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Reply To: Did any of the similarities or differences between Christian and Jewish theology surprise you? If so, which/why?

John Gay

I was very interested in the idea in one of the required readings of Shabbat as a sanctification of time, and that God sanctified time first, then man, and only then space…and that the day of the Day of Atonement itself, paired with repentance, is what atones, not the specific rituals of the day.
I am a Catholic so I found a lot of similarity here. We are very interested in time and its sanctification – or more precisely that God can give us time for sanctification. We have a very extensive liturgical year with major feasts (Easter and Christmas foremost), preparatory seasons, and some minor celebration almost every day. We see each Friday as an opportunity to enter into Good Friday (hence the longstanding practice of giving up meat or something else on Fridays) and each Sunday as a mini Easter. People who pray the Rosary focus on different mysteries from Jesus’ life on different days of the week. And the Liturgy of the Hours brings prayer into different parts of our day – an action I have heard spoken of as a sanctification of time itself. I’m a fan of the Liturgy of the Hours and it draws more on the Old Testament (esp. the Psalms) than the New…so doing it a lot, I see there’s a lot of harmony with the Jewish daily prayers discussed elsewhere in the course. And of course the Catholic belief in Sacred Tradition as part of the deposit of faith brings a further element of temporalness to our faith: God is acting in history; the Church makes God present in history in an embodied way.
I also see a big commonality between our sacred spaces and that of the First and Second Temple. We believe Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, and we keep the Eucharist present in the Tabernacle in all of our churches…in many, it is the architectural focal point of the structure – in other words, a Holy of Holies in which God is truly present and toward which our worship is oriented. We also see the Eucharist as a sacrifice – the sacrifice of Christ, re-presented at the altar by the priest (acting in the person of Christ) and lifting us up into Christ’s worship of the Father. Needless to say, the parallels here to Temple-era Jewish practices (priests, an altar on which flesh and blood are sacrificed, worship ultimately oriented toward the Father, a sacred space centered on a Holy of Holies but with the presence of the people of God) are very rich. So the point in the readings about God moving in time first, then in man, and then in space was intriguing to me, since we attach a great importance to the spatial elements of our worship.

This gets to something deeper…the Jews have been reflecting on the Hebrew Bible with great intensity for thousands of years. While much of that reflection is not technically authoritative for Christians, it is nonetheless useful – they have spotted things that we sometimes haven’t. I am a big fan of the Sefaria app, which brings a lot of the commentaries together and has many of them in English, and often turn to it with this in mind when I see a detail in the OT that I don’t understand.