Group explores Catholic, Jewish faiths - Catholic Courier

Group explores Catholic, Jewish faiths

A handful of Auburn-area Catholics recently came together with a member of a local Jewish congregation to learn about and discuss the similarities and differences between the Catholic and Jewish faith traditions.

"For me it was really interesting because after all Jesus was Jewish, so it gave us insight into the tradition he came out of," noted Deacon Nick Valvo, a member of the faith-sharing group at Sacred Heart Parish in Auburn and St. Ann Parish in Owasco.

The members of the faith-sharing group have been meeting once a week for several years, usually to study Scripture. Earlier this winter one of the group’s members, Jill Clifford, read a book about the Jewish faith that she thought would prompt some interesting discussions, Deacon Valvo said. The group members agreed that it sounded interesting, and Clifford asked Stephen Kline, a member of Temple Adath Yeshurun in Syracuse, to join the group and share some insights from a Jewish perspective. Kline already knew several of the group members because he occasionally accompanies his wife, Theresa, to Mass in Auburn, and he readily agreed.

"They are a very dedicated and inspiring group, and they’re very dedicated to the study of their texts and traditions. They’re very eager to learn about their tradition and look at other faiths when appropriate," Kline said of the members of Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s faith-sharing group.

Kline and the Catholics in the faith-sharing group read Conversations With Rabbi Small, a novel by Harry Kemelman, author of a series of mystery novels. The main character in those novels, which have titles such as Friday the Rabbi Slept Late and Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry, is Rabbi David Small, who uses some of the traditions of his Jewish faith to help him solve mysteries, Kline said. Conversations With Rabbi Small focuses less on mystery than most of these other novels, and spends more time exploring the tenets and traditions of Judaism.

"I think there was so much interest in a lot of the Jewish traditions that he included in some of these detective books that the author decided to write a book with Rabbi Small explaining a lot of these references," Kline said.

The main focus in Conversations With Rabbi Small is a series of conversations that take place between Rabbi Small and a young engaged couple. The young man is Jewish but not very engaged in his faith, and his fiance is Protestant but is thinking about converting to Judaism. She has many questions for Rabbi Small, who tries to explain the traditions of his faith as well as the duties of a Jewish person, such as keeping a kosher diet and observing religious holidays.

The book served as a great springboard for discussion about everything from the different roles of priests and rabbis to the structure and style of Jewish and Catholic services, Kline said. One of the most interesting discussions was about the role of the first commandment, in which God tells his followers not to have other gods besides him.

"Of course Judaism takes that very literally," Kline said, noting that he’d always thought Catholics weren’t strictly adhering to that rule, until he learned during the faith-sharing sessions that Catholics believe in one God in three persons.

Obviously there are quite a few differences between the Catholic and Jewish faiths, including the fundamental disagreement over whether or not Jesus was the Messiah, yet the two faiths have quite a bit in common as well, Deacon Valvo said. Catholics and Jews share many core values, and believers of both faiths are encouraged to live their lives in ways that make the world around them a better place.

"I think it’s important to have dialogue with other faith traditions because you grow in your own faith through that experience, and you have a greater understanding of the other traditions as well. Out of that comes a sense of acceptance and tolerance," Deacon Valvo said.

Kline said he not only learned more about the Catholic faith, but he also learned more about his own faith as well. He’s been quite active in his congregation, but said he hasn’t always taken the time to think about where some of his faith’s traditions came from.

"This was a good experience for me that way, to listen to Rabbi Small and have him remind me where some of these things come from, and to go over the core values again," Kline said. "This was quite an experience for me, and just was very interesting. I met some wonderful people."


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