Murder in the Synagogue is a multilevel, fascinating study of the 1966 notorious murder of prominent suburban Detroit rabbi Morris Adler. The book profiles Richard Wishnetsky, a promising graduate student who gradually descends into a psychosis that culminates in Rabbi Adler's murder and Wishnetsky's suicide during a Saturday morning Bar Mitzvah service.
Richard Wishnetsky drew inspiration from his Hasidic grandfather claiming a certain authenticity that the suburban synagogue community and its rabbi lacked. We are told of his idealism of wanting to make a difference. He wants to make his mark, to make a statement. Unfortunately, his life spins out of control when it appears that his graduate study plans will not come to the fruition that he expects. We find that he fails at love; he is frustrated with rejection. Speculations of homosexuality persist about his social interactions. He is unattractive. His tragic confusion results in such an horrific scene: reading a final statement against the community and turning to shoot the rabbi and than himself before a crowd of 800 congregants and Bar Mitzvah celebrants.
What struck me about the book was the criticism of Suburban Jewish life; its materialism and lack of religiosity. However, how can one take seriously the criticism of the deranged? Had Wishnetsky experienced success and not failure would he have even noticed the flaws in his own community? Would his mind have crumbled so severely with the taste of triumph? He may have identified with his religious grandfather, however, he, himself, never became religious. The phoniness that he charged and applied to the community could have been charged and applied to himself.
Although a heart wrenching read, the book is thought provoking, written in a strong narrative prose.