Sunday, December 26, 2010

While We're Far Apart

Lynn Austin, who has been mentioned in my ramblings before, has written a new book: While We're Far Apart, published by Bethany House. The story deals with two characters, a young woman (Penny Goodrich) and an older man (Jacob Mendel) whose lives intersect during World War II. Jacob Mendel is an Orthodox Jew, who is bitter toward God because his wife has recently died and whose son and daughter-in-law are trapped in Europe during Hitler's war against the Jews. Penny is not Jewish, but her life intersects with members of the Jewish community in a variety of ways that are not unusual given that this is Brooklyn during the 1940s.

The book covers themes like anti-Semitism, Jewish-Christian relations, young love, closed adoptions, family secrets, and alienation. Wandering Jude is thankful that the Jewish characters in this book (including Jacob Mendel) are treated with respect and dignity. They are not perfect, but then again neither are the Christian characters. There are no "bizarro" evangelicals who engage in long and successful theological disputations with Jews. There are no "Apostle Paul" type of Jews who begin the book as antagonists toward Christianity and end it as converts to the Christian religion. Yes, there is a relatively minor Jewish character who "off stage" (and in the past) becomes a Christian, but this event is integral to the plot of the book and is not used as proselytizing propaganda by the author. To put it another way, thank you Lynn Austin for writing an evangelical-oriented book about Jews and Christians that doesn't denigrate in any way the Jewish religion.

Wandering Jude will sleep well tonight.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Bone Box

The Bone Box, by Bob Hostetler, published by Howard Books (a division of Simon and Schuster), is a slightly suspenseful story about an antiquities discovery in Jerusalem that supposedly will prove the resurrection of Jesus. It's written from a clearly evangelical point of view, and there are a variety of Israeli Jewish characters (none of them really main characters), but what Wandering Jude really liked about this book is that it lets Christians be Christians and it lets Jews be Jews. In that way it sets itself apart from so many evangelical novels. There are no conversions from Judaism to Christianity in this book, and the Israeli characters all seem fairly three-dimensional and lifelike.

Thumbs up from Wandering Jude.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Shiloh Legacy

In the early 1990s, Bodie Thoene wrote three evangelical Christian novels in a series called “The Shiloh Legacy,” which details the lives of various people during the Great Depression and World War II. Two of the characters in this series are Jewish: Max Meyer and his cousin Trudy. While it is strongly implied that both characters convert to Christianity during the course of the novels, it is never explicitly discussed.

The books in question are A Thousand Shall Fall, In My Father's House, and Say to This Mountain, all published by Bethany House. Here is a sampling from In My Father's House:

"Bubbe Fritz did not approve of this because Irene was definitely not Jewish. But tonight at the sight of her, Bubbe Fritz said in a kindly tone, "Well, so Max's little shiksa has come to make sure he is not a casualty in the last hour. Nu!" ... "I don't want to hear such things [about Max marrying a Gentile]! He'll get over her!" ... "Is this what we came to America for?" Trudy did not say that she believed this was the best part of America.... A girl from the Irish neighborhood falling in love with a tall handsome Jewish boy from Orchard Street." (pp. 86-87).

Later in the book, the family is upset about Max and Irene (an Irish-American woman) planning on getting married. "Bubbe would weep loudly and slam doors. Zeyde would cluck his tongue and blame himself because he had let everything go to pot the moment he kept his store open on Shabbat." (p. 148).

Trudy says to Max: "What is it Bubbe says? Tova toireh mikol sechoireh? The Torah is the best merchandise." (p. 156).

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Gates of Zion

Another in the Zion Chronicles series, The Gates of Zion, published in 1986 by Bethany House. finds the fictional Moshe Sachar, an Israeli professor of linguistics and archaeology at Hebrew University, discovering that an ancient commentary on Isaiah interprets the suffering servant as the Messiah. The "truth" finally dawns on him:

"And so," he said aloud. "The interpretation was changed, although the words have remained the same. The ancients knew the prophet spoke of the Messiah. How inconvenient truth can be at times!" .... "Especially when for so long the one you thought to be your enemy is, in fact, your Savior. This is truth, Moshe Sachar," he said aloud to himself. "So what will you do with the Messiah? The one they call Christ?".

Moshe explains to Ellie (a gentile woman) about how he came to faith in Jesus:

"Then ancient commentaries speak of Him as the final sacrifice for all our sins and imperfections. They speak of His love and kindness and tell us that He alone is the one who can save us from the death that dwells in our hearts.... He died on the eve of Passover, nearly two thousand years ago. Like the lamb of sacrifice, He took my sins and covered them with His blood. He was perfect and without blemish, and He died in my place like the prophets said He would. Then He conquered death. Ellie, He came to life again and is living still, and He has made my heart alive in knowing Him. That is my hope. My belief in fact and truth." "Then you are a Christian?" Ellie asked quietly.... "I am Moshe Sachar, and I am a Jew who believes that the one we call Yeshua is the Messiah. .... He will come again to my people and they will know Him for who He is and find pardon and the joy of knowing Him as a loving and merciful Savior."

Rabbi Shlomo Lebowitz ("Grandfather") talks about religion with an Englishman, Luke Thomas, who says:

"Yes, I see your point. But does it not say in Isaiah . . . I believe it is Isaiah fifty-two, that even the Gentiles will see the Messiah and believe? "Well spoken, Captain," nodded the old rabbi. "But I fear that the Gentiles have made Jesus into a Gentile. And so over two thousand years Jews have been murdered and tortured in the name of Christ. And what does God have to say about that, eh?"

Rachel thinks to herself:

"Even as she had struggled to recapture the importance of God in a life filled with horror and betrayal, she had lost the battle, lost her soul, lost God..... "Maybe my heart has always been dead," she said aloud.... She tried to remember if God had ever been real to her or if He had always seemed remote, simply a historical appendage to her heritage. At Hanukkah or Passover, had He ever been near to her? .... The words of her childhood faith seemed to mock her.... How she had fallen! Now neither God nor man could lift her up again."

Howard (a Christian) says to Moshe:

"You know all the messianic prophecies. We have spoken of them many times together. ... And yet you never told me why you do not believe in the One who fulfilled those prophecies." ... [Moshe replies]: I have never said I do not believe in Jesus... Although the rabbis do not believe that He was the Messiah, only the ignorant deny that He was a great prophet and great among the rabbis.... I deny those who since the early centuries have denied His Jewishness. Jews have known little of Jesus and have wished to know less." "But why?" Moshe looked at Howard in disbelief. "You are an intelligent man, Howard. Surely you know that the name of Jesus is to a Jew the scourge of God, the fiend in whose name children have been torn in two while their Jewish parents were roasted alive in every city of Spain! .... it was all done in the name of the Prince of Peace, was it not?"

Moshe continues:

"But I believe He came to all men who would seek Him. As I read the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53, the Messiah came to heal our sins by His wounds as the final sacrifice. .... I will never call myself by the word Christian, but I understand why the Messiah came into this world, and I believe I have found a truth that is as old as the Jewish people. He does not want our sacrifices, he wants our hearts. The ultimate sacrifice was one He made for us. Jesus did not destroy Jewish law, He fulfilled it. ... I am a Jew, Howard. As do many Jews, I believe in the coming of the Messiah. I just happen to believe that He has been here once already..... I will tell you that I believe that Jesus lives in the hearts of those who really know Him. It was through your friendship that I first saw His gentleness. For this I am grateful."

Wandering Jude speaks:

The newly converted Jewish Christian character in this book, Moshe Sachar, is convinced of the claims of Christianity when he discovers that there was at one time a Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 52 and 53 that saw the "suffering servant" as the Messiah. This seems a rather specious argument in favor of the absolute truth of Christianity. Competing sects (as Judaism and Christianity once were) often debate back and forth and then change their interpretations of sacred texts based on how well the debate is going. If Judaism once saw the suffering servant as an individual instead of as a group, then of course it must have been inconvenient to continue with this interpretation once Christianity became the majority religion. Interpretations of sacred scriptures change all the time, in all religions. One example of this in one religion does not prove the absolute truth of another religion.

In this book, both Sachar and Lebovitz express an important argument against Jews converting to Christianity: the persecution of Jews by Christians throughout the ages (though for Sachar this is not an argument against believing in Jesus, simply an argument against calling himself a Christian). Wandering Jude agrees that this is a compelling argument. Why should a Jew join the religion that battered and buffeted his people for centuries? The pathetic counter argument, that Jesus should not be judged on the basis of the evil deeds of his so-called followers, is only partly correct. Jesus the man should not be judged on this basis, but the religion in his name can be and should be. Christianity in theory may have many wonderful tenets, but its history of bloodshed and persecution stands as a testimony to all Jews that this is not the religion for us.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Daughter of Zion

Another book by the prolific Christian writer Bodie Thoene, this one from the Zion Chronicles Series, A Daughter of Zion was published by Bethany House in 1987. Many Jewish characters (mostly Israelis or immigrants to Israel) are featured in this book, including Rachel Lubetkin, a young Orthodox Jewish woman who is helping her fellow Jews bring about statehood for Israel in 1948; Moshe Sachar; and others. Another character is David Meyer, an American Christian of Jewish descent, but he doesn't make a big deal about his ancestry.

Sometimes Thoene can be patronizing. Listen to Ellie (an American gentile Christian) as she psychoanalyzes Rachel:

"She needs the kind of love that will help her forgive herself. Nobody can make her accept that love, or really even make her believe it exists until she is ready. She still thinks she can make it all up somehow, that she can personally atone for the guilt she feels for being alive when her parents and brothers died ... And only God's love can heal Rachel's heart." .... "Only the Lord can heal her heart. You can't make it all better for her. She and the Lord are going to have to work that out by themselves."

But we're not done with the obnoxious Ellie yet. After saying the blessing for the Shabbat lights, Ellie prays extemporaneously:

"Fill us with love for one another. I pray these things in the name of your son Jesus who died for my sins and the sins of the world. Amen." Ellie raised her eyes to the surprised faces of the old rabbi and Yacov. Luke and Moshe covered their grins with their hands, and David chuckled openly. "Not exactly an ecumenical prayer, Els," David remarked. "A good Shabbat prayer, young lady!" Grandfather exclaimed, silencing David. "So you think the mother of Jesus didn't light the Shabbat candles, David? For a Gentile Christian this is the very best kind of Shabbat prayer. So! I say to that, OMAINE!" [Later, Moshe says the Kiddush and silently ends it "in the name of Jesus the Messiah."] (p. 145).

Why does "Grandfather" seem like a bit of a stereotype to Wandering Jude? Is it just me? And why is he talking about "the great rabbi Jesus"? Listen in....

"Ah, you Christians," chided Grandfather, "You all have forgotten your Jewish heritage! True? Of course true! And so you miss much of what the great rabbi Jesus was speaking of, eh?" "You're right, Shlomo," Howard nodded vigorously. "But you're missing a thing or two as well, you know." (p. 237). The rabbi says, "Don't you know that the first Anglican bishop of Jerusalem was geshmat?" "Hummm," Howard mused thoughtfully. "Is it possibly a Jew who converts to Christianity? A Yiddish word, isn't it?" (p. 238).

More schmaltz:

After Moshe tells Rachel the New Testament story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, she says: "How wonderful to have known such a man as this! If only I could have had Him with me at the synagogue last night!" [where she was accused of fornication and harlotry by the ultra orthodox rabbis]. [Moshe responds]: "He was there with you, my love. His eyes are a mirror of mercy and compassion even now. And He longs for every one of His children to see Him and know Him." (p. 327).

Wandering Jude doesn't have much more to say about this. So that's all for now.