What makes this book really interesting is that Zucker compares the "facts" of the modern rabbinate with the "fictional" rabbinate; that is, with rabbis in novels and short stories written during the past fifty years. He offers selections from over one hundred works of fiction and nearly seventy-five fiction writers, including: Harry Kemelman, Allegra Goodman, Noah Gordon, Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser, Joseph Telushkin, Naomi Ragen, Philip Roth, Faye Kellerman, Bernard Malamud, Eileen Pollack, Herman Wouk and Alex J. Goldman - one of the few men who write about a rabbi who is also a woman. In addition, Zucker devotes important chapters to God, Israel and Tradition as well as to contemporary issues, such as assimilation, intermarriage and patrilineality. Further, he includes a major chapter on rabbis who are also women. Some "rabbi" fiction comes closer to reality than others do. The most famous of the fictional rabbis is "Rabbi David Small" of the Harry Kemelman mystery series. Beginning with Friday, the Rabbi Slept Late, Kemelman followed "Rabbi Small" through twenty-five years.
To an outsider looking inside of this "weekday" rabbi series, the on-going tensions between "Rabbi Small" and his Board of Directors seem overdrawn. This is understandable considering that fiction often relies upon dramatic moments filled with strife to carry the plot. However to an insider, many of these conflicts are accurate. One of the unsolved mysteries of Kemelman's twelve books is "Rabbi Small's" survival of his congregational experience, a detail that is paralleled in the careers of many real rabbis. On the other side of this fact-fiction coin, some rabbi-centered fiction is far from reality. Historically, TV and the movies have portrayed rabbis as Orthodox men, as if only they were authentic. Further, many have been portrayed as ineffectual. Thankfully, "Rabbi Small" - televised in 1977 - was an exception to these "norms". All rabbis serve as priests, pastors, and companions through the life-cycles and life-crises of their c