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Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

“Listening to God’s echo in our lives, approaching Scripture as if God were speaking to us, is the beginning of midrash.”
For a fresh and vibrant experience of reading Scripture, open Sandy Eisenberg Sasso‘s highly readable Midrash: Reading the Bible with question marks. In this book Rabbi Sasso provides a straightforward discussion of the Jewish tradition of midrash —interpretation of Scripture— and how this practice can nourish one’s spiritual life.

Rabbinical tradition teaches that the revelation of scripture is the beginning of a conversation, a process of seeking and listening for meaning. As Rabbi Sasso writes, “By dwelling in the text, by interpreting it and making it come alive, the people came to encounter the divine and continue a conversation begun long ago at Sinai.”

To guide readers through the process of reading and creating midrash,Rabbi Sasso shares ten examples from the tradition, each followed by a personal story. Readers experience the ongoing conversation with Scripture, and the importance of our contemporary stories. A particularly helpful section reflects on midrashim on the theme “God was in this place and I did not know it,” where Rabbi Sasso engages with Scripture related to finding glimpses of the holy in ordinary places.

Why should we read and practice midrash? “Midrash lets us glimpse the light of the old souls who saw the glow of the holy in the words of Scripture. It invites us to find that light within our own souls and bring it to illumine the sacred narratives.” We come to see the value of our own stories, and the many ways that Scripture can speak into our lives, as it did for our ancestors.

A lovely, rich, and inspiring read, Midrash: Reading the Bible with question marks would benefit Christian and Jewish readers, as well as secular individuals interested in the many ways to understand the Bible.

Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.

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“Even when one sees something ugly in another person, one should give heart to the fact that there, too, dwells the name of the Blessed One, for there is no place empty of God.” —Rabbi Jacob Joseph Katz
I strongly recommend From Enemy to Friend: Jewish wisdom and the pursuit of peace to all readers interested in interreligious dialogue and peacemaking. In this book Rabbi Amy Eilberg has done a compelling job presenting personal stories, classical Jewish texts, and peace and conflict theory to bring readers a powerful vision to guide our everyday lives as peacebuilders. There is inspiration for all who feel that “peace is not a utopian ideal, but a daily need.”

For anyone unfamiliar with the rich peace tradition in Jewish texts, Rabbi Eilberg shares that “the command repeated more frequently than any other in the Torah — 36 times, in fact — is the command to love, to reach out to, and do justice to the stranger.” She offers rigorous yet accessible engagement with Jewish texts, highlighting the many ways that peacemaking forms a central component of Jewish teachings.

Rabbi Eilberg illustrates that peacemaking is not merely a set of tools or techniques, but a way of being in daily life. As peacemakers, we must begin with transforming our own hearts, and extend our efforts into the world of our neighbors. With regular practice, we can learn to “unclench our fists, minds, and hearts when we feel wounded,” and live into the truth that “all human beings, even those who have hurt and threatened us, are human creatures like ourselves, worthy of the same respect and dignity we demand for ourselves.”

When the fear and hate that are revealed in the news become overwhelming, we can remember that many ordinary people hold peacemaking as the central value. For example, I learned of the exciting work of Clergy Beyond Borders, essential for building understanding in a pluralistic society. In another example of peacemaking lived, Rabbi Eilberg writes about the intentional community Oasis of Peace/Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, where Jewish and Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel live together. Across our religious traditions we need guidance and inspiration, to learn to lay aside our fears and suspicions of difference that often get in the way of building relationships.

Readers will find that From Enemy to Friend offers inspiration, deepened understanding, and rich material for reflection. In a world that is hungry for peace, Rabbi Eilberg’s inspiring and helpful work deserves a wide audience.

Disclaimer: A copy of his book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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In My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of strength, refuge, and belonging, author Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., shares a beautiful description of Chanukah from her grandfather, Rabbi Meyer Ziskind. I found this to be a beautiful, powerful message, and a heartfelt description of the holiday’s significance. I share it in hopes that these words will bless you:

“The story of Hannukah says that God’s light burns in the darkness even without oil, and it is so,” said my grandfather. “That is one of the miracles of the light. But there is more. There is a place in everyone that can carry the light. God has made us this way. When God says ‘LET THERE BE LIGHT,’ he is speaking to us personally, Neshume-le. He is telling us what is possible, how we might choose to live. But one candle does not do much in the darkness. God has not only given us the chance to carry the light, he has made it possible for us to kindle and strengthen the light in one another, passing the light along. This is the way that God’s light will shine forever in this world.”

May this special season of light bring joy to you and your loved ones.

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Theologian Mary Christine Athans, BVM, has written a compelling book that offers a fresh understanding of Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. The result of scholarship and personal reflection, In Quest of the Jewish Mary: The mother of Jesus in history, theology, and spirituality makes a worthwhile read.

The book opens with a helpful discussion of the role of Mary in the Catholic Church and the changing view of Mary throughout church history, including the feminist theology of more recent years. Athans then draws attention to the valuable contributions made by scholars studying the historical Jesus, and the helpful insights this research can provide for our understanding of Mary. As Jesus was growing up, his primary religion teacher would have been his mother, a faithful Jewish woman teaching her son how to pray and to seek God. Understanding how the Jewish faith was observed in daily life amplifies the picture we have of Mary and her son.

I appreciated the tools Athans provides for envisioning Mary’s life as a first-century Palestinian woman of faith. Along with her biblical scholarship, Athans shares stories of her own appreciation of Jewish customs and rituals. Her voice has the potential to build bridges of understanding between faith traditions.

The author brings together and makes accessible an incredible amount of research, providing a rich bibliography for readers who are compelled to read more on the topic. I made copious notes on index cards for future reading. Orbis Books once again has done readers a service by making contemporary theological scholarship readily available to readers who seek to deepen knowledge of their faith.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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Reading prayers composed by women who lived long ago can create a sense of connection across time, space, and cultural divides. Differences fall away, replaced by the common desires of women calling upon God. Through the scholarship of Dr. Aliza Lavie, a beautiful prayer resource now is available. Published in 2008, A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book the book includes Hebrew text alongside the English. This book would make an ideal gift. Not only are the prayers uplifting and the commentaries insightful, but the physical book also is beautiful, meant to be treasured and shared with future generations.

This beautiful volume of prayers will be inspirational to women of all faiths, and exciting for readers who appreciate women’s history. There are prayers from several different countries, written from the middle ages to the present. Prayers are included for every stage of life

Hanukkah will take place from Saturday, December 8 to Sunday, December 16 this year. For all who are celebrating, may the holiday be filled with joy.

I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library. No fee was received in exchange for this review.

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