
Excerpted from Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman. Copyright © 2002 Ann Kemelman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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