Why aren’t the dozen brand-new Jewish-themed stories presented here even better news than the 13 tales, mostly reprints, Raphael collected in Mystery Midrash (1999)? The leading centers of interest—scripture, ritual, synagogue life, hate crimes—are pretty much the same, and many of the same authors (Michael A. Kahn, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Ronald Levitsky, Batya Swift Yasgur) return with new material. What’s different, and sadder, this time is the lack of ingenuity—most of the entries have room for only half a twist you don’t need to be a prophet of old to foretell, though Levitsky manages two half-twists—and the narrower range of roles the stories offer the Jewish community. Kaminsky, Terence Ball, and Richard Fliegel all deal with Jewish heroes threatened by outsiders. Even when the detectives or perps are Jewish, as in Kahn (a tiny case for Rachel Gold), Martin S. Cohen (Franz Schubert as a Jewish detective’s sidekick), Sandra Levy Ceren, Rochelle Krich, Lev Raphael, and Shelley Singer, their victims are Jewish as well. Janice Steinberg provides a welcome break from this pattern of eternal victimhood in her mordant revisiting of the biblical story of Jael and Sisera, and Yasgur transcends it in her search for an inoffensive little man who seems to have lived, as well as vanished, without a trace.
Generally speaking, though, these stories, despite their overlay of Jewish wisdom, won’t take you anywhere you haven’t already been—unless you happen to be well outside their target audience.