Winner, Winner Kosher Dinner: a book review

My introduction to Lauren Winner’s writing came more than a decade ago. My wife had read and liked Girl Meets God and loved it. I picked up her other book, Mudhouse Sabbath because I loved the premise. Winner’s turn toward God took her through Orthodox Judaism to Christianity (the story recounted in her first memoir). Mudhouse Sabbath was about the nourishing spiritual practices she found in Judaism and missed after her conversion to Christianity. She wrote appreciatively about what she found in Judaism and how these practices continued to nourish her, and weren’t incompatible with her new faith.

Paraclete Press has just released the study edition of Mudhouse Sabbath. This is not a rewrite. The chapters have the same format as they did when Winner first conceived the book.  In Winner’s new introduction she notes a couple of places where she would now write it differently, especially in her failure to explore God’s justice and her expectation of encountering Him as we work toward it (viii).  For example, the practice of fasting and Sabbath have implications for justice in the Hebrew scriptures which Winner left unexplored in the earlier edition (ix-x). She also acknowledges her growing cautiousness about borrowing from Judaism as a Christian (urging humility and grace).

The difference between this edition and its earlier incarnation (other than the new introduction) is the study notes. Winner’s words remain the same but the chapters are peppered with quotations, selections from Jewish authors and Hebrew scripture and discussion questions. While Winner’s original was thoughtful and engaged Judaism, it was much more a personal reflection on how she as a Christian convert could still appropriate these practices as part of her own spiritual life. That was the charm of the book. The study edition helps Christian readers engage these concepts and practices more thoughtfully for themselves.

Personally I like this edition a lot. It is possible to treat this book like the original, reading the main body of text as an exhortation to beef up your personal spiritual practices. But a study edition invites you into something more demanding and rewarding. The first edition was more privatized. This edition invites engagement. I gave the original four stars once upon a time, this I give five. Christian readers will find a deep well of spiritual practice. Jewish readers may find a book from a Christian borrowing from their traditions off-putting, but will be put at ease by the care and sensitivity with which Winner engages their religious tradition.  If you never read the original, skip it. This is the definitive edition.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

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