Reviews of Questions Christians Ask the Rabbi, by Rabbi Ron Isaacs (KTAV Publishing House, 2006) and Understanding Your Neighbor's Faith, by Rabbi Philip Lazowski (KTAV Publishing House, 2004).
Each of these books covers much of the same territory, but comparing the two is like comparing apples and kishka (brisket-and-gravy). One is a nosh (snack), the other is a commitment. The two rabbis approach the same general topic--what is Judaism, how does it differ from Christianity and how are they related--but one is breezy, the other somewhat scholarly. Depending on your interests, each can serve you well.
Questions Christians Ask the Rabbi is written in factoids, perfect for the short attention spans of a channel-surfing generation. A question is posed: "Did Jesus have siblings?" "Who was the last Jewish Prophet?" "Can a person have more than one Bar Mitzvah in a lifetime?" Then answered in a few short paragraphs: Probably step or half brothers, maybe sisters; Malachi; and when someone turns 83, it is customary to celebrate a second Bar Mitzvah (party with DJ is optional).
The book is organized in chapters about Judaism, such as Holidays, Life Cycles, Dietary Laws and others. However, except for the first chapter, there is little direct connection to Christians or Christianity. You don't have to be a non-Jew to ask a rabbi about keeping kosher, why is Purim called Purim, or whether any special foods are eaten on Shavuot. In his earlier book, Ask the Rabbi: The Who, What, When, Where, Why, & How of Being Jewish, written three years earlier, Rabbi Isaacs covered much of the same territory.
The first chapter of Questions Christians Ask--simply titled "Jesus"-- is the main departure from Isaacs' earlier book. In those few pages, Rabbi Isaacs discusses questions about Jesus, such as "Why was Jesus circumcised?" and also looks into the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, asking, for example, "Why are some fundamentalist Christians so supportive of Israel?"
I found the format and writing of Rabbi Isaacs' book very accessible; it's "essay-lite." If you're looking for a greater depth of understanding of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, you might be better served by Understanding Your Neighbor's Faith.
This is a more scholarly book, one that might easily be used in an introductory Survey of Religions class. Rabbi Lazowski wrote the first chapter on Judaism, while clergy from 10 different denominations of Christianity (if you include Unitarian as Christian) discussed their own beliefs in separate chapters.
Each chapter provides some historical background for each religion, some of it interesting, some less so. The clergy discuss their beliefs about topics such as heaven, salvation and where does the ultimate authority in your church reside. There are also discussions about how their religion is different from other Christian denominations and the obvious "What is your denomination's view of Judaism?" No surprise, everyone seems to like Jews.
While the book is about understanding others' faiths, I was a bit disappointed that there was no chapter written by a representative of Islam. I would have been interested to read what an American Islamic clergyman might say about Judaism and how Muslims views Jews and their history with Jews. (Scientology was also missing, but I was less disappointed). It would seem that Islam would be at least as relevant to Judaism today as, for example, Unitarian Universalism (their chapter had my favorite line, that Unitarians "believe--at most--in one God").
Since there were 10 different authors, there were 10 different approaches and 10 different writing styles. Some clergy quoted sections of the Bible, from which their denomination was based; some expounded more on the day-to-day workings of their church. Some writing was a bit arcane, some more user-friendly. If I were teaching a seminar on the world's religions, I would certainly consider this as part of my syllabus. But for the casual reader, there might other writings that are a bit more straightforward. Guess it depends on your appetite. You want a nosh or a heavy buffet? Sit down, eat, we'll talk later.
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