Tag Archives: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

An Unusual Introduction

Professor Didier Pollefeyt of The Catholic University of Leuven (the oldest continual Catholic University in the world) stated his view at the Cathedral Notre Dame on October 1996 as follows:

‘The way Jesus will come as the Christ and the Redeemer of the world will depend on the way Christians re-present Him in the present. When Christians are not able to bring His redemption to the world today, especially in relationship with the Jewish people, I’m afraid that at the end of times, they will not meet a triumphalising Messiah, but what I would like to call a `’weeping Messiah’, a Messiah weeping for the injuries and the unredeemedness Christians caused, especially to His own people. Then it could end with the fact that indeed not Christians, with their triumphalistic Messianic perceptions, but the Jews will be able to recognize as the first one’s the Messiah as the Savior of the World.’

At a pre Christmas service in 2001, Father Dr. Reimund Beiringer, also of the Catholic University of Leuven, began his sermon with the following opening remarks: ‘when Jesus comes back he will be circumcised, he will not be able to eat at my home because it is not kosher and will look at this church and ask the Rabbi where can he find a synagogue’. The above remarkable statements confirm that Jesus the Jew continues to accept the symbol of Jewishness – the circumcision – by eating kosher he continues to observe Jewish ritual law and by attending a synagogue he continues his Jewish persona. This embodies the total antithesis of Rejection theology. Father Reimund personally asked me to attend this church service and pointed me out as the person Jesus would ask for a synagogue and at whose home he could eat.

-Rabbi Moshe Reiss
from the Introduction to
Christianity: A Jewish Perspective

I don’t know where I got this link. I tend to collect them in my email account and “save them for later.” Most of the links and resources I save never get read or written about. I just don’t have the time. But for some reason, I went back and revisited this one and read through the Introduction. As far as I can tell, this book is only available online and has ten chapters, including the introduction, conclusions, and bibliography. The landing page for the book is at moshereiss.org.

I have no idea who Rabbi Moshe Reiss is and I can’t find anything reliable about him on the web, at least as the result of a quick Google search. For all I know, his opinions and experiences are “stuffed full of muffins,” to put it politely, but I got this link from somewhere, which means someone probably recommended it.

I must admit to being intrigued by an Orthodox Rabbi to who doesn’t dismiss Christianity out of hand and who is willing to engage it to the degree that he even writes a book about it.

OK, there is also Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and his book Kosher Jesus, which I reviewed reviewed last February, but that almost doesn’t count because Rabbi Boteach is always writing about controversy. He also didn’t really “engage” Christianity so much as he tried to explain it away.

I don’t think I expected an Orthodox Jew to write something like this:

As a graduate student at Oxford University in 1970 I decided to visit the Anglican Church on Christian Eve. I was amazed how the services seemed Jewish-like to me. I discovered a class on the Talmud at Oxford. I naively assumed that the teacher would be a Rabbi; in fact he was an Anglican Minister. Not only was I amazed – having grown up in a Jewish ghetto I assumed only Jews learnt the Talmud – I was also angry. Why was this Gentile cleric reading our books? In 1984, after visiting Auschwitz I entered an Orthodox Church in Bucharest and was once again I was struck by the resemblance to a service in a Jewish Synagogue. At the time my knowledge of Christianity was virtually nil. The following year I found an ex-Jesuit Priest from Yale University who agreed to teach me the Christian Bible.

Maybe the reason the only place I can find out anything about Rabbi Reiss is on his own rather cheesy looking, 1990-ish website, is because of how the larger Orthodox community has perceived statements such as the one I just quoted. What Jew would admit on the Internet that he asked an “ex-Jesuit Priest from Yale University’ to teach him the New Testament?

Frankly, I’m also amazed at the quote from Father Dr. Reimund Beiringer saying, “when Jesus comes back he will be circumcised, he will not be able to eat at my home because it is not kosher and will look at this church and ask the Rabbi where can he find a synagogue.” I think that definitely demands an official response of, “Wow!”

So, despite the fact that I can’t really discover anything about Rabbi Reiss, I am quite intrigued to find out what else he has to say about Christianity. I’m also very interested to see if he’s encountered any other Christians who believe the Messiah will return as a circumcised Jew who keeps kosher. Imagine listening to a conversation between two guys like Rabbi Reiss and Father Beiringer over coffee.

I suppose I should say at this point that the Rabbi does have an email address on his site, so I could just send him a message and ask him about himself. I think I’ll wait though. I’ll let his book speak for him right now. Later I may have more questions I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if anyone out there has any insights or information about Rabbi Reiss, please let me know. Thanks.

The Messiah’s Father

It’s striking, then, that the Gospels explain that Jesus was not from David’s house, nor a male descendent of any but God, as he was born of a virgin. I’ve already explained it is anathema to Judaism for the divine to be in any way mortal or otherwise individuated as a human man. But if we set this stricture aside and take the Gospels at face value, already it seems they have contradicted the prophecies.

Some Christians have explained that Mary was from the bloodline of King David, but the Gospels of Matthew and Luke both specifically trace Jesus’ genealogy to David through Joseph. Not only that, even if Mary was descended from David, Jewish law traces genealogy paternally. Jesus still would not qualify as the messiah, at leat by the standard set by the prophecies he was supposed to fulfill.

-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
“Chapter 30: A Davidic Messiah?” (pg 173)
Kosher Jesus

I’ve already written my review of Rabbi Boteach’s book, but questions remain. This one is a doozy, at least for me. I’m sure some New Testament scholar can easily brush away the Rabbi’s objections to the lineage of Jesus, but I have no way of evaluating his words except at face value. My understanding of the genealogies of Jesus provided in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is that they establish that Jesus is a male heir of the throne of David, but Rabbi Boteach says the opposite. He states in his book that both of these genealogies actually prove that Jesus could not be a proper descendant of David and thus, he could not possibly fulfill the Messianic prophesies. It means that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah; the Christ, as we have been taught in the Christian church.

That’s pretty disturbing, but as I said, I’m sure New Testament scholars can resolve this apparently iron-clad supposition that Rabbi Boteach offers…can’t they?

Before answering, let’s have a look at the offending passages, including Rabbi Boteach’s remarks about each one.

Boteach states (pg 174): Matters are further complicated by the fact that the genealogies in Matthew and Luke contradict one another. They even disagree regarding which branch of David’s descendants Jesus came from. Matthew says he was from Solomon’s line…

Throughout his book, Boteach quoted from the NIV Bible when referencing any New Testament text, but I’ll be using the ESV translation:

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… –Matthew 1:1-6

Rabbi Boteach emphasized (as I did above) the fact that Jesus is, according to Matthew, descended from David through Solomon. Here’s more of the Rabbis’ comments:

Matthew concludes his genealogy by linking David and Solomon with Jesus: “And Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (pg 174)

Now Boteach turns to Luke’s genealogy of Jesus:

Luke differs, claiming that Jesus was of Nathan’s line (pg 174):

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David… –Luke 3:23-31

I’ve added Boteach’s emphasis again, which he uses as proof that neither genealogy could be used to establish Jesus as the Messiah. He cites 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 to immediately dismiss Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, since it clearly states that the Messiah will be descended from David through Solomon (though for some odd reason, Boteach continues to use the NIV translation rather than the JPS or Stone Edition of the Tanakh). Luke clearly has Jesus being descended from David through Nathan, rather than Solomon, as is required according to Boteach, so that, as they say, is that.

Yet Boteach says that Matthew’s genealogy also disproves the “Messiahship” of Jesus because of verse 17:

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

To make this neat numerological passage fit so that there are “fourteen generations” between these three epic events, Boteach says that Matthew had to remove any mention of four kings that should be in the line between Solomon and Jesus, given how Matthew has structured his list: Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, and Jehoiakim. Once these four kings are added back into the genealogy, there’s a big problem.

Boteach continues (pg 176):

Elsewhere in the Bible it is made clear that Jeconiah is the son of Jehoiakim, as in Jeremiah here it is written, “…when he carried Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 27:20 NIV) Sickened by the idolatrous and blasphemous misbehavior of Jeconiah, God curses him and all of his descendents. God specifically vows that “none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.” (Jeremiah 22:30 NIV)

If Jesus was indeed descended from Jeconiah, he is included in the curse and forbidden from being the King Messiah as described in the Hebrew Bible. Both New Testament genealogies therefore disqualify Jesus from being the messiah: Luke because the messiah must come from Solomon, and Matthew because he must not come from Jeconiah.

This may be a common argument used by Jewish anti-missionaries and for all I know, these genealogical problems may have long since been laid to rest by Christian respondents, but I don’t know that for a fact. There’s a lot that I don’t know, which I suppose is what Rabbi Boteach is counting on in his Christian audience. On the other hand, for all I know, he may have just delivered a devastating blow to Christian claims of Jesus being the Messiah based on Matthew’s and Luke’s lists. If Boteach has, in fact, effectively proven that Jesus cannot be the Messiah as the church states, then he has unraveled the very fabric of Christian faith in Jesus as the Moshiach. Being the Messiah is inexorably tied to Jesus being the Son of the Most High God, Savior of the world, and the one upon whom all our hopes are laid. If Jesus is not the Messiah; the Christ, then he isn’t anything else the church counts on for the salvation of our souls.

Since I can’t answer Boteach’s challenge, perhaps you can. How can we look at the genealogies listed by both Matthew and Luke and say that they really do prove Jesus is the Messiah? The comments box is now open and ready.

Kosher Jesus, A Book Review

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 worshipped 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 is now mostly abolished?

So begins Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s narrative in the Preface to his latest (and perhaps most controversial) book Kosher Jesus. Rabbi Boteach paints for us, a typical picture of how an Orthodox Jewish boy growing up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood understands the Christian Jesus.

The picture isn’t very flattering to Christians.

You might be wondering why Rabbi Boteach would choose to write a book about Jesus. After all, most Jewish people are, at best, neutral about the existence of the itinerant Jewish rabbi who wandered the through the countryside and towns of Roman occupied Judea in the First Century of the Common Era. Why would an Orthodox Jewish rabbi draw attention to Jesus in anyway? If you’ve been reading the media stories about the sort of attention this book has been receiving, you already know it’s been less than complimentary, both from Christian sources and the Orthodox Jewish community. This book seems to please no one.

So why did Rabbi Boteach write it?

Kosher Jesus sets the stage for Jews and Christians to bridge their differences and come together for the first time through the personality of Jesus himself – the hero, martyr, and teacher that they both share.

This paragraph, taken from the cover flap of the book, provides an “in a nutshell” summary of Boteach’s reasons for creating this much-talked-about work, and it provides us with his goal: to create a connection between Judaism and Christianity across the back of the Jewish Jesus.

Was he successful in achieving his goal?

Not as far as I can tell today, at least on the surface. Of course, it may take months, or even years, to determine the larger impact on the Jewish and Christians communities. One immediate effect we can see is that just about every one with a vested interest in the “reputation” of Jesus is talking about this book. A number of Orthodox Rabbis have outright forbidden their communities to even read the Boteach book (and nothing makes a book more irresistible than when it has been censored) and I can only imagine what (if anything) Christian Pastors are telling their flocks about “Kosher Jesus” from the pulpit.

If Rabbi Boteach had the goal of drawing attention to his book and himself, he has certainly succeeded. He has been known as “the media Rabbi” and has attracted criticism more than once in the past for his statements and associations (particularly with the late Michael Jackson). If his goal was to start a great deal of dialog (polite and otherwise) around the subject of his book, the Jewish Jesus Christ, he has succeeded in this as well, at least in the short term. But is he going to be able to inspire Jewish and Christian audiences to find something in common by “sharing” Jesus?

As I’ve been reading this book, I’ve shared a few of my own insights in various blog posts. I focused on how the Christian community might see the book in my prior write up, Kosher Jesus: The Undivine Savior. In order to emphasize the “Jewishness” of Jesus and make him even somewhat attractive to other Jews, Boteach had to completely deconstruct traditional Christian theology about the “Lord and Savior,” transforming him from the Son of God and prophesied Messiah, to a man born of two Jewish parents, a carpenter turned Rabbi, who fancied himself a would-be Messiah (in Judaism, the Messiah is not expected to be supernatural and particularly not expected to be divine), and ultimately, a man who died as a noble but failed political dissident.

Not exactly the typical Christian view of Jesus.

Scholars who have reviewed this book (and I’m no scholar) have criticized Boteach for his heavy usage of material created by Hyam Maccoby regarding Jesus. In fact, Maccoby’s own views on Jesus have been characterized: Maccoby’s thesis as “perverse misreading” and concluded “Thus I must conclude that Maccoby’s book is not good history, not even history at all.” (Steven T. Katz The Holocaust in Historical Context: The holocaust and mass death before the modern age 1994 “Maccoby’s last work has been devastatingly reviewed, and quite properly so, by John Gager, “Maccoby’s The Mythmaker,” JQR 79.2-3 [October–January 1989], 248-250; to which Maccoby replied, “Paul and Circumcision: A Rejoinder,” JQR). So to use the vernacular, Boteach may have “shot himself in the foot” when he decided to base his depiction of Jesus almost completely on Maccoby’s work.

Since I can’t speak from a Jewish point of view, I must wonder from a Christian perspective, how Rabbi Boteach expects to unite Jews and Christians around their “commonality” in a Jesus Christ who is so unlike the Jesus most Christians find in church? Also, in answering the Christian question, “Why the Jews Cannot Accept Jesus” (Part IV of the book), Boteach creates a Jesus who absolutely must be rejected by Judaism as Messiah, and he describes any person or group who worships a man as if he is a god as idolatrous. Christianity’s insistence on a “three-in-one” God adds polytheism to the mix, and both idolatry and polytheism are anathema to the staunchly monotheistic Jewish people. Rabbi Boteach depicts a church that has to be hopelessly confused to believe Jesus is God, yet Boteach also says this:

I say this not to offend Christian believers, nor to dissuade adherents from living a Christian life. (pg 149)

But if, by definition, Christians are deluded by a terrible misunderstanding of the New Testament text, heavily biased editing of the original teachings of Jesus, and the traitorous actions of the Apostle Paul, to believe that a young Jewish rabbi and revolutionary is actually God incarnate, how can Rabbi Boteach not dissuade believers “from living a Christian life?” He’s just spent the first two-thirds of his book explaining why Christianity has everything completely wrong about who Jesus was, what he saw as his purpose in life, and especially the fact that he has no power to forgive sins and save souls. If anything, Boteach seems to have pounded home the final wedge that will forever separate Christians and Jews.

God is the one great truth. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are paths that bring us to Him. One finds God through personal discovery usually directed by the faith in which one is reared, practiced by one’s ancestors. The merit of any religion is established not by a test of its theological claims but by the goodness of its followers. Therefore, any religion that leads to a good and Godly life has authenticity and truth, even if we cannot embrace all of its theological claims. (pp 149-50)

That probably seems like an insane statement to most Christians. We are taught that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6), so either you’re in or out. We are taught that the only way to God is to “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31). There are no other options, according to traditional Christianity. There is only one doorway to salvation and it’s not through anything we can do. Our only participation in our own salvation is belief and faith in Jesus Christ.

But in Judaism, it isn’t what you believe, it’s what you do that matters. If, in the name of your religion, you feed the hungry, visit the sick, build an orphanage for homeless and abandoned children, or act as a peacemaker between a feuding husband and wife, then that is how you will be judged. You could be a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim and it’s all the same. That seems to be what Rabbi Boteach is saying, and that is the basis on which he expects his readers to build the bridge between Judaism and Christianity, using the Jesus we see in his book.

In real life, it doesn’t work out that way. Judaism, unlike Christianity, doesn’t believe there is a single path to God, but it does believe there are specific paths. If you’re a Jew, your path is the Torah, living a life of righteous acts, prayer, and ritual worship. If you are any other people group or religion, your path is in obedience to the Seven Noahide Laws. If you are compliant to these seven basic requirements, (these laws are deceptively simple, since they can be subdivided into almost a hundred “sub-laws”) you merit a place in the world to come and are considered by the Jews as a righteous Gentile.

But by definition, a typical Christian cannot be considered a righteous Gentile because, in believing Jesus is God, the believer violates the prohibition against Idolatry. There have been exceptions, such as those Christians who, during the Holocaust, made great efforts to protect the Jews from the Nazis and who rescued Jewish people from being sent to the death camps, but those exceptions are few and far between. It is also true that the Talmud has much to say about Jews maintaining good relations with everyone, including idol worshipers, for the ways of peace:

“They said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that no man ever greeted him first, even idol worshippers in the market” [i.e., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the first to greet every person, even idol worshippers] (Berachot 17). At the same location the sage Abaye advocated soft speech and words of peace to everyone, especially including idol worshippers.

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

Nevertheless, the Tanya, an early work of Hasidic philosophy used heavily in Kabbalah, has less complementary things to say about all non-Jews:

The souls of the nations of the world, however, emanate from the other, unclean kelipot which contain no good whatever, as is written in Etz Chayim, Portal 49, ch. 3, that all the good that the nations do, is done out of selfish motives. So the Gemara comments on the verse, “The kindness of the nations is sin” — that all the charity and kindness done by the nations of the world is only for their self-glorification…

as quoted from
“Lessons in Tanya”

I know I’m throwing a huge monkey wrench into the machine, but it’s important to define the barriers to Rabbi Boteach’s stated goals, both from the Christian and Jewish perspectives. All I’m saying is that nearly 2,000 years of strife between Christians and Jews will not be repaired for the sake of a single book which depicts the historical Jesus in a manner that most Christians and Jews will not be able to accept.

So what’s good about this book? More than you might think, given everything I’ve just written. Actually, I think Christians can benefit from quite a few things Boteach has to say about Jesus, not in terms of historical accuracy, but in introducing the believer to the Jewish Jesus. There is no doubt that Jesus was (and is) a Jewish man and rabbi who taught lessons that were completely consistent with the Law of Moses, who did not break the Shabbat or any of the other mitzvot as Christianity imagines, and who did not expect even the tiniest portions of the Torah to be extinguished until Heaven and Earth themselves were extinguished (Matthew 5:18).

Christian supersessionism is responsible for the legacy of crimes against the Jewish people which the church suffers from even today. It is also the source of a terrible misconception about who Christ was and is, both in relation to the descendents of Jacob and to the non-Jewish disciples of Jesus. If we can absorb some sort of understanding of the Jewish identity of Jesus into the theology and doctrine of the modern church, perhaps we can be instrumental in building a better bridge between us and the Jewish people. We might also (and this is probably an unintended effect by Rabbi Boteach, but it fits so well) find a way, as Christians, to understand those Jews who have faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and who also continue to live a completely Jewish ethnic, cultural, and religious life.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s book Kosher Jesus is both deeply flawed and irresistibly compelling. For many, it will be “the book you love to hate” but it is also a window, albeit a shaded and distorted one, into the Jewish perspective on the Jewish Jesus. If you are a Christian who cannot tolerate any portrait of your Savior besides the one you encounter in the pew of your church on Sunday morning, then this book will seem horrifying. However, if you are a little adventurous and want to seek out the portions of wheat this book offers among the chaff, then Kosher Jesus may be worth your while. I don’t agree with a great deal that Rabbi Boteach had to say about Jesus, but I also learned a few things. I don’t regret reading his book.

Nothing’s Perfect

You have to begin with the knowledge that there is nothing perfect in this world.

Our job is not to hunt down perfection and live within it. It is to take whatever broken pieces we have found and sew them together as best we can.

—the Rebbe’s response to a girl who wanted to leave her school for what she thought to be a better one.
as related by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Oh, duh! No, that’s not my Homer Simpson imitation, it’s my “light dawns on marble head” moment and the reason I’m writing this “extra meditation.” I’m going to use the above quoted phrase for tomorrow’s “morning meditation,” but as I was doing one of my obsessive reviews of tomorrow’s blog, trying to find all the typos I will invariably miss, it hit me.

Life isn’t perfect.

I suppose that’s obvious to you and really, it’s obvious to me too, but I spontaneously applied it to something specific in my own context and everything suddenly made sense. Let me explain.

I periodically kvetch about how hard it is to find other people who see things in the world of faith that are even remotely similar to how I see them (although my “morning meditation” for today has attracted some very nice comments). I also complain about my desire for a sense of community, particularly with my wife, and how frustrated I am that what I planned (boy, God must be having a good chuckle right now) doesn’t seem to be working out.

But what did I expect?

It’s not so much the statement that the Rebbe made above (as related by Rabbi Freeman), it’s the circumstances around the statement that made something “click” inside of me.

…the Rebbe’s response to a girl who wanted to leave her school for what she thought to be a better one.

I’ve probably said some variation of this a thousand times to relatives and friends when they’ve told me how life isn’t perfect for them, either. I just find it funny that God chose here and now to give me my “light bulb moment.”

It should have come sooner but I wasn’t paying attention.

I was having a conversation with the Missus the other day, again talking about the possibility of taking a class or two with her at one of the synagogues here in town. Somehow, we got on the topic of intermarried couples and, since she knows I’m reading Rabbi Boteach’s book Kosher Jesus, we talked about the very distinct differences in how Christians and Jews see the world, the Bible, the Messiah, and God. As we were talking, I was reflecting to myself on how one of the reasons I left the “Messianic” movement, at least in terms of physical worship and self-identification, was because I perceived it as a barrier to my joining her in a Jewish worship and study context.

I mentioned to her in our conversation, that I know there are plenty of intermarried couples in both the Reform shul and Chabad communities, and then she said something that stopped me cold. She said those couples were all comprised of one Jewish spouse and one non-religious (specifically non-Christian) spouse. They’re all Jew/Gentile intermarried, but not “mixed-religious couples”.

I see.

I suddenly realized where the barrier is located in my wife getting comfortable including me in her Jewish community. It’s located squarely at the intersection of “Jesus Street” and “Christian Avenue”. In other words (taking my tongue out of my cheek), she really doesn’t want to take her Christian husband into a Jewish synagogue to interact with her Jewish community. The real problem wasn’t just the negative perception many Jews have about Messianics. That’s why my leaving the Messianic community didn’t produce the desired result. My being a Christian is the real problem.


Did you ever play “Battleship” when you were a kid? Ever have your fleet sunk? Mine ended up soundly torpedoed and sent swiftly to the bottom of the cold, cold Atlantic.

I was pretty grumpy about it initially. In fact, I’ve been pretty grumpy about it until about thirty minutes ago (as I write this). Then I re-read the Rebbe’s words and the context in which he said them, and realized that if I thought I was going to get my way, I was sadly mistaken. I won’t even say that “life’s not fair,” because I don’t think fairness has anything to do with it. It’s not like I have some sort of “right” here. It was more of a desire to join with my wife at the level of worship and perhaps to take my meager level of Jewish learning up a notch.

That’s not going to happen now. Of course, it’s not like it was owed to me or something. Sure, it would have been nice, but it’s not my right to enter into someone else’s world if I don’t belong there. It’s not so much that I wanted in the Jewish world. I wanted in the Jewish world so I could share my wife’s world with her.

But life’s not perfect. In fact, life has never been perfect, even among those who have served God with outstanding faithfulness, which doesn’t exactly describe me. No perfect life. No perfect people.

The king’s primary function is to dispense justice and righteousness in Israel. Second Samuel 8:15 tells us, “David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.” The Psalmist says, “The strength of the King loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.” (Psalm 99:4) When Israel practiced justice and righteousness, she was blessed, but when she strayed from justice and righteousness under the influence of wicked kings, the prophets rebuked her. “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level,” (Isaiah 28:17) the LORD declares through the prophet Isaiah. The Psalmist prays for the Davidic King, saying, “Give the king Your judgments (mishpatim), O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice.” (Psalm 72:1-2)

“Righteousness and Justice”
Weekly eDrash
Commentary on Torah Portion Mishpatim
First Fruits of Zion

Israel was the only nation specifically established by God, and given a personal and corporate set of laws and ordinances by which the Hebrews were supposed to obey their Creator as a people. If any country was to have operated with flawless perfection, it should have been Israel, and yet even a casual reading of the Tanakh (Old Testament) tells us that they experienced dramatic swings, from amazing prosperity to bitter and total defeat…and back again. Life wasn’t perfect for the Children of Israel and it isn’t perfect for the Jewish people today. Life isn’t perfect for the church, and certainly it hasn’t been perfect over the past 2,000 years of Christian history.

Why should even this one thing that I ask for be perfect for me? There’s no reason it should be.

Oh, I know the Christian platitudes: “Go bathe it in prayer” and such, but frankly, I’ve seen some of the most faithful people I know end up disappointed in so many ways and still maintain their faith and trust.

I’m not going to “win” this one, but I guess I can’t say that I mind all that much (well, I mind a little). There’s so much else that is going right. My wife and I are together after almost 29 years of marriage. We both are reasonably healthy, we have three children and one grandson. We are fed, and clothed, and housed. We are gainfully employed and are able to meet our needs and a number of our wants. Life isn’t perfect, but it isn’t horrible, either.

Most of all, both my wife and I are relating to God, each in our own way and in our own manner, as Jew and Christian. I’m a really unconventional Christian and she’s not always the typical Jew, but we get by.

Now that this realization has happened, I don’t know what comes next. I don’t have “a plan” anymore. Maybe I’ll finish out my year long experiment here and then “sink” this blog along with my hopes or maybe I won’t. I’ll have to wait and see if God decides to fill in the blanks in my life with something I haven’t anticipated, or if He’ll just let me have blanks in my life for a day, or a week, or a month, or a year or ten.

Right now, I guess I’ll take the Rebbe’s advice, try to find whatever broken pieces of my aspirations that God has left lying around and see if I can patch them together into something that makes some sort of sense.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Kosher Jesus: The Undivine Savior

It’s important to acknowledge the obvious. I have called into question the veracity of much that is contained in the holy Gospels. I’ve cast doubt on some of the essential elements of the story of Jesus as they have been handed down by generations of Christians. Obviously, my Christian readers are going to feel somewhat confused or, worse still, offended – which is, of course, not my intention.

-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Chapter 19: Jesus, Lover of Israel (pp 136-7)
Part III: What Christians Have to Learn from the Jewish Jesus
Kosher Jesus

That’s an understatement. OK, to be fair, I’m hardly surprised or dismayed at Rabbi Boteach’s illustration of Jesus, Paul, the early church, and Christianity in general. And while I will be writing a full review of this book right after I finish it, I wanted to address this particular aspect of the Rabbi’s writing right now, since it’s been pretty much what I’ve been thinking about for the last 150 pages or so.

I’ve been thinking about what would happen if a Christian actually took everything in this book at face value. I’ve been thinking about what would happen if a Christian reading Kosher Jesus were to get to this point and say to himself, “Oh wow, he’s right.” If Rabbi Boteach wants Christians to “learn from the Jewish Jesus,” what exactly does he expect them (us) to learn?

Paul’s claims about who Jesus was and what he preached are made more tenuous by the sheer scope of his deviations from the lessons of Jesus’ own followers. The leaders of the Jerusalem Church, Peter and James, insisted that Jesus’ message was for the Jews and was dedicated to preserving Jewish law and observance. Paul transformed that message completely.

Paul claimed to know better what Jesus intended than the disciples whom Jesus taught directly – even though Paul never even met Jesus. He said that Jesus meant to abolish Jewish law, that faith is more important than works, and that the sole criteria for salvation is faith in Christ. Not only that, Paul added that Jesus was not mortal, and his claim to be the messiah meant that he was the divine son of God. Finally, Paul, a self-declared Roman citizen, shifts the developing faith of Jesus, Christianity, to be pro-Roman and anti-Jewish. Paul attacks Judaism as antiquated and obsolete, and to cap it all off, he accuses the Jews of killing Jesus, also claiming they attacked him personally on many occasions.

-Boteach, pg 121

Interestingly enough, most Christians reading the paragraph I just quoted, would probably nod their heads in agreement to all of those statements saying that indeed, Jesus really did all of those things…except Rabbi Boteach says they are all patently false. He says that while Jesus may have honestly believed he was the Messiah and desired to free his people from Roman tyranny, he could not have believed he was also God or intended for anyone to worship him, least of all Gentiles. While Boteach paints a picture of Peter as a coward and a hypocrite, the real “villain” of his piece is Paul, who may not even have been a born Jew, and who took the teachings of an innocent Rabbi and would-be revolutionary Messiah, and turned them into the basis for a Gentile religion that was bent on placating idolatrous Rome while “demonizing” Judaism and the Jewish people.

In order to make his points regarding the Jewish identity of Jesus credible, Rabbi Boteach has to deconstruct every single major tenet of the Christian church. Jesus was a man and not God incarnate. He thought he was the Messiah (which is not a crime in Judaism) but obviously he wasn’t since he died rather than successfully establishing Israel’s self-rule. He was not born of a virgin, he did not speak against the Law, he lead a lifestyle that was completely Jewish and totally consistent with the Law of the Jews, and he didn’t want to have anything to do with the non-Jewish peoples. He hated Rome and he loved his people and wanted to free them from their cruel oppressors. Period.

While I agree there is much to learn by rediscovering the Jewish Jesus, I’m not sure what Rabbi Boteach wants his Christian readers to do about it. If a Christian were to read all of this and take every word at face value, questioning nothing, he’d have to conclude that his Christian faith is a sham. He’d have to conclude that everything he had been taught by the church about Jesus and faith and salvation was at best, an elaborate fantasy, and at worst, the most heinous of lies.

I really don’t think most Christians will be taking this part of the book to such extremes. Yes, they may be confused. Yes, they may certainly feel offended. But since Rabbi Boteach says it is not his intent to confuse or offend his Christian readers, how does he expect them to reconcile their faith with his book short of tossing it into the trash can?

In reading this book, I ask my Christian readers not to discard but to expand their existing ideas about who Jesus really was. But what is the impact in doing so? Does this mean we can’t trust the New Testament? Does this mean we’re tinkering with a divine document? Again the answer is no. The writers of the New Testament indeed may have drawn from divine inspiration.

-Boteach, pg 144

If Rabbi Boteach really believes that it’s possible the content of the New Testament was divinely inspired, I can understand why a good many Orthodox Jewish Rabbis are upset with him right now. Also, if he really believes that statement, how can he use the New Testament content to acknowledge his viewpoint of Jesus the Rabbi and political dissident while denying Jesus the Messiah, Prophet, and Savior from God? He can’t have it both ways, or can he?

I believe the Lucan editors made their changes for the reasons enumerated and to hide the subversive details of the revolutionary nature of Jesus. But the changes they made were not total. They didn’t erase the entire original meanings; messages may actually have been intentionally encoded into the Gospels…

This isn’t without precedent. There are plenty of examples of this phenomenon in the Hebrew Bible. In order to comprehend God’s true meaning, we sort through four levels of interpretation…peshat, remez, drush, and sod: peshat being the simple, straightforward meaning; remez, the alluded to meaning of the text; drush, the homiletic meaning of the text; and finally sod, the esoteric meaning of the text.

Beyond the simplest reading of the New Testament, just as in the Hebrew Bible, there remain layers and layers hidden from view.

-Boteach, pg 145

broken-crossIt sounds like, in order to encourage his Christian readers to not “discard but to expand their existing ideas about who Jesus really was,” Rabbi Boteach is encouraging them (us) to still consider the New Testament text as divinely inspired and containing hidden messages, just as the Tanakh (Old Testament; Hebrew Bible) does, from a Jewish point of view.

In making this statement (and I have to be really careful here), Rabbi Boteach does not sound unlike some of those Jews who really do believe Jesus was the Messiah King and who accept that the New Testament has as much validity as a holy book of the Jews as does the Tanakh.

No, I don’t think Rabbi Boteach is some sort of “crypto-Messianic Jew,” but some of what he writes intersects with what the ethnically, culturally, and religiously Jewish people who have faith in Jesus as Messiah and Savior believe.

Rabbi Boteach walks a very fine line here. He must communicate that he, as a Jew, does not believe for a split second that Jesus was of divine origin or any of the supernatural claims about him that are typically made in Christianity, but at the same time, he must convince his Christian readers that he does not think they are a bunch of fools or lunatics for believing everything the church believes about Christ.

I don’t think that’s possible or at least, I don’t think that Rabbi Boteach actually pulled it off. Either Jesus is the Christ as the church says he is, divine in origin, having a place of extremely high merit in the Heavenly court, and is much more than just one of the myriad tzadikim in Jewish history…or he was a great Rabbi, a passionate leader of his people, a revolutionary who desired to free Israel from Rome…and he was a man who died fighting for a worthy cause. It may be possible to overlap those roles and to distill out of them, a portrait of the Jewish Jesus who was Messiah, Prophet, miracle worker; who died and was resurrected but never ever abandoned his people or taught against the Law, but you can’t delete so much of the Christian faith from the Jewish Jesus and have him remain the resurrected King who will return on the clouds to free not only Israel, but the world.

Either Christians, mistaken though they may be in not recognizing the true Jewishness of Jesus, can have faith in their Savior or they can’t. Rabbi Boteach may intrigue his Christian readers, and he may get some of them to consider a somewhat more Jewish perspective on the heretofore Gentile Jesus, but he will never sell the Christians that Jesus had no power to save their souls, and never even wanted to. Any Christian who would choose to completely embrace Rabbi Boteach’s reconstruction of Jesus would be a person completely broken in their faith; crushed under the burden of a salvation lost and a King who never cared about all the Gentiles in need of a Savior.

The Uncertain Gospel

The editing done to purge the crimes of the Romans and to delete references to Jesus’ rebellion against them was an intricate and difficult job. Part of it was left incomplete. Remember, thousands of manuscripts were circulating around. Not all could be completely purged. Flashes of accuracy remain. “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be the Messiah, a king.” (Luke 23:2 NIV) This statement in Luke indicates that corrupt priests delivered Jesus to his oppressors, the Roman administration, because he was a rebel against Roman rule pure and simple. Because it is so different from other statements throughout the rest of the Gospels, which take great pains to make Jesus non-political, it is an obvious piece of real history that slipped through, contrary to the intent of editors publishing Paul’s concept of a strictly spiritual Jesus.

-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
“Chapter 8: Jesus Never Claimed to Be Divine” pg 51
Kosher Jesus

This is bound to be a part of Rabbi Boteach’s book that will be a major problem with most Christians. Boteach insists that the Gospels were heavily edited to remove any (or most) traces of not only the “Jewishness” of Jesus, but the “fact” that he was executed by the Romans for being a rebel and attempting to lead the Jewish people in a revolt against their Roman occupiers. The portions of the Gospel that seem to support Boteach’s position, he declares as “real history,” while anything that denies his perspective is considered to have been significantly changed by later editors to make the New Testament more palatable to Rome.

You might easily conclude, as a Christian, that Boteach is writing to support a strictly Orthodox Jewish viewpoint of Jesus and “to heck” with the inerrancy of the Gospels. However, he’s not the only one to suggest that the Bible we have today is not completely consistent with the actual, original texts. Amazing? Unheard of? Consider this:

It was dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers. He said he was ‘certain’ that it was from the first century. If this is true, it would be the oldest fragment of the New Testament known to exist. Up until now, no one has discovered any first-century manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest manuscript of the New Testament has been P52, a small fragment from John’s Gospel, dated to the first half of the second century. It was discovered in 1934.

How do these manuscripts change what we believe the original New Testament to say? We will have to wait until they are published next year, but for now we can most likely say this: As with all the previously published New Testament papyri (127 of them, published in the last 116 years), not a single new reading has commended itself as authentic. Instead, the papyri function to confirm what New Testament scholars have already thought was the original wording or, in some cases, to confirm an alternate reading—but one that is already found in the manuscripts. As an illustration: Suppose a papyrus had the word “the Lord” in one verse while all other manuscripts had the word “Jesus.” New Testament scholars would not adopt, and have not adopted, such a reading as authentic, precisely because we have such abundant evidence for the original wording in other manuscripts. But if an early papyrus had in another place “Simon” instead of “Peter,” and “Simon” was also found in other early and reliable manuscripts, it might persuade scholars that “Simon” is the authentic reading. In other words, the papyri have confirmed various readings as authentic in the past 116 years, but have not introduced new authentic readings. The original New Testament text is found somewhere in the manuscripts that have been known for quite some time.

Daniel B. Wallace
“Dr. Wallace: Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered?”
February 9, 2012

Many Christians don’t realize that there is an ongoing debate over just how accurate our Gospels really happen to be. Do the Gospels you read in your Bible every day tell you the true story of Jesus of Nazareth? Do they accurately capture his teachings to the Apostles and to us? If we could find and read an actual first century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark, for example, would we be shocked and dismayed at how different (assuming we could translate it from the ancient Greek) the Jesus chronicled on the recently discovered 2,000 year old papyri, is from the person we’ve come to know in our 21st century Bibles?

Dr. Wallace seems confident that not only are these papyri valid documents, but that they will confirm to a high degree of fidelity, that the Gospels of today are the Gospels of yesteryear. However, Jeffrey García in his blog post More the First Century Gospel of Mark isn’t so sure.

In a previous post I mentioned that Dr. Daniel Wallace referred to a hitherto unknown first century manuscript (now fragment) of Mark in a debate with Dr. Bart Ehrman. As I noted before, the blogosphere sparked with suspicions regarding the Wallace’s claim. We are currently lacking any announcement as to its discovery, the so-called world renown paleographer who has dated the fragment remains anonymous, and the Brill publication is still, according to Wallace, about a year away. Unfortunately, Wallace’s new post on this has not alleviated any of these concerns. Texts that remain “hidden” texts are regarded with a significant degree of hesitation, especially when the information is disseminated through one person (a bit gnostic if you ask me). If the long history of the Dead Sea Scroll publications is any indication, when texts remain privately held and controlled for so long, some crazy things begin to leak out or are simply invented. Hopefully, the identification of this text is not based on the conjugation “kai” a la initial claims of the some scholars who thought gospel manuscripts were found in the caves. In any event, see the post quoted below (again, hopefully this text will be released shortly for other scholars to chime in)”

García is primarily dubious regarding the validity of this find, rather than whether or not it will substantiate our current understanding of the Gospel of Mark, but New Testament scholars such as Bart D. Ehrman aren’t convinced that our Gospels tell us an accurate story about Jesus. In his book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and many other of his works), he contends that there are numerous internal inconsistencies contained within the New Testament and that it is no where near a seamless, flawless record of the life of Jesus and the origins of the first century church.

One of the criticisms against Ehrman is that he was a Christian who lost his faith, not based on his studies of the New Testament, but over his inability to understand why there is such terrible suffering in the world created by a loving God. I’ve written several blog posts including Faith and the Book of Bart as a response to Jesus, Interrupted, and find Ehrman to be a gifted scholar and (like the rest of us) a flawed human being. That the Bible or life doesn’t line up with our preconceived expectations or our personal desires, doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t the Messiah and that God is a fantasy. It more likely means that we suffer from our own human misconceptions and probably are victims of centuries old teachings and interpretations that are at best mistaken, and at worse, deliberately falsified to satisfy an agenda.

This is something I’ve just recently discussed and perhaps may even be part of God’s intricate plan for how history is supposed to unfold between the first and second appearance of the Messiah. I know, it seems cruel. How can God make us struggle, not only in our day-to-day lives, but in our attempts to understand a Bible that is not guaranteed to be completely, totally, and supernaturally accurate?

I’m no Bible scholar, so I can’t comment with any sort of authority on this matter, but I do find it fascinating that within the realm of Christian scholarship, there are questions being investigated that the majority of the people in our churches never, ever hear about. Matters of scholastic contention and mystery are presented as absolute fact from the pulpit, which I suppose is the way most people like it, since dancing on the head of uncertainty is no way to become comfortable with your faith. When I first encountered these sorts of questions, I wondered how my faith could possibly endure, and yet God made it possible. The Bible doesn’t have to be perfect to be inspired. The Bible translations I read from don’t have to represent an absolute fidelity to the original texts in order to mean that the Messiah exists and that faith in God is not in vain.

If I admit to a certain “fallibility” in our current Bible translations, am I then living a fantasy and pretending the object of my faith is real? Not at all, although I can certainly see how an atheist or a person weak in the faith might perceive it that way. God works with human beings using supernatural methods, but it doesn’t mean that the Bible you can purchase in any book store in this country is supernaturally accurate and describes, word for word, every single detail of the life of Jesus with no errors or mistakes whatsoever.

Like so many of my other “meditations,” I’m not writing this to give you answers but to make you ask questions. If faith cannot tolerate a few really hard questions, then its foundation must be sand and not rock (Matthew 7:24-27). No, I’m not being critical of anyone, because when I first met this challenge, I was thrown for a loop, too (which is an understatement). But if we don’t ask these questions, how will we ever know if we can endure the answers, if they exist, or the uncertainty if they don’t? How will we ever know if we really have faith?