Interfaith Contact There's Help for Christians Who Need Instruction on Judaism

Article excerpt

1995, Chicago Tribune CHICAGO - What year is it?

Answer: 1995, 1416 and 5755. The first, favored by Christians and figured from Christ's birth, should be familiar. The second is Islamic, starting at Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina. The third is Judaism's measure of Hebrew - and human - history, from Adam and Eve onward.

We mention this, of course, because 5756 is almost here. The first day of Tishri - the first month in the Hebrew calendar - falls on Sept. 25, which is Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. It ushers in the high holidays - the Ten Days of Repentance that culminate on Oct. 4 with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Anyone who reads the religion page is conversant with all faiths, but some of you may have confederates who are aware of the Hebrew holy days ahead but hazy about the difference between a menorah and a mitzvah, the Talmud and the Torah, sukkah and shtetl, not to mention the word TaNaKh.

A good solution is to glean from the glossary - and the full text - of "Teaching Christian Children About Judaism," written by Deborah Levine, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rockford, Ill., and published by Liturgy Training Publications, an arm of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. (Price: $18. To order, call 1-800-933-1800.)

Designed for parochial schools, the 75-page manual has also found a market as a kind of Cliffs Notes for Judaically challenged adults, especially among interfaith couples.

Levine got the idea four years ago when she was involved in interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee's Chicago office and met Sister Mary Ellen Coombe, who was doing the same thing for the archdiocese - and still is.

The manual's introduction, written by Coombe, is a painfully honest appraisal of the often troubled relations between Christians and Jews. Says she: "I wish this weren't our history, but it is."

Coombe begins by noting the inextricable ties between the two religions: "In the first century, Christianity was a movement within Judaism." Indeed, "it was not until the middle of the fourth century that (they) were clearly separate and distinct religions."

And toward the end, she writes: "For almost 2,000 years the dominant understanding (for Christians) of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism was that Judaism had been supplanted by Christianity. …