Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle, 20 August 1982.
Jewish Prayer and Worship: An Introduction for Christians. By William W. Simpson. SCM Press. £2.95.
William W. Simpson’s excellent introduction to Jewish prayers for Christian readers, received enthusiastically when it first appeared in 1965, is now re-published in attractive paper-back format. As expected from the distinguished General Secretary of the Council of Christians and Jews for more than twenty years, this little book is a sympathetic account of Jewish spirituality. The author tells the delightful story of a rabbi delivering an address on Jewish worship to a party of Christians visiting his synagogue. One of the visitors was heard to observe: “Well, now, isn’t that interesting—they even use our Psalms!”
The truth is that many Jews, their appreciation dulled by familiarity, will acquire a fresh insight into the riches of Jewish liturgy through seeing it through the eyes of an understanding non-Jewish writer. At a conference of the Agudat Yisrael, Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, a great orator, elaborated on some brief remarks by Rabbi Chayyim Ozer Grodzinsky, a famous Talmudist but not noted for his eloquence. After hearing Rabbi Shapiro, Rabbi Grodzinsky declared: “I had no idea I could speak so well!” After reading this book, Jews will, no doubt, exclaim: “We had no idea Jews were so good at praying.”
The blurb quotes my review of the first edition: “A highly competent, helpful manual, providing many new examples of the beauty of holiness for those in search of this elusive but most significant category.” Seventeen years after reviewing a book, a reviewer is entitled to have second thoughts but there is no need for that here.