The Whole Mishpacha – A Book Review, Blogging and Community and Faith Practice

One of the things I love about blogging is community. I not only get to write and hopefully become a better writer, but I get to become part of something that is so much bigger than all of us. I have been very blessed and am most grateful to know some richly wonderful people that I might have never gotten to meet or know otherwise.  I have met many bloggers and have talked to many on the phone as well… It is all so remarkable. It is like one great big mishpacha and I love it..

I also learn about books I might not know about, like Jane Redmont’s When In Doubt Sing, Tobias Haller’s Holy and Reasonable, The Price of Right by Alicia Morgan, Googling God by Mike Hayes, to name a few.

Such is the case with “Why Is There A Menorah on The Altar? Jewish Roots of Christian Worship”.  Author Meredith Gould became familiar to me in the comment boxes of various Catholic blogs and I was delighted to hear of the book that she was writing at the time. Her book was recently published and I reviewed it for The Evangelist, the newspaper of the Albany Diocese.

 

Jesus aside, what else is Jewish in Church?

by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

As a Catholic child of a Jewish father, I was thrilled to learn that we would be attending a Bat Mitzvah. The year was 1967 and I was 10. My parents told me that we were going to “God’s other house.” This got my attention because I loved Mass at our “God’s house.”

Entering the synagogue, I was curious about the yarmulkes for men and no chapel veils for women, the lack of statuary and candles, not to mention no Holy Communion. The Hebrew might as well have been Latin; it seemed transcendent to me.

I fell in love with this version of God’s house. In fact, I could not wait to get to tell Sister Agnes Marie all about how it was totally different yet so much the same. As it happened, I can’t say that Sister was as excited as I was. However, I was intrigued with whatever God had going with Judaism.

No wonder I was anxious to read, “Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar? Jewish Roots of Christian Worship” by Meredith Gould (Seabury Books, $20). Gould, who was born and raised Jewish, is now a practicing Roman Catholic.

In the foreword, the author wastes no time and jumps into how her Jewishness shapes who she is to this day. Her proclamation that she is a “Jew in identity, a Christian in faith and a Catholic in religious practice” shows that her faith is wide and deep, cultural and spiritual.

Meredith is Catholic, but the book addresses liturgical Christian worship including Episcopal and Lutheran services. Go ahead and read the rest of the review you wish, you can find it right here. And if interested, go get the book, it is really good!

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23 thoughts on “The Whole Mishpacha – A Book Review, Blogging and Community and Faith Practice

  1. Honestly I find this whole topic uncomfortable. This reminds me way too much of so called Messianic "Judaism" and their growing community here in Israel.Ms Gould still refers to herself as Jewish in countless articles. I'm sorry, but once you accept Jesus as the Messiah you are no longer Jewish. (Not going to get into a halachic debate here)BTW – on your facebook page, your blog address is wrong – you put breadnow.blogspotI'm coming to America in 10 days 🙂

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  2. Hi Josh! I am sorry if this makes you feel uncomfortable. I am deeply uncomfortable with messianic Judaism, so from my own perspective, I understand what you say.I can't speak for Meredith, but I think what she means is that she was born a Jew and that is part of her very being. Being Jewish, for good or ill, at least from my perspective, is not unlike being Catholic. In that way, there are powerful cultural values attached to being brought up that way.One might never attend a religious service any longer, one might not even believe in God, but in the depths of the soul, there is a connection to that deep root.There is – and I do think I can speak for her here – no intention to undo or disrespect Judaism. There is *none of the elements found in messianic Judaism or in the Christian Right that call for the "conversion" of the Jews. In fact, Meredith does not regard her conversion as leaving her Jewishness behind nor viewing it as inferior. Anything but. That might not be clear in the 700 word review.You know that I am deeply in touch with my own Jewishness even though I have never been a practicing Jew. It is as much a part of my nashema as my Catholic self. Now my full religious expression is in my Catholicism, but it would be flat and airless without its Hebraic roots.Ultimately – being Jewish, for good or ill, is not just about faith practice I think, which is also how I view someone with a Catholic worldview or mindset. Does that make any sense?If not, we will be discussing this on Nov. 6 when I hope to be seeing you.If I offend you in any way, please accept my apology. You of all people who are so close to my very heart. I will check out the blog address!

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  3. Fran, your response to Josh is well articulated and represents well my thoughts and feelings. Basically, I consider myself a 1st century Jew stuck in the 21st century. I do not consider myself a "Messianic" Jew. BTW, you were much nicer in your response than I would have been or will be:At this point, I don't give a hoot whether any of my Jewish sisters and brothers find this topic "uncomfortable." I have stories about Jewish anti-Semitism aimed at me that would make your hair straighten if it's curly and curl if it's straight. Being annhilated — and I choose that word carefully — by my own family is chilling, distressing and sad. Josh, howz about we all focus on our call to repair the world and take a long break from centuries of family fights and credentialing.

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  4. Interfaith – just as interfamily – matters are difficult and sensitive. Add to that that I think that the topic of messianic Judaism is a very visceral topic for many of us. In fact, this is a conversation that time has never allowed me to have with our family Josh. I won't say more than that here, but I think you know what I mean.Life is much more complicated and complex than we can easily discuss online.I validate your sensitivity towards the preservation of the Jewish faith Josh. And interestingly enough, I think that is what Meredith is, in my knowledge and experience of her, is too.I don't really know what happened in Meredith's family. I *do know* what happened in our own family when the giant shame and schanda of my grandmother's pregnancy hit. That was annihilation; complete with shiva calls.Whatever happened to Meredith, I express my sincere consolation for what must be deeply hurtful.I think that Meredith brings forth a unique perspective and voice in the world that has enriched my life and faith in the short time that I have known her. Meredith may be, along with my Jewish friend Katie Schwartz (adult content alert please take note), the only two people who *truly* get me in the nexus of my spiritual diversity, lived out as a Catholic with deep ties to my Jewish roots.Oddly enough, I do believe that if the three of us – Meredith, Josh and me – were sitting at a table it would be the spirit of tikkun olam that would unite us all.And that spirit does not call for the rejection of any. What I am about to say is not a diss towards Judaism which is rich in the spirit of tikkun olam and tzedakah. However, if there is a person who represented that it was the first century Jew who went by the name of Yeshua bar Yosef. Born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died as a Jew. Of that there are no questions. Why we are all separate today is a question for G-d. That we should not be so is a goal of my life indeed.Shalom in the deepest sense of that word to one and all.

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  5. Let me add one more thing – there is a tremendous – and I do mean tremendous amount of work that needs to be done in order to heal the wounds put upon the Jews for many centuries, in the name of Jesus Christ.For that we must labor and labor hard.It is almost unspeakable but we cannot ignore or avoid it.

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  6. I'll say what I've said elsewhere, in the hope that I don't offend anyone, because I have enormous respect for those of the Jewish faith. Our Christian roots are there. I'm grateful to the Jews for preserving the treasure of the Hebrew Testament for their own faith and practice and for the edification of us Christians. I'm grateful to the Jews for giving us Jesus and Mary. Both remained faithful Jews throughout their lives.

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  7. Thanks Mimi!It does occur to me to add that a Catholic could not ever be a messianic Jew; it is theologically impossible, for what it is worth.What I mean by this is that the way that the Roman Catholic Church interprets and understands Scripture is *not* literal.The apocalyptic vision of the Book of Revelation is seen through the eyes of code and symbol, understood very differently from the eschatalogical vision of the way my understanding of messianic Jews works.This is the subject of a thesis and a comment box is not the place. That said,the average person, even many, many Roman Catholics, do not understand this.Josh, come back – talk to me!I must go off to mass and then come back and work on a paper. I won't likely sign on here again until tomorrow.Peace to all!

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  8. My problem is not with Christianity – not at all.My problem is with those believing that Jesus is the Messiah and still claim to be Jewish. This is exactly what Messianic 'Judaism' claims to be.Yes, you were Jewish, and now you are not. This anti-semitism you are encountering is quite misplaced, being that you are not even Jewish.And to say you are a 1st Century Jew living in the 21st Century is quite offensive. This is the same argument that Christianity 'completes' Judaism – and that a 'Jew who believes in Jesus is a complete Jew'. I recommend checking out JewsForJudaism.org

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  9. I think part of the problem here is that Judaism transcends religion as an identity. With no offense intended to Josh, would not the Jew who comes to believe that Jesus is the messiah still be a descendent of Abraham, still enriched by generations of Jewish tradition?

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  10. I'm not (that I know of) Jewish by descent nor by conversion. That said, one thing I treasure about the Episcopal Church that I attend is the fact that there is a stained glass star of David in the wall above the communion table — it was given over 100 years ago by an observant Jew who found Episcopalians rather comfortable. We also have a mezzuza (sp?) by the door, a gift from the Har Shalom congregation which met for years in our parish hall.My Jewish (non-observant) brother-in-law briefly became a convert to Pentacostalism. To the relief of all, he is now a militant atheist.

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  11. Meredith does not need me to defend her but I will say that in her book she responds to those who think of conversion to Christianity "completion" is not at all what she has experienced.The truth is that we can never get inside the experience of another.

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  12. Well, and I think one of the things that, actually, Judaism and Roman Catholicism have in common is there are very VERY strong cultural ties in both religions, separate from the actual liturgical brass tacks, but still with very fuzzy boundaries. So it can be very visceral in terms of reactions to things like "Messianic Jews," as well as "lapsed Catholics."My Jewish friend and mento M. (who now has dementia) and was not normally a hot tempered man, had two subjects where he could go ballistic in a heartbeat–Messianic Jews, and Pope Pius XII–the first because he, like Josh, saw this as abject abandonment of his faith; the second b/c of Pius XII's blind eye to the Holocaust. It took Pope John Paul II to make him re-think his position on the Roman Catholic Church.So I hear what Josh is saying. The problem, of course, is anything that hits us so viscerally is so very hard to move to a position anything other than the one of which we are absolutely sure.I have ancestors that were probably Jews but became Lutherans b/c the only cultural outlet for many German-speakers in Missouri in the 1850's was the Lutheran Church. I, like Fran, have always wondered about my own cultural "Jewishness". I have one HLA tissue type that is hardly ever seen outside of Ashkenazi Jews. I feel a bit like the Marranos in that respect!

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  13. If I can throw in my Jew cents, I'd like to. I am a loud proud, born and raised, Jewish girl. Josh, you know I adore you, child. I respectfully disagree. Of course, you have a RIGHT to your opinion and I'm not taking that away from you. I am asking that you consider what Fran and Meredith are saying. I think it’s worth taking a minute and thinking about it. Fran is someone you know, love and respect. Consider the source. You feel me?I also think that Meredith and Fran represent the most beautiful expressions of their faith. Each feels deeply tied to their Jewish roots and is proud of their Jewliciousness. They might not practice Judaism the way you do, or the way that I do, but that doesn't mean that the blood of Judaism doesn’t flow through their veins or play a role in their lives. Furthermore, they’re exercising what I regard as a deeply important message this world needs, tolerance, tolerance and more tolerance. Religions bleed into each other, culturally and traditionally. Bringing that to light and celebrating their history and current practices shouldn’t be frowned upon. Rather, they should be embraced.We have to remember that these women aren’t zealots. These women are sophisticated, educated, deeply religious women, and especially have a deep education in their religion with the koyuch to say as much. When Meredith and Franny girl chose to practice Catholicism, it didn’t make them any less Jewish. This is not a broad sweeping generalization. I am speaking about these two women only. I feel I can say this because I KNOW FRAN. I also know that if Fran believes in Meredith enough to write about her, than she’s very similar to Fran, ideologically speaking. Being Jewish isn’t just a religion, it is a culture and part of who we are, regardless of how, or if we choose to practice. A Rabbi once told me, “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, period,” after I asked, “Sometimes I worry that I’m not Jewish enough”.That always stuck with me, not just as it pertains to my own practice of Judaism, but on a more global level. These dames aren’t Messianic Jews, not even close. These are women embracing their history of Judaism and proudly sharing it. The fact that they practice a different religion, but still believe in their Judaism is a beautiful thing.If we’re ever going to grow spiritually, regardless of faith, tolerance is critical, as is the ability to respect others religious make up. That’s all I wanted to say.Great post Fran, LOVE IT and YOU. Meredith, I’m looking forward to reading more about you. Love,Katie Schwartz

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  14. Fran you know I love you.Meredith, you seem very interesting.Katie – you are awesome.However, with all due respect to everyone: I do not thinking leaving Judaism and embracing Christianity is a beautiful thing. Personally, I find it quite sad.That being said, I would never 'disown' no 'annihilate' anyone from my family for leaving Judaism and the Jewish people. But again my problem is not recognizing ones original Jewish roots, but claiming that one is still Jewish while embracing Jesus.Claiming you can still be Jewish and Christian is a major problem affecting the Jewish community in Israel, and elsewhere.This has nothing to do with tolerance, but protecting the Jewish people.

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  15. I am just popping in really quickly to acknowledge all the comments… I won't be online so much today.Thank you one and all for weighing in. Katie I am especially glad to see you here as I had referenced you in an earlier comment.I do think that Josh makes a very important distinction that must be noted and that is that the difference between a claim to cultural Judaism and being a Jew are two very different things.Knowing him (he is my beloved cousin) I also know that the protection of the Jewish people is paramount in his heart, in a way that many of us might not fully comprehend.That said, and said with great love and respect, I also know in my own heart that depth of identity issues in life and of a call in one's heart to grow where you are not only planted, but perhaps you are transplanted.In my estimation, and I know others might not disagree, life is sloppy and the lines are not neat and clean. The combination of that and the plant/transplant issues create ambiguity. Such are the ways of the soul, which are not easily dissected.I would think that most of the people who read this blog would in essence understand the basic need for protection and preservation of Judaism. A brief look at history tells us that this is not something to be taken lightly. As I also referenced earlier, the Christian faith and the Catholic Church in particular, bear the weight of despicable actions.However, and Josh please hear me now and know that I am sincere, even I can't fully live or experience this in the ways that you can and that you have and that you do.That is not disrespectful, it is just true. In much the same way, while one might be able to understand Meredith's experience or my own, there are elements that other people can't enter into in the same way. In particular, on this blog, I have so many friends of faith, who are Episcopalian. At some point we do just diverge. My strong need to be Catholic cannot be denied, even when it makes no sense. In the same way, your need and identity cannot be denied either.Meredith is an adult and an extremely intelligent and wise one at that. She is someone who is a seeker who has found her place in the world. I can relate to this strongly. I am not sure that it will ever fully make sense to you Josh and that I do understand.

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  16. PS – I know you love me Josh! And you know I love you. What is hard for the blog to reveal is just what we share. And boy – do we share a lot. I must always shake my head and remember the little boy in Rockford, with whom I immediately connected. You are all so important to me in such a deep way. *You* especially Josh, you especially. For the little time that we actually spend together, we have been gifted with very remarkable time.You are one of the few people with whom I can fully engage and discuss and argue with… and then sit down and eat and just love and be with each other. That is a beautiful thing.See you soon.

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  17. Katie Schwartz tried leaving this comment but could not – so she emailed it to me and here it is:Josh and Fran; I hear you both hard. I agree with the below statement you made, more than you know. I do think that Josh makes a very important distinction that must be noted and that is that the difference between a claim to cultural Judaism and being a Jew are two very different things. This has nothing to do with tolerance, but protecting the Jewish people. Josh and Fran, not only do I appreciate your feelings, I also believe that all points with regards to tolerance, cultural vs. religious Judaism and protecting Jewish people, are of equal importance. Often times, I see Jewish families and children "Claiming" to be Jewish with little regard for the meaning of being a Jew. While I don't want to judge these folks, I worry about what it means for Jews 20-years from now, 60-years from now, 100-years from now and so on. Along with the lack of tolerance and systemic hate people have for Jews globally, and I wrote an essay about this, what will Judaism look like years from now? This is another worry. My sister and I speak of it often. Like you, Josh, I don't want to lose more Jews. However, and I say this with enormous respect to how you feel, and to express my own opinion, Fran and Meredith haven't abandoned their Judaism. For me, instead of looking at them within the global issue, I am looking at them individually. They have arrived at their decisions to practice Catholicism pure of heart, with a strong education and with the same yearning we have to practice our Judaism, even though we were born Jewish. Additionally, Fran and Meredith’s love of Judaism has the power to bring people back to their Jewish roots and educate the masses about Judaism, which breeds tolerance and awareness. I hold this in high regard for that, and because they don’t represent the people you were speaking of who abandoned their Judaism. I have 5 brothers and sisters. My parents were born Ashkenazi Jews. Together they had three children. Each of us practices our Judaism. When my parents divorced, my dad married a Catholic woman. Together they had two children. One practices both religions, while another is a practicing Buddhist. He respects his cultural and religious heritage; he just doesn’t feel connected to either religion. I hear you, Josh. I worry, too. I always consider the source first. I also ask myself a few questions, Will this breed tolerance? Does this have the power to educate? How will this affect future Jews? My answers determine how I feel about each isolated situation. Thanks for letting me weigh-in. Thanks for listening and allowing me to see your POVs. Love,Me

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  18. Oy vey! As a non-religious former Catholic who has dated enough Jews and Catholics to earn some kind of interfaith schtupping award, I can say that Jews and Catholics have many common characteristics.Nobody can out-Jew or out-Catholic our mothers. The guilt is identical, as far as I can see.Also, there is nobody more narrow minded than conservative Jews or Catholics. Okay, maybe Christian fundamentalists are worse, but I think a lot of that is caused by inbreeding.Also, both strict Catholics and Jews think sex is dirty, which helps explain my fondness for fallen angel lesbians of either stripe.And finally, you put out a great spread of food and both Jews and Catholics are thoroughly delighted. Except we get ham at Easter, which I think puts us in the lead.:D

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  19. Its almost 3am and I'm slightly intoxicated… But, observant Jews don't find sex dirty. Actually, it is a mitzvah to have sex on the Sabbath (between a married couple, of course)Lilah Tov

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  20. ok, I am very very late to this and I feel in no way qualified to answer, as I am a Christian and have never been Jewish. When I was involved in Charismatic renewal, I became familiar with "messianic jews" and I can tell you now, that they make me uncomfortable.Also, I found my heart strangely warmed when I read Meredith's comment about "getting on with repairing the world."I tried to write more, but I don't feel like I can articulate what I'm feeling. When I was in high school, one of the Jewish students became a Christian, and my friends said he only became a Christian because "he didn't understand the Jewish faith." Which might be insulting, but not any more insulting than the things that Christians have said about Jews.

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