Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians

Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians

by Lawrence Kushner

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Jewish spirituality approaches life in a way that encourages us to become aware of God’s presence and purpose, even in unlikely places. A unique guide to the rich wisdom of Judaism tailored to address Christians’ questions and help deepen their own faith.See more details below


Jewish spirituality approaches life in a way that encourages us to become aware of God’s presence and purpose, even in unlikely places. A unique guide to the rich wisdom of Judaism tailored to address Christians’ questions and help deepen their own faith.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As the dust-jacket blurbs from Peter Gomes and Joan Chittister suggest, Rabbi Kushner's explorations of Jewish mysticism and spirituality have long attracted Christian readers. At last, he has written a book designed especially for Christians. However, it's not quite clear how this book's content differs from Kushner's other volumes (Honey from the Rock; Invisible Lines of Connection). Much of the content the midrash about Reuven and Shimon crossing the Red Sea, for example, or the discussion of Torah as a "blueprint for creation" will be familiar to Kushner fans; they are among his favorite motifs. The afterword does explain some of the differences between Judaism and Christianity: Kushner sketches a distinction between Jewish Torah and Christian nomos; he reminds readers that Judaism has no incarnate God; and he explains that Judaism is not a proselytizing religion. Christian readers may find some sections of this afterword illuminating, but they may take issue with other passages, such as Kushner's insistence that Judaism is this-worldly and Christianity is other-worldly. This short book is in many ways classic Kushner: the writing is felicitous, the spiritual insights often profound and the rendering of complicated kabbalistic ideas into simple prose (intelligible not only to Christians but also to Jews not steeped in Jewish text) praiseworthy. The book's flaw is also that it is too much classic Kushner a promising project that recycles old ideas for a new, ecumenical audience. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Kushner, a rabbi who has written several books about Jewish spirituality for Jews (e.g., Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary), was inspired to write this book by his friendship with an Episcopal priest, through whom he came to understand Jesus. Here he explains Jewish spirituality to Christians, focusing on four topics Creation, Torah, Commandment, and The Holy One and using stories and biblical references to teach readers about the subject. He discusses the Talmud and the Torah, revealing parallels between Christian and Jewish concepts. Through his lively style, he brings vast and difficult subjects into the lay reader's grasp, and because he explains complex ideas simply, plainly, and succinctly, prior knowledge about Judaism and spirituality is not necessary. Though the book is intended for Christians, anyone interested in learning about Jewish spirituality will enjoy this introduction. Recommended for all public libraries and for academic libraries where appropriate. Naomi Hafter, Enoch Pratt Free Lib., Baltimore Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Kushner has taught me more about God and my own Christianity than any other teacher I have known."
Rev. Robert G. Trache, rector, Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill

“Eminently readable … his ministry transcends all faiths while deeply rooted in his own.”
Peter Gomes, Pusey Minister, the Memorial Church, Harvard University

“We have another Buber here, a Heschel … Kushner expresses the truly profound with joy, lightness and humor.”
Father M. Basil Pennington, OCSO, abbot, the Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit

“Rabbi Lawrence Kushner has a rare gift: He has unusual insight and the unusual ability to make them clear to others. His contribution to contemporary spirituality in the best of the Jewish tradition nurtures the soul in all of us. I read his work to understand my own roots better.”
Joan D. Chittister, author, The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman's Life and other books

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Longhill Partners
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A Brief Introduction for Christians
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Chapter One


WHEN THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL crossed through the Red Sea, they witnessed what some say was the greatest miracle that ever happened. On that day they saw a sight more awesome than all the visions of the prophets combined. The sea split and the waters stood like great walls, while Israel escaped to freedom on the distant shore. Awesome. But not for everyone.

    According to ancient rabbinic legend, two people, Reuven and Shimon, hurried along among the crowd crossing through the sea. But they never once looked up. They noticed only that the ground beneath their feet was still a little muddy—like a beach at low tide.

    "This is terrible!" said Reuven. "There's mud all over the place!"

    "Disgusting!" said Shimon. "I'm in muck up to my ankles!"

    "You know what?" replied Reuven. "When we were slaves in Egypt, we had to make our bricks out of mud, just like this!"

    "Yeah," said Shimon. "There's no difference between being a slave in Egypt and being free here."

    And so it went, Reuven and Shimon whining and complaining all the way across the bottom of the sea. For them there was no miracle, only mud. Their eyes were closed. Even though they walked right through it, they might as well have been asleep (Midrash Exodus Rabba 24.1).

    People see only what they're looking for and what they understand, notnecessarily what lies in front of them. For example, if you see a television set, you know what it is and how it works. But imagine someone who has never seen a television. To such a person it would only be a strange and useless box. Imagine being in a video store, filled with movies and stories and music, and not even knowing it. How sad when something is right before your eyes, but you are asleep to it. It's like that with our world, too.

    Something like this once happened to Jacob. He dreamed of a ladder joining heaven and earth. Angels were climbing up and down on it, and God appeared and spoke to Jacob. When he awoke the next morning, he was shaken and said to himself, "Surely God was in this very place all along, and I didn't even know it!" (Genesis 28:16).

    The medieval French commentator Rabbi Shelomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi (after the initials of his name), explained that Jacob meant: "If I had known God would be here, then I wouldn't have gone to sleep!"

    Jewish spirituality invites us to wake up and open our eyes to the myriad beautiful, mysterious, and holy things happening all around us every day. Many of them are like little miracles: when we wake up and see the morning light, when we taste food and are nourished, when we learn from others and grow wise, when we embrace people we love and receive their affection in return, when we help those around us and feel good. All these and more are there for us every day. But we must open our eyes to see them; otherwise we only wind up being like Reuven and Shimon, only able to see mud.

    Suppose, right now, your eyes are closed. How do you wake up?

Excerpted from JEWISH SPIRITUALITY by LAWRENCE KUSHNER. Copyright © 2001 by Lawrence Kushner. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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