Christianity and Judaism: How One Faith Became Two

The latest issue of Christian History Magazine has released with the topic, “Christianity and Judaism: How One Faith Became Two”. The entire issue explores division and reconciliation in arguably the most profound and heartbreaking expression in the history of man, religion and what is His story – that of the God of the Bible and the Father of both Christians and Jews. Here are some of the intriguing discussions from the issue:

Faith divided: How one faith became two—and how their conflict began by Eliza Rosenberg, postdoctoral teaching fellow in world religions at Utah State University

People of Torah: Rabbinic Judaism 101 by The Editors

Gentile tales: How a limited protection of Jews evolved into persecution by Miri Rubin, professor of medieval and early modern history at Queen Mary University in London

Looking for demons: “Golden mouthed” saint preached against Jews by Matt Forster, director of admissions and communications at Houston Graduate School of Theology and frequent contributor to Christian History

Larger than life: Christian thinkers Adopted Jewish symbols—but mistrusted their sources by Edwin Woodruff Tait is a Christian History contributing editor

Kabbalah: A surprising point of meeting by Harvey J. Hames, professor of history, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

“Never shall I forget”: From 1933 to 1945, Germans—some of them Christians—murdered six million Jews by Chris Gehrz is professor of history at Bethel University and coauthor of The Pietist Option.

Jews, lies, and Nazis: Did Luther pave the way for Hitler? by Eric W. Gritsch (1931–2012), Maryland Synod professor of church history at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

A land called holy: The founding of the State of Israel opened new questions for Jewish-Christian relations by Robert O. Smith is director of Briarwood Leadership Center, Argyle, TX

Nozrim and Meshichyim: Messianic Judaism combines Jewish and Christian influences, but not without controversy by Yaakov Ariel is professor in the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Experiencing Messianic Judaism by Paul Phelps has attended Messianic congregations both in America and in Israel. He is the father of Michael Phelps, network administrator for our sister company, Vision Video.

“Our Jewish life”: Jewish thinkers, writers, leaders, and artists with lasting impacts by Jennifer A. Boardman is a freelance writer and editor. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary with a concentration in Christian history.

Sorrow and blessing: Two theologians seek to illuminate the difficult history in this issue by Ellen T. Charry is professor emerita of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and is working on a project about Jewish-Christian relations tentatively titled “Who Is the Israel of God?” Holly Taylor Coolman is assistant professor of theology at Providence College. Her current research focuses on Christian theologies of the Jewish people.

You can read the issue here.

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In the Garden

Throughout the years I’ve reviewed many books about plants; herbalism, growing them, trees, culinary herbs, and many more perspectives. However, recently I was approached about the opportunity to review a book about plants written from a unique perspective, the Bible. “In the Garden: An Illustrated Guide to the Plants of the Bible” discusses trees and shrubs, edible plants, medicinal and aromatic plants, and flowers from the Old Testaments and New Testaments.

Why the Bible? As it’s pointed out in the introduction, “The Bible is full of metaphors that come from plant life: sowing, pruning, tending, reaping, and storing; seeds, stalks, fruit, chaff, and leaves.” That, “A study of the plants in the Bible also gives us an appreciation for the scope of the narrative of God’s people in Scripture,” and that, “a careful study of the meaning of words in the Bible brings our imaginations into worship of our King.”

So, you don’t practice a Judeo-Christian religion. Why bother with this book? Because it gives us, particularly those of us who love nature but aren’t knowledgeable in Scripture a new perspective to many plants. Each plant outlined in the book has a corresponding piece of Scripture and history of the plant. At the end, there’s even some ideas for growing your own Biblically inspired garden!

“In the Garden” is 128 pages of beautiful full-color illustrations by Becky Speer in a slim hardcover format. This would make a lovely coffee table book and an excellent gift for anyone who is intrigued by plants.

You can learn more here.

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Familiars in Witchcraft

When I saw “Familiars in Witchcraft: Supernatural Guardians in the Magical Traditions of the World” by Maja D’Aoust I knew I wanted to read it. Who doesn’t love learning about those adorable animal familiars? In retrospect, it was a pretty myopic view. Fortunately, D’Aoust opened my eyes into what makes a familiar.

There’s so much more in the world to be considered a “familiar” than your typical black cat. D’Aoust takes a truly global approach to the conversation. Her discussion of Greek belly-talkers and sibyls and the source of their powers was eye-opening. The examination of the role of angels in Judeo-Christianity was something I never considered before as a “familiar” relationship. D’Aoust also looks at fairies, familiars in Chinese legend, and even their appearance in India. I also want to mention that the author’s own artwork is used throughout the book. It’s unusual that the author provides their own art, and in this case helps bring extra vitality to her words.

“Familiars in Witchcraft” is wonderful, global look at what defines a familiar and how that title is mutable depending on culture. A worthwhile read for all those interested in spirit.

You can learn more here.

Shop your local indie bookstore<---This is an affiliate link to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use this link to purchase the book, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of goddesses, and so I’ll admit the main reason I wanted to check out Jo Jayson’s “Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine” was because the cover art was beautiful and the subtitle is “A Guide through the Paintings & Channelings of Jo Jayson”. I figured a book full of art like what was on the cover was worth a look.

“Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine: A Guide through the Paintings & Channelings of Jo Jayson” is a thoughtful exploration of what it is to identify as a woman. Jayson explores the lives/folklore and wisdom of Guinevere: The Queen, Mariamne of Magdala: The Magdalene, Brighid: Mother Goddess of Ireland, Isis: One Who is All, Mary: The Mother, Jeanne D’Arc: Maid of Orleans, Miriam: The Prophetess, Guan Yin: Mother of Compassion and Mercy, Morgan Le Fey: The Water Spirit, Artemis: Maiden of The Hunt, Kali Ma: The Dark Mother, Inanna: Star of Heaven and Earth, and Grandmother Spider: The Weaver.

First and foremost, the artwork is BEAUTIFUL! The book is hardcover with full color glossy pages, perfect for showcasing Jayson’s work. Each entry includes a brief history lesson and what we can learn from them. There is also a prayer and then some exercises you can work through. “Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine” is equal parts artbook, workbook, and history lesson. It’s wonderful book!

You can learn more here.

‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah

I learned of an interesting exhibit going on at the National Museum of Jewish American History that I thought was fun and interesting. Something that those of you in Philadelphia may want to check out this holiday season.

The history of Hanukkah and Christmas songs and the Jewish musicians, artists, and songwriters who wrote and performed them is the focus of the National Museum of American Jewish History’s newest installation, ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah, opening November 4, 2014. The installation combines a cozy living room setting with modern technology to deliver a compelling story about the blending of the American and Jewish musical season, the soundtracks of religious holidays, and the musical standards we know today.

Featuring well-known artists such as Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman, Bob Dylan, the Ramones, and Lou Reed, as well as Christmas gems by the likes of Jewish salsa giant Larry Harlow, and Jewish stage and screen icons Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson, this multimedia installation will set to music American Jewish efforts to invent, re-invent, and celebrate a season marked by family, gift-giving, food traditions, and well-loved music—across multiple faiths.

“The Christmas music industry, as a quintessentially American enterprise, provided a way for Jewish songwriters, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, to feel American. By showing how an outsider community can enter mainstream American culture, Christmas songs highlight a classic American Jewish narrative,” says Ivy Weingram, associate curator of NMAJH and co-curator of ‘Twas.

In a gallery styled as a cozy living room, visitors will be able to enjoy interactive song and video platforms, as well as images of holiday-related artifacts from the Museum’s collection of 30,000 objects, delivered on curated iPads accompanied by text and graphics of holiday celebrations. In addition to the audio visual component of the installation, visitors will have hands-on access to record albums, a wide selection of books on American popular music and Jewish history, and kids’ toys and books.

A ‘Twas-themed self-guided tour highlighting holiday-related objects in the permanent collection will also be available.

The installation is inspired by the critically-acclaimed 2012 music compilation produced by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, which draws on jazz, folk, rap, Latin, and Klezmer musical styles. “At the Idelsohn Society, our goal has always been re-examining the Jewish-American musical past in new contemporary contexts,” says Idelsohn co-founder, Josh Kun. “Collaborating with NMAJH offers a rare opportunity to do this in a premier Museum setting where these songs and their commentaries on Jewish life, identity, and ritual will take on new meanings with new publics.”

‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah will build on the cutting-edge interactive media for which the Museum has been widely recognized. This family-friendly, seasonal installation will run through March 1 and is designed to be enjoyed by visitors of all backgrounds.

For those of you who are interested, I have the “‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah” musical compilation CD in the “I Recommend” widget on the site here. It’s also available for download through Amazon.

Sixty-Minute Seder

A few of years back I admitted to being a “bad” Jew and hosting less than polished Seders. However each year we have a Passover Seder, a special ritual dinner where we tell the story of the Jews flight from Egypt. Seder comes from the Hebrew word for order, referring to the order of the ritual. I always hope that like in most things, it’s the thought that counts.

You know who are some awesome Jews? Cass (Yickezkale) and Nellie (Nechama) Foster. These guys aren’t “bad”, they’re Orthodox. They’re some hardcore, boxing up pots, pans, dishes, silverware, etc. keeping Kosher folks. That also means they were hosting what could politely be called marathon Passover Seders. 50 or more dinner guests were attending Passover Seders that would last 3 or 5 hours.

Cass Foster, known for having written “Sixty-Minute Shakespeare” plays was soon jokingly, or not so jokingly, being asked, “What about a Sixty-Minute Seder?” And so the “Sixty-Minute Seder: Preserving the Essence of the Passover Haggadah” by Cass (Yickezkale) and Nellie (Nechama) Foster was born.

The Haggadah helps guide you through the Passover Seder and there are tons available with loads of different focuses; ranging from feminism to children. “Sixty-Minute Seder” is traditional but simple enough to follow that even a below Reform level Jew can follow what’s going on. It also has recipes, and you all know how I love recipes!

With Passover in just a couple of weeks, now may be the time to consider taking a new Haggadah out for a test drive. Perhaps this will be the year you’ll have a “Sixty-Minute Seder”.

Thou Art That

How sad is this? I honestly feel just awful. I seriously started this book review over 5 times. That’s right kids, OVER 5 TIMES! I was given a copy of “Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor” by Joseph Campbell. It’s collected from previously unpublished work. It does what Campbell does best, compares the Judeo-Christian faiths similarities and misrepresentations with scholarship that is authoritative, yet a dummy like me can understand.

What do I say about that besides I liked it? That I REALLY liked it! Here’s what I’d like to say, it comes from Eugene Kennedy, Ph.D., “Thou Art That’s” editor:

“Tat tvam asi” is a phrase that appears often in these collected spiritual reflections of the late Joseph Campbell. These words also inscribe a signature of celebration on his life and work. Translated from the Sanskrit as “thou art that,” this epigram captures Campbell’s generous spirit just as it does his scholarly focus. The great student of mythology not only understood the profound spiritual implications of the phrase but, quite unselfconsciously, lived by them as well.

Joseph Campbell was fond of asking Schopenhauer’s question, found in his essay “On the Foundation of Morality:” “How is it possible that suffering that is neither my own nor of my concern should immediately affect me as though it were my own, and with such force that it moves me to action?…This is something really mysterious, something for which Reason can provide no explanation, and for which no basis can be found in practical experience. It is not unknown even to the most hard-hearted and self-interested. Examples appear every day before our eyes of instant responses of the kind, without reflection, one person helping another, coming to his aid, even setting his own life in clear danger for someone whom he has seen for the first time, having nothing more in mind than that the other is in need and in peril of his life….”

Schopenhauer’s response, one Campbell delighted in making his own, was that the immediate reaction and response represented the breakthrough of a metaphysical realization best rendered as “thou art that.” This presupposes, as the German philosopher wrote, his identification with someone not himself, a penetration of the barrier between persons so that the other was no longer perceived as an indifferent stranger but as a person “in whom I suffer, in spite of the fact that his skin does not enfold my nerves.”

And I feel like that’s the real story this collection of previously unpublished works is trying to tell us. Christian, Jewish, whatever. You are a person that’s part of this crazy experiment called humanity. “Thou art that.”

The Alphabet for Lovers

Some of you may remember that back in December 2011 I reviewed the unique divinatory set Tokens of Light by Orna Ben-Shoshan. I’m happy to say she’s back with “The AlphaBet for Lovers: Insights, Advice & Prophecies about Love and Relationships According to the Hebrew Alphabet”. If you were intrigued by “Tokens of Light”, you’re going to LOVE “The AlphaBet for Lovers”.

“The AlphaBet for Lovers” is a set of 72 small (when compared to tarot) heart-shaped cards. Each card has a letter of the Hebrew alphabet on it and according to Ben-Shoshan the Kabbalah attributes more meaning to these letters. A heart will have a beautiful piece of Orna Ben-Shoshan’s art on one side along with a number and the other side will have a short phrase that is associated with the Hebrew letter that is on the back. The set comes in a box designed to look like a book and with a pretty bag to carry the heart cards in.

Although the name says “Lovers”, “The AlphaBet for Lovers” is designed for examining relationships in general. Relationships between co-workers, parent and child, etc. are all fair game for examination. Readings are relatively straight forward. You reach your hand into the bag and mix the hearts while focusing on your question. Once you feel your hand is drawn to a heart, you select it, and by using the number on the front of the heart you can easily look it up in the companion book and learn its meaning.

And not too sound like an infomercial, but wait! There’s still more! If you go to her site you can also check out “The 9 Blessings: For Love, Health, and Success”. These are 9 Kabbilistic amulets on cards conveniently sized to carry in your wallet or purse. You could easily carry them in your pocket as long as you think you could remember to take it out before washing your clothes!

Once again Orna Ben-Shoshan has created an enchanting and unique divinatory set. To learn more, you can visit her site.

Like an Orange

When discussing Judaism it’s generally broken down into three levels of adherence: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Technically, I’m Jewish. Having only been to a synagogue a few times in my life and never having had a Bat Mitzvah, I feel safe in saying technically. The overall level of observance and philosophy I adhere to puts me about three or four levels down from Reform. It’s sort of like that t-shirt, “I’m not Full-Blooded Jew, I’m Jew-ish”. That’s not exactly how this works, but you get the point; by technical religious law I’m Jewish but I suck out loud at it. Back in 2009 I wrote a little ditty about it that shared a comic strip from one of my favorite webcomics “Least I Could Do”.

Each year my husband and I would switch off with another couple, featuring another “bad Jew”, hosting a Passover seder (a special ritual dinner done for Passover with the word seder coming from the Hebrew word for order, referring to the order of the ritual). Now that my parents have moved back to the area they’ve joined into the rotation, and although not Orthodox they’re more experienced and polished with the seder observances, but they seemed to have decided to suffer us fools gladly.

As I said, the Passover meal is a ritual, to the point where you essentially use an instruction manual to guide you through the meal. It’s called a Haggadah. It helps you retell the story of Exodus, tell you what prayers to recite, sometimes they’ll suggest songs and activities, and more. There is no one Haggadah. The first year we decided to do a Passover dinner with our friends the only Haggadah he could find was some sort of “scholar’s” Haggadah, that seder took FOREVER! After that year I asked my family to get me copies of the ones we’d always used for the next gift giving occasion. And so the next year I was prepping our first year hosting Passover using “A Family Haggadah II” by Shoshana Silberman.

I had never actually sat and read the Haggadah’s commentary before, but when I did I stumbled across something that became an immediate tradition in our household and then our friend’s. The Passover table features a seder plate containing symbolic foods that are displayed and eaten during the course of the meal. (For example, bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery that the Jewish people endured in Egypt. That kind of thing.) When reading “The Seder Plate” section of Silberman’s Haggadah I found this:

Some families have adopted the custom of placing an orange on the seder plate. This originated from an incident that occurred when women were just beginning to become rabbis. Susannah Heschel, lecturing in Florida, spoke about the emerging equality of women in Jewish life. After her talk, an irate man rose and shouted, “A woman belongs on the bimah (pulpit) like an orange on the seder plate!” By placing an orange on the seder plate, we assert that women belong wherever Jews carry on a sacred life.

And so each year, despite having to look up what goes on the seder plate (Hey, I said I was a bad Jew!) I always remember I need an orange. I suppose it’s fun to feel like I’m flipping a citrusy middle finger to the narrow minded, and that’s why I liked it initially. However I think the reason it resonates with me this year, and perhaps why this year I felt compelled to share it with you (Considering this will be what, six Passovers since I’ve had this website?), is I think I needed a reminder that Judeo-Christian religions are capable of evolution and change.

In watching the news lately I have been so bombarded by religious politicians that appear to be absolutely intractable in beliefs that are growing more outdated by the minute. It is just nice to think that a religion as old as Judaism has a bunch of people putting oranges on seder plates, a ridiculous idea (If you own an actual formal seder plate there is no spot to even make an orange fit!), but they do it anyway because of what it means to them. In doing so, they share that belief with their friends and family and they carry that home with them to share with others.

In a bit of postscript, I stumbled across this info on Wikipedia:

Since the early 1980s, a custom has arisen (especially among more liberal and feminist Jews) to include an orange upon the Seder plate. This custom is often falsely explained as having arisen in response to a man who confronted a Jewish feminist who was giving a speech and opposed the right of women to become rabbis, supposedly declaring that women had as much place on the bimah as an orange had on the seder plate. However, Susannah Heschel, a Jewish scholar who began this custom, has explained it as a symbol of the fruitfulness of all Jews, including women and gay people. After hearing that some college students were placing crusts of bread on their seder plates as a protest against the exclusion of homosexuals from Judaism, Heschel substituted the fruit (originally a tangerine) on the plate instead.

If this is the true origin, it still works for me, because a person who doesn’t believe that a woman or homosexual is entitled to a fruitful life (including Jewish spirituality if they choose it) belongs at my seder dinner like an orange on the seder plate. And you can quote me on that.

Tokens of Light

It used to be all I ever saw were tarot decks; tarot decks that held pretty tight to the template set by the Universal Waite Tarot Deck. Then I noticed tarot decks that meandered off that path at times, and occasionally I saw sets of runes. Then it was oracle decks, that conformed in no way to the traditional tarot, and I saw I Ching sets. It seems for every person out there awaits a type of oracle just for them! And I’m here today to introduce you to another wonderful member of this expanding family, “Tokens of Light”.

“Tokens of Light” is subtitled “66 Paths for insights and prediction according to the Hebrew Alphabet” and it was created by Orna Ben-Shoshan. Astute readers will remember that name from back in April 2011 when I reviewed the “King Solomon Oracle Cards“. Orna was responsible for the beautiful artwork found in that deck, and I’m happy to say “Tokens of Light” is perhaps an even better space for her art.

The tokens are 66 sturdy coins (made of a slightly more sturdy stock than tarot cards). One side of the coin has its number, 1-66, (The total number of 66 was derived by using 3 different aspects of each one of the 22 Hebrew letters.) and underneath it a Hebrew letter with a serial code to which the answer relates. The other side has a beautiful Orna Ben-Shoshan illustration to help you make a visual connection with the coin. The coins come with a pretty drawstring bag to use for carrying, storage, or pulling the tokens from for readings.

You don’t need to be able to read Hebrew to use “Tokens of Light”. Thank goodness! The set comes with an interpretation booklet that gives you some ideas as to what drawing a particular coin might mean, and also some different suggested ways to use “Tokens of Light” for guidance. Despite its beautiful, mysterious, occult appearance, it’s pretty freakin’ simple to use. How about one more “Thank goodness!”?

Along with the tokens, you also get two amulet coins that are not to be included in your readings, but kept close to you. One coin contains the priestly blessing for protection and fulfillment of your wishes, and the other coin contains letter combinations taken from the “72 Names of God” that will bring balance and success to all areas of life.

“Tokens of Light” is a unique addition to the expanding landscape of oracle products. To learn more about it, visit their site.