New Review – Four Rabbis at Lunch

Fred Isaac AJL News and Reviews

What do rabbis talk about? In this book the distinguished Rabbi Elkins takes us behind the scenes, as a group meets every week.

The volume records a series of weekly (fictional) conversations among friends: one is Orthodox, one is Conservative, and two are Reform. One of the discussants (who joins in week 5) is a woman. In every session each of them gives thoughts, personal anecdotes, and opinions. There is no story here, just an extensive discussion. The topics vary widely, from “should I take part in a wedding when the Ketubah is not Halakhic?” to issues of Jewish education.

It can be read as both a conversational novel (think of the film “My Dinner with Andre”) and a thoughtful, well-researched exposition of contemporary Jewish thought on a range of subjects. Each chapter/meal covers several topics, and the group returns to some issues, analyzing different side-issues and questions of Halacha each time. There are occasional lectures, but they are limited in length, and meant to inform the reader rather than lecture. The author is respectful of his participants, and accurately reports the opinions of each movement and their different views. Rabbi Elkins is both knowledgeable and comfortable, and the book moves well. But without a through-line it feels like a series of responsa and opinions. It is a novel, but the ideas it presents are very real. Because there is no index or bibliography (though some book citations and websites are provided in the text), its reference or scholarly value is limited. It would be best used by working rabbis or rabbinical students, but it’s difficult to imagine as a “fun” read, even for knowledgeable congregants.

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