The YouTube Rabbi
Marvin J. Wolf
Rabbi Ben Maimon, hero of The Tattooed Rabbi, is back, and more than ever he’s not your bubbe’s rebbe: Ben is like Jason Bourne in a fedora, a rabbi with a black belt instead of a pulpit. A roving trouble-shooter, Ben’s the man to call when a synagogue, museum, library, school, community center, philanthropic agency or anyone needs serious assistance with a situation where the police are not wanted, where discretion is paramount, and where the bagels are fresh.
Lured to a clandestine meeting with the President of Israel, Ben is asked to find the long-missing third of the Aleppo Codex—the world’s oldest complete Hebrew Bible, rivaled in historical importance only by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Snatched by a mob in
, in 1947, most of it was recovered eleven years later. Now the missing pages reportedly surface in Aleppo, Syria Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community, only to vanish again. It’s a job that only Ben can handle—quietly, discretely.
The pages were found by Miryam Benkamal, the sassy, sexy, grand-niece and sole heir of the late Shemuel Benkamal, a wealthy, influential and mysterious figure rumored to have been among those entrusted with smuggling the entire Codex out of
after WWII. While Miryam was at Shemuel’s funeral, somebody snatched Benkamal’s safe and the newfound pages. Descended from Ashkenazi (northern European) Jews, Ben finds Jewish Aleppo’s unique culture—a mash-up of Sephardic (Iberian) and Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jews—terra incognita. He begins by visiting nonagenarian RABBI ZEEV, a living link to the Byzantine world of Jewish Syria. Leaving Zeev’s home, Ben picks up a tail: a mother pushing a baby stroller. She turns out to be a man in drag, and his tag-team partner. Ben ditches both in the subway, but they dog his heels for days, forcing him to take inventive measures just to meet Miryam. Syria
After Ben unintentionally charms Miryam, they join forces and begin to explore Shemuel’s house, which reveals itself as a warren of secret compartments, hidden rooms and cryptic documents. Late at night, terrified by another brazen attempt to break into the house, Miryam phones Ben for help.
When Ben moves into her guest room, Miryam decides that he’s the man she needs to escape an arranged marriage. To Ben’s astonishment, she introduces him to the community as her fiancé. He plays along, hoping it will help him win people's trust. But suddenly he can’t go anywhere in that part of
Brooklyn without being recognized, and every time he saves a cop’s life, whips a gunman’s butt or nabs a killer, it winds up on YouTube and local television.
Working together, Ben and Miryam peel away layer after layer of Shemuel’s mysterious life and death, working toward an explosive climax that illuminates a fascinating and grisly tale of counterfeiting, opportunism, greed, treachery, superstition and unsuspected murders spanning 60 years.
As for the Codex, a single lost page turned up in
Brooklyn just this year. The rest of it might still be out there, waiting to be found…