Jewish Book Carnival

Jewish Book Carnival

Welcome to the New (secular) Year and a new batch of Jewish book related blog entries; designed to keep you warm on these long winter nights.

At the Book of Life, Heidi Estrin offers an interview with author Linda Glaser and illustrator Adam Gustavson, creators of the picture book Hannah’s Way which won the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Younger Readers Category.

On My Machberet, Erika Dreifus shares her year just past in Jewish books.

At Shilo Musings, Batya Medad, reviews two books. A Life Not with Standing, Inspirational Memoir by Chava Willig Levy. In her fantastic inspirational memoir, Chavi reveals more about herself than she usually allows people to know. Batya finds  The Soul of Chanukah: Teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach to be good reading all year long. Reb Shlomo’s wonderful stories are always good for reading and telling others.

Diana Bletter explores the “new-old-new” anti-Semitism, a writer’s dilemma and other issues in an interview with Phyllis Chesler whose latest book is American Bride in Kabul. []

Lorri M. has reviewed The King of Schnorrers, by Israel Zangwill, and found the bantering to be quite comical.

Kathy Bloomfield of talks about feet at her own website. While at where she also writes a column, she discusses what’s new in Tu B’Shevat books.

The Jewish Book Council announced the winners and finalists of the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards and also shared a Spring 2014 Jewish Book Preview.

Hadassah-Brandeis Institute celebrated the launches of three new books featuring Jewish and gender issues including The Best School in Jerusalem: Annie Landau’s School for Girls, 1900–1960, by Laura Schor, “Fertility and Jewish Law: Feminist Perspectives on Orthodox Responsa Literature,” by Ronit Irshai and “Marriage and Divorce in the Jewish State: Israel’s Civil War,” by Netty Gross-Horowitz and Susan Weiss.

Barbara Krasner at The Whole Megillah interviewed Neal Bascomb, author of The Nazi Hunters (Arthur Levine, 2013), which chronicles the capture and trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

Barbara Bietz interviews Mark Lichtenfeld, author of Line Change over at Jewish Books for Kids

Crucial Moment in the History of Western Civilization

Joshau GarrowayI once again had the pleasure of speaking with an HUC colleague about their latest work. Joshua Garroway, Assistant Professor of Early Christianity and Second Commonwealth and the Rabbi Michael Matuson Professorship for an Emerging Scholar, recently published his book Paul’s Gentile-Jews: neither Jew nor Gentile, but Both (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012)

SFS: Congratulations on your new book! You probably get asked this a lot, but how did a nice Jewish rabbi and scholar like you get interested in Christian texts and the inter-Testamental period of history?

JDG: This question comes up less than it might have a few decades ago, as the number of Jews interested in the origins of Christianity has increased considerably. There are now a couple dozen Jews with expertise in early Christian studies and countless Jewish readers interested in books on the topic. My own personal adventure began as an undergraduate student at Duke University, where I pursued seriously a childhood curiosity about ancient Roman culture. This pursuit led to studies of  Judaism and Christianity in antiquity and eventually to a degree in religious studies. In rabbinical school I came under the tutelage of a number of rabbis who suggested that an academic rabbinate might be the best choice for me, among them Rabbi Michael Cook, professor of ancient Christianity.

When considering the field in which I would pursue a doctorate, I was given good advice by my mentors: choose a field whose questions keep you up at night. The mystery of the historical Jesus, the puzzles in Paul’s epistles, the relationship of ancient Judaism to emerging Christianity–these questions fascinate me. Why? I suppose it’s because it’s such a crucial moment (pun intended) in the history of western civilization; though, admittedly, thrice weekly sessions with a good analyst might unearth different motivations. That will have to wait until my schedule and my wallet permit it, however.

Paul's Gentile JewsSFS: I admit I felt a little trepidation picking up your book; I found the title to be a little off-putting and confusing. What do you mean by “gentile” and “gentile-Jews”?

JDG: Actually, the term “Gentile-Jew” is supposed to be off-putting and confusing. It’s a term I used to describe the Gentiles in Paul’s communities who became baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ and as a result changed their fundamental orientation toward life. They expected Christ to return imminently to judge the world and they believed that their baptism would enable them to stand justified before him in that moment. These were not Jewish folks who believed in Jesus’ resurrection and expected his return, such as the apostles. Nor were they Gentiles who, as part and parcel of the baptism into Christ, became circumcised, accepted the commandments of the Torah, and for all intents and purposes became Jews. These were Gentiles who remained uncircumcised, did not keep kosher, observe the Sabbath, and so on. The argument in my book is that Paul nevertheless believed that such Gentiles were in fact the most authentic sort of Jew, because in the wake of Christ’s death and resurrection the parameters of Jewish identity had been radically redefined. It was now faith and baptism alone that made one a circumcised, Torah observant, and a direct descendant of Abraham. Of course, nearly everyone else looking at such people would have identified them as uncircumcised, non-Torah observant Gentiles. It’s the very state of being simultaneously identified as the most authentic sort of Jew (by Paul) and authentically Gentile (by others) that is captured in the confusing and off-putting expression “Gentile-Jew.” 

SFS: I was fascinated to learn that the “proto-Christians” (my term) were seen as a sect of Judaism like the Pharisees or Sadducees.

JDG: It can make sense to see earliest Christianity as somewhat analogous to other Jewish sects in the first century, but mostly so when it comes to the Christian communities in the Land of Israel comprised of Jews (e.g., the first church communities in Jerusalem). The comparison is less apt when we’re dealing with Gentile initiates. 

SFS: It seems that at times you equate “Jews” with “monotheists”  so therefore is someone gave up their multiple idols because of a belief in Jesus, they must be a form of “Jew.”

JSG: I don’t mean to equate “Jews” with “monotheists,” as being a Jew in antiquity did not necessarily mean one was a monotheist and being a monotheist did not necessarily mean one was a Jew. Plus, our notion of monotheism is not the same as what monotheism meant in antiquity. But it’s true that one of the several characteristics that typified Jews in antiquity was their peculiar dedication to a single, invisible God in a single, idol-less Temple, and their spurning of other gods and idols. And so, yes, to some extent even Gentile believers in Jesus who abandoned idols and pantheons may have understood this transformation as a turn towards a Jewish way of life. 

SFS: You describe Jewishness and gentileness (gentility?) as the end points of a spectrum and give a list of requirements that could be used to define a Jew (e.g. circumcision, observance of dietary laws, observance of Sabbath and holidays, Jewish parents, etc.). This is a list of inclusionary items.  At what point did belief in the divinity of Jesus become an exclusionary item?

JDG: Well, that’s the $64,000 question (not adjusted for inflation). The most accurate, least helpful answer is that it occurred in different ways, in different places, at different times between the first century and the fourth. Tracing the development of this so-called “parting of the ways” (a term that is losing favor) has become a very vibrant area of research in early Jewish and Christian studies. In short, some of the important points in the process frequently addressed by scholars are the law-free Gentile mission of Paul, the destruction of the Temple, the Fiscus Judaicus tax (imposed by Rome after the first Jewish War), the birkat minim, the rise of rabbinic hegemony, and the Christianization of the Roman Empire

SFS: In your discussion of Romans 4:-12, you say that Paul considered Abraham to be the ancestor of all the followers of Jesus regardless of whether they have Jewish or gentile backgrounds. Is this a parallel to the belief that Jesus died for his followers sins; that Abraham was circumcised as a symbol of his followers faith without them having to be circumcised themselves?

JDG: I read Rom. 4:1-12 as the culmination of a lengthy argument in which Paul explains to his Gentile readership how they will be able to stand justified before Jesus upon his imminent return. Many such Gentiles, it seems, believed that “becoming Jewish,” as we might understand it, was the best course of action. They should become circumcised, accept the commandments of the Torah, and so on. After all, what better way to be reconciled to the God of Israel than to embrace the laws given by the God of Israel! According to Paul, however, Gentiles are incorrigibly sinful and their effort to live like Jews will inevitably fail. Indeed, the very reason that Jesus died and rose was precisely so that Gentiles, by becoming baptized into that death and resurrection, would have access to another avenue into the covenant with God. They need to become Jewish, so to speak, but Paul contends that baptism produces a more authentically Jewish identity than one would acquire by becoming circumcised and embracing the Torah. For Paul, baptism into Christ transforms Gentiles ontologically by furnishing them the circumcised penis required for admission into the covenant of Abraham and even line of physical descent from Abraham. They become Abraham’s children and members of Abraham’s covenant. 

Purim: Something for everyone

The holiday of Purim, which occurs on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar, is one that is filled with highs and lows, darkness and joy – dichotomies that are particularly striking.  Heralding back to the biblical story documented in the Book of Esther, which is read on the holiday, the celebration of the victorious Jewish community in Persia is filled with drama, confusion and a deep plot – enough so that it might even make a great blockbuster film.

Although the story is complex and highlights interpersonal relationships, internal and external community issues, as well as geography, faith and monarchical rule– the modern celebration often includes items mentioned directly within the text.  The tradition of celebrating the holiday with merriment, sending gifts to others and presents to the poor continues until today in many communities worldwide.  What is truly is interesting is that although it is a time of partying and celebration there is a clear recognition to consider others.

Merriment and joy are carried through in the various activities and celebrations of the holiday – whether through Purim plays (that are often comedic, slapstick, or can be a representation of the story of Purim replete with costumes), dressing up in costume (which can evoke the main characters of the Purim story or can be completely creative), sumptuous meals, the giving of Mishloah Manot (gifts of food to friends) and even through all of the happiness, one should still recognize those in need through the distribution of Matanot L’evyonim (gifts of charity).

Traditional and modern commentators find many interesting nuances within the Book of Esther to comment upon, whether it is family relationships, gender and leadership roles.

Purim and Hanukah are often placed in a similar category, there are similarities – but of course there are differences. Among the similarities of the two holidays is the addition in the prayer liturgy and Grace After Meals (Birkat HaMazon) of the ‘Al HaNissim supplication that notes the various particular events and miracles ascribed with the holiday. These two holidays differ in areas such as length of celebration, related narrative inclusion in the biblical canon, type of observance – but like many of the Jewish holidays each one has distinctive food associated with the holiday.  For many Purim equals Hamantaschen, a triangular shaped cookie filled with anything from prune or raspberry jam to chocolate chips, meant to evoke the ear or hat of the character Haman in the story of Esther.

An innovation that dates from the medieval period is that of communal local Purim celebrations in communities worldwide – each notes a time when a community or family was saved from peril.  While commemorations and celebrations of local Purims vary, some include special prayers, reading of a special created scroll detailing the story of thanksgiving and a celebratory meal.

Consider browsing our library collection – from biblical commentaries, Purim plays, cookbooks to curricula, storybooks and illuminated manuscripts, we have something for everyone this Purim!