THE THIRTY-THIRD HOUR by Mitchell Chefitz


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From a Florida-based religious scholar, teacher, and novelist (The Seventh Telling, not reviewed), a gently instructive story about faith restored and community ties strengthened as a rabbi learns the truth about an event that threatens to destroy his congregation.

At midnight on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Rabbi Arthur Greenberg returns to his office at the Temple, the largest Liberal Jewish congregation in Miami, after a wedding. He fears he will have to spend the rest of the weekend there: Brenda Karman, a young widow who converted to marry much older Nathan, and whose son is the autistic Daniel, has made a scandalous accusation—revealed only at book’s end—that, if true, will tear his congregation apart, destroy any chance the Temple has of getting the zoning change it needs, and probably threaten his tenure. Arthur’s task is to review the evidence—a collection of videotapes as well as Brenda’s diary entries. The tapes record the popular family program on the Torah that Moshe Katan, an old seminary classmate of Arthur’s, has been conducting for a growing number of the Temple members. Recently widowed, Moshe is a charismatic teacher as well as an original thinker, and Arthur finds himself moved and impressed as he watches the tapes that begin with the Creation and end with the giving of the Ten Commandments. Despite his reservations, and critical of Moshe’s methods, Arthur is soon engrossed by Moshe’s fresh telling of the old stories, and as the hours pass, he finds himself reexamining his own life: the shame he felt that both his father and brother Jonah worked for the Mob; his disappointment that his daughter Tamar is a lesbian; and his failure to help Jonah’s widow and only son. Though exhausted, by early Monday morning Arthur is not only impressed with what Moshe has achieved but realizes, after seeing the last tape, that Brenda has misinterpreted Moshe’s actions.

A nicely crafted spiritual mystery tale that offers answers as well as redemption.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-27758-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2001