Rabbi Small comes out of retirement to solve his final case
Retired from his job at the synagogue in Barnard’s Crossing, Massachusetts, Rabbi Small now teaches Judaic studies at a Boston college. Finally able to enjoy theological contemplation without the annoyance of temple politics, the rabbi is shocked when one of his colleagues is found dead in his car—and the clues at the scene point to murder.
The deceased English professor was notoriously selfish and held long-standing grudges against other members of the faculty, so the list of suspects is long. But when the rabbi who took over Small’s position in Barnard’s Crossing is implicated, it falls to Small to clear his name and find the true killer, one last time.
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
That Day the Rabbi Left Town
By Harry Kemelman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Harry Kemelman
All rights reserved.
It was the middle of May and unusually hot for the season as Rabbi David Small of the Barnard's Crossing Temple made ready for his appointment with President Macomber of Windermere College in Boston's Back Bay. He presented himself to his wife, Miriam, for inspection.
"You're going like that? Without a tie?"
"It's a hot day."
"But you're going to be interviewed for a job," she protested.
"So what? These days professors lecture in their shirtsleeves and blue jeans."
"But you're not going to lecture. You're going to see the president for a job."
"All right, so I'll put on a tie." He went up the stairs to the bedroom closet.
But she accompanied him to the bedroom to pass on his selection. Although she was fifty years old, Miriam looked like a schoolgirl. Her blond hair, occasionally "touched up" by the hairdresser, was piled up on top of her head as if to get it out of the way. Only the determined set of her chin in her heart-shaped face, and the fine lines at the corners of her eyes, showed her age. Her husband, the rabbi, at fifty-three, did show his age. His dark hair was streaked with gray. He wore thick-lensed glasses that he would push up on his forehead when he pored over a book. He carried his head and shoulders forward in a scholarly stoop.
He took a tie from the rack in the closet. It was already knotted and looped and he was about to put it over his head when she said, "Not that tie. There's a stain on it."
"So I'll keep my jacket buttoned."
"No, you'll forget. Put this one on."
With ill-concealed exasperation, he took the tie she held out to him. Like the first, it was already tied. He put it over his head and pulled the knot up. "Satisfied?" he asked.
"That's much better. You can loosen it now, but be sure to remember to pull it up when you get to the school. Do you have a comb in your jacket pocket?"
"Yes, I have a comb."
"Because driving with the windows down, your hair will be all messed up."
"Any other instructions?" he asked sarcastically.
"Yes. You'll be driving in with your collar unbuttoned and your tie pulled down. So when you get to the school, before you leave your car, button your shirt and pull up your tie. And comb your hair in the rearview mirror. You'll be comfortable once you get inside because it's air-conditioned."
"How do you know it's air-conditioned?"
"They have a Summer Session, so they're bound to have the building air-conditioned.
You've got to look right. It's a strange place where you know no one."
"What do you mean, I know no one? I know the president —"
"How many times did you actually see him? Twice? Three times?"
"And I know Roger Fine."
"You haven't seen the Fines since they moved to Newton a couple of years ago."
"And I know that young fellow Jacobs, Mordecai Jacobs, who's engaged to the Lerner girl. And I'll bet there are a bunch of kids from right here in the congregation who go there, and probably some faculty members who live in Barnard's Crossing and have seen me on the street."
She looked at her watch. "What time is your appointment?"
"Then you'd better get started right now. It's half past twelve. How are you going?"
"I thought I'd go by the Boston Road; it's pleasanter."
"But it's fifteen or twenty minutes longer. Better go by the State Road. This time of day, there shouldn't be much traffic."
"All right, I'll take the State Road. And probably have to sit around in his office waiting for him to see me."
"It's better than having him sit around waiting for you."
"It was just by luck," said President Macomber, "that I learned you were available, else I would have got in touch with you sooner. I haven't forgotten the year you were here substituting for Rabbi Lamden." He smiled broadly. He was a handsome man whose face was unlined in spite of his white hair. "As I told you on the phone, we are interested in setting up a Judaic Department, not just having you give the course you gave when you substituted for Rabbi Lamden. That was only a matter of public relations."
"That's right. The school was founded in the middle of the last century as a two-year ladies' seminary. And it was called Windermere Ladies' Christian Seminary not because it was in any way denominational or religious — oh, they may have had chapel once a week — but to assure parents that it was a sober, sedate institution and that no high jinks were tolerated. When we became a four-year college and coeducational, albeit largely a fallback school for those who had applied elsewhere and been turned down, we began to attract students from out of state, especially from New York and New Jersey, many of whom were Jews. My predecessor thought it would help matters if we listed a course in Judaic Philosophy and had a rabbi give it. I gather that over the years only Jewish students took it, just as only black students ever register for the course in Black Studies that Reverend Johnson gives. I don't know what the students got out of it other than high marks; A's or at least B's were practically assured."
"Yes, I suspected as much after a couple of sessions," the rabbi said, and then with grim satisfaction, "They quickly realized that I wasn't having it, and that they'd have to work to pass the course."
Macomber nodded. "That's because you were rather old-fashioned in your attitude towards collegiate education: you thought the teacher should teach. By that time the idea had developed that the function of the professor was not to teach, but to engage in research and publish papers in learned journals on his findings. And so his teaching load was cut back to give him more time for research, and if he was prestigious, he did almost no teaching at all. The one or two courses listed in his name in the catalog were apt to be taught by graduate assistants. The college was an ivory tower in which the student profited by being exposed to the atmosphere, I suppose, which is why the students were permitted to take any courses they chose, with no thought that there was a body of knowledge that they had to acquire. Under my predecessor, Windermere went in for that sort of thing; it was the fashion. Still is to a great extent, I suppose. When I came, the Board of Trustees had the same idea, but now I have a board that is inclined to go along with my thinking that teachers should teach and students should learn. And I want our students to have an understanding of how their thinking developed, of the influences that shaped it.
"As a historian I am aware of the importance of Judaic thought in the shaping of Western civilization. During Puritan times it was considered a major influence along with those of Greece and Rome. But after a while Hebrew was dropped from the curriculum, and then Greek and then Latin. Nowadays colleges are more apt to offer a course in Women's Studies or Black Studies. It proves that the institution is modern and free of prejudice. They tend to be snap courses, as is any course given with an ulterior motive, thus ensuring a sizable enrollment. But I want our students to have some understanding of the forces that served to develop our present civilization, and I consider Judaic thought to be one of the major ones."
"You mean it would be a required course?"
"Perhaps in the future," he said cautiously. "Right now, I am planning to develop a core curriculum of what the student should study rather than the free and easy elective system we have now whereby the student can manage to get a degree by taking a number of unrelated courses which he selects because the teacher is reputed an easy marker, or because the course comes at a convenient hour, or — or for whatever reason other than because it is something he should know."
"But what do you want me to do this year?"
"Whatever you think is necessary," Macomber replied promptly. "You might give the same course you gave when you were last here. Or you could start with a seminar for students who have some knowledge of the subject. Or give no course at all for the first semester, but use the time to plan your program. All I ask is that you make yourself available for several hours every day so that you can be consulted by interested students or by faculty, especially from the History and Philosophy departments."
"Once I come in, I'll probably spend most of the day here, except that during the winter months I might want to leave a little earlier to avoid driving after dark."
"You'll be driving in every day?"
"I plan to."
"Well, if you find it taxing, I'm sure you can make arrangements with one of the faculty who live in your town and drive in with him. Let's see, Roger Fine, whom you helped so much when you were last here, I'm sure he'd be glad to give you a lift in every morning."
"The Fines have moved to Newton. And in any case, I wouldn't ask him just because he'd feel obligated."
"Yes, I see what you mean." He thought a moment and then said, "I can get a list of faculty members who live on the North Shore: Barnard's Crossing or Swampscott or Salem, and you could contact them and perhaps arrange with one of them to pick you up."
"Please don't bother. I drove in this afternoon and it was quite pleasant. Of course, if the weather is bad ..." He shrugged. "I can always take the bus. It stops at my street. It takes a little longer because it goes by way of the Boston Road. Or I could drive over to the Swampscott station and take the train if time is short."
"Well, if you change your mind, let me know." Macomber got up and walked around his desk. He went to the door with the rabbi. "Then we'll expect you here in September."
"I'm looking forward to it," said the rabbi.
Driving back to Barnard's Crossing, he thought of his previous experience at Windermere, of the initial indifference of his class, then their hostility, and finally their enthusiastic acceptance of him. He thought of the peculiar pleasure teaching afforded, the sense of superiority involved in imparting information, and then wondered idly if this was the reason why people enjoyed gossiping.
When he got home Miriam could see that he was pleased and happy and merely asked, "Okay?"
He nodded. "Okay."CHAPTER 2
Early in June, David Small formally resigned from his position of rabbi of the Barnard's Crossing Temple. In his letter of resignation read by the secretary at the regular Sunday morning meeting of the Board of Directors, he mentioned that having served twenty-five years, he was eligible to retire on pension. Except for Al Bergson, the president, with whom he had previously discussed it, the members had had no inkling of his intention, so their reaction was one of bewildered incredulity.
"What's he want to resign for? It's a cushy job with nothing to do except maybe give a little sermon — ten, fifteen minutes — once a week at the Friday evening service."
"He goes to visit the sick at the hospital."
"Big deal! What's he do there? Bless them?"
"And he's in his study practically every day, advising, helping with personal problems."
"These days, you want advice you go to a lawyer, or a doctor, or to a shrink. Let's face it, most of the time he does nothing."
"So maybe he's tired of doing nothing."
"Boy, I'd like a job where I could get tired doing nothing."
"He's going to be teaching," explained Bergson, who was a personal friend of the rabbi. "He'll be professor of Judaic Studies at Windermere College in Boston." Bergson, who ran a travel agency in nearby Salem, was the same age as the rabbi but looked younger because his hair, although thinning, showed no touch of gray. He was a friendly man with a ready smile, and it was hard not to like him.
"Hey, didn't he give a course there a few years back?"
"That's Windermere Christian College. Why would a rabbi want to teach at a Christian college?"
"No longer," said Bergson. "It's just Windermere College of Liberal Arts now. The name was changed this year."
In spite of Bergson's attempts to get them to deal with the other business scheduled for the meeting, they continued to discuss the resignation and its ramifications.
"Look, we'll have to give him some sort of party, won't we?"
"We'll sure as hell have to do something. We can't just say, 'So long, Rabbi. Glad to've met ya.' Not after twenty-five years."
"So what do we do? Have a big dinner?"
"We've also got to give him some sort of gift."
"What sort of gift? We'll be giving him three quarters of his salary year after year. I figure that's a pretty good gift."
"We won't be giving it; the insurance company will."
"I was thinking something like maybe a silver kiddush cup with something engraved on it, like, 'From a Grateful Congregation'!"
"How about a set of books?"
"Nah, he's got a roomful of books."
"Look, guys, does it have to be a dinner? How about a luncheon instead?"
"What's the difference?"
"Oh, you know, a luncheon can be light, maybe even dairy foods. A dinner is going to run us a whole lot more."
"So if you're looking to save some money, how's about a brunch?"
"Yeah, that's the ticket; a bagels-and-lox brunch."
"Whatever it is, when would we have it? We can't have it now, in the summer."
"On account a large portion of the congregation will be going away to their summer places. How do you suppose they'd feel if there's some kind of do and they couldn't take part? The way I see it, we can't have it before September, maybe just before the High Holidays."
"Hey, that's when the new rabbi, the guy we hire to replace Small, will be coming. Right? So we'll have to throw some sort of party for him, won't we? So why don't we plan on combining the two, like a Hail and Farewell party; Hail to the new rabbi and Farewell to the old."
"You know, Ben, you got something there."
"Yeah, that's the ticket, Hail and Farewell."
"But we've got to make some sort of reply to his letter."
"Sure. 'The Board accepts with regret —'"
"With deep regret."
"Yeah, 'With deep regret.' And what do you say, we all sign it? I mean not just the secretary."
"Yeah, that would show him that we're real sorry. So what do we do about getting another rabbi?"
"Oh, the Ritual Committee handles that," said Bergson. "We'd notify the Seminary and —"
"And they'd give us the names of half a dozen young graduates and we'd have to choose one?"
"I think we ought to get someone with experience."
"Oh, I'm sure the Placement Office at the Seminary has the names of quite a few older, experienced men who want to change jobs for one reason or another," said Bergson.
"So what do we do? Tell the Seminary to get in touch with us?"
"Well, I've got to be in New York next week," said Bergson. "I could drop in on them and talk to them about our needs. They would have those who might be interested send us resumes."
"Nowadays, if you're applying for a job, you might have a video made."
"Yeah. They may even have some on file with the Placement Office. If they have, I'll look at them."
"Then what do we do, Al? Have them come here and preach a sermon some Sabbath?"
"Only the finalists," said Bergson.
"Sure. The Ritual Committee will check out all who apply. Maybe we'll visit some congregations if they're not too far away. We'll narrow it down to a short list of three or four, and those we'll invite to come here for a Sabbath. My guess is that as soon as our people hear that the rabbi has resigned, we'll have a flood of applicants; relatives, friends of people in our congregation."
"Come to think of it, Al, I've got this uncle in Rhode Island who —"
"So tell him to apply if he's interested."
"What kind of money will we be paying?"
"Same as we've been paying Rabbi Small, I suppose."
"Shouldn't we start the new man lower and let him work up to what we're paying Small? After all, he's been with us for twenty-five years."
Bergson pursed his lips. "I don't think so. The fact is, Rabbi Small's salary is, has been, a little below the standard."
"I suppose because he would never ask for a raise, and he didn't develop a clique who would do it for him," said Bergson quietly.
"Why wouldn't he ask for a raise if he thought he deserved one?"
Excerpted from That Day the Rabbi Left Town by Harry Kemelman. Copyright © 1996 Harry Kemelman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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