The Thirty-third Hour

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The Washington Post: . . . a refreshing excursion into the realm of the Infinite.

In one of his fascinating biblical commentaries, this one on the Moses story, Katan tells his listeners: "There is a tradition. Under every word of Torah is an angel. When you uncover the secret of that word, you release the angel. . . . She flies before the throne of the Holy One to announce that another secret has been discovered and one more word is in place, one more word in the bridge that connects earth and heaven." At the end of almost every chapter -- and certainly at the surprising end of this odd novel -- Chefitz, too, conjures up the faint rustle of angel's wings as Katan partially unlocks some spiritual mysteries through his lessons. (Reviewed by Maureen Corrigan, book critic for the NPR program Fresh Air.)

Booklist: At midnight on a Saturday, Rabbi Arthur Greenberg begins a 33-hour marathon. He must review the tapes and journals of a new family education program to decide whether a colleague, the program director, is guilty of sexual misconduct. The woman who has made the accusations dresses provocatively, and the program director spends a great deal of time with her autistic son. Chefitz, a Jewish educator, puts readers right at the rabbi's side during the process. They, in effect, become participants in the workshops and the rabbi's deliberations. They will also learn some Torah and Kabbalah as they consider the ethical dilemma and its consequences. Because the novel is so engaging and will likely encourage discussion, it is an excellent choice for book clubs. Independent readers interested in Jewish studies will enjoy it, too. Chefitz is also the author of The Seventh Telling.

Kirkus Reviews: From a Florida-based religious scholar, teacher, and novelist (The Seventh Telling, not reviewed), a gently instructive story about faith restored and community ties strengthened as a rabbi learns the truth about an event that threatens to destroy his congregation. At midnight on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Rabbi Arthur Greenberg returns to his office at the Temple, the largest Liberal Jewish congregation in Miami, after a wedding. He fears he will have to spend the rest of the weekend there: Brenda Karman, a young widow who converted to marry much older Nathan, and whose son is the autistic Daniel, has made a scandalous accusation-revealed only at book's end-that, if true, will tear his congregation apart, destroy any chance the Temple has of getting the zoning change it needs, and probably threaten his tenure. Arthur's task is to review the evidence-a collection of videotapes as well as Brenda's diary entries. The tapes record the popular family program on the Torah that Moshe Katan, an old seminary classmate of Arthur's, has been conducting for a growing number of the Temple members. Recently widowed, Moshe is a charismatic teacher as well as an original thinker, and Arthur finds himself moved and impressed as he watches the tapes that begin with the Creation and end with the giving of the Ten Commandments. Despite his reservations, and critical of Moshe's methods, Arthur is soon engrossed by Moshe's fresh telling of the old stories, and as the hours pass, he finds himself reexamining his own life: the shame he felt that both his father and brother Jonah worked for the Mob; his disappointment that his daughter Tamar is a lesbian; and his failure to help Jonah's widow and only son. Though exhausted, by early Monday morning Arthur is not only impressed with what Moshe has achieved but realizes, after seeing the last tape, that Brenda has misinterpreted Moshe's actions. A nicely crafted spiritual mystery tale that offers answers as well as redemption.


"An irresistible blend of spirituality and mystery." -- Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People

"The best tales are those told simply, yet conceal and reveal layers of meaning. With his second novel, Chefitz shows himself to be a master in writing about Jewish life in contemporary America." -- Philip E. Miller, The Klau Library, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

"In The Thirty-third Hour, Mitch Chefitz daringly pushes the envelope of American Judaism, challenging Jews to reinvent their synagogues, their communities, and their own Jewish identities. Revolutionary and original!" -- Ellen Frankel, author of The Five Books of Miriam, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Publication Society

"Mitchell Chefitz is one of the finest of a new generation of American Kabbalists. He brings an intuitive grasp of the mystical to everyday life. His teaching is disturbing, profound and inspiring." -- Lawrence Kushner, Rabbi-in-Residence at Hebrew Union College, New York, author of The Way into Jewish Mysticism: Invisible Lines of Connection and other books.

"A wise and humane book, rich with delightful stories." -- Julius Lester, author of The Autobiography of God and When the Beginning Began: Stories About God, the Creatures, and Us.

"Rabbi Mitch Chefitz is an illuminating spiritual guide and masterful storyteller who has given us a modern tale of intrigue and mystery that boldly and sweetly confronts the eternal questions of grief and gladness, giving and receiving, exile and return. The Thirty-Third Hour calls us to soul wrestling at its most profound . . . , and at its very best." -- Rabbi Wayne Dosick, Ph.D., author of Soul Judaism and When Life Hurts