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Rabbi Small Books In Order

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Publication Order of The Rabbi Small Mysteries Books

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late (1964)Description / Buy at Amazon
Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry (1966)Description / Buy at Amazon
Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home (1969)Description / Buy at Amazon
Monday the Rabbi Took Off (1972)Description / Buy at Amazon
Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red (1973)Description / Buy at Amazon
Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet (1976)Description / Buy at Amazon
Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out (1978)Description / Buy at Amazon
Conversations with Rabbi Small (1981)Description / Buy at Amazon
Someday the Rabbi Will Leave (1985)Description / Buy at Amazon
One Fine Day the Rabbi Bought a Cross (1987)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Day the Rabbi Resigned (1992)Description / Buy at Amazon
That Day the Rabbi Left Town (1996)Description / Buy at Amazon

“The Rabbi Small Mysteries” are a series of novels by Harry Kemelman, who was an American thriller and mystery author and an English professor. He is best known as the author and creator of “Rabbi David Small,” one of the most famous religious sleuths in the genre. The series was adapted into TV series called “Lanigan’s Rabbi” in 1976. Kemelman began writing when he published some of his short stories on Ellery Queen. It was at this time that he penned the classic short fiction series “The Nine Mile Walk” that featured Nicky Welt, the New England university professor. Kemelman was born to Russian immigrant parents and for the early years of his life, he lived in Boston. Since he always wanted to become an author, he went to Boston University and studied English literature. However, authorship did not come easily as he had to earn a living teaching English and literature in local Boston schools for several years. In 1936, he got married and when World War II broke out, he became chief wage administrator. In 1963, he was made an English professor at Franklin Technical Institute and his experiences would late inform his “Nicky Welt” short fiction.

In 1964, he published the first of “The Rabbi Small” series “Friday, the Rabbi Slept Late.” It was in this novel that he introduced his larger than life character Rabbi Small. It was a story derived from an actual account of the construction of the local temple. The novel was the winner of the 1964 Edgar Allan Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America. By the time of his death, the series had twelve titles with the last one being “That Day the Rabbi Left Town” that was published in 1996. “The Rabbi Small” series of novels were some of the most popular novels in the genre in their heyday. The novels provide eye-opening insights into Jewish American history during some of the most tumultuous times of the United States. While American Jews had come a long way from the poverty-stricken wretches they were when they first arrived, they were not immune to the turmoil no matter how comfortable they now were. Internally, they had to deal with the chaos that resulted from a battle between assimilation and tradition. Outwardly, they had to stake out positions on gender relations, free speech, and civil rights. As a young Jewish man raised in Boston, this was a struggle all too familiar to Harry Kemelman. He had looked on with a lot of interest when Young Jewish families began moving into smalls towns in Massachusetts after the Second World War. He was fascinated by and was drawn into the discussions and arguments on a variety of Jewish issues such as temple disputes and matters given that this was the focal point of most Jewish people.

The lead of “The Rabbi Small Mysteries” is Rabbi David Small, who has recently been hired to become the leader of Bernard’s Crossing small conservative Jewish congregation in Massachusetts. He is a devoted husband, who is a wise man that is dedicated to Jewish culture and tradition. He is also a master at deduction and a formidable problem-solver, which makes him a very good candidate for sleuth whenever there is a mystery in town. Small lives in a chaotic universe full of dentists, doctors, and lawyers and while it is a small community, life can also get very hectic. In nearly every title in the series, his tenure as a rabbi is under threat from the impatient board that believes that all he is a mouthpiece for the board. Nonetheless, he remains committed to conserving Jewish traditions in his calm and thoughtful way. Ultimately, his quest to save his job and his culture parallel his other love for resolving murder mysteries. The novels offer fascinating insights into modern Jewish belief and thinking and the life of rabbis. Unlike clergymen, rabbis are not ordained ministers but rather experts in Jewish law. As such, Rabbi Small is more of a clerical detective than an ordained minister. According to Kemelman, the purpose of the novels is to explain and teach Judaism to Gentiles and Jews.

“Friday the Rabbi Slept Late” continues telling the story of the life and times of David Small, a rabbi of the small Jewish community of Barnard’s crossing. He has only been there for a year and hence he is relatively new and young too. His contract renewal is coming up and while he has several people on his side, many do not think that he fits the mold of a rabbi and wants him gone. But then things get even more complicated when Elspeth Bleech, a young nanny is found murdered on the temple compound. With her purse in Small’s car, he is fingered as the lead suspect in the murder. Hugh Lanigan the chief of police in Barnard Crossing and a staunch Catholic, questions the rabbi on how the purse of the young woman was found in his car and the body on the temple property. While they do not get off on the right foot, they are soon fast friends and they have several scholarly conversations. When things start to go wrong in the small town, the rabbi puts to use his scholarly skills and Talmudic wisdom to reveal the identity of the killer and solve the crime.

“Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry” the second novel of the series opens a day before the all-important Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Rabbi Small is trying to put out several fires including finding an answer to a congregant’s question on the weight of the Torah, issues concerning floral arrangements, and the synagogues sound system that seems to have gone rogue. But these are trivialities, especially when a citizen of the small town is found presumably murdered in his car. It was a Jewish man though he did not attend rabbi Small’s congregation. His wife insists that he be buried in Small’s synagogue cemetery even though she is not Jewish. It would not be a problem if it can be proved that it wasn’t a suicide and since the authorities have declared it an accident, he agrees to conduct the internment and service at his synagogue. But Rabbi Small runs into headwinds as the insurance investigator believes the man took his own life and the members of his congregation are now turning against him. After meeting the insurance investigator and the police chief, Small is convinced that it was murder rather than a suicide. The man was an alcoholic and mathematician and he cannot think of anyone that would have wanted to kill him. But Small has a huge list of suspects and most of them have an alibi given that the crime was committed on Yom Kippur when they would have been at the synagogue.

“Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home” the third novel of “The Rabbi Small series opens to Rabbi David Small still having to deal with a board of contentious board members. It is a confrontation driven by egos, entitlement, the need for recognition and the politics of the synagogue joining the civil rights movement, which Smalls believes has no part in Jewish life according to Jewish culture and law. Some faction is accusing Small of exerting undue influence on their children when all he does is reason with them like young adults. The old guard prefers Rabbi Small to stay in charge and are prepared to break away from the main synagogue if they cannot find ideological understanding with the other group. Add in the murder of Moose Carter and Rabbi Small is stretched almost to the point of breaking point.

Book Series In Order » Characters » Rabbi Small

2 Responses to “Rabbi Small”

  1. Suzie: 4 months ago

    I read several of the Rabbi Small books and they are one of the only books I will pay more than my normal limit of $.99 for a kindle book. But I have to tell you I am so disappointed that The Rabbi Saw Red is filled with the use of God’s name in vain. I wish I hadn’t bought it.

  2. Sharon segal: 10 months ago

    Loved all the Rabbi books.


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