That Mudhouse Sabbath (Paraclete Press, $13.95) is published by a Christian press and addressed largely to a Christian audience only makes it more curious, for in many ways it is a “Jewish” book. Author Lauren F. Winner, who grew up Jewish and practiced Orthodox Judaism in college, converted to Christianity seven years ago. As she puts it, this is “…a book about those things I miss.”
Each of the eleven chapters details ways in which Jews practice their religion. From the opening “shabbat sabbath,” in which the author finds herself contemplating the meaning of Shabbat at a coffee shop in Charlottes ville, to “mezuzot doorposts,” Winner explores how to transpose the spiritual lessons behind these Jewish practices into her new faith. Mudhouse Sabbath is told with a deft blend of warmth, humor, candor and a good deal of scholarly research. However much you may think; you know about Jewish practices, there is much to be learned from Winner’s own personal take on themes from hospitality to candle lighting to aging. One of the book’s biggest draws is that it is written by someone deeply familiar with both the Jewish and the Christian faiths, who is able to interpret and explain these two worlds to one another. In one chapter, for example, she illuminates the connection between body image, Christianity’s separation of the body from the soul, Judaism’s linkage of eating and other bodily functions to a religious practice, and, finally, her mother’s battle with cancer.
In a time of increasing polarity, when differences between people are often perceived as mutual assaults, it is pleasurable to read a book in which the goal is not to proselytize, but to share, inform and perhaps, in the end, to enrich one another.
Angela Himsel’s writing has appeared in Tikkun, Jewish Week and The Forward. She recently completed a novel based on her own conversion from Christianity to Judaism.