Excerpt from the second in my Rabbi Ben mystery novels, 'A Scribe Dies in Brooklyn.' Available on Kindle eBook Paperback. For more info and reviews, click here.
“A few weeks ago, a Jewish woman here in New York, discovered—or, at least, thinks she did—the missing pages, perhaps only some of them. They were hidden in the home of her beloved great-uncle, who had just passed away at 97.”
“That’s wonderful news!”
“It isn’t. Two days later, someone broke into the uncle’s house and stole it.”
“Who else knew that she’d found it?”
“An excellent question! You might want to ask her that.”
“The State of Israel wants me to find the missing Codex pages? Mossad is too busy? Shabak can’t be bothered? What about Aman, since you have so much influence?”
“The State of Israel asks nothing of you. Were you to accept any task for us in the U.S., you would be obliged to register as a foreign agent. Mossad and Shabak would know immediately. I would be unhappy if either agency—if anyone in the Israeli government—hears anything about you or the Codex.”
“Why is that?”
“You probably know that we have many political parties in Israel, too many, really. No party ever wins enough seats in the Knesset to form a government on its own.
“So every election is followed by a few days of backroom horse-trading—perhaps necessary, but very unseemly. The small parties are single-issue parties; to get enough seats to govern, the ruling coalition always includes a few of them.”
“You’re talking about the religious parties?”
“I am. And their issue is ensuring that the Haredim, the ultra-Orthodox, get what they want: power.”
“Here’s something you might not know. In 1958, when the Aleppo Codex was still missing, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel commanded any Jew who knew where it was to produce it. Almost immediately, the Codex, except those still-missing pages, mysteriously appeared—in Argentina!—and was brought to Israel.
“Which leads me to the reason for this conversation.”
Ben cocked his head, thinking. “Let me guess. You don’t want the Haredim to get their hands on the missing portion of the Codex. And this is because … because … if American Jews, the Jews of the Diaspora, take possession of it, they have a bargaining chip. They can demand, perhaps, that the Haredim recognize Diaspora conversions, marriages, etc. And this is vital for Israel; in the long run, Israel cannot survive without the support of Diaspora Jews.”
Yossi nodded. “Exactly. And I can see that you are just the man to do this.”
Ben shook his head. “I’m not the right man for this.”
Yossi grinned. “You are much too modest. My brother-in-law, Yakov, tells me that Mossad has an open file on you. Perhaps Shabak keeps one, as well.”
“That’s ridiculous! Why?”
“A man who brought down a multimillion-dollar organized-crime scheme? Working alone, without a support team? Why indeed?”
“Not alone. I worked with the police and the DEA.”
“The police of a small city, who were of little help. And the DEA came in only to make arrests. Let’s not quibble. You are a man who knows how to get things done.”
“But I know very little about ancient texts. I can’t tell if a Torah page is a hundred years old or a thousand.”
“If that’s your only problem, it’s easily solved.”
“It’s not my only problem. I have an appointment for Lasik surgery in two weeks. In California.”
“You might be finished by then. And if not, I’ll personally buy you a roundtrip ticket to Israel and pay for your surgery. We have wonderful doctors, you know.”
“That’s very generous. But even so, I’m not a wealthy man. I must earn a living.”
“An American organization has volunteered to pay your fee.”
Ben sighed. “You’re making this very hard. Yossi, I haven’t had even a few days off in more than a year. Since my wife died, I’ve been alone in the world. No family at all. It’s a hard life, to be utterly alone in the world.”
“My parents were Holocaust survivors. I understand.”
“But wait! Two days ago, I discovered that I have a sister and brother in California. I’d like to get to know them, spend some time with them before the High Holy Days.”
“And what will become of your sister, Marcia--Malka bat Mikel—and your brother, Mort--Mordechai ben Mikel—if the power of the Haredim is not checked? Their mothers were Jews by choice, their conversions supervised by rabbis that the Haredim don’t recognize. Will they be allowed to visit the Wailing Wall? Will your sister, a Reform rabbinical student, be allowed even to touch a Sefer Torah? Not long ago, a Conservative woman, a rabbi, was arrested at the Wall merely for carrying a Torah!”
“Marcia is a rabbinical student? How is it possible that you know more about my family than I do?”
“Mossad keeps an eye on certain people, people like you. And your father, alev hashalom, may he rest in peace.”
“They watched him because he was a remorseless swindler who preyed on synagogues and Jewish institutions?”
“I wouldn’t say remorseless. In the last few years of his life, he gave a lot of money to Jewish causes: hospitals, medical research, homeless shelters, Legal Aid societies. Maybe he was trying to make amends for his earlier life.”
Ben’s head swam against this rush of new information. He took several deep breaths, trying to focus.
“Yossi, I appreciate all that you’ve told me. But you haven’t given me a single reason why I, of all people, would have a chance of finding the Codex.”
“So. I will now provide that reason.”
Yossi touched a button on the phone. Seconds later, the door opened to admit the most beautiful woman Ben had ever seen: a face to make Da Vinci weep; tall and graceful, like his dear Rachel, with glowing, flawless skin and dazzling teeth; a modest business suit that displayed magnificent legs while failing to hide a lush but perfectly proportioned body.
“Rabbi Ben Maimon, this is Dr. Chana Kaplan of the Jewish Philanthropy Institute.”
Chana smiled, filling the room with light and warmth. The faint scent of her perfume seemed to evoke the gardens of Paradise. Ben felt her dark eyes penetrating deep into his soul. As though from a great distance, he heard Yossi speaking, and forced himself to listen.
“So we can count on you, Rabbi? You’ll work with Dr. Kaplan to help find the Codex?”
Unable even to summon his voice, Ben nodded, yes.
Yossi said, “Doctor Kaplan?”
She snorted. “This is your fearless genius? Your troubleshooting rabbi? This shrimp? I thought he’d be much taller.”
© 2017 Marvin J. Wolf
FROM Marvin J. Wolf
On this page are true stories, magazine articles, excerpts from books and unpublished works, short fiction, and photographs, each offering a glimpse of my life, work and times. I'll be posting weekly. Your comments welcome. © Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved.