Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Murder in the Synagogue by T.V. LoCicero

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.


  1. Dear Rabbi Shlomo,

    I went surfing this morning and bumped into your very kind and thoughtful review of my book Murder in the Synagogue. So a belated thank you for that. I noticed that you posted the review in 2011 which was before I re-published the book through my own company. Over the past year I've published several other books, including one, Squelched, that details the strange publishing history of Murder in the Synagogue. You can read about it on my site:

    Just scroll down on the home page, and if you'd like a copy of Squelched, just let me know.

    Thanks again,


  2. I am honored and humbled by your interest in this slight blog! I recommend Murder In The Synagogue as must read to all my students and am very glad to hear that the book is no longer out of print! Thank you for posting your website so one can easily procure a copy of a great contribution in the history of the American Jewish experience.