Tag Archives: oto ha’ish

Kosher Jesus Salad

The presence of even one whole bug, dead or alive, can render an entire vegetable treif — unkosher. On this matter, Orthodox rabbis are unequivocal.

“From a Torah perspective, eating a Big Mac or eating a salad with insects in it, the salad is worse,” Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, who runs the nonprofit Kosher Information Bureau, told me when I met him at his home office in Valley Village.

-Jonah Lowenfeld
“Can we afford kosher lettuce”
January 25, 2012

I actually encountered this article by way of a completely different blog, in a story called How A Rabbinic Ban On Bugs May Have Led To The Creation Of Christianity. As one of the people who commented on the story said, the connection is a pretty big stretch, but the title alone was enough to get my attention.

The Failed Messiah blog is highly critical of Chasidic Judaism and the Chabad movement, which doesn’t exactly make the blog owner Shmarya Rosenberg endearing to many Jews, but he does provide a great deal of information, that would otherwise not be easily accessible, about what goes on in Crown Heights and other Chabad and Haredi communities. I usually take what he writes with a grain of salt, but was captivated with how he could say that a Rabbinic prohibition against eating bugs could possibly have lead to the creation of Christianity.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Din baria probably originated with Beit Shammai, the sometimes violent opponents of Hillel and his school, and whose children and grandchildren heavily populated the rank of the Sicarii and other zealots who spurred the war against Rome that led to the Temple’s destruction.

A student of one of Hillel’s students attacked these rabbis’ extremism: “You blind guides!” he said, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

That student, fed up with the growing halakhic extremism that dominated Israel from the last few years of Hillel’s life until the Destruction, did what many other disgruntled Jews did with regard to the rabbis or to the Temple cult – they walked away and formed their own version of Judaism or joined one of the many sects that began at that time.

His sect, known in history as the Jerusalem Church, grew. An offshoot from it – one the student’s brother, who was then the sect’s leader, opposed – is Christianity.

Rosenberg, to the best of my knowledge, has no reason to be sympathetic toward Christianity or to want to create even the slightest link between oto ha’ish (an insulting term some Orthodox Jews use when referring to Jesus) and traditional or historic Judaism. And yet here he is referring to Jesus (though not by name) as a “student of one of Hillel’s students” and directly quoting from the New Testament (Matthew 23:24). Rosenberg even compares the “creation” of Christianity to “(forming) their own version of Judaism or (joining) one of the many sects that began at that time.”

When’s the last time you heard a (non-Messianic) Jewish person refer to Christianity as having begun as a Jewish sect? It makes me wonder just how much of an impact Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s soon-to-be-published book Kosher Jesus may be having, even if that impact may not be conscious (OK, I’m probably stretching the connection beyond credibility, but let’s roll with it anyway).

Is Jesus starting to be mixed in with today’s kosher tossed salad among some Jews? Just thought I’d ask.

We Have Met the Others and They Are Us

broken-crossIn rabbinic literature, reference is made to non-Israelites (gentiles of various descriptions). These “external others” often appear in rabbinic literature as mirror opposites of Israelites, and so sharpen the rabbis’ definition of Israel. However, insofar as this literature explores and develops a definition of the rabbi as the ideal Jew, reference is made to non-rabbinic Jews (of various descriptions). These “internal others” often appear in rabbinic literature as mirror opposites of the rabbis and so sharpen the rabbis’ definition of their own class.

-Christine Hayes
“The ‘Other’ in Rabbinic Literature” (p. 243)
The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature
Edited by Charlotte E. Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee

For the past few mornings, I’ve been “assaulting” the concept of religion as opposed to faith, first with my blog post Longing for the Dawn and then with yesterday’s Red Stew in Context (the latter being a wee commentary on Torah Portion Toldot). Today, I’m returning to the challenge of a Christian attempting to gain insights into a faith in Jesus by studying the Jewish texts. More specifically, I’m drilling once again down into the well of Jewish/Gentile relations from (as accurately as I can depict) the Jewish point of view.

The view isn’t always encouraging.

I was fascinated as I read the Hayes article on the use of the “other” in rabbinic literature. This isn’t an unknown technique and individuals and groups have frequently defined themselves in comparison to some outside “other”. Sometimes these comparisons are benign and meant to illustrate how different cultures and ethnicities approach the same concepts but often the comparison game is used to elevate one group at the expense of the other. Jews, more than most other people groups, are acutely aware of how they have been negatively compared to the world around them, being blamed for virtually every evil that has encountered mankind. It’s small wonder that the Rabbis might use the same method to point the finger in the opposite direction.

But what is it that the Rabbis are saying?

In rabbinic halakhah, the gentile can be imagined as an ethnic other or as a religious other. As an ethnic other, the gentile is merely a non-Israelite or goy (member of a non-Israelite nation) to whom the laws of the Mosaic covenant do not apply. In tannatic law, the gentile is seen in contrast to the Israelite, as one who does not observe the dietary laws, is not obligated by the ritual purity system, does not contribute to the upkeep of the sanctuary, does not pay the half-shekel tax, and so on.

-Hayes, p. 245

Here, we see the Jew and Gentile compared to each other from a Jewish point of view and that comparison is devoid of any value judgments regarding either group. Jews carry certain duties and responsibilities that the Gentiles don’t. It’s quite simple, really. Hayes breaks the comparison down even further:

This depiction of the ethnic other – as outside and ignorant of the covenant – is not as straightforward as it might appear. According to the Pentateuch, some of the terms of Israels’ covenant apply even to non-Israelites who choose to take up residence among the nation of Israel as resident aliens (ger, pl. gerim). The pentateuchal model of peaceful coexistence, cooperation, and even limited integration of an ethnic other is realized in halakhot that exempt but do not forbid gentiles from observing certain laws.

It’s interesting that the comparison here relative to Gentiles being “outside and ignorant of the covenant” is based on ethnicity and not religion. That means the covenant of Moses was given to the Children of Israel which, in the context of the rabbinic texts, is an effect of ethnicity. Christians see their access to God through the covenant of Christ as an effect of religious identity and the Messianic covenant being “ethnicity-blind”. What happens if the rabbis look at Gentiles as religious “others”?

The gentile is also imagined as a religious other (‘oved’ ‘avodah zarah’) who worships a deity or deities other than Israel’s deity. The gentle as religious other falls under greater suspicion and is subject to more severe and at times hostile legislation than the gentile as ethnic other.

-Hayes, p. 246

Hayes is addressing the Gentile as a “generic idol worshiper” here and not specifically talking about Christians, so we could say that Jews believe the Gentile Christian do worship the same God as the Israelites, with only a disagreement as to the identity and status of Jesus Christ. But it’s not that easy.

Early Christianity was a dissident Jewish movement among other Jewish movements. Only in the late first century do Christian writings begin to affirm Christianity over and against Judaism, a trend that increased rapidly in the second century. As rabbinic Judaism took firmer shape and gentile Christianity set itself off from Jews, the group referred to by scholars as Jewish Christians emerged in the middle. The latter were followers of Jesus who, like Jesus and the apostles, kept the law of Moses. In early rabbinic literature, Jews partaking of a Christian heresy fell under the classification of min (plural minim), an umbrella term that included not only Jewish Christians but also a variety of Jewish sectarian groups, such as Sadducees, Boethusians, Zealots, and Samaritans (but not in an early period in Palestine, gentiles).

-Hayes, p. 258

Reading this, I wonder how those “Jewish Christians” of the early 21st century who call themselves “Messianic Jews” are viewed by the larger Jewish rabbinic community. We know historically that Sadducees, while not fitting into the first century Jewish mainstream, were nevertheless considered Jews, however Samaritans, though related, were not. This was even acknowledged in an encounter between a Samaritan and Jesus.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) –John 4:7-9

In the closing decades of the first century, “Jewish Christians” were not yet considered to have completely left Judaism, but they were not exactly welcome either. Hayes attributes this to the Gentile Christians and their efforts to separate themselves and their faith from Jewish origins and indeed, to elevate Christianity as the branch, above its Jewish root, giving birth to the ugly spectre of supersessionism.

But, as Hayes goes on to state, “Minim are almost universally depicted as possessing a knowledge of Scripture, but differing from the rabbis in their interpretation of Scripture (some even mocking or criticizing it).” The rabbis chose to include the Minim in with other “Christians and heretics,” all but rejecting them as Jews. As the schism increased, so did the “otherness” of both Jewish and Gentile Christians in relation to mainstream rabbinic Judaism.

Early Palestinian sources, in particular, urge rabbis and their families to avoid all contact with minim and Christians. The most vehement set of proscriptions against minim is found in T.Hullin 2:20-21. Many of these prohibitions stand in explicit contrast to similar laws concerning gentiles and are remarkable for their severity.

In other words, rabbinic proscriptions against contact with Jewish and Gentile Christians were even more stringent than those against contact with more “generic” idolators. And it wasn’t going to get any better as history progressed beyond the initial Rabbinic era of the 2nd to 4th centuries CE.

Compare all this to my previous blog post about how people self-identify with a specific religious context. In Judaism, there is largely a sense of being “born to it”. Though Jews can reject their religious heritage, it can be argued that the Torah will always be a part of the Jew, even when the Jew rejects religion for a purely ethnic lifestyle. For the religious Jew, the connection to God through Moses is an absolute and thus, so is the “rightness” of their faith and status. In comparison to that, the worshipers of oto ha’ish are at best misguided and at worse, the most repulsive of idolators, who claim to honor a first century Jewish itinerant teacher as both the Son of God and as God. Apparently, worshiping Apollo of Zeus would be an infinitely preferable choice for a Gentile as a religious orientation. The Christian wouldn’t be appropriating significant sections of the Jewish religious structure and scriptures for their (our) own purposes and contradicting and facing down the Jews at every turn.

My brief analysis of the Hayes essay is that, assuming we can project its conclusions into the present, both Gentile Christians and Messianic Jews of today have a very long road to walk in terms of establishing and maintaining a positive and normative relationship with traditional Judaism. Previously, I appeared to separate Messianic Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism, and largely the separation exists, but there are Messianics who were born and raised in Jewish homes and educated in Torah and Talmud in the traditional Jewish fashion who nonetheless, have come to faith in “oto ha’ish” and who do not see the dissonance between the Messianic and the Rabbinic. For these Jews, it will be the hardest to see and think and feel and be Jewish while at the same time experiencing the centuries-old separation between themselves and their Jewish brothers who continue to consider the Messianic Jews are minim.

For Gentiles like me, it affirms that my course of religious study, from a Jewish point of view, is problematic at best. There’s no prohibition against it per se (and certainly any book available for sale at Amazon.com is at my Gentile fingertips), but it is still rabbinically “uncomfortable” for more conservative Jews when they consider a Christian goy attempting to comprehend the mysteries of Talmud. Of course, there would be the comfort that I probably won’t really “get it” since, as I’ve stated before, I lack the required context and education to truly understand the rabbinic intent, but on the other hand, I could be accused (and perhaps rightly so) of misappropriating what is Jewish to feed what most Jews consider, my faith in a religion that historically has been very anti-Jewish.

back to backEven (Messianic Jew) Mark Kinzer in his book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism strongly urged Christians who “dabble” (my word, not Kinzer’s) in the Messianic world to return to their (our) churches and to leave Messianic Judaism to Jews, so any Gentile Christian who may consider the Messianic movement to be a “meeting place” for integrating a faith in Jesus with the Torah of Moses (for the Gentile) is likely engaging in wishful thinking. That wishful thinking could even evolve into an odd form of supersessionism by the Gentile who, while not replacing Judaism with Christianity, quite innocently replaces Jewish covenant distinctiveness with the Jewish/Gentile Messianic “blend”. Hence Kinzer’s message of the church and the (Messianic) synagogue operating side-by-side in their individual silos rather than overlapping or being combined in a giant, religious mixing bowl.

One way to keep all of our traditions “safe” is to, as Kinzer suggests (echoing larger Judaism), all keep to our individual silos, being self-contained communities, and not allowing a mixing of identities. The traditional Jews and Christians already have gotten quite good at this, so they don’t contribute to the “problem”. Messianics, both Jews and Gentiles, by their very existence, tend to blur the lines, both within their silos and between silos. We each identify ourselves in relation to the “other” but Messianic Jews are attempting to cease being the “other” in relation to larger Judaism. I, for my part, understand that I will always be “other” in terms of the Jewish identity and rabbinic learning, and only want to read, learn, and understand what small parts I may take upon myself for the sake of my Master. Though in my heart and my experience, I also am “other” in relation to the church, it would be false for me to not claim Christianity as my identity since, it is only the church built by Christ that allows a Gentile access to God at all as a member of a covenant relationship.

If this “meditation” seems slightly disjointed and incomplete, that’s because it is. The “minim” are rising again after centuries of dormancy and attempting to show their more traditionally Jewish brothers that the life of a Messianic Jew follows an authentic Jewish tradition. Some Gentiles are coming along for the ride with precious few, like me, not claiming Messianic lineage in the Jewish tradition but trying to rediscover if there are crumbs from the Master’s table that we may eat. The man sitting at the far end of the banquet table, furthest from the bridegroom continues to wait. I am not worthy to have the Master come to my house. I am waiting for him to speak to me as his humble disciple, and because if he says a thing, it is so.

Christians are very comfortable with the Christian Jesus, but our master is the Jewish Messiah. Most Christians haven’t met him yet, but as in days of old, the “minim”, the Jewish disciples of the Master, are going to introduce us to him to us. We have been invited to the wedding feast and must hurry to put on our wedding clothes, buy oil for our lamps, and then wait for the doors of the banquet hall to open. There are many barriers between us and our Master. Those barriers are human beings. Those barriers are us.

oto ha’ish

tallit-prayerHowever, in the last few generations, changes took place among some Christian groups. There are those among them who no longer believe they must humiliate the Jews, and some even believe that Israel remains the Chosen People, whose purpose is to bring the Redemption.

However, they still embrace a form of idolatry, believing that ‘oto ha’ish’ [Jesus] is son of a deity and the messiah who will be resurrected to redeem the world. At the same time, they point out that he is Jewish.

The question arises: Should this position cause a complete rift between us? Every time we meet Christian supporters of Israel, must we denounce their belief in ‘oto ha’ish’?

-Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
“Judaism: The Relation of Jews to non-Jews”
Arutz Sheva News Agency

The Jerusalem Talmud may provide us with a solution. The Jerusalem Talmud’s version of the Four Sons adjusts the text to read “if that man were here, he would not be redeemed.” “oto haish,” literally “that man” is often used in the Talmud to refer to the founder of Christianity.The Wicked Son believes that redemption is to be found in Oso Ha’ish. The Talmud is completely rejecting this tenet of early Christianity, and pulling the rug out from under the Wicked Son telling him he is relying on the future redemption of someone who himself would not have been redeemed.

-Josh Waxman
“Does Oto Haish in the Haggadah (according to Yerushalmi) refer to Jesus?”

While Josh Waxman asks this question at or around Passover in 2009, Rabbi Melamed answers it in the Fall of 2011 by referring to Jesus as “that man”. Doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, does it? This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a Jewish Rabbi refer to Jesus using the circumlocution to avoid having to say or write out his name.

Both Rabbi Melamed and Mr. Waxman (and I apologize to Mr. Waxman if he is a Rabbi or has some other title, but I can’t determine this from the content on his blog) are going through some effort to avoid denigrating the followers of Jesus but they aren’t entirely successful. Waxman continues in his blog post saying:

We don’t really care about Jesus that much. He is tangential to Jewish history, even as he is central to another religion. There is no reason to bring him in here. While it may be true that “”The yerushalmi was redacted in 425 CE and witnessed the Roman Empire’s adoption of Christianity and the widespread proselytization to Christianity,” which would make them care more, that does not mean we should read it into every source. And anyway, this particular source in Yerushalmi is Rabbi Chiyya, redactor of braytot, who passed away in 230 CE, much earlier than the Roman Empire’s adoption of Christianity.

For his part, Rabbi Melamed states:

Rabbi Kook also wrote a letter of congratulation (Igrot, Part 2, pg.198) to a Torah scholar who compiled a booklet called ‘Israel’s Faith’ in order to explain the Jewish religion in Japanese, however, he pointed out that the author had erred by expressing disrespect for ‘oto ha’ish’ and Mohammed. “It is impossible to offer supreme, religious content to this nation with insulting expressions concerning the founders of [other] religions, whoever they are. We must only speak about the holy and supreme advantage of God’s Torah, and negation will come by itself.”

Of course there is a certain amount of “negation” of the believers in Jesus, even as there is the suggestion that disrespect for the author of Christian faith is unacceptable. It’s important for Christianity to try to put these statements within a certain perspective. For Rabbi Melamed, the perspective is this.

In the past, except for a small minority of righteous Gentiles, the attitude of Christians towards Jews was negative. They based their beliefs on the humiliation of the Jews, which they believed proved that the Christians were intended to replace Israel as the Chosen People.

replacement-theologyPastor Barry Horner wrote his book Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged chronicling how Christian supersessionism has been extremely damaging to the Jewish people over the last 1,900 years of church history and why it continues to be a destructive theology in the world today. Both Mr. Waxman and Rabbi Melamed are living examples of the results of Christian replacement theology and antisemitism, not only historically, but as a matter of “current affairs”. Last Thursday at the G20 summit at Cannes, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had this to say to U.S. President Obama as reported at Haaretz.com:

The French president, unaware last Thursday that a mike in the meeting room at the G20 summit at Cannes was on, was heard calling Netanyahu “a liar” in what he thought was a private exchange with U.S. President Barack Obama. “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, who was also unaware that the mike had been turned on and was being monitored by reporters via the headsets used for simultaneous translations.

Obama didn’t exactly defend Netanyahu, either.

“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied, according to wire service reports.

While Sarkozy’s and Obama’s comments can’t be directly attributed to Christian supersessionism, they are certainly prime examples of how even national European and American leaders view Israel and speak of the Jewish nation (or at least its Prime Minister) when they think no one can hear.

How are we, as Christians, to receive all this? It’s not easy. There’s a tendency to get a little defensive when someone holds the Savior in such disdain that they must refer to him as “that man”, but on the other hand, how many Jews have been persecuted, tortured, and murdered in the name of Jesus? True, modern Christians aren’t directly responsible for those events, but in continuing to support any form of replacement theology, we support an environment that is latently or overtly hostile to Jews and one that supports the French and American presidents speaking poorly of the Israeli Prime Minister, essentially behind his back and behind the backs of their citizens.

If the leaders of the world and the body of Christ fail to amend their behavior and learn to truly support the Jewish nation and her people, what does democracy, liberty, and Christianity mean at this point? How can we show that, for the sake of “that man”, we love Israel if we continue to marginalize the Jewish people?

It does sting hearing Jesus referred to as “oto ha’ish”. As much as I want to be persevering and “noble” about it, I find it difficult to have others disregard my faith, my King, and me personally in absolute terms, as if I as an individual am responsible for the persecution of the Jewish people. It makes me wonder what Jews who know I’m a Christian may think of me or say about me when I’m not listening. I wonder if I’m judged as lesser or unworthy or unrighteous, not because of anything I’ve done, but simply because of who I am. But then again, Christians have been treating Jews in exactly that way for almost 2,000 years. Maybe it’s time we Christians discovered how it feels.