Jonah Lehrer's book, "Proust Was a Neuroscientist," is based on a misunderstanding. Nonetheless, it is engaging, informed, wide ranging and altogether worth reading. At times it has the whip-smart feel of the best term paper you've ever read; if only one could adjust the thesis a bit, it would settle in to what is its real nature -- a provocative meditation, not a genuine discovery.
So we return, with the inevitability of quarrels in a shul, to the question posed at the outset: what makes a Jewish writer? I promised to avoid it, but there is a Wittgensteinian way out (and by the way, was he a Jewish philosopher?) A Jewish writer is someone whom we choose to call a "Jewish" writer. Would we rather have a clear category or fecundity and individuality of expression? Uniformity of commitment or divergence? The dilemma of modern Jewish writing is the same as that which bedevils modern Judaism: Where one can be everything, how likely is it that in the end, bristling with talent and showered with opportunity, one will come to nothing?
Imagine a cellphone ringing and ringing. Put it in a backpack. Put the backpack next to the wreckage of a bus mangled by a bomb. A rescue worker reaches into the backpack to turn the cellphone off because he cannot bear to hear the voice on the other end of the line.
With that image, from an account given in Israeli papers, I asked my congregants on the first day of Passover to help our sisters and brothers in Israel. We cannot win Israel's battles nor restore to life those who have died. But we can buy wheelchairs for the injured. We can pay for physical and emotional therapy for those whose lives are scarred by terror. We can provide social services for the shattered lives of the 400 children orphaned by the recent attacks.
It's a well-known fact that millions of Jews have doubts about the literal veracity of Bible stories. On April 8, 9 and 15, I gave a series of sermons that emphasized the following point: faith is independent of doubt. I wanted the millions of doubting Jews to know that they can still be faithful Jews and live a life of meaning and mitzvahs.