Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Defending Jesus and Judaism

By Alan Caruba

As a book reviewer I receive countless requests to read books and, when I received one regarding “Kosher Jesus” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, I was intrigued by the title. In addition to fathering nine children, the rabbi has written 27 books, is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and the profile on his website is filled with achievements and encomiums

I was, quite frankly, floored by his book. As a longtime informal student of world religions, I found his comparisons between the biblical and historical Jesus impressive. As word of this book gets out, I suspect he will be contested by Christians because he meticulously reclaims the historical Jesus as quintessentially Jewish without a hint of the Christology that was applied to his life following his death at the hands of the Romans.

With some irony, it is another rabbi, Immanuel Schochet, who recently issued a letter banning anyone from reading “Kosher Jesus”, calling it heretical. Rabbi Boteach replied saying that “America is not Iran and rabbis in the American Jewish community are not the Revolutionary Guard.” Well said!

Debuting officially on February 1st, I suspect Rabbi Boteach is going to come in for a world of disputation from elements of both the Jewish and Christian communities. Their problem will be that Rabbi Boteach is a serious student of the Torah, the Talmud (rabbinical analysis and commentary on the Torah), and the New Testament.

His book is testament (no pun intended) to his central assertion that Jesus was a charismatic rabbi, a Jew preaching exclusively to Jews at a time when Israel was seeking to throw off the occupation of the greatest pagan power of his era, the Roman Empire. Indeed, their rebellion would culminate in the destruction of the Second Temple and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews in 70 CE.

Rabbi Boteach dissects the gospels, all written well after the death of Jesus, and the writings of Saul of Tarsus, saying in effect, that Christianity wrongly asserts that the Covenant and laws of Judaism had been replaced by a religion based entirely on faith in the belief that Jesus died for the sins of the world and accepting him as a personal savior removes one’s personal responsibility to live a holy life, a righteous life, and one that accepts the Torah as God’s word and law.

Among Jewish and Christian martyrs who died for their faith, Rabbi Boteach places Jesus as the best known Jew in the world. He condemns the New Testament for seeking accommodation with the Roman Empire, composed of idol-worshipping pagans, by turning the historical Jesus into an enemy of Judaism and thereby letting loose two thousand years of anti-Semitism.

The rabbi is not seeking to convert Christians to Judaism and notes several times that Judaism does not proselytize. “Theologically, Christians and Jews think differently about the nature of the world.” Instead, he seeks to restore Jesus “to his authentic Jewish roots” to “allow a new era of Jewish-Christian reapproachement to begin.” Indeed, in the wake of the Holocaust and the reestablishment of the nation of Israel, it is clear this change has been occurring.

In a time of resurgent Islamism, Rabbi Boteach rightly says that “Jews and Christians have so much in common, we must unite behind our democratic values, defend the embattled State of Israel, and participate in a unified front against those who have vowed to defeat us.”

Amen to that!

“Kosher Jesus” will not be an easy book for Christians to read because it rebuts much of what the New Testament has to say about Jesus. It eviscerates the claims of the gospel writers and of Paul, an apostle who never knew the Jesus he promoted as part-god, part-human, a distinctly pagan belief. The Romans routinely believed their emperors were gods. The Greek pantheon of gods had distinctly human characteristics and failings.

“Restoring his Jewish identity makes (Jesus) available to us as a flesh-and-blood hero who fought for what is right, in place of a celestial icon utterly detached from human experience”, says Rabbi Boteach.

The perfection attributed to Jesus, the rabbi notes, is comparable to that attributed to the Buddha and, in the Hindu faith, to Krishna. Humanity longs for such perfection, but Judaism believes that we achieve righteousness in our struggle to do the right thing, by our acts, not by faith alone. Jews know it is human to fail and that is why God offers redemption. Indeed, the word “Israel” means “he who wrestles with God.”

I recommend “Kosher Jesus” to anyone who wrestles with God, who wrestles with their human imperfections, and who strives to live a righteous life.

Editor’s note: One can read Caruba’s monthly report on new fiction and non-fiction at http://www.bookviews.com./

© Alan Caruba, 2012

20 comments:

Don Reed said...

I, as a Christian, have no problem with this man's book. The Bible will stand on it's own and does not need me to defend it. To debate such men is an exercise in futility. I will say the entire Old Testament points directly to Jesus Christ and there are many prophesis which by Rabinical law may not be studied by Jewish laypeople.
All that being said, Christians and Jewish people absolutely need to stand together for Israel and it's people. It's of a certainty the current adminstration will not do it, so we must.

Don Reed said...

I, as a Christian, have no problem with this man's book. The Bible will stand on it's own and does not need me to defend it. To debate such men is an exercise in futility. I will say the entire Old Testament points directly to Jesus Christ and there are many prophesis which by Rabinical law may not be studied by Jewish laypeople.
All that being said, Christians and Jewish people absolutely need to stand together for Israel and it's people. It's of a certainty the current adminstration will not do it, so we must.

Alan Caruba said...

Amen to sticking together. There are a lot of Muslims who want both Jews and Christians either dead or converted.

Rabbi Eli Cohen said...

I read with interest your review. I appreciate the perspective you have taken which is a fair portrayal of what Rabbi Boteach is seeking to accomplish with the book. I was however dissapointed to not find any questions on some of the assertions the book makes which have no basis in scholarship or history.
I'd appreciate if you could read a review I has written on the book and give me your opinion of my treatment of this book. You can read the review here: http://jewsforjudaism.org.au/resources/articles/kosher-jesus-a-book-review/

Rob said...

When I read your review, it was not what I had expected, considering the title to the book. With great embarrassment I tell you that my sister and her husband became Jews for Jesus, a contradiction if there ever was one. When my mother told me and showed me a booklet my sister had give her, I threw it to the ground, spit on it, and recited the first line of the Shema.

Alan Caruba said...

@Rabbi Cohen: I enjoyed your commentary on Rabbi Boteach's book. Based on 50 years as a public relations professional, my impression of Rabbi B is that he has a real talent for self-promotion, but I grant that he is also sincere in his beliefs. That said, I thought the book serves to make Christians think about their faith system and reinforces the Jewish faith system that predates Christianity by at least 1,300 years or so. I prefer the pragmatic Jewish faith to others that depend on magical thinking. In that regard Rabbi B makes a strong case.

Alan Caruba said...

@Rob. You're right. One cannot be a Jew for Jesus. It is absurd.

Rabbi Eli Cohen said...

@Alan Thank you for taking the time to read my review. I appreciate your comments and I agree with you, but only to a point. As someone who deal with Bible believing Christians all the time, I'm worried that what could have been a home run, loses the wind in the sail before you get to the heart of the book.
Had it been written with a little more sensitivity to both Jewish and Christian ears and had the core issues been fleshed out a little more, I think that Rabbi Boteach would have had a whole lot more support from both sides.
When it comes to PR I'm no expert, that why everyone has heard of Rabbi B and no one has heard of me :)

Rabbi Eli Cohen said...

@Alan Thank you for taking the time to read my review. I appreciate your comments and I agree with you, but only to a point. As someone who deal with Bible believing Christians all the time, I'm worried that what could have been a home run, loses the wind in the sail before you get to the heart of the book.
Had it been written with a little more sensitivity to both Jewish and Christian ears and had the core issues been fleshed out a little more, I think that Rabbi Boteach would have had a whole lot more support from both sides.
When it comes to PR I'm no expert, that why everyone has heard of Rabbi B and no one has heard of me :)

Dave's Daily Day Dream said...

It depends upon whether being a Jew is an ethnicity or a rationale for approaching God.
One can certainly be an ethnic "Jew" and be a Christian as well, I know many such folk.
What was Sammy Davis Jr.? He converted into Judaism (the religion). Why couldn't one convert to Christianity and retain his or her ethnic identity?
Jews For Jesus is an organization whose followers/supporters have embraced the truths of the Bible regarding the man Jesus and still retain their identity as Jewish men and women.

Alan Caruba said...

@Rabbi Cohen: Well, now, I have heard of you and will welcome hearing more.

You can always send your writings to acaruba@aol.com.

As to Rabbi Boteach, my guess is that he wanted to get Christian readers to question Christianity and to reinforce what Jews know of their own faith.

As to any disagreement between us, you know the old story, you get two Jews in a room and you have three opinions!

Alan Caruba said...

@Dave. This is a common error. Judaism is a religion and not connected to race or ethnicity. Literally anyone can be a Jew, either born in to the faith or by conversion. In both cases, it is a great comfort with its long history and its philosophy. Jews may not seek converts, but they do not turn them away. I have known quite a few.

My general view is that any religion that inclines a person toward a moral commitment, righteous acts, and love of his/her fellow man/woman has merit.

I exempt from this, Islam, which demeans women and teaches hatred of all non-believers.

Unknown said...

First, I have not read the book - but I do enjoy your blog Alan. I would say that Jesus was in fact a Jew for Jesus :)

I want to point out a glaring, foundational error in the author’s assertion as stated in your blog: It is alleged that Christianity teaches that “accepting him [Jesus] as a personal savior removes one’s personal responsibility to live a holy life” etc. This is an entirely false allegation – Christianity teaches no such thing.

Thanks for the article Alan!

Jack

Alan Caruba said...

@Unknown. I thought Rabbi Boteach's assertion was a bit over the top, but included it to stir discussion.

An essential difference between Judaism and Christianity is the concept of "original sin." Jews do not accept this, regarding sin as personal and subject to redemption.

Chris said...

I can hardly call myself a biblical scholar, but it seems to me that this man is reducing Jesus to a less than perfect human. Then he tells us that we should all join together, not with views like that.
When you look at the volumes and volumes of works regarding Jesus, the innumerable essays and studies, one thing comes out time and again, Jesus was a man yes, but he was God on earth as well. If you have ever read Thomas Aquinas, I've read some, by no means all, he points out that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for all mankind, and only through his death could death be conquered.
You will notice in the Apostles' Creed, Jesus descended into hell, three days later he was reserected. He had to go to Hell to free those who had died before his coming, also to more or less put Satan in his place.
The point I am making is that applying Rabbi Boteachs' teachings would for all intents and purposes render Christianity null and void, and that, as we all know, could never be.
I think I'm getting a headache trying to figure this out, I'm going to take some Tylenol and get back to you later, I think.

Alan Caruba said...

@Chris: You are quite right that removing Jesus's divinity does remove the central claim of Christianity. Rabbi Boteach is saying what Jews have been saying for two thousand years--Jesus was a Jew, a human being, and one who preached rebellion to Rome. Everything else is overlay from Paul to Acquinas to Augustine and all the others for whom Jesus was also God.

Will Harmon said...

It's pretty clear the Rabbi Boteach doesn't know much about Christianity. He best stick with Judaism. For somebody who implores Christians and Jews to come together for the common good, he has a funny way of going about it. From what I'm reading it sounds like his book is heresy (for Christians) and does more to drive a wedge between us than draw us together.

Christians and Jews worship the same God; we both believe in a Messiah--Jews are still waiting; Christians believe He already came as foretold in many books in the Old Testament (Torah).

Jesus was and is perfect because Jesus is God and God is perfect. When Israel faces the ultimate battle with the Arabs and the Big Bear closing in only God will be able to save Her and it will be Jesus who returns to destroy Israel's enemies as promised. Take it or leave it. I don't condemn Jewish beliefs; I don't appreciate supposedly learned Jews condemning mine. Boteach sounds like a modern day Pharisee to me.

Nathaniel Johnson said...

If the blogger is properly representing that book, then that Rabbi really has no idea what he's talking about. If for nothing else the claim that Paul did not know Jesus. No, Paul was one of those who fought against Jesus, who had Christ Crucified, and who held the coats of men who stoned Jesus Followers. If anyone on earth at that time outside of his disciples knew Jesus personally it was Paul. Ugh...as Paul puts it, I hope that man mutilates himself if he thinks circumcision and the law save him now.

Alan Caruba said...

@ Nathaniel: No biblical scholar I have ever read ever said that Paul knew the living Jesus. He came along after he was crucified and is largely credited with defining what Christianity would become.

Starsatnite said...

Regarding anticipated opposition fron Christians, you say, "Their problem will be that Rabbi Boteach is a serious student of the Torah, the Talmud (rabbinical analysis and commentary on the Torah), and the New Testament." I am a Christian, and I do not believe that his being a serious student is my problem. It would have to be substance (truth) he actually reveals, in that God is no respecter of persons, be they highly educated/respected of men or simple Galilean fishermen.

Being in Christ does not remove my responsibility to live a holy life, a righteous life...it both enables it and compels it. Torah put forth law and compelled it- but never enabled it. Only the giver of that law could do that, as Immanuel-God with us. Regarding the Torah as God's word and law, Jesus did accept it and he fulfilled it- like no other Jew ever could, would, or did. And the New Testament writers (not as far removed, I'd venture, as those of the Old Testament to the events of which they wrote) were certainly not as far removed as are these current debaters of Jesus' purpose and existence. Note this N.T. passage: "He [Jesus] said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!...and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself."
So Jesus DID believe Torah and was uniquely (the ONLY one) qualified to fulfill it.
Finally, regarding the New Testament turning the historical Jesus into an enemy of Judaism, somebody has this exactly...backwards. The New Testament clearly and compellingly shows Jesus indeed preached exclusively to the Jews, passionately and devotedly. He their enemy?? No, traditional Judaism became the enemy of Jesus. Note, it was the simple unschooled Philip who got it right regarding our Lord: "We have found the one Mose wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote- Jesus of Nazareth..."
Jesus does not his historical identity restored- he was clearly a Jew, understood to be Messiah and defended to the death to be the Messiah by...JEWS. Flesh and blood heroes?? No sinless flesh and blood hero ever died for my sins, but one sinless Jesus did exactly that. The Hero of all heroes, in a class alone.
I, like Philip, invite all to "Come and see" Jesus.
Steven Ware, Waco Texas