THE RABBI AND THE HIT MAN: A True Tale of Murder, Passion, and the Shattered Faith of a Congregation

Arthur J. Magida, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-621067-4

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. (May 19)

FYI:HarperCollins crashed this through so publication would coincide with the airing of a two-hour NBC Dateline special in mid-May.

Reviewed on: 04/21/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
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