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A fascinating true-crime narrative about the first rabbi ever accused of murder and what the case says about the role of clergy in America.
On the evening of November 1, 1994, Rabbi Fred Neulander returned home to find his wife, Carol, facedown on the living room floor, blood everywhere. He called for help, but it was too late. Two trials and eight years later, the founder of the largest reform synagogue in southern New Jersey became the first rabbi ever convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In a gripping examination of the misuses of the pulpit and the self-delusions of power, Arthur J. Magida paints a devastating portrait of a manipulative man who used his position of trust in the temple to attract several mistresses -- and to befriend a lonely recovering alcoholic, whom he convinced to kill his wife "for the good of Israel."
The Rabbi and the Hit Man straddles the juncture of faith and trust, and confronts issues of sex, narcissism, arrogance, and adultery. It is the definitive account of a charismatic clergyman who paid the ultimate price for ignoring his own words of wisdom: "We live at any moment with our total past ... What we do will stay with us forever."
A charismatic but twisted rabbi hires a poor nebbish to kill his wife so he can live happily with his favorite mistress (of four): it sounds like bad crime fiction, but it's the true tale of Rabbi Fred Neulander, which grabbed headlines from New York City to Philadelphia until the rabbi's conviction (after a mistrial) last year. Magida tries not too convincingly to give this luridly fascinating story a larger significance by examining the loneliness that afflicts longtime rabbis and citing a study of clergymen who engage in affairs with congregants (Neulander is a "Dark King," who "uses his charm and charisma to convince congregants that he has 'special abilities' "); the author is more successful in considering the painful and divisive impact of Neulander's crime on the South Jersey congregants who had adored their brilliant, ebullient rabbi. But journalist Magida (Prophet of Rage: A Life of Louis Farrakhan) is neither a penetrating portraitist nor a prose stylist. Neulander's outsize personality, rooted in ambition and ego, does come through. But Magida doesn't seem to have had access to the rabbi (and the lack of source notes leaves it unclear); sometimes he tells readers what Neulander thought or felt; other times, he relies on "maybe" and "apparently." Carol, Neulander's wife, remains a cipher, and there are frustrating gaps two of Neulander's mistresses are virtually absent here, as are two of his three grown children, whose anguish one can only imagine. FYI:HarperCollins crashed this through so publication would coincide with the airing of a two-hour NBCDateline special in mid-May.