Food for Prayer
I saw this article through Relapsed Catholic. As she recommended, make sure you read the section on “Making Hallah”. Then come back. Okay. Now, remember this quote?
Now the dough is ready to take the hallah, but the spiritual preparations to perform the mitzvah properly continue. Reading from a laminated sheet prepared and distributed by two Israeli sisters, I pray fervently that my performance of the mitzvah of hallah will repair the primeval sin of Eve. That just as she brought death into the world, I will bring life into the world, nullifying death, erasing the tears from every face.
Now I am ready to perform the mitzvah. I break off a small piece of dough, recite the blessing over the mitzvah, and with both hands lift the piece of dough above my head and proclaim: “Behold, this is hallah!”
My hands are quivering with the spiritual intensity of the moment. With my hands still raised, I utter two more prayers — one that my taking hallah should be considered as if I had brought an offering in the Holy Temple, that it should atone for all my sins and be as if I am born anew, and the other for the complete and final redemption of the whole world.
Okay. Not to offend anyone, because obviously Jewish people do not mean it this way. But once again, I’m seeing the same thing I saw when I went to shul during my friends Solomon and Elke Tovah’s pre-wedding festivities — symbols and practices that call out to the common heritage between Jew and Christian. They stand on their own (of course), but they also explain or deepen one’s understanding of Catholic practices while seeming to have another layer of meaning in themselves for Christians.
I don’t know the history of this practice of praying while making challah. It is impossible for me, as a Catholic, not to think of Mary when reading about it. I have to wonder if Mary and her mother made bread together like this, and prayed to repair the world. Then I have to remember how Mary was indeed blessed to be part of God’s plan for doing just that. Then I have to wonder if that shouldn’t be the prayer for all women — and for that matter, for all men to pray to help repair the damage done by Adam. Then I wonder about the history, and where Paul’s new Adam comment came from. From this?
It’s bread this lady and her daughter are making. Just as when people blessed bread and wine in shul or I ate at Jewish tables, it is impossible for me as a Catholic not to ponder the connection between normal food, the Last Supper, and the Holy Eucharist. At the end of making challah, you read about the lady tearing off some bread and holding it high. “Behold, this is hallah!” she says. How can I not hear Jesus, and the priest on Sunday, saying, “This is My Body”? And if Mary did pray this way as she made bread, a strange link develops. Mary, breadmaker of the panis angelicus. Our Lady — our hlaefdige, back in Old English — our loaf-giver.
Finally, the author of the article prays about offerings in the Temple, the atonement of sins, and the redemption of the world. Once again, it’s nearly impossible for a Catholic not to think about the Eucharist.
It is as if we were…well, what we are. Two parts of something broken. Obviously, we each have our own ideas on which is the better part. We can’t ignore the break, either. But each of us contains bits of the tradition that the other one doesn’t have, and probably needs. I don’t want to become Jewish; but I think there’s a lot about Judaism I need to know to better know Christianity.
I may have mentioned before that my dad’s church (he’s Methodist) had a joint Bible study of the Book of Ruth with a nearby synagogue. (One week in the church basement, one week in the synagogue social area. With snacks afterward. Of course, non-kosher-keeping folks can’t easily feed snacks to folks who keep strict kosher….) It worked well, was interesting, and promoted understanding. I think this is something that would probably be very fruitful to Catholics. I also think visiting a synagogue service is very interesting, although it’s hard to know what’s going on without some explanation.