American Rabbis: Facts and Fiction

Article excerpt

American Rabbis: Facts and Fiction, by David J. Zucker. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998. 317 pp. $35.00.

When one reads a book written by a colleague about one's own profession, it is like holding up a mirror to one's soul. Such is the feeling of this reviewer upon finishing the book American Rabbis: Facts and Fiction, by Rabbi David J. Zucker. Certainly Rabbi Zucker is eminently qualified to write such a book, one that is instructive for rabbis and congregants alike. A former congregational rabbi, as well as a professor of Religious Studies and a chaplain serving a care community near Denver, Rabbi Zucker writes with much insight and sensitivity about the entire spectrum of rabbinical-congregational life from traditional Judaism through more liberal branches of Judaism. Rabbi Zucker obviously understands the rabbinate and effectively deals with its pitfalls as well as its pinnacles. Yet having said all this, the reviewer does take issue with one aspect of the book. Not only does Rabbi Zucker analyze his subject in terms of facts and realities, but he also has chosen to intertwine into his narrative examples and illustrations from fiction, both novels and short stories, written about the rabbinate since 1950. This reviewer asserts that it was not necessary to bring into the book such fictional material, since its inclusion, though interesting from a literary point of view, was found to be a distraction from the issues and problems of daily rabbinical-congregational life. There is obviously enough material in short stories and fictional books about the rabbinate to warrant a separate book dealing with such a topic. The supportive evidence and factual information about the rabbinate presented by Rabbi Zucker from real life are sufficiently illuminating and straightforward as to offer the reader a fine historical, sociological, and psychological perspective on the American rabbinate.

Written in 1998, American Rabbis: Facts and Fiction is timely and statistically as well as informationally useful. The increasing numbers of women rabbis in the nonOrthodox branches of Judaism, the struggles within American Judaism over the Reform movement's acceptance of "Patrilineal Descent" as a norm for determining Jewishness in contemporary times, and the growing acceptance in Reform Judaism of meaningful ritualism and mitzvot, are but a few examples of the freshness of the information imparted in Rabbi Zucker' s book. …