In my neighborhood, we did not even mention his name. We said “Yoshke,” a Hebrew play on his name, or some children learned to say “cheese and crust” in place of “Jesus Christ.” In a synagogue sermon, rabbis might refer to Jesus – exceedingly rarely – by saying “the founder of Christianity.”
Fundamentally, we understood Jesus as a foreign deity, a man worshiped by people. The Torah instructs us never to mention the names of other gods, as no other god exists except God. We also understood Jesus to be as anti-Jewish as his followers. Was he not the Jew who had rebelled against his people? Was he not the one who instructed his followers to hate the Jews as he did, instigating countless cruelties against those with whom God had established an everlasting covenant? Was he not also the man who had abrogated the Law and said that the Torah was now mostly abolished?
-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
from the Preface (pg ix) of his new book
I’m just beginning Rabbi Boteach’s latest and most controversial book and will write a full review when I’m finished. However, in reading the Preface and Introduction sections of the book, I find myself thinking that much of what I’ve consumed so far would be good material for every Christian to read and absorb. Look at what Rabbi Boteach is saying about how he understanding Jesus when Boteach was a young Jewish boy growing up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. A Jew’s understanding of Jesus from earliest childhood is as a person who hated his own Jewish people, who taught his Jewish (and later, Gentile) followers to also hate Jews, and who founded a religion based on the idea that Jews must be eradicated.
And Christians wonder why Jews aren’t standing in line waiting to convert to that form of Christianity. Gee whiz!
But there’s more:
Until the deeply anti-Semitic Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) directly addressed the subject centuries later, early Church leaders held that Judaism would never survive. Even the powerful Roman Empire couldn’t resist the Christian juggernaut – eventually capitulating and adopting Christianity as state religion. It wasn’t a stretch for Christians to surmise that all remaining Jews would eventually convert, wiping out the ancient religion. But against all odds, Judaism survived and flourished.
Introduction, pp xiii-xiv
That last sentence reminds me so much of this:
Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. –Exodus 1:6-7 (ESV)
Even as Pharaoh, King of Egypt enslaved the Israelites and the Egyptians treated the Hebrews with terrible cruelty, under the harshest conditions, the Children of Jacob survived, multiplied, and flourished. Of course, Pharaoh had no intention of exterminating his population of slaves. They were much too valuable to him alive, so their continued survival was no mystery to him. However, for the early church, according to Boteach, the continuation of Jews and Judaism was inexplicable.
This makes me ask a few questions.
I wonder if the continuation of the Jews and Judaism today is what frustrates some Christians? It would explain something my brother-in-law said to me many years ago. He’s my wife’s younger brother and a born-again Christian. He denies that his mother was Jewish (even though we have ample evidence that she, her siblings, and cousins, and parents, and grandparents are all buried in Jewish cemeteries). I can’t remember how we got on the topic, but at one point, in a fit of emotion, he exclaimed, “Why can’t the Jews just accept Jesus?”
Maybe I should send him a copy of Rabbi Boteach’s book.
I think that the survival and flourishing of Judaism in the modern age is frustrating to some Christians. Rabbi Boteach goes on in the Introduction of his book, to illustrate how there has been much restoration of the relationship between Judaism and both Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity, so I can’t paint a terribly grim portrait of the Jewish/Christian interaction today. But there are still plenty of Gentile believers who seem to wish that Judaism would just plain “go away” and who are at a total loss as to why God would allow the Jewish people to continue as a distinct group on the face of the Earth.
My other question has to do with “Rabbinic” or “Talmudic” Judaism. In any real sense, this is the only valid form of Judaism in the post-Second Temple world (and I’m including significant portions of Messianic Judaism in this group), since without a Temple, functioning priesthood, and functioning Sanhedrin, much of the Judaism of the Torah cannot be observed, even in Israel. I’ve said before in a few blog posts that the Talmud and the traditions of the Sages are a major reason why Judaism survived in a hostile post-Temple world and across the long centuries after 70 CE and after the majority (but not all) of the Jews were exiled from Israel by the Roman conquerors.
Throughout the history that followed the last Jewish exile, on many occasions, Christian religious authorities tried to destroy the Jews by burning their synagogues, their Torah scrolls, their siddurim (prayer books), and their Talmud. Sadly, Martin Luther, near the end of his life, reversed any good he did to bring Christ closer to the Christians by advocating the destruction of the Jews:
…set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly and I myself was unaware of it will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.
…I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them….
From “Martin Luther: The Jews and Their Lies” (1543)
as quoted by Jewish Virtual Library
If some Christians, both historically and currently, experience frustration at the continued existence of Judaism, they might also experience frustration at and hostility toward the mechanisms by which the Jews have survived: Jewish prayer, synagogue worship, Torah readings, and particularly Talmudic study. If you destroy a people’s lifestyle and culture, you destroy the people, perhaps not in body, but in spirit and identity. As an example, allow me to present the Native American peoples who were all but wiped out by European expansion across this continent over the past several centuries. There are tribes who no longer know their own written and spoken languages, who have lost many of their traditional ceremonies and history, and who are hanging on to any remaining shred of their identity as a people by their fingernails.
This is what could have happened to the Jewish people and to Judaism if the Talmud had successfully been destroyed. But is this why some Christian and Hebrew Roots groups oppose the study and authority of Talmud among Jews today? Does it somehow diminish those who say they follow the cause of Christ if the Jews continue to adhere to that which has allowed them to survive and to flourish as Jews?
I suppose you could say I’m being a little hard on Christianity and some parts of Hebrew Roots for their opposition to the Talmud of Judaism, but frankly, even if their intentions are “benign” from their own point of view, if they had gotten their way, there would be no Jews walking around today or at best, the “Jews” we’d recognize would be a shell rather than a thriving Jewish culture. Their identity would be shattered, and all that would be left of the people established by God Himself at Sinai through the Torah, would be the tiny sparks and shattered fragments that somehow survived in the whitewashed and “Gentilized” teachings of the modern, refactored “Jesus Christ,” who started out well as Jewish Rabbi and Messiah, but who was turned into a non-Jewish icon symbolizing the extinction of his own people.
Having read my wee missive now, if you’re a Christian, if you’re a Pastor, if you’re a Bible teacher, if you’re a Church Choir Leader, if you’re involved in the church in any capacity whatsoever, take a moment and look at yourself in the mirror. Now ask yourself, why don’t the Jews convert to Christianity. You may not understand it yet, but I think you have the answer.