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How Hungry Are You?

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.

To receive a 20 percent discount on either book, click here for Questions Christians Ask the Rabbi or click here for Understanding Your Neighbor's Faith. After filling out your order, in the screen "Add Comments About Your Order," type in the phrase "IFF."

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." A Summer holiday commemorating the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, it is also known as the Feast of Weeks, as it comes seven weeks after Passover begins. Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "lots," referring to the lots cast by Haman, the story's antagonist, to determine the date on which to kill the Jewish people. It's a spring holiday commemorating the Jewish people's triumph. The story is told through the biblical Book of Esther; the namesake heroine, a Jewish woman, marries the Persian king. Their interfaith relationship is central to the story.
Ron Lux

Ron Lux is a writer who lives in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles with his wife, Betsy and his children, Mara and Ethan. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America, the Animation Writers' Caucus and the Golf Writers Association and has written for television and national periodicals, including articles on Jewish communities in Brazil, Ireland, Wales and the Bahamas.

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