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Kosher Jesus?
Mon, 01/23/2012 - 19:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

The ferocious battle that has been waged in the press and blogosphere over my new book, “Kosher Jesus” (Gefen Publishing House), in the weeks leading up to its publication next week, has obscured both its message and the reason for its publication.

The book goes back to the original gospel source materials to uncover the true story of Jesus and portray him for who he was prior to later Christian editors significantly modifying the story to accommodate the Romans. Jesus was a Torah-committed Jew whose mission was to restore Jewish observance fully among his Jewish brethren and fight Roman persecution. For doing so he was turned over by the Roman collaborator, High Priest Caiaphas, who owed his office to the Romans, and was murdered by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. Jesus never claimed to be divine, never changed the Torah, and would be scandalized to see his teachings — nearly all of which “Kosher Jesus” traces back to their earlier Jewish sources — misused to persecute his people. It was Paul, who never met Jesus, who later deified him and said he came to get rid of Torah practice.

Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book as an “informed and cogent primer on Jesus of Nazareth … a brave stab at re-evaluating Jesus through an intensive look at the New Testament and historical documents … and a well-researched analysis that will certainly reopen intrafaith and interfaith dialogue.”

Far from the book being heretical, as a prominent Chabad rabbi claimed when he banned both it and me, my views on Jesus are conveyed by one of the greatest rabbis of the past millennium, Rabbi Jacob Emden, who wrote in 1757 that “it is exceedingly clear that the Nazarene [Jesus] never dreamed of nullifying the Torah.”

Rabbi Emden cited Matthew (5:17-19), in which Jesus said, “If any man … sets aside even the least of the Torah’s commandments, and teaches others to do the same, he will have the lowest place in the Kingdom of Heaven, whereas anyone who keeps the Torah, and teaches others so, will stand high in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Why is it necessary for Jews to reclaim the Jewish Jesus and educate Christians about the source of his teachings? First, virtually all Jewish ideas that have shaped the world have been taken from our people without attribution so that Judaism is treated today as a discarded relic with little contemporary relevance. We gave the world God. Today his name is Jesus. We gave the world the Sabbath. Today it’s called Sunday. We gave the world the Ten Commandments. Today it’s called morality. And we gave the world the biblical insistence that all humans are created equally in the image of God. Today it’s called democracy. As a result, young Jews are not even aware of the transformative ideas of their own faith, which might explain their lack of attachment to it.

Second and more urgent, in the past few decades Evangelical Christians have emerged as the most stalwart supporters of Israel, the ones who travel to the Jewish state to show their love even while bombs fall on Israeli cities. Many Jewish critics question this support and attribute to it ulterior motives. I disagree. Christian Evangelical support for Israel is real and must be appreciated. They believe in the Bible and they believe that through the Jewish people they will be blessed. They yearn and hunger to discover more about the Jewishness of Jesus in order to experience their own faith more authentically, and it is the responsibility of the Jewish community to provide this vital information.

At so many public Christian events in support of Israel, pastors refer to Jesus haltingly if at all, afraid to offend Jewish sensibilities, while the Jews likewise are on guard to ensure that they are not accused of being used as props for a covert Christian evangelizing effort.

If Jesus can never be mentioned we risk the relationship becoming a fraudulent one, with mutual suspicion growing on both sides. The political bridge of support for Israel is not enough. A theological bridge must exist as well.

“Kosher Jesus” proposes that Jesus the Jew, rather than Jesus the Christian, be that bridge. It is not for Christians to teach the Jews about Jesus, as has been attempted for so many centuries, but rather, for the Jews to teach Christians about how Jesus lived, prayed, worshipped, and died as a Jew.

This book is written for Christians who hunger to learn more about the Jewishness of Jesus, even as they disagree significantly with my conclusions. And it is written for Jews to finally be knowledgeable about the real story of Jesus so that they can engage in this relationship authoritatively and with an immunity to missionizing efforts. In an age of Jewish-Christian rapprochement, ignorance of Jesus is no longer an option.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the best-selling author of 27 books. His newest work, “Kosher Jesus,” will be published on Feb. 1. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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I'm siatrtng to conclude that there is a difference between Zionism and supporting Jewish self-determination under the philosophy of secular nationalism.I'm non-Zionist in a Torah sense but generally supportive of nation states.

This book is a travesty with no reason for being except to generate controversy. You could not get more traife than jesus or his followers. I've researched many things about christian doctrine, about the man or group of men who invented it and all of jesus delightful quotes branding Jews as devil worshippers, "children of hell", and worse. His transgressions were innumerable. He was a navi sheker who deliberately violated Shabbos, who believed he could "improve" on Hashem's Torah by abolishing Torah She'Bal Peh (which prevents the Written Torah from being distorted, so its no surprise why a false prophet would want to do away with it.) he excoriated the Sanhedrin, the holiest and most righteous sages of torah chosen for their great wisdom, for having the sanity not to accept him as a god. according to the christian scriptures themselves, he used sorcery to compel people to worship him not only as the moshiach but as a deity in his own right, a fact corroborated by descriptions in the Gemara. I truly cannot understand how anyone, especially Jews, could think he deserves to be called a Jew, let alone a righteous Jew (Chas V'sholom) after everything that has happened to the Jewish people thanks to his existence? Because he allegedly made water into wine? The Torah and all of our holy sages warned us to beware of false prophets, and to not take their "miracles" at face value as an indication of holiness. I challenge anyone reading this to name one Jew who has had a more destructive impact on the Jewish people than jesus, assuming he was real. None of his prophecies ever came true, except, that is, for the one about coming not to bring peace but destruction and the sword and to turn families against each other, which has definitely been fulfilled in mass slaughter throughout history. I wonder if christians ever think about those sayings? Do they put a mental block on the many passages in their scriptures which show jesus as the opposite of a good person? Thanks to jesus slander against Jews in the "New" Testament, we have the image of Jews as devil worshippers and satanic beings, an image so deeply cemented in the gentile imagination that it surfaced constantly in anti-semtiic propaganda, exploited by the perpetrators of the inquistion, crusades, the blood libels, pogroms, and the nazis Y"S thousands of years later to "justify" persecution of Jews. jesus represents the polar opposite of all the great and holy tzaddikim who have inspired the Jewish people, and he doesn't even deserve to have his name mentioned in the same sentence as theirs.

The foregoing musings are important. As a Christian, I know that Jesus was divine through the Holy Spirit. But I've always maintained that only a Jew could explain Jesus in a way which would cause Jews to accept him intellectually first, before seeking a connection to him through the Holy Spirit.

Jews will only accept Jesus when Jesus can be explained intellectually in a way which answers the question: "What is there about the universe which makes Jesus required grammar?"

Jesus must fit the physical unified field for a Jew to take him seriously.

"Kosher Jesus" will, at the very least, cause people to start thinking about Jesus. He's worth thinking about!

I have read your description of the book and your intent right here in this column and I have looked on and saw your book, on which cover is Jesus with his pierced hand standing with the book title "Kosher Jesus". You explain you went to the "original gospel sources" to discover the true Jesus and that your intent is to teach the Chrisitans about Jesus the Jew and to teach Jews about that Jesus was a Jew they copuld look up to and be proud of. And that this will help Jews from being influenced by missionaries. Sounds like a noble idea making friends between Jews and Christians by taking the Deity figure and Savior of Christians and telling Christians he was not a Deity or Messiah but a regular religous Jew. And you tell Jews the Deity figure billions of Christians pray to and worship and in who's name millions of Jews were killed and persecuted for centuries was really a good Jew they can be proud of. Actually I am being sarcastic. You seek to disprove Christianity's core beliefs from the Gospels which themselves were written by the people you said invented the Deity and Messiahship of Jesus to begin with. In the end you offend religous Christians and Jews. If a man was a good Jew G-d would not have made him to become another Faiths Deity (, son of Deity) and Messiah and a source of persecution to millions of Jews for centuries. I think you make things worse by playing with Chrisitanity's savior.

I appreciate your perception regarding Jews they did so many bad things to Christianity at that era. And lot carnage has been done with brutality. They thinks they hang on Christ but in fact they are just unknown.
sarcastic quotes

Dear Rabbi,

Thank you for not disowning Yeshua (which, as you know, is Jesus' real, Hebrew name.)
The Gospels reveal that he displayed reluctance to minister to non-Jews.
His title was not "priest" [as in "Father Jesus".] Nor was it "minister" or "Reverend." No, it was Rabbi. All his disciples and apostles were Jewish. After his crucifixion, the apostles who took leadership roles in nurturing Jesus' followers had heated debates about whether they should accept Gentiles into their group without first requiring them to convert to Judaism (which would include circumcision.) Thanks to our eventual contact with Jesus' followers, my Central European ancestors, who had been dancing naked covered with blue body paint, worshipping the moon and rocks, were exposed to the sublime ethics and history detailed in the Hebrew scriptures. Yes, it's true: Devout Christians love the Jewish people. We are indebted to the Israelites' culture and religion. Simply put: without you, there woulds be no us. May G-d knit us together in his Holy Name. AMEN

Dear Rabbi,

Even though I have yet to read Kosher Jesus (and I plan to), as a Christian learning and embracing the Jewishiness of Jesus and the bible, I am very grateful for the writing of this book. It is time for the whole of christianity to embrace its roots which are JEWISH. Let people Jew or Gentile say what they want, the truth is this... YESHUA WAS JEWISH and HE STILL IS JEWISH! And because I believe in his returning, when he does, HE WILL BE JEW...NOT GENTILE. A gentile Jesus is not the real Jesus.

Again, this book is timely and I thank you.

I agree.....and i should tell you i was raised a Roman Catholic.....and consider myself a follower of Christ....i looked forward to this book for 2 reasons....have many Jewish friends.....and a daughter who is in a serious relationship with a Jewish man.
I had higher hopes this book would be a bridge building vehicle .....but the manner the Rabbi chose to write it only deepened the chasm between us. I hope he writes another,..
better tying these 2 separate faiths together....for we have common roots.And a very similar faith , we both embrace Christ call it the Torah...we call it the gospels...same ten commandments...even the same Bible heroes..once you peel away all the rhetoric , we are more the same than we are different.The history between Christians and Jews , needs to change in this enlightened age.....the people are ready....the prejudices of the past are all but forgotten by our children.And that is for the better for all.
It is time to unite us , not divide us.

R. Boteach,
I read this piece with interest as I often find myself discussing the historicity of Jesus and his place within the Jewish community. I find that while you have good aims, there are a couple of questions I am left with. First off, in what sense do you use the word "kosher"? I don't think that your goal is to make the character of Jesus into some accepted authority or mainstay of Judaism. Thus why brand it as "acceptable"?

Second, though Jesus did say (assuming one accepts that he even existed and is not a literary conflation of characters mixed with pre-existing religious myths from otehr cultures) that he was not here to change any of the Torah law, he does seem to encourage behavior which compromises the authority of the Pharisaic (read: rabbinic) voices and the understanding of halacha as it was approved by the majority opinion. He seems to me to be more of a Reform "rabbi" (assuming we can trace from where he got smicha - I don't recall that episode in the gospels) who was reevaluating the role of ritual over intent or emotion.


Shmuly, your intentions as stated seem noble however there are underlying faults in your method which not only negate the intended end, they achieve the opposite.

To list a few:
-you say that you go to the original gospel to uncover the ‘true story’. This is like saying you went to the Chinese government website to uncover the ‘true story’ of space travel history. While this may not be a fault to a gentile, a Jew is expected to live by a truth only as testified by a direct chain of testimony called ‘mesora’. This is what validates all of our belief and your research in sources outside of this is not so much sacrilege as confusing to those who, as it is, wonder how we can believe a testimony thousands of years old. Your inclusion of such work would be like sourcing a scientific paper to a junk scientist and would no doubt taint the paper, the scientist and perhaps the institution which employs the scientist as well.

-You use the term “kosher” in the title. Who is the ‘kashering agency’? Kosher is not a word we throw around and doing so allows our youth to believe that orthodoxy is an opinion available to the philosopher du jour. Either find rabbis who will back you or reword the title.

-You use the title ‘rabbi’. Although the ‘smicha’ as begun by Moses has dissipated, the ordination process still remains and it is our method of ensure the purity of the message passed down via the chain of mesora. A rabbi is believed not because of his wisdom but because of the rabbis preceding him who vouch for him. You were ordained by rabbis who then told you to cease and desist from your methods of teaching and reaching out. You through them under the bus. That’s fine, it’s a free country, but either find a new group of rabbis who vouch for you and give you the smicah to prove it, or use a different title.

-And one last thing. No one banned you or your book. They just gave their opinion that it is not kosher. This is not banning it any more than a doctor who tells a patient to refrain from alcohol is a prohibitionist. If you disagree, then take up their opinion point by point in Jewish law. If you disagree with the idea that some books are kosher and some are not, then begin a new religion, just don’t call it kosher.