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From East Ridge to Vatican City

From East Ridge to Vatican City

Mazel tov to Spertus Institute alumna Deborah Levine, whose book, Teaching Curious Christians About Judaism, has been travelling in rarefied circles. And we're proud to say that this book began as her Jewish Studies thesis.

Book on Judaism Deemed Worthy of Pope's Attention

Deborah Levine

By Kevin Hardy for Times Free Press

Deborah Levine wrote her book for curious Christians, but it may have ended up in the hands of perhaps the world's best-known Christian.

A local priest delivered her book, Teaching Curious Christians about Judaism, to the Vatican for Pope Francis, who is noted for striking a conciliatory and accepting tone, and has called for more interfaith dialogue.

"I, like many other people, admire what Pope Francis is doing for the Catholic Church, but also for all of us, bringing his humanity and outreach into the world," Levine said. "The idea that he might be sitting in his small apartment reading my book, I hope he's smiling and appreciating my efforts in my own small way to make a difference. It would give me great pleasure if that were true."

Levine's self-published book is a study guide of sorts for Christians wanting to understand the basics of Judaic tradition, holidays and scripture. In it, she makes the argument that Christians should understand Judaism in order to fully understand their own faith: Jesus was a Jew. Jews and Christians share some common scriptures. And she says the words and deeds of Jesus are better understood in their first-century Palestinian Jewish context.

"It is impossible to understand Christianity without reference to Judaism," her introduction reads. "The two are inextricably linked."

Much of Levine's career has centered on educating people on various faiths. She does religious diversity training for companies. She has written half a dozen cultural and religious books. One served as a cultural primer for newcomers to the Southeast. Her next book will examine a collection of letters from her father, who worked in military intelligence and helped liberate European Jews during World War II. And she works part time for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's College of Engineering and Computer Sciences, helping students write, get published and secure grant funding.

"I do a lot of different things," she said.

Levine, who lives in East Ridge, said most people lack a basic understanding of faiths that aren't their own, and it's usually clergy and academics who have the most understanding on religious diversity. She has most often trained people who work in health care and law enforcement, but said all people can benefit from a more well-rounded knowledge of religions.

"I would love to see everyone have some level of understanding," Levine said. "As our world shrinks, everyone who has a better understanding of world geography, language and culture will have a better chance of success."

Monsignor Al Humbrecht, the pastor of Soddy-Daisy's Holy Spirit Catholic Church, took a copy of Levine's book to Rome in October while leading a pilgrimage of Catholics. He had previously used it in religion classes when he was working at the diocesan mother church in Knoxville and asked Levine for more copies of the book, which was originally printed in the mid-1990s. She was out, but his interest prompted her to release an updated edition this year. Humbrecht wrote the foreword to the new edition.

Aside from Christianity's roots in Judaism, the monsignor said there's a more fundamental reason to study other faiths.

"I think for the sake of general overall unity, the more we understand one another's faith and one another's practices, the more similarities we see  and the more common bonds we can establish," he said.

Humbrecht said the Catholic Church pushed interfaith dialogue during and immediately following the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965.

"But gradually it began to wane," he said. "And what has happened is Pope Francis has reignited it."

On a three-day trip to majority-Muslim Turkey last week, the pope called for better relations between Christians and Muslims, which he said would help combat fundamentalism and terrorism. That doesn't mean abandoning Christian identity, he said, but "true openness means remaining firm in one's deepest convictions, and therefore being open to understanding others," according to Vatican Radio, the Vatican's official broadcast service.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Photo at left

Deborah Levine photographed in her home in East Ridge, Tennessee. Photo by Logan Foll/Times Free Press.