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The New Rabbi Paperback – August 26, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (August 26, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553380753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553380750
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #630,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Don't let the lackluster subtitle of this excellent memoir/investigative report deter you. The New Rabbi is a surprisingly engaging chronicle of Jewish life at the turn of the 21st century, with a spotlight on one of America's most influential synagogues and the delightful characters who inhabit it. The book's most compelling strand is the convergence of two men's spiritual struggles over the deaths of their fathers--the author's and the brilliant rabbi Gerald Wolpe's. Wolpe's richly charismatic voice, as well as his willingness to publicly share his internal battles with God, have made him famous. His imminent retirement, on the other hand, reveals the fissures in American Judaism. Fried proves himself to be ambidextrous in drawing an affecting and humorous story of rabbis and men, while also revealing the behind-the-scenes political, financial, and emotional workings of American synagogue life in a time of generational change. Or, as he puts it, the "drama of the intersection of the divine and the secular, the battles between God and man and American culture, the searches for spiritual awakening and the perfect bar mitzvah caterer." This is fun and enlightening reading for Jews and non-Jews alike. --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This inside portrait of Conservative Judaism, the largest American Jewish denomination, reads like a novel fueled by a simple yet dramatic plot: Who will become the next rabbi of Har Zion a powerful 1,400-family Philadelphia synagogue upon the retirement of Gerald Wolpe, its vibrant spiritual leader of 30 years? Fried draws on his resourcefulness as an investigative journalist to gain access to the usually closed, juicy inner workings of the search process, delivered in a fond spirit that nevertheless has a potentially embarrassing, spill-the-beans quality for some of the players. He opens a door on the private details of a rabbi's life, based on the unprecedented access Wolpe granted him. The idea for the book was born upon the death of Fried's father; Fried began attending services to recite the kaddish, the mourner's prayer. He also began taking notes, compelled by the dearth of journalistic accounts of the lives of American Jews as Jews. What results is a compelling triple memoir, simultaneously recording Wolpe's career, Fried's own journey toward Judaism and a community's evolution. In his crisp yet easy style, Fried chats about the basics of Judaism without heavy explanations that might have deadened the narrative: Yom Kippur is the April 15th of Judaism; a citron resembles a lemon on steroids. Nothing escapes his wry observations, from bar mitzvah yarmulkes to rabbinic conventions. Fried's intensely personal yet broadly detailed perspective should interest both Jewish and non-Jewish readers who are curious about what really goes on behind the lectern.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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It's good to know that it wasn't just us.
Image matters: the committee dismisses one rabbi because he lacks a sense of style in the way he wears his head covering!
Dr. Cathy Goodwin
The account reads as smoothly as a well written novel.
Christian Observer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Geoffrey W. Dennis on October 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
THE NEW RABBI gives us an inside look at the rabbinical search process at a notable North American shul. Though the congregation in question is Conservative, the search process described closely parallels the process of my own Reform movement. The emotions, personalities and politics described certainly reflect universal aspects of synagogue life.
The book is also in part a meditation on being a rabbi in the North Ameican milieu. His examination of the career of the out-going rabbi, Gerald Wolpe, is both frank and compelling. But while the author spends a great deal of time reflecting on the life of R. Wolpe and on his assistant and potential in-house successor, Jacob Harber, he really concentrates on the congregation's perspective in the search. As a result, we do not get a real sense of what the search process feels like to the applicant rabbis. Harber is, in a sense, drafted by the congregation, so his experience is less than paradigmatic. Perhaps, as a rabbi, I over-identify with that aspect. Still, I wish he had spent some time interviewing the rabbinical candidates for Har Zion to include their POV.
Even so, this is a first-rate bit of investigative journalism on a little-know and sensitive aspect of Jewish communal life. While the author writes sympathetically about everyone involves, this work is revealing enough to make me wonder whether he will be welcome back at Har Zion any time soon.
The issues that come up in THE NEW RABBI will, at times, seem arcane to someone totally unfamiliar with synaogues. Nevertheless it is well-done and most readable. Most people involved in organized religion of any sort will get something out of it, and it certainly it should be required reading for rabbis and search committees in shuls everywhere.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By ERLevinJD on September 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I became interested in reading Steven Fried's book after I heard him interviewed on National Public Radio. Having just participated in the "new rabbi search" at my own synagogue in the Western suburbs of Chicago, I was curious to see if the experiences documented by Mr. Fried mirrored my own experience.
Although Har Zion, the synagogue followed in Mr. Fried's book is much larger and more influential than my own, I have to report that the rabbi search process seems to have some universal themes common to the process. We too "fell in love" with a candidate who ultimately "rejected" us...leaving the committee feeling like a jilted suitor at the altar. Our committee also harbored deep suspicions that the Rabbinic Movement was somehow keeping all the really qualified candidates from applying for our opening. And, of course, there was the usual political manipulating and jockeying for position to be appointed to the search committee and to be on the inside track for information on the candidates. Mr. Fried documents this process with sensitivity and wit.
I also identified with Mr. Fried's search for new meaning and connection with Judaism after the death of his father. His discussion of his emotional and intellectual growth made a perfect counterpoint to the new rabbi saga, never overwhelming the main story line.
Although I knew the outcome of the Har Zion search process from Mr. Fried's NPR interview, knowing the ultimate outcome of the search was not an impediment to enjoying the book. Mr. Fried's writing style never bogged down in tedious detail and the delineated the major players in the story while avoiding confusing the reader. While the book documents an actual rabbi search, Mr. Fried's pacing keeps the story moving like a novel.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By E. Davis on August 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Author Fried purports to tell the story of how a large and wealthy conservative congregation on the Philadelphia Main Line went through the process of replacing its retiring rabbi. It's actually quite some time before he gets into the essence of the story, and I found myself thinking, when is he going to get to the search? But he gets there and leaves no stone unturned. It is a truly ugly story and it made me feel grateful that I didn't belong to that congregation.
My own congregation recently went through a search for a new rabbi when ours left for a promotion after 14 years with us. This book is more than just the search for a new rabbi. It is a look at the inner workings of the conservative movement and the politics involved when this congregation decided to play hardball with the movement powers that be. I will not detail the end of the story (which, unfortunately is not in the book), but I will tell you it is not a pretty story, but I could not put the book down. Anyone who cares about this sort of thing should find the book endlessly fascinating as I did.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Fried's "The New Rabbi" is an engaging and insightful look not only at the lives of rabbis today but also at the hiring process, part of the greater whole he terms "the retail business." Having been involved in any number of job searches over the last number of years, I can attest that even in smaller congregations where less is at stake than Har Zion, emotions on both sides can - and do - run high.
If there is one lesson to be taken from this book, it is this - that synagogue life is, at heart, a business. The search committee, it seems, allowed itself to be swayed by the cult of personality which pervades our small profession. In the process, they failed to articulate a sense of what they were looking for, rather than whom they were looking for. Hence they passed up many suitable candidates, and in the process wound up hurting many people.
One hopes this is a story where "all's well that ends well." I personally harbor my doubts. Only when large organizations behave in a more professional manner will they will become successful once again.
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More About the Author

Stephen Fried is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author who teaches at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Pennsylvania. He has written five widely praised books: THING OF BEAUTY: THE TRAGEDY OF SUPERMODEL GIA (which inspired the Emmy-winning HBO film Gia and introduced the word "fashionista" into the English language); BITTER PILLS; THE NEW RABBI; HUSBANDRY; and APPETITE FOR AMERICA: FRED HARVEY AND THE BUSINESS OF CIVILIZING THE WILD WEST--ONE MEAL AT A TIME (a New York Times best seller that was also named one of the ten best books of the year by the Wall Street Journal.)

THE PAST AND FUTURE OF MENTAL ILLNESS AND ADDICTION with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy for Blue Rider/Penguin. He also lectures on the subjects of his books.

A two-time winner of the National Magazine Award, he has written for Vanity Fair, Glamour, The Washington Post Magazine, GQ, Rolling Stone, Ladies Home Journal, Parade, and Philadelphia magazine (where he got his start.) Fried lives in Philadelphia with his wife, author Diane Ayres.

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