Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar? Jewish Roots of Christian Worship by Meredith Gould, Ph.D.

In her newest book, author Meredith Gould invites readers to learn more about the Jewish sources of Christian rites, rituals, and traditions. She draws upon scripture and historical sources to explain how Judaism has influenced liturgical worship; the design and décor of church sanctuaries; and how Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation are rooted in Judaism. Includes: questions for reflection; activities for individuals or groups; a glossary, easy-to-follow timelines, and key Christian-Jewish documents.

Website Link:

Interview with Meredith:

Why did you write this book?

Raised Jewish, I was taught that cultural and religious identity were synonymous; both permeated our home. Having come of age during the 1950s and 1960s, I was raised during a time when this was true for most Catholics as well.

When, as an adult, I became a practicing Catholic, I was somewhat shocked to discover how much had changed. Younger Catholics seemed fairly clue-free about how to create – let alone sustain – their Catholic identity outside church. As a result, I ended up writing The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions (Doubleday, 2004).

While giving lots of parish-based talks about Catholic culture, I became aware that most Catholics know precious little (or nothing at all) about their Jewish roots. No joke: for some it came as news that Jesus was Jewish. (Really, I'm not making this up.) But, I was also delighted to discover a great curiosity about and hunger for learning more about Judaism among Catholics of all generations; that's why I wrote Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar?

What was the hardest part?

In both the "Foreword" and "Afterword" I describe some of the difficulties I experienced while writing this book. These difficulties ended up being personal, which is weird because I'm not exactly reticent about revealing factoids about my life in my published work.

I absolutely did not expect that researching and writing this book would plunge me into (yet another) murky night of the soul. Truly the hardest part was coming to terms with the fact that while Christians in the liturgical church (i.e., Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican-Episcopalian) might be ready to embrace their Jewish roots, some Jews had "issues" about my qualifications (read: chutzpah) for writing this book. So what if I had scholarly training, I'd deserted the tribe!

My Conservadox Jewish therapist, who provided much positive support during my years of Catholic formation and when I worked for a parish, finally got very directive. One day after I wept my way through a session, he said, "Forget about writing for other Jews. They won't understand what you’re trying to do." What was I trying to do? I was trying to make the case for more similarities than differences among and between us.

What was easiest or most fun?

You might think that doing lots of research was tough, but I loved every head-banging moment of sorting through historical and biblical scholarship, reading theology, studying scripture, and then making all that highfaluting stuff accessible to regular folks.

I also had a lot of fun making quirky connections and poking some gentle fun at this and that. I was thrilled when Christopher Ringwald, author of A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom and Joy on the Sabbath and editor of the diocesan paper in Albany, NY characterized my book as "erudite and charming and breezy (in a good way)" on

What do you hope people get from your book?

My hope and indeed my prayer is that as a result of reading my book, readers develop deeper appreciation and gratitude for their Jewish legacy. And, having developed deeper appreciation and gratitude, I hope they commit to cultivating this in their children and grandchildren.

Scholarly theories abound about why it took nearly a century for a religion called Christianity to emerge from Judaism. In my book, I invite readers to look at this history through the lens of Judaism, then offer my own perspective – a family feud spinning out of control to the detriment of all its members.

How do you want to be remembered as an author?

In addition to being fondly remembered as an author who made readers laugh about things not normally considered funny, I'd like to be remembered for helping to heal the shattered world of Christian-Jewish relations. And, what the heck, I'd like to be remembered as an author who tried to break through barriers to ecumenical understanding. Not too ambitious, eh?

What's next for you?

If you'd asked me this question while Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar? was in production, I would've said, "Absolutely not another book." Thanks to the human capacity to forget pain, I've begun futzing with a book I started, then set aside, approximately six years ago. Sooner or later, I'll get around to writing a book about the spiritual value of fear. Write what you know, right?

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