Cover image for Common prayers : faith, family, and a Christian's journey through the Jewish year
Common prayers : faith, family, and a Christian's journey through the Jewish year
Cox, Harvey, 1929-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
Physical Description:
x, 305 pages ; 24 cm
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BV30 .C72 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Harvey Cox, the distinguished Christian theologian and scholar of religion, has a Jewish wife and son. From the Passover meal to the weekly Sabbath candles, from the marriage chuppah to the walls of old Jerusalem, he has shared in the joys and responsibilities of the Jewish faith. Celebrating the Jewish holidays, he has had the opportunity to reflect on the essence of Judaism and its complex relationship to Christianity, an experience that continues to deepen his understanding of his own faith.
In COMMON PRAYERS, Cox takes readers on an intimate journey through the Jewish year. An insightful and charming guide, he illuminates the meanings of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah and the "December madness" of Chanukah and Christmas, as well as those of less well known holidays such as Sukkot and Simchat Torah and of events such as death and marriage. Describing in elegant, accessible language the holidays' personal, historical, and spiritual significance and the lessons they offer us, Cox brings a unique perspective to this encounter with a faith not his own. As seen through his eyes, the Jewish holidays become a wellspring of discovery and reflection.
For many Christians, this book will offer a revelation of the rituals and traditions practiced by Jewish friends and relatives and an occasion to reflect on their own faith. For Jews, a Christian theologian's thoughtful view of their religion is certain to bring new and refreshing insights. And for every reader, COMMON PRAYERS promises a deeply touching journey, full of surprises, across the lines of faith and an opportunity to contemplate the wider context of his or her own spirituality.

Author Notes

He is the Thomas Professor of Divinity at Harvard University & the author of the groundbreaking The Secular City. His book The Seduction of the Spirit was nominated for a National Book Award. He writes & lectures widely on issues of religion & culture. He is married and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

A distinguished Christian scholar explores the spiritual riches of the religious tradition he acquired by marrying a Jewish woman and fathering a Jewish son. Calendar takes precedence over creed, as Cox wends his way from one Rosh Hashanah to the next, pausing for reflection on the events--a bar mitzvah, a wedding, a funeral, and a journey to Israel--that punctuate the year. From the silent meditation of amidah to the wild antics of Purim, the various ceremonies challenge Cox to ponder more deeply on the human relationship to God. In the face of death, what can the thoughtful Christian learn from a Jewish funeral prayer (the Kaddish) focusing not on the afterlife of the deceased but rather on the mysteriousness of God? What insights can the devout of any faith gain through confessing other people's sins (as Jews do during Yom Kippur)? Through such questions, Cox invites both Christians and Jews not only to recognize the inspiring connections between our disparate orthodoxies but also to confront the shameful hatreds that too often distort our deepest convictions. --Bryce Christensen

Library Journal Review

In Many Mansions: A Christian's Encounter with Other Faiths, Cox (divinity, Harvard) explored world religions. Here, he focuses on Judaism, and his perspective is quite personal: his wife, Nina Tumarkin (Russian history, Wellesley), is Jewish, and together they have raised a son who, at 14, has recently become "bar mitzvah" in the Jewish faith. Arranged as a journey through the Jewish year, this work guides readers from one Rosh Hashanah (New Year's Day) to the next, with several other milestones in Jewish life weddings, funerals, births, bar mitzvahs thrown in. Cox not only provides a clear guide to Judaism for "perplexed gentiles" but convincingly argues that "appreciating Judaism, both its history and its present manifestation, is essential to a full understanding of Christianity," lending "depth and resonance to all the ideas that are central to my faith: how I understand the nature of God, the purpose of human life, the significance of Jesus, and the meaning of faith." An important new book by a major theologian; highly recommended. Marcia Welsh, formerly with Guilford Free Lib., CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



IntroductionFor my house shall be called A house of prayer for all peoples. -- Isaiah 56:7In keeping with the vision of their prophets, the builders of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem designed it to be a house of prayer for all peoples. There was an inner area where only Jews were admitted. Here stood the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest was permitted to enter, and that only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. There was also a section explicitly named "the Court of the Gentiles." Throughout the ancient world, many gentiles worshiped with Jews without ever converting to Judaism. The Jews welcomed them as "God-fearers," and their presence in the Temple reflected the age- old Jewish hope that one day all nations and peoples, including "strangers and sojourners," would join in praise of the One who created them all. The word "gentile" is not synonymous with the word "Christian." Our English "gentile" is derived from the Latin term for "nation," and in Jewish usage it means anyone who is not a Jew. (I sometimes enjoy informing my Jewish friends that among Mormons, "gentile" refers to anyone who is not a Mormon, including Jews.) Of course, the distinction between gentile and Christian meant nothing during the years of Herods temple, since the newborn Christian movement was still a sect, among many others, within Judaism. But this changed after 70 C.E. when, during the reign of the emperor Titus, the Roman legions razed the Temple and expelled the Jews, including those Jews who were followers of Jesus, from Jerusalem. It was only after that catastrophe that the division between what we now call Judaism and Christianity began to set in. Decades passed before it became a complete rupture. Today, only the famous Western Wall of the Temple remains. But I sometimes think of myself as one of those strangers or "sojourners" mentioned by the Jewish prophets. For a decade and a half, in addition to following my own spiritual tradition as a Protestant Christian, I have also lived and prayed with Jews. I have a special reason for doing so. Fifteen years ago I married a Jewish woman. Nina had been raised in a family of largely nonobservant Jews in New York City. As a teenager, partially (she now concedes) in a display of adolescent rebellion, she began attending activities at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. But when she left home for college and graduate school, she also became nonobservant. Later in life, however, after some painful personal experiences, she began to reclaim her Jewish heritage. She was still engaged in this quest when we met. Today her Jewish faith is deeply, and increasingly, important to her. I was raised in a small town in Pennsylvania. My own parents were quite casual about churchgoing, but they dutifully dispatched my two brothers, my sister, and myself to the Baptist Sunday school next door. My grandparents attended it also but were not at all what I would call devout. Our family never said grace b Excerpted from Common Prayers: Faith, Family, and a Christian's Journey Through the Jewish Year by Harvey Cox All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1. A Cathedral in Time: Sabbathp. 9
2. Starting Over at the Right Time of Year: Rosh ha-Shanahp. 24
3. Closing the Big Book: Yom Kippurp. 40
4. The Strength of Fragility: Sukkotp. 56
5. Gamboling with God: Simhat Torahp. 70
6. December Madness: Chanukahp. 81
7. Funny Masks and Texts of Terror: Purimp. 100
8. A Night Different from All Others: Passoverp. 112
9. After All the Apologies: Yom ha-Shoahp. 133
10. The Meaning of the Land: Yom ha-Atzma'utp. 156
11. "Next Year in Jerusalem"p. 179
12. Death Among the Jews: Sitting Shivahp. 211
13. Lady Sings the Blues: Tisha B'Avp. 228
14. Under and After the Canopy: Wedding and Marriagep. 244
15. The Boy Becomes a Man: Bar Mitzvahp. 260
16. Afterword: In the Court of the Gentilesp. 271
Notesp. 277
Bibliographyp. 286
Indexp. 290