Since becoming the rabbi at the synagogue in Barnard’s Crossing, Massachusetts, David Small has seen his congregation through a fair share of unholy bickering and corruption. So when millionaire Howard Magnuson is elected president of the synagogue, the rabbi isn’t surprised that Magnuson wants to bring corporate efficiency to the temple—at the expense of religious tradition. Conflict flares when Rabbi Small refuses, on the basis of temple rules, to officiate the interfaith wedding of Magnuson’s daughter to a non-Jewish Boston politician, and the new president calls for the rabbi’s dismissal.
When another player in Boston politics is killed in a hit-and-run accident and the police suspect a Jewish college student, Rabbi Small fears the undergrad might have been set up—and that Magnuson is involved. The young man’s innocence and the future of the temple depend on Rabbi Small solving the case with his signature wit and Judaic wisdom.
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
Someday the Rabbi Will Leave
By Harry Kemelman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Harry Kemelman
All rights reserved.
From where he sat in the living room, reading the afternoon paper, Rabbi David Small could hear his wife, Miriam, moving around in the kitchen. By the noise engendered — the rattle of pots and pans, and the banging of the oven door — he knew she was annoyed. And he knew why. She had been doing the monthly bills.
She came to the door of the living room. Her figure, he noted, was as slender and trim as a high-school girl's. Impatiently she brushed aside a wisp of blond hair that had fallen across her face.
"David, we need more money," she announced.
"Yes dear," he said meekly, automatically, from behind his paper.
"Maybe I'll look for a job."
He put aside his paper. "As what?"
"As a typist, maybe. No. That would mean working in an office and not enough people would see me. I'll get a job as a checkout girl in a supermarket. Then people would notice and realize that they were underpaying their rabbi."
The telephone rang and he reached for it. "Rabbi Small," he said. Then, "Oh, how are you? ... No, we've got nothing planned. ... Sure. ... Sure. ... Around eight? ... Okay, anytime. ... Good-bye." To Miriam he explained, "That was Sam Feinberg. He wanted to know if we were going to be in this evening. He'd like to come over."
"Good. You can ask him for more money."
"Just like that. And what does he do then? Reach into his pocket for his wallet, or perhaps ask me for a pen so that he can write out a check?"
"Oh, you know what I mean. I know the Finance Committee has to approve it, I suppose on the recommendation of the Ritual Committee, and then the whole board has to vote on it. But someone has to propose it, set the wheels in motion. Well, what's wrong with asking Mr. Feinberg? He likes you. You get along well together. In the couple of years he's been president, you've never had any trouble with him. At least, I don't remember your ever complaining about him."
"We get along all right."
"Then why not —"
"I can't ask him, Miriam."
"But why not? This inflation has cut your salary —"
"I get a cost-of-living increment."
"But it's never enough, and you don't get it until your next contract. If at least you didn't turn in your fees —"
"I agreed to when I first came here."
"But we could use the money," she wailed. "The Berenson wedding, you got two hundred dollars."
He grinned. "I'm sure it wouldn't have been a quarter of that if they thought it was going into my pocket. They know I turn it over to the temple treasury, and they tend to give more because everybody finds out how much."
"You could keep a record of all the money you turn over and ask them to increase your salary by that much at least. That would be only fair. Most rabbis keep their fees."
He remained silent, indicating he did not care to continue the discussion. Although only forty, Rabbi Small sometimes seemed like an old man with his scholarly stoop and pale face peering out through thick-lensed glasses. And sometimes, as now, he seemed like a small, stubborn boy who has been naughty and refuses to say he's sorry.
She persisted. "Aren't you ever going to ask for a raise, David?"
He smiled and said gently, "Look, Miriam, for me to ask for a raise is — is demeaning."
"But it's a business arrangement," she said. "You have a contract."
"Sure, so I'll go about it in a businesslike way. When the time comes."
"And what do you call a businesslike way?"
"When I can say that I want more money or else I leave. Don't you see, if I ask for a raise when I'm obviously planning to continue is like — like begging. I'm appealing to their charity. And what if they don't grant it? Do I sulk? I can't do it. If I establish that kind of relationship with them, I'll lose all authority."
"At the Rabbinical Conference down in Providence, Sarah Metzenbaum told me the way Jack works it when he wants something. He tips off his close friends on the board and they bring it up at the meeting."
He reflected that among the more unfortunate aspects of rabbinical conferences was that while the rabbis were meeting and listening to papers, their wives also met and compared notes. "Jack Metzenbaum is a friendly, outgoing guy who makes friends easily, practically automatically. I'm not. You've got to work at it. It means socializing with them, dining with them —"
"So what's wrong with that?"
"How many of our board members have kosher homes where we could eat? And I don't play golf."
"Chester Kaplan and his group all have kosher homes."
"That's all I need, to show partiality to Chester Kaplan," he scoffed. "As it is, most members of the board think I always side with the Orthodox group."
"Then what's the answer? You won't ask for a raise, and you don't have anyone to ask for you. If they haven't thought of giving you one on their own up till now, they're not likely to in the future."
He saw that she was worried and upset, and he thought it best to mollify her. "Oh, I'll work out something. Don't worry about it."
But she was not to be put off. "Considering the ground rules you've laid down, I'd like to know how." She was small, girlish, so that it was hard to believe that she was the mother of two teenage children. Her blue eyes, wide and normally gay, now focused sharply, even accusingly at him. Her chin was raised as if to give emphasis to her determination, and the mass of blond hair piled casually on the top of her head threatened to come down as she tilted her head back imperiously, a gesture which always put him on the defensive.
He temporized. "We-el, when my contract expires, I presume they'll send me another. And — and I just won't sign it. That's all. When they ask me why not, I'll tell them I can't continue on my present salary."
"How much would you ask for?"
He was exasperated. "I don't know. It would depend —"
"We need at least a couple of thousand more."
"So I'll ask for another two thousand."
"All right. Twenty-five hundred."
"And if they don't grant it?"
"Then I won't sign the contract and I'll start looking around for another job. Satisfied?"
She nodded slowly. "All right, but when Feinberg comes over tonight, wouldn't it be a good idea to hint about what you're planning so he can alert the board to begin thinking about it?"
He shook his head. "Or it might start them looking around for a replacement."
"Then you'd at least know where you stood, and you could start looking before your contract expires."
"Look, Miriam," he said patiently, "I don't know why he is coming over or what he wants to talk about —"
"But if the occasion arises —"
"All right. If he talks about a big surplus in the treasury that he wants my advice how to spend, I'll mention the board might consider raising my salary. Satisfied?"
The back door opened and then shut with a bang. From the kitchen came the strident voice of their daughter, Hepsibah, thirteen, rosy-cheeked, and blond but unfashionably short and stocky. "Jonathon is a pig," she announced. "He got a lift from Al Steiner and instead of stopping, they drove right past me. Jonathon even waved. Hi, Dad. Hi, Mom. Is he upstairs?"
"He hasn't come home yet," said Miriam. "You're late, and if you don't hurry, you'll be late for Hebrew school."
"Can you ride me down, Dad?"
"The walk will do you good," said her father.
"Your father is busy, Sibah. Now take a glass of milk. You've got plenty of time to get there if you don't dawdle."
"Why do I have to go to that darn old Hebrew school, anyway?"
"Because it's Wednesday," said her mother tartly, "and that's when your class meets."
There followed the sounds of footsteps going up the stairs, of books being dropped, of footsteps clumping down the stairs, and then the banging of the back door. Miriam sighed.
There was quiet for about fifteen minutes, and then the back door banged open and shut.
"Jonathon?" Miriam called.
Their son, seventeen, tall and thin and ungainly, came into the living room. "Hi, Dad. Hi, Ma."
"Why didn't you give your sister a ride home?" asked the rabbi.
"Because we weren't going home. We were going to Al Steiner's house. And she's a pest. Al Steiner just got a computer. I wanted to see it. Gee, it's neat. You can type your homework on it and make all kinds of corrections, and then you just press a button and it types out by itself with all the margins and everything. You can even press a button and it will correct all your mistakes in spelling."
"You could have given her a lift up to Main Street," Miriam pointed out.
"She would have tried to come along with us. You baking cookies?"
"There's some in the jar," said Miriam. "You're babysitting tonight for the Colemans, aren't you?"
"Oh yeah. Could you drive me over there, Dad?" "I'm afraid not. We're expecting company tonight. Take your bike."
"I'm due there at seven, so I thought when you go to the minyan for the evening services —"
"In this weather, I walk, and I'm glad of the chance. Besides, how would you get home?"
Jonathon muttered something and mounted the stairs to his room. And once again, peace descended on the Small household.CHAPTER 2
Wearing a sport shirt, blue blazer, and gray slacks, Howard Magnuson came down to breakfast in the sunny dining room overlooking Barnard's Crossing Harbor. He bent over to give his wife, Sophia, a perfunctory kiss and then took his place across the table from her. Nodding his head toward the third place setting, he asked, "Laura?"
"Still sleeping," said his wife. "She got in late last night."
The maid, a local girl and not very well trained, brought out his bacon and eggs, drew his copy of The New York Times from under her arm, and then filled his coffee cup from the heavy silver pot already on the table. He took an experimental sip.
The girl hovered. "Miz Hagerstrom wants I should ask you if you want a pot of fresh coffee."
"No, this is all right."
"You don't want she should hot it up?"
"No, this is just fine."
He was a good-looking man of fifty with graying hair and friendly blue eyes. To the amusement of his wife, the girl gave him a yearning, adoring look before reluctantly returning to the kitchen.
"That girl, she hovers," he said.
"She's got a crush on you."
"Ridiculous," he said, trying to sound annoyed, although secretly pleased. "What time did Laura get in last night?"
"Two, three, who knows? I heard her come in but I didn't look at the clock.
"Why? Because she's our daughter. She's a girl —"
"She's twenty-five, Howard."
"And she spent the last three years in England, and before that she was away at school."
"I suppose," he said sheepishly. "Still ... Doesn't she ever tell you where she's going?"
"She might if she happened to think of it, or if I asked her. Last night she went to Cambridge. Some political thing."
"Why not?" Sophia Magnuson was a tall woman with a long, narrow face that was handsome rather than pretty. Even now, in her dressing gown, she looked stately enough to go to an embassy ball. "You ought to get involved, too, Howard. Oh, I don't mean to run for office, but to advise, to influence. It's expected of a man in your position." She tapped the local newspaper she had been reading. "It says here that Ronnie Sykes has been asked to come down to Washington. He's going to serve on some sort of commission for the President. Why don't they ever ask you?"
He looked up. "I suppose because I'm not active in politics. Ronnie Sykes is a member of the state Republican Committee. Why are you interested? Do you want to go to Washington? What for?"
"Well, we'd meet some different people, important people, people who do things. You contribute to the party, don't you?"
"Nothing very substantial. Whenever they have a testimonial dinner I buy a bunch of tickets, but that's about it. Besides, Sykes is a Greek. His name used to be Skouros, or something like that."
"What's that got to do with it?"
"It means he's a contact with a minority, and so can be useful to the administration."
"Well, we're a minority, aren't we? Why couldn't you be a contact with the Jewish community?"
"It's not just being Greek. He's also involved with them. I think he was president of Ahepa once."
"Well, you were an officer in a temple once."
"Vice-president. And that was seven or eight years ago when we were still living in Boston. And I wasn't really involved. My grandfather practically founded the temple and was its first president. And afterwards my father was president for a couple of terms. So I was more or less expected to get involved. Frankly, one of the attractions of coming to Barnard's Crossing was that it gave me the excuse to drop it."
"Yet you joined the temple here the first year we came."
"That's different. It's the one Jewish organization in town. If I had an obviously Jewish name like Cohen or Levy or Goldstein, I might not have bothered. But Magnuson could be anything — British, Swedish. I didn't want anyone to think I was ashamed of my heritage, so I joined the temple."
"All right, but then last year you became a member of the Board of Directors. Wasn't that kind of overdoing it?" she challenged.
He chuckled. "I felt I had to. Let's see, you were in Paris when that right-of-way business came up. I don't think I ever told you what happened. My first thought was to consult my lawyers in Boston. Then I realized that approach might be all wrong. They'd make a Supreme Court case out of it. They'd come before the Board of Selectmen with affidavits, depositions, precedents. And I sensed it wouldn't work. The selectmen are local people, simple people. One is a barber, for instance. That approach might just get their backs up. So instead I went to the town hall to scout the situation on my own. There was a directory on the wall with the names of the town officers, and the name of the town counsel was Morris Halperin."
She smiled knowingly. "I see."
"He happened to be in his office at the time, so I explained the situation, and asked him to handle it for me as my lawyer."
"He turned me down."
"He knew who you were?"
"Oh sure, but he explained that it was a conflict of interest, that he couldn't act as my attorney in a matter on which he might have to advise the selectmen. Then he told me I didn't need an attorney, that I should appear before the board and tell my story, and that it would make a better impression than if I were represented by counsel. Then he kind of winked at me and said, 'Besides, if the question is put to me by the selectmen, my opinion might be helpful.'"
"That was very friendly of him, I must say."
"Wasn't it? As it turned out, they didn't even ask his opinion. They decided unanimously in my favor. So after the decision was published in the town bulletin, which made it official, I went to see him again. I felt I owed him something for — for advising me not to engage a lawyer."
"And this time, I'd bet he was more amenable."
"You'd lose! He said he couldn't take payment for the advice since he had given it in his role of town counsel."
"How old is this man, Halperin?"
He pursed his lips as he considered. "Fortyish."
"It's refreshing to see that at least some of the younger people have a sense of ethics." She noted his quizzical look and added, "Or is there more?"
He laughed. "Well, not really. We talked, and the conversation turned to the temple. Then out of the blue he asked me if I'd mind if he proposed my name for the Board of Directors."
"Just like that?"
"M-hm. You see, he knew I owed him one."
"But you have no interest in religion, and —"
"I explained that and he wasn't fazed in the least. He said that very few members of the board were religious except for their sense of heritage, which they felt was bound up with the institution of the synagogue. He realized I might be busy and unable to attend the meetings regularly, and I gathered it wouldn't matter if I didn't attend any of them. They just wanted the prestige of my name on their stationery. So I agreed. What else could I do?"
"But you have attended meetings, some of them anyway."
He smiled ruefully. "A couple. I really ought to go more often. They don't seem to know how to transact business. I might be able to set them right."
Excerpted from Someday the Rabbi Will Leave by Harry Kemelman. Copyright © 1985 Harry Kemelman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Combines the excitement of the detective story with interesting insights into contemporary Judaism