Harry Kemelman was born on November 24, 1908, in Boston, the son of Dora Prizer Kemelman and Isaac Kemelman, a diamond merchant and talmudic scholar. Kemelman attended Boston Latin School from 1920 to 1926. From the age of eleven to fourteen, he also attended Hebrew classes after school from four to six p.m. at his father’s request and a Talmud class from six to seven p.m. for his own enjoyment. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, he went to Hebrew and Talmud evening classes at the Hebrew Teachers College, which he describes as the hardest school he ever attended. Despite his academic achievements, Harvard University rejected Kemelman’s applications for undergraduate admission, probably because of a problematic high-school discipline record, although “there were also rumors that some colleges had set a percentage limit on Jewish students.” From 1926 to 1930, Kemelman attended Boston University and received his bachelor of arts degree in English. He was then admitted to Harvard for postgraduate studies, receiving his master of arts degree in English in 1931.
Kemelman became a teacher over his father’s objections that teaching violated the talmudic principle that one should not use knowledge “as a spade to dig with.” Kemelman taught on a substitute teacher’s license from 1935 to 1941, traveling to four different Boston area schools “to put together one poor salary.” He...
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