The Jewish Roots of Catholicism
presented by Bob Fishman
This DVD series is a compilation of presentations by Bob Fishman. There are three episodes:
- Judaism 101
- Chanukah (Hanukkah, Festival of Lights or Feast of Dedication – commemorating the re-dedication of the Temple after what the Jews went through as recounted in 1 Maccabees 1-5)
- The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah – Day of Awe & Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement).
Apart from occasionally being reminded of how Jesus was a practising Jew, the idea of “Jesus and Judaism” hardly crosses my mind. Hence, I found the content enlightening.
Overall, what I learnt from watching this series was that there are so many beliefs and ideas that we hold dear as “Christian/Catholic” but they originated in the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus, we could say that the richness of Catholicism partly grew out of the richness of Judaism.
Some links between Judaism and Catholicism
The sensory nature of the practice of Judaism partly explains our tactile and sensory elements, such as in the use of sacred vessels and vestments, prayer/worship postures, symbols such as light and images, etc. When Jews pray, they put on the tallis (prayer shawl). Their priests have specific meticulous preparations for their temple duties. All these are to remind them that they are dedicating their time to God. Similarly, when we make the sign of the cross, or when priests vest themselves for Mass and so on, we are also reminded that we are coming away from our mundane world to a holy time with God.
I did not know that the concept of “liturgy” is also important in Judaism. For example, they have a “liturgical year” and they have “liturgical” music. Different music is used for different parts of the Jewish service and for different occasions. Where we see in the psalms words like “for the choirmaster” (I always wondered about that!) and certain instruments or days specified, these are like instructions for how and when the psalm is to be used. In a similar way, we have different types of music for the Mass Ordinaries and different parts of the Mass, as well as for different occasions.
Some interesting explanations
Tashlikh is the symbolic “casting off” of sins and is part of the Rosh Hashanah service. The ancient practice was to break off pieces of bread, symbolising the person’s sins, and “cast” them into the sea. The “sins” were “taken away” by the fish eating the bread and this symbolises God forgiving our sins. Fishman relates this to instances of Jesus using the language of Judaism, such as in “cast your cares on me” and “I am the living bread”. Also, he sees the waters in which our sins are taken away as the ocean of God’s “divine mercy”.
In explaining the Jewish practice of visiting their ancestors’ graves and asking them for help (that’s like the precursor of the concept of the intercession of the saints), he uses an interesting baseball analogy to explain the communion of saints. Many Americans grow up playing baseball and they will all get to a certain level in the game. The greats are inducted into the Hall of Fame. Saints, he says, are the ones who have made it to our hall of fame. Their images are reminders of the qualities that got them there, just as the images and statistics of the baseball Hall of Famers remind people of their greatness.
Finally, there is the symbolism of light, which is also important to the Jews. For example, during the preparation for Yom Kippur, they light a Yahrzeit candle to remember someone who has died. The candle represents how that person shone his or her “light” while living on earth. The important reflection question for us is – “How will you share your light with others?”
After watching the three episodes as quickly as I could so that I could return the DVDs in a reasonable time, I discovered that episode 3 is available online! Oh well, never mind. I’m glad I disciplined myself to watch the three episodes.
You can find “The High Holy Days” here.
(this link is for Part 1 of six parts)
♫ Makes me think of In Every Age