There are some books I make a point of rereading on a regular basis, and Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner is one of them — a short but profound book on certain Jewish rituals and practices that Christians ought to consider incorporating into their spiritual lives. Her memoir Girl Meets God was also the catalyst that inspired me to write my own.
I started rereading Mudhouse this morning, and thought: why don’t I create a list of all my favorite interfaith resources — books, concepts, practices, people to follow on social media?
Here we go!
Lauren Winner is the first author I recommend for people who are interested in Jewish-Christian dialogue. A very close second is Amy-Jill Levine, particularly her books The Misunderstood Jew and Short Stories by Jesus. Levine sounds like someone whose brain I would love to pick over coffee: she’s a self-described “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.” I would love to take one of her classes (if only money grew on trees).
Misunderstood takes a look at some of the more politically charged portions of the New Testament: particularly the verses that have been construed as anti-semitic. By understanding how Judaism was practiced by his contemporaries, Christians will come away with a better understanding of the Jewish world that Jesus lived in.
Short Stories examines Jesus’ use of parables, and how his audience would have understood them, given the heavy use of oral tradition to pass down stories from the Torah. Far from being “just stories,” parables were designed to incorporate financial, agricultural, relational, and moral lessons that both educated and shocked his audience.
It’s hard to say which Levine book I like better, because the insight in both is so valuable, and both are written in ways that are easy to follow and not dry at all, like you might expect academic books to be. Both are well worth your time and money.
For straight biblical reading, I highly recommend The Jewish Study Bible and The Jewish Annotated New Testament (of which Levine is an editor). Both contain commentary, historical footnotes, and essays by biblical scholars to help better understand Jewish interpretation, and where Jewish and Christian interpretations differ. I recommend these two bibles over The Jewish New Testament in terms of historical accuracy (I highly doubt that the apostle Paul was dropping Yiddish terms when writing about the Pharisees).
For the times when I’m not feeling so academically inclined, for those who are curious, my go-to Bible translation is The Message. It’s not a perfect translation, but ideal for the times I just don’t feel like reading the Bible.
What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus by Rabbi Evan Moffic is also a great historical resource. Its title is pretty self-explanatory. In the same vein is A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament by Rabbi Samuel Sandmel — also pretty self-explanatory (and just as interesting!).
Here’s a TL;DR version from Wikipedia: Midrash is ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to the biblical text. For a more in-depth explanation, check out this article from My Jewish Learning.
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering how Hagar felt when her mistress Sarah whored her out to have a baby with her husband Abraham, or what Isaac’s relationship with his father looked like after Abraham tried to sacrifice him, this is a concept you might want to check out. Few things have piqued my interest in Scripture and immersed me into the ancient world quite like midrash has.
One contemporary Christian author who explores this concept well is Peter Enns in his book The Bible Tells Me So. Rachel Held Evans also explores midrash in her new book, Inspired, which comes out next week and I am so excited for it.
TL;DR from Wikipedia: Tikkun olam is, literally, “repair of the world”, alternatively, “construction for eternity,” interpreted in Orthodox Judaism as the prospect of overcoming all forms of idolatry, and by other Jewish denominations as an aspiration to behave and act constructively and beneficially. Basically, a divine commandment to make the world a better place. For a more in-depth explanation, see this article from My Jewish Learning. Also check out this post to see how this concept influences my Episcopalian faith.
Sitting Shiva: when a spiritual community establishes a ritual for a bereaved person to mourn their dead. This practice lasts a full year after the death of a loved one, and involves prayer, providing food, lighting of candles, and more. See a more detailed explanation here and here.
More Jewish practices that Christians can learn from and possibly adopt are outlined in Lauren Winner’s book, linked above. But sitting shiva is a big one for me.
People to follow on Twitter
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, Meredith Gould, A Jew and a Gentile Walk Into a Bar, and plenty more I will continue to add as I think of them. Conversations under the hashtag #InterfaithChat are also worth reading.
If you have any resources you’d like to recommend, please drop some links in the comments!