Archives For Judaism


A brief review of

Memories of Eden: A Journey Through Jewish Baghdad.
Violette Shamash.
Hardback: Northwestern University Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Michelle Van Loon (

Most of us are likely familiar with Kristallnacht, the nights of violence unleashed by the Nazi regime in 1938 against Jews in Germany and Austria. But did you know that more Jews lost their lives during the Farhud, the anti-Semitic pogrom that took place in Baghdad in June, 1941?

It was the beginning of the end of a vibrant Jewish community that had existed in what is now modern Iraq for 2,500 years, since the time of the Babylonian captivity described in the Old Testament. Within a decade of the Farhud, almost the entire Jewish community, hundreds of thousands Iraqi citizens once an integral part of the life and culture of the region, had fled the country.

Violette Shamash (1912-2006) created a first-person memoir of a Baghdad most of us can scarcely imagine. Shamash penned her stories of her upper-class Jewish childhood and young adulthood in the years prior to the Farhud. She put pen to paper over a span of about twenty years in order to ensure that these rich memories would be passed on to her children. Her daughter and son-in-law shaped her remembrances into a fascinating read about a vanished way of life.

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A Brief Review of

Augustine and the Jews:
A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism
Paula Fredriksen

Hardback: Doubleday, 2008.
Buy now:  [ ]

Reviewed by James Spinti.

This review originally appeared on James’s blog:
It is reprinted here with the reviewer’s permission.

The book is divided into three sections: The legacy of Alexander, which describes the cultural background of Augustine’s world, The prodigal son, which is a biography of Augustine, and God and Israel, which deals with Augustine’s evolving theology of what to do with the Jews.

The first section could almost be a book on its own. The cultural background, with the importance of paideia (the way society educated its young, especially wealthy, males) for worldview, the importance of rhetoric in daily life, the role of the gods in society, are all laid out in a very coherent and understandable way. The heavy influence of the Platonic/Neo-platonic disdain for the physical is highlighted, as it will have an important role in the development of Christian theology.  I could recommend the book for this section alone. I only have one complaint, and that is that she has bought the current academic fad that there were multiple christianities that were all equally valid prior to “the triumph of orthodoxy.” But, that is another argument for another day.

Since I have lived with this material for so long, I tend to forget that most people don’t know about the multiplicity of gods and their role in the ancient world. I was reminded of it just the other day while on vacation. I made some statement, which I thought would be self-evident, and had to spend the next ½ hour explaining polytheism and the concept of placating the deities. This section of the book would make a good read on that subject.

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A Brief Review of

Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar?:
Jewish Roots of Christian Worship.

by Meredith Gould.

Paperback: Seabury Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Baya Clare, CSJ.

This review originally appeared on Baya’s blog:
It is reprinted here with the reviewer’s permission.

Gould - Why is there a menorah?

Meredith Gould is one of those people whose calling it is to occupy the space between two societal entities. It’s an uncomfortable place to live life, especially for someone who’s also committed to making the world a better place. From a between-place it’s possible to see things that can’t be seen from inside the fences, and those things include the misconceptions each side has about the other. Christians and Jews have a lot of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and misapprehensions about one another. Some of them are harmless, some are hurtful, some have been deadly for Jews. Truth-telling, which is what those in-between dwellers like Meredith Gould do, is about healing those ancient wounds which, though familiar, are nevertheless signs of dis-ease, not only in our relationships with one another, but also in our relationship with God. If we are to be about God’s work in the world, then we must attend to them.

Gould’s newest book, Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar? is a good place to start. Aimed primarily at Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans, it is a very readable and even occasionally humorous guide to the Jewish antecedents of many customs and practices in liturgical churches. The author, who considers herself “a Jew in identity, a Christian in faith, and a Catholic in religious practice,” did a considerable amount of research into similarities and differences with regard to scripture, historical events, and worship, and this comprises the first half of the book. In the second half of the book she looks at the sacraments of baptism, holy communion, and confirmation to find the echos of Judaism therein.

Anyone who has been to seminary or studied theology in any depth will probably (I hope!) find much here that is familiar, though there will assuredly be surprises as well. Gould approaches the words and actions of Christian worship from a vantage point unfamiliar to the vast majority of Christians, and allows us to see them with fresh eyes. This book would be a great addition to a study group, confirmation curriculum or Sunday school class, and is presented in a format that facilitates such uses. There are special explanatory paragraphs set apart in borders throughout, and discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

Several chapters have timelines at the end, which are helpful for keeping it all in historical context. There is also a glossary of Hebrew terms and Jewish concepts, an appendix of selected letters and statements on Jewish-Christian relations, a list of resources, and a timeline of Christianity’s emergence from Judaism at the end of the book.

My only quibble with this work is a small one which I hope can be corrected in reprints: the timeline at the end of the chapter on Holy Communion would be more useful if it consistently noted which denomination produced which decree. Only people who have studied Reformation history and documents in depth will be on familiar ground here; the rest of us could use a few more notes.

Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar? is highly recommended for Christians of any denomination, and anyone interested in interfaith understanding.


A Brief Review of

A Prayer to Our Father:
Hebrew Origins of the Lord’s Prayer
Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson.

Paperback: Self-published, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Lucas Land.
This review originally appeared on Lucas’ blog:
It is reprinted here with the reviewer’s permission.

A Prayer to Our Father was written by an African-American Pastor and a Jewish Hebrew Scholar about the prayer that Jesus’ taught his disciples and followers to pray. It’s written as a sort of DaVinci Code mystery suspense thriller. Unfortunately, it also tries to be a scholarly analysis of ancient texts, Hebrew and Greek grammar, a tale of overcoming prejudice and religious difference and a popular theology/devotional book. This is too much weight for a book of less than 200 pages to bear. It’s not all bad; it just lacks focus and thus never succeeds on any of the levels at which it tries to reach readers.

As a thriller it is pretty lame. There are a couple points at which the author(s) try to build suspense, but the reveal is as disappointing as the lack of real tension. There are no earth-shattering revelations here about The Lord’s Prayer. There are some interesting thoughts and ideas, but not much proof or evidence. I was left wondering what the mystery was and when the real suspense would start.

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In our continuing effort to fund the publication and free distribution of The Englewood Review, we are going to be collaborating more intentionally with Christian Book Distributors.  Primarily, we will be offering you the opportunity to buy bargain books from CBD that we think of are interest.  Buying books this way is a win / win / win proposition.  You get great books for a great price,  CBD gets the sale and we get an excellent referral fee from CBD.  These books make great gifts!


This week’s bargain books (Click to learn more/purchase):

  • A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus.
    by Emil Schurer
    (Hardback, 5 volumes.) $29.99 !!!
  • A Visit to Vanity Fair.
    by Alan Jacobs
    (Hardback)  $0.99!!!
  •  The Story of the Christ.
    By Scot McKnight (Paperback)   $1.99 !!!

    A Brief Review of IT HAPPENED IN ITALY:
    by Elizabeth Bettina.

    Hardcover: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
    Buy now: [ Amazon ]

    Reviewed by Chris Smith.

    Elizabeth Bettina’s It Happened in Italy, despite its rather lackluster title, poignantly tells many stories of the hospitality and kindness that Italians extended to Jews during World War II.  It also chronicles the author’s efforts to reconnect herself and several friends (most notably Walter Wolff, a Holocaust survivor who was freed from Dachau, but later sent to an interment camp in Campagna, Italy, the hometown of Ms. Bettina’s family) to the places and people of these stories. The latter stories of present-day reconnection, which tend to overshadow the original stories from World War II, are no less miraculous – think personal audiences arranged with the Pope and two high-ranking cardinals (one of which invites the author and Mr. Wolff to his home).  The story of the protection and kindness that the Italians showed to the Jews is an amazing one, on par with those of Jews sheltered elsewhere in Europe – e.g., Corrie Ten Boom and her family in Holland or Andre Trocme and his church in France (as chronicled in Philip Hallie’s Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed).  I was, however, disappointed that the historical narrative too frequently took a backseat to present day narrative of reconnection.  Ms. Bettina is an excellent storyteller, who can barely hold back her excitement at watching these stories unfold, and the book is told in a lively conversational tone and is liberally peppered with photographs and reproductions of historical documents.  It Happened in Italy is an important book and one whose stories – both historical and present day – will surely enthrall readers, and especially those with a connection to Italy or to the stories of Holocaust survivors.