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Three Easy Steps to a Kosher Jesus

 

R. Shmuley Boteach has made the news, once again, with his book Kosher Jesus. I have not yet read the book and cannot offer an opinion on its merit. The idea, though, of a Jesus figure who is acceptable to traditional Jews is hardly new. However, any Jewish Jesus must be a non-Christian Jesus, and therefore any revisionist attempt to construct such an image will be theologically offensive to most Christians.

A “kosher” Jesus is one who would cringe at the most fundamental claims of Christianity, who would lament the very founding of the religion and his central place within it. That is why defenders of Judaism against Christian missionaries are often quick to accept such “Kosher Jesus” claims and why the Disputation literature advances variations on them. Advocating a “Kosher Jesus” is equivalent to defending Judaism and attacking Christianity.

Conceiving a Jewishly acceptable Jesus requires three steps:

  1. Rejecting the Gospels and subsequent literature as inaccurate but historically useful. By wiping away the authors’ biases, we can discover the historical truth underlying their writings.
  2. Accepting that there was a historical Jesus, and not merely a useful fiction or amalgamation of people.
  3. Reinterpreting Talmudic stories of Jesus as polemic or references to other people.

All of these steps have rabbinic precedent. While some Jewish scholars wishing to discredit Jesus have been happy to accept the Gospel narrative, which describes Jesus as acting ostensibly contrary to Jewish law and making claims offensive to Jewish theology, others have advocated different approaches. R. Shimon Duran (Rashbatz), for example, argues that the Gospels are riddled with errors because they were written by ignorant followers who misunderstood and misrepresented Jesus and his teachings. Rashbatz sees Jesus as an essentially traditional, if not particularly learned and occasionally sinful, Jew (Otzar Vikuchim, p. 118ff.).

R. Yechiel of Paris denied that the Jesus of the Talmud was the Jesus of the Gospels. After all, the name was (and remains) common. Others followed suit, and in a separate essay I make the same argument (link). According to this approach, the denunciations of Jesus in the Talmud have nothing to do with the Jesus of Christianity.

As we discussed two years ago when R. Shlomo Riskin stated that Jesus was a devout Jewish teacher, there is no single image of Jesus in Judaism (link). Dr. David Berger, in a sweeping essay on attitudes to Jesus in Medieval Jewish rabbinic literature (“On the Uses of History in Medieval Jewish Polemic Against Christianity: The Quest for the Historical Jesus” in his Persecution, Polemic, and Dialogue: Essays in Jewish-Christian Relations), described the varying approaches:

Whatever one thinks of the number of Jesuses in antiquity, no one can question the multiplicity of Jesuses in medieval Jewish polemic. Many Jews with no interest at all in history were forced to confront a historical/biographical question that continues to bedevil historians to our own day. Once the issue was joined, it produced a series of analyses that reflect profound differences among varying Jewish centers in different periods…

With the onset of the Rennaissance, as historians began to adopt systematic critical attitudes to history, Jewish scholars treated this and other topics with methodological skepticism. The three steps above became a given, although many rejected step 2 and assume there was no historical Jesus. Most recently, Hyam Maccoby, a Reform historian, published three books (I, II, III) in which he applied radical literary theory to the Gospels. His conclusion was that Jesus was a traditional Jew in the style of the later Bar Kokhba, a Pharisaic rebel who attempted to become a political messiah — a king of a Jewish country — but was discovered and executed by the Romans. In constructing a religion that was politically viable and socially attractive in the Roman empire, Paul rewrote Jesus’ history to incorporate Pagan mythology of salvation and divine incarnation, political passivism and release from religious laws. Maccoby wrote (The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, p. 184:

The truth, however, as we have seen, is that Jesus did not found a new religion at all, but simply sought to play an accepted role in the story of an existing religion, Judaism. It was Paul who founded Christianity, and he did so by creating a new story, one sufficiently powerful and gripping to launch a new world religion. In this new story Jesus was given a leading role, but this does not make him the creator of Christianity, any more than Hamlet wrote the plays of Shakespeare. The Jesus of Paul’s story was a fictional character, just as Shakespeare breathed new imaginative life into the bones of the historical figure of Hamlet the Dane.

This Jesus was kosher. He was a devout Jew who played a respected, if failed, role in Jewish life at the time. Like other Jews in that politically tumultuous period, Jesus tried to foment rebellion among his fellow Jews but did not succeed. He was a failed political messiah, not a successful religious Messiah.

The radical literary deconstruction Maccoby uses does not sit well with me as a methodology. The deconstruction of texts in order to discover the historical Jesus seems to me overly speculative. However, I am happy to remain agnostic over whether Jesus ever existed and whether he remained a devout Jew or founded a new religion because he is simply irrelevant to my life. Kosher or non-kosher, Jesus is not someone important to me since the religion founded on his life, whether accurately or not, is not mine.

However, he plays a central role in the religious lives of so many people that I prefer to refrain from speculating, at least publicly, in a way that they may find offensive. I gain nothing other than the alienation of millions of people across the world. R. Boteach’s book may be communally wise or not, depending on its specific message and delivery. However, I find it hard to accept that his book is somehow heretical if, as he states (link), he follows Maccoby’s approach. If his statements accurately represent his book, then he has conducted an attack on Christianity and, like the Disputants who preceded him, provided defense material for Jewish countermissionaries.

(As a matter of side interest, see here for R. Shalom Carmy’s negative evaluation of Maccoby’s approach: link. And see here for a summary of critiques of Maccoby’s view: link.)

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

127 Responses

  1. IH says:

    Putting a stake in the ground for further discussion, I am not at all convinced the setup in your initial two paragraphs is factually correct (in the 21st century).

    Most specifically the claim that “any Jewish Jesus must be a non-Christian Jesus, and therefore any revisionist attempt to construct such an image will be theologically offensive to most Christians”.

  2. Charlie Hall says:

    Jesus paskens (Matthew 19:9) like Beit Shammai (Gittin 90a) regarding grounds for divorce. Is that kosher? ;)

  3. Hirhurim says:

    IH: The basic assumption here is that Jesus was in no way divine nor was his death an atonement. All but the most radically liberal Christians must reject that.

  4. David Sedley says:

    Thank you for an excellent article. One slight correction (which I cannot confirm because Wikipedia is offline today) – I don’t believe that Hyam Maccoby had semicha or claimed to be a Rabbi. He was involved with Leo Baeck college, which gives semicha, but I don’t believe he ever called himself a Rabbi.

  5. Hirhurim says:

    David: Thank you for the correction.

  6. P. says:

    Perhaps if Lubavitchers would have been less tolerant of earlier Christian like deviation in their midst, e.g. belief in a dead man as Messiah, they would not have had to struggle with this new phenomenon, of one of their most prominent members writing such a book.

    I see now that Lubavitcher Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, who strongly defended the dead Messiah idea when it came to his Rebbe, has now banned this new book (http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=40880). Interesting.

  7. Shlomo says:

    “nor was his death an atonement”

    More precisely: No more an atonement than the death of any other human being.

    “I see now that Lubavitcher Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, who strongly defended the dead Messiah idea when it came to his Rebbe, has now banned this new book”

    Competition

  8. joel rich says:

    The deconstruction of texts in order to discover the historical Jesus seems to me overly speculative.
    ======================================
    consistent with the beit medrash’s view of academic talmud-we don’t consider the “historical” rava, only how later baalei mesorah understood him!
    KT

  9. Nachum says:

    “No more an atonement than the death of any other human being.”

    In Judaism? No one’s sins (personal sins) are forgiven by someone else’s death. In a related difference, no one is born with sin.

    Jesus, by the way- taking the Gospels as fact- contradicted himself a lot. He was mechalel Shabbat and justified it (of course, you can say the same thing, l’havdil, about many Talmudic laws), while also denying he was out to change anything. He may have been a not-so-educated Am Haaretz (in the Talmudic sense of the word) who found himself in over his head in a number of different ways.

    Gil, you have someone saying the Talmud isn’t talking about *that* Yeshu. What about someone who takes the more logical tack- that a text written in a non-Christian county hundreds of years after the fact (i.e., Bavel in the year 500) simply got the facts wrong, either deliberately (“polemically,” as you say) or accidentally? Even the New Testament, written mere decades after Jesus in the same country, can’t seem to get every detail right.

  10. Hirhurim says:

    Nachum: What about someone who takes the more logical tack- that a text written in a non-Christian county hundreds of years after the fact (i.e., Bavel in the year 500) simply got the facts wrong, either deliberately (“polemically,” as you say) or accidentally?

    Neither approach sits well with me, nor do I agree that they are more logical, but I won’t dismiss them out of hand.

    Even the New Testament…

    I give the sage of the Talmud more credibility than the authors of the Gospels.

  11. Hirhurim says:

    P: Perhaps if Lubavitchers would have been less tolerant of earlier Christian like deviation in their midst, e.g. belief in a dead man as Messiah, they would not have had to struggle with this new phenomenon, of one of their most prominent members writing such a book.

    I’m the last one to defend messianic Lubavitchers but I don’t really see a connection between them and R. Boteach’s book. To my knowledge, he was never a messianic Lubavitcher. And they don’t seem particularly receptive to this idea.

    I see now that Lubavitcher Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, who strongly defended the dead Messiah idea when it came to his Rebbe, has now banned this new book (http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=40880). Interesting.

    Interesting. He says he read the book, which I haven’t, so I can’t comment. I can only say that book bans don’t work.

  12. Jerry says:

    “I give the sage of the Talmud more credibility than the authors of the Gospels.”

    Which Talmud? And more credibility in terms of what? Historical information about Jesus?

  13. Nachum says:

    “I give the sage of the Talmud more credibility than the authors of the Gospels.”

    Yes, because they were professional historians with no axe to grind with a special interest in the story of an obscure false messiah from the Gallil.

    Look, I obviously don’t give the gospel authors much credibility either. But let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s pretty obvious that the Amoraim had half-heard a bunch of rumors about a diviner in the time of Bayit Sheni with some following that still existed who was the child of a hairdresser named Mary and a Roman soldier named Naughtius Maximus- no, wrong story, Panther- and the game of telephone continued until the Bavli was finished.

  14. Hirhurim says:

    Perhaps you intended to formulate that with a little more humility. One thing that is clear is that whatever historians say is clear generally is anything but that. Kal va-chomer when dealing with history that historians agree is totally unclear.

  15. MDJ says:

    Gil,
    Nachum’s lack of humility was directed at you and your rather absurd assumption about Babylonian amoraic (or even palestian) knowledge fo accurate information about Jesus hundreds of years after his death. It was not disrespectful to the amoraim

  16. MDJ says:

    Sorry. Meant to add, rather than an ad hominem attack, it would be better to reply to reasonable core of Nachum’s point.

  17. Nachum says:

    Thank you, MDJ.

    The last I checked, no one thought it was a lack of humility that causes people to, say, take the rabies vaccine instead of eating the dog’s liver as recommended by the Gemara.

  18. Hirhurim says:

    Nachum: I’m not sure why you are equating medicine/science to history. I give the sages of the Talmud more credit.

    MDJ: Of course it was disrespectful. Claiming that Amoraim said ignorant things based on lack of knowledge is inherently disrespectful.

  19. Nachum says:

    Just reread what you wrote, comparing the two clauses.

  20. IH says:

    The basic assumption here is that Jesus was in no way divine nor was his death an atonement. All but the most radically liberal Christians must reject that.

    I don’t follow. Clearly, the primary theological difference regards the death of Jesus, but many (if not most, at this point) Western Christian theologians and clergy state that Jesus was born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died as a Jew. I.e. “A Kosher Jesus”.

    Thus, I believe the setup to your post is factually incorrect. I.e. it is not true that “any Jewish Jesus must be a non-Christian Jesus, and therefore any revisionist attempt to construct such an image will be theologically offensive to most Christians”.

    My sense – based on recent discussions — is that you are projecting your (RYBS-based) issues with Christians, onto Christians.

    —–

    Incidentally, while I have not yet had a chance to open my copy, the recently published “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” is an important landmark in Jews understanding the theological context better. “This volume addresses the Jewish background of the New Testament, explaining the context of its authors and audiences, the culture from which it grew, and how it has impacted Jewish-Christian relations. It includes notes and essays by 50 leading Jewish scholars, including Susannah Heschel, Daniel Boyarin, and Shaye J. D. Cohen.”

  21. Hirhurim says:

    Nachum: Just reread what you wrote, comparing the two clauses

    I only disagreed with your formulation. Perhaps you meant to say that the Amoraim were primarily interested in history for mussar or homiletical purposes, or that they lacked the historical resources we now have. Or that based on the historical sources we now have, we can reconstruct the history with greater accuracy.

  22. Nachum says:

    Of course that’s what I meant. What else would I mean?

    I live my life according to what the Amoraim had to say (well, the Tannaim and Rishonim and Acharonim too, among others, of course). Why would I have anything less than total respect for them?

  23. Hirhurim says:

    It is not “of course” unless you say it. There are some observant Jews who think rabbis of all ages were idiots. When you speak like them, people might think you are one of them. I know you are not.

  24. S. says:

    I disagree with the premises. This is like “She’s more frum because she says Baruch Hashem constantly.” Different kinds of people have different kinds of expressions and ways of putting things. In my view saying “lulei demistafina” in a formulaic fashion no more demonstrates humility than adding “hakattan” before one’s name, the author knowing full well that people consider him a “rosh kol benei hagolah.” These are just formulas and conventions. Nachum should not have to adhere to the conventions of others. I’ve been going through the Meor Enayim recently, and it is full of pious declarations and disclaimers throughout, and I’ve seen no evidence that they were added insincerely – but that was the style of the time. A rabbinic writer would not have omitted them, but they didn’t impress his critics.

  25. ruvie says:

    gil – ” There are some observant Jews who think rabbis of all ages were idiots. ”

    where is this seen? if these people believe that why are they following halacha which is determined by rabbinic thought? do you have people specifically in mind or is it an mindset that you attribute to some?

  26. Rafael Araujo says:

    And here I was looking for a three-step program! Gil, you fooled me!

    “where is this seen? if these people believe that why are they following halacha which is determined by rabbinic thought? do you have people specifically in mind or is it an mindset that you attribute to some?”

    Okay, I’ll bite. You don’t hear people claiming “the rabbis are idiots, they don’t know what they are doing/talking about…they have no clue”. Or, minyanim where there is no Rov and is deemed to be unnneccessary or a nuisance. This negative attitude is quite prominent.

    Also, I would propose the the mimetic tradition, if it exists, is the perfect example of non-rabbinic/auto-pilot Judaism. Does the mimetic tradition even consider rabbinic input? Its all about how people kept their Judaism without the need of cracking open a SA or asking a shaila, since it was unneccesary. What their fathers did is good enough.

    As to this topic, I do hear Christians referring more and more the Jesus’ Jewish roots. Does that not perform a co-opting of Judaism into the Christian narrative of history, so that Jews will feel more comfortable? Doesn’t this view help evangelization of Jews?

  27. joel rich says:

    Does the mimetic tradition even consider rabbinic input?
    ================================
    Yes, just as rabbinic input is supposed to consider mimeic tradition,
    KT

  28. Shmilda says:

    Nahum & Gil:

    I think you each give the amoraim too little credit. Why include theses stories in the gemara if they are about an irrelevant Yeshu, or merely discuss the origin of an ascendent religion?

    Personally, I think this book has the best explanation:
    http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Talmud-Peter-Sch%C3%A4fer/dp/0691143188/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326902680&sr=1-1
    Schäfer contends that these stories betray a remarkable familiarity with the Gospels–especially Matthew and John–and represent a deliberate and sophisticated anti-Christian polemic that parodies the New Testament narratives. He carefully distinguishes between Babylonian and Palestinian sources, arguing that the rabbis’ proud and self-confident countermessage to that of the evangelists was possible only in the unique historical setting of Persian Babylonia, in a Jewish community that lived in relative freedom. The same could not be said of Roman and Byzantine Palestine, where the Christians aggressively consolidated their political power and the Jews therefore suffered.

  29. S. says:

    “I think you each give the amoraim too little credit. Why include theses stories in the gemara if they are about an irrelevant Yeshu, or merely discuss the origin of an ascendent religion?”

    The Amoraim didn’t write the Gemara. Also, the Gemar[os] seem to include everything they remembered. That doesn’t necessarily imply significance to given things, or significance in the way we think of it.

  30. Nachum says:

    Shmilda- interesting!

    Rafael:

    “Or, minyanim where there is no Rov”

    So, like, 90% of shuls in Israel. :-)

    Gil, let me say this: I’ll take the Yehoshua ben Perachya story as an example. Faced with the fact that he lived more than a century before Jesus was born*, an explanation given is that this was a separate “Yeshu.” You, in your famous website, seem to favor this idea. Now, granted, it’s not an uncommon name. But it seems pretty clear to me that this was developed as a defense in the Middle Ages: “Don’t say we insult Jesus! Every reference in the Talmud is to someone else entirely named ‘Yeshu!’ See, it says here he lived more than a century earlier!” Again, it’s not *that* farfetched. But to deny that it served a very handy purpose in defending Jews- especially when applied to *every* reference to “Yeshu” in Chazal- is, in my eyes, to deny what seems to be obvious history.

    I don’t see why, especially in today’s day and age, we have to be concerned over this matter. The Inquisition shut down years ago.

    *I daresay the average learned Jew doesn’t even know this fact. To be honest, for example, I never realized that the previous Zugot (Yose and Yose) lived at the time of the Maccabee revolt until I read it in R’ Lau’s Chachamim, Volume 1- even though it’s explicit in Shas. I remember my awe when one of my rebbeim casually mentioned that the two Amoraim we were discussing couldn’t have spoken to each other, because they lived centuries apart. They just don’t teach that stuff. :-) I’ve been shocked when asked -by people who’ve been learning their whole lives!- questions such as what Bayit personality X lived during.

  31. [...] Read Rabbi Gil’s excellent post on the issue of a kosher Jesus here: Hirhurim [...]

  32. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Nachum: There is a rabbinic statement that mittat tzaddikim mekhaperet. I find it hard to imagine that you are not familiar with it.

    Shmilda: If the Bavli narratives about Jesus are, as {Prof.Schaefer argues, a sophisticated parody and counter-narrative, one thing is certain: The rabbis did not have any independent traditions about Jesus. BTW, a very distinguished rabbinic scholar recently told me that he is not that impressed by Prof. Schaefer’s book.

  33. Nachum says:

    “mittat tzaddikim mekhaperet”

    Of course. But isn’t that talking about the sins of the generation? My eating a ham sandwich last week (or Adam’s eating from the Tree) isn’t forgiven by the death of a gadol this week, is it?

  34. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Nachum: What exactly mittat tzaddkim mekhaperet means and what is its extent are good questions with no simple answers. From your earlier comment, though, one might have received the impression that there was no such concept in Judaism at all.

  35. Steve says:

    Nachum: Also, an interesting story from my YU days. The scene: Bible class with R’ Carmy. The subject: Yechezkel, specifically Perek Dalet, which has Yechezkel pretty clearly suffering for the sins of the Jewish people – though, as you might respond, not for individuals.

    Question from a student: But I thought this was just a Christian concept?

    Carmy: Um, not exactly. (Not a direct quote, but I think I’m summarizing the message effectively.)

    If Prof. Kaplan doesn’t have a simple answer, I definitely don’t, but I thought I’d throw this into the mix.

  36. Shlomo says:

    “”No more an atonement than the death of any other human being.”

    In Judaism? No one’s sins (personal sins) are forgiven by someone else’s death. In a related difference, no one is born with sin.”

    Try googling the phrase “May his death be a kapara for Klal Yisrael” or similar…
    It might be a wrong belief but it’s common.

  37. Shlomo says:

    the game of telephone continued until the Bavli was finished.

    Why not say the same thing about halacha? The implications of that would, of course, be much more troubling. There may be an answer to the question, but surely you understand why Gil would prefer not to have to answer it.

    I remember my awe when one of my rebbeim casually mentioned that the two Amoraim we were discussing couldn’t have spoken to each other, because they lived centuries apart. They just don’t teach that stuff. :-) I’ve been shocked when asked -by people who’ve been learning their whole lives!- questions such as what Bayit personality X lived during.

    Perhaps because people see the personalities as contemporaries whom they share the beit midrash with, rather than as dusty irrelevant historical figures. “Rashi omer”, not “Rashi amar”. Thus historical myopia comes along with a deepened emotional connection.

  38. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    See Lev. Rabbah, Parshah 20:12.Just as Yom Kippur atones, so the death of the righteous atones. Note that Yom Kippur, according to the established halakhah, atones only if accompanied by teshuvah.

    Also, see the intersting comment of the Maharzu ad. loc.

    My resident rabbinic scholar informs me that the notion of mittat tzadikkim mekhaperet is “found all over the place.”

  39. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Gil: R. Schochet did not explain what he found offensive in R. Boteach’s book, so there is nothing to comment upon.

  40. P. says:

    Gil: “I’m the last one to defend messianic Lubavitchers but I don’t really see a connection between them and R. Boteach’s book. To my knowledge, he was never a messianic Lubavitcher. And they don’t seem particularly receptive to this idea.”

    I meant that when people open the door to changes in classical, traditional beliefs, like claiming that a Messiah can come from the dead, can open the door to similar reexaminations, such as ‘kosher J’.

    Rav Schach zt”l was prescient, as well as, להבדיל לחיים טובים ארוכים, Rabbi Dr. Berger, re the dangers of the new theology tolerated, if not propagated and secretly believed in, by many in Luabvitch.

    As an aside, I wonder if the whole phenomenon of R. Shmuley Boteach w/could have come about if the late Rebbe Schneersohn was alive and well.

    On another note, it has just been reported (http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=40893) that a new Christian missionary center in Brooklyn, NY has a special agenda for outreach to Lubavitchers, due to the messianic beliefs that many of them harbor that accept the idea of a resurrected Messiah.

  41. IH says:

    BTW, a very distinguished rabbinic scholar recently told me that he is not that impressed by Prof. Schaefer’s book.

    Prof. Kaplan — Is there some substance to the criticism that you can share, or a name so we can at least evaluate the gossip? Without chasing down the full context of each, the review blurbs on Amazon are impressive.

  42. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    radical liberal christians — there are plenty of them. not so radical.

    r boteach recently was invited to speak to the shluchim (he put out an appropriate press release) so he seems to have regained some influence with lubavitch. subject, of course, to his complete rejection of the rebbe as mashiach, etc. in that context, he may be competition, but so are various other chabad rabbis / shluchim very often competition to each other. and it shows in chabad circles.

    consider this a ban a la his first controversial book on another “kosher” topic.

    3. note my previous mention that there is no historical proof jesus ever existed (essentially, the historical record consists of three writings: the gospel — contradict each other, come from a biased source, and a biased time. the talmud — consists of contradictory statements, refer to an anonymous “otoh haish”, is tampered with (by the censors, etc) (I didnt read r gil’s article yet but it seems it agrees with my stmt), and c: josephus, which we know originally had NO mention of such a “major figure” of the period (validated in wikipedia, though there are claims that its not true, but some tampering with josephus is pretty much well established)

    3. historical listing of amoraim (and tannaim) — excellent book by dr friedman (daughter of r meir fund)

  43. Moshe Shoshan says:

    “Why not say the same thing about halacha?”

    Because halakhah was transmited with extreme care. Historical details esp. about other religions, were not (mai d’havei havei)

    Back the question christian response to a kosher jesus, Gils arguments that no christian could accept a kosher jesus are very good. However, Christians have very different attitudes toward scholarship and history than we do. My sense is that there are devout Christians who have no problem with a “Kosher Jesus”.

  44. Ploney Almoney says:

    Boteach gave a pretty articulate interview last week on Israel National Radio, explaining what motivated him to write the book. You can listen here: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Radio/News.aspx/3687#.TxcqpyPunPo

  45. Nachum says:

    Prof. Kaplan: Even in my original post I took care to write “personal sins.”

    And yes, you can even dig up kabbalistic references to original sin. I’ve seen Lubavitch messianists quote it when being accused of drifting to Christianity, i.e., “And what’s so bad about that?”, Hashem yerachem.

    “Why not say the same thing about halacha?”

    Because, first, they’re the only authority for halacha, and, second- at the very least- at some point we have to draw a line for halacha or it becomes meaningless. We don’t have to for history or medicine.

    “Perhaps because people see the personalities as contemporaries whom they share the beit midrash with”

    This was actually a very traditional rebbe to whom the Amoraim were very much alive. There’s nothing so wrong with knowing facts. The “Atlas Etz Chaim” was made by Raphael Halperin, of all people. (WWF wrestler, entrepreneur, encyclopedist, talmid chacham.)

  46. Nachum says:

    Oh, one more thing:

    The insistence on Chazal’s version can actually be anti-apologetic as well. One thing we don’t need is David Klinghoffer going around to Christian audiences and proudly proclaiming that yes, indeed, Jews killed Jesus. His proof? The Rambam says so. Probably based on the Talmud. The little problem that the Sanhedrin was no longer executing then? Well, according to the Gemara, Yeshu lived 160 years earlier, so there we are.

  47. S. says:

    I dunno, rabbis were executing in Spain when the Rosh arrived. I wouldn’t put too much stock in historical arguments based on “this couldn’t happen because of that.” I mean, you would also think that Jews wouldn’t carry concealed daggers and run around knifing one another, but they did that, didn’t they?

  48. Nachum says:

    The Rambam’s exact words are “Killed by the Beit Din.” Of course, not even the New Testament claims that.

  49. IH says:

    Given the discussion, I cracked open my copy of the above mentioned “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” and see that it has a series of short essays: Jesus in Rabbinic Tradition, Jesus in Medieval Jewish Tradition, Jesus in Modern Jewish Thought and Paul in Modern Jewish Thought. They are partially previewable on Google Books: http://tinyurl.com/76aclza

  50. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Nachum: But Yom Kippur does atone for certain personal sins (mizvot lo tasseh she-ein bahen karet) if one has repented. See arba hilukei kapparah.

  51. shaul shapira says:

    “I see now that Lubavitcher Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, who strongly defended the dead Messiah idea when it came to his Rebbe, has now banned this new book (http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=40880). Interesting.”

    1)I read rabbi Shochet’s letter. It seems more of psak than a ban i.e. he says he was asked a halachic question about the book and responded.

    2)Also, what’s with the comments on that site? They’re beyond sycophantic! Is he the new Rebbe or something?

  52. P. says:

    A comprehensive letter refuting and rejecting ‘kosher J’ is now out from Lubavitcher Rabbi Chaim Rapoport (who, like his colleague cited above, strongly attacked those who spoke out against Lubavitchers promoting the late Rebbe as Messiah a number of years back. Evidently they feel that ‘kosher J’ is more of a problem than believing in a resurrected Messiah).

  53. Meir Weingarten says:

    rav yakov emdin wrote a booklet called “Resen Mat’eh” (the title is based on Is. 30,28) in which he posits that Jesus had good intentions but his followers messed up (I hope my summery does it justice). rav yakov emden quotes extensively from the “new testament” throughout (he obviously had great “b’kius” in it). a critical edition was released a few years ago by Leeor Gottleib (doctoral candidate at Hebrew U and popular lecturer at the annual YCT yemei Iyun).

  54. Tal Benschar says:

    Lawrence Kaplan
    There is a rabbinic statement that mittat tzaddikim mekhaperet. I find it hard to imagine that you are not familiar with it.

    It is a gemara in Moed Katan 28a, quoted by Rashi in Chumash in Parashas Chukas on the pesukim regarding Miriam’s death.

    The Rishonim explain it rationally. The Meiri writes that the death of a tsaddik serves as a rebuke and awakening to repentance. (The idea being that if the Tsaddik is subject to Death, all the more so us regular mortals, and that should cause one to examine one’s deeds and repent.)

    Acc. to the Rav Kook Torah website, he gave a similar, but slighlty more positive, interpretation:

    “The principal benefit that comes from the death of tzaddikim is the spiritual and moral awakening that takes place after they pass away. When a tzaddik is alive, his acts of kindness and generosity are not always public knowledge. True tzaddikim do not promote themselves. On the contrary, they often take great pains to conceal their virtues and charitable deeds. It is not uncommon that we become aware of their true greatness and nobility of spirit only after they are no longer with us. Only then do we hear reports of their selfless deeds and extraordinary sensitivity, and we are inspired to emulate their ways. In this way, the positive impact of the righteous as inspiring role models increases after their death.”

    In either case, this is far from Xtian theology.

  55. Hirhurim says:

    If this summary of R. Boteach’s book by R. Chaim Rapoport is accurate, then the book is unacceptable. That’s a big IF, though. I won’t denounce a book I haven’t read.
    http://www.chabad.info/index.php?url=article_en&id=25836

  56. IH says:

    Interesting read. On his point #3, R. Rapaport cites MT Hilchot Melachim 11:4 incompletely. He seems to leave off the 2nd part referencing Jesus:

    וכל הדברים האלו של ישוע הנוצרי, ושל זה הישמעאלי שעמד אחריו–אינן אלא ליישר דרך למלך המשיח, ולתקן את העולם כולו לעבוד את ה’ ביחד

    http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/e511.htm

  57. IH says:

    As it happens the online MT in English translation is Chabad’s:
    http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188356/jewish/Chapter-11.htm

    “Ultimately, all the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite who arose after him will only serve to prepare the way for Mashiach’s coming and the improvement of the entire world, motivating the nations to serve God together”

  58. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    The Rambam’s phrase in Hilkhot Melakhim “Ve-khol ha-devarim ha-eile shel Yeshua” does NOT mean “all the deeds of Jesus” but “all these matters regarding Jesus.”

  59. Nachum says:

    Prof. Kaplan: How is Yom Kippur like a dead person?

    IH: You know that bit isn’t in the standard printed Rambam. Of course, Chabad twists themselves into knots to try to fit the Rebbe into that.

    Two things about the R’ Rappoport piece:

    1. It’s telling that he can’t condemn the concept of a second coming (something that contradicts Tanach, Chazal, and all of Jewish tradition) per se; rather he has to point out that Jesus couldn’t have been Mashiach for other reasons. Perhaps this is why Chabad in particular seems so threatened by this book (in addition to the fact that Boteach is “one of them”): Just as was warned, they’ve set up a belief system that is very open to accepting Jesus, provided he is “kashered” enough. Any non-Chabad Jew will simply look at Boteach’s book and say “Nu, so maybe he was frum after all. Doesn’t mean he was Mashiach- after all, he’s dead.” Chabad can’t say that.

    2. I fit it also troubling that the greatest sin, in his eyes, is going against the teachings of Lubavitcher rebbes. An old story, but still bad.

  60. Moshe Shoshan says:

    In either case, this is far from Xtian theology.

    I agree Tal, the Meiri ans Rav Kook are far from christian theology…

  61. IH says:

    Nachum – neither is your (translated quote) of 5:33 pm (1st comment on this page) from earlier in that halacha in my printed Mishneh Torah either. It’s the black bound ירושלים תשל”ג set. I agree with your comments in any case.

    Prof. Kaplan – Their idiosyncratic translation was my point, in part.

  62. S. says:

    “Two things about the R’ Rappoport piece:”

    One thing about the R’ Rapoport piece. He went into excruciating, slam-dunk detail in his take-down of the Heilman/ Friedman book. For someone who says he read Boteach’s book, this is so general and superficial that one really does wonder.

  63. Hirhurim says:

    S: A chasid will spend sleepless nights working on a defense of your rebbe. R. Rapoport made a sufficient case against R. Boteach (if his description is accurate, which I would like to verify myself).

  64. Nachum says:

    So he puts in more effort defending Chabad (or defending a very narrow view of one rebbe’s life) than defending a major part of identity for every Jew?

  65. S. says:

    It is what it is, but come on, the contrast is fascinating, if not startling.

  66. DF says:

    Jesus was the first Reform Rabbi. Is it not fair to say that? Many of the stories in the new testament depict him finding that the Pharisees had become preoccupied with the letter of the law, rather than its spirit. This was one of (not the only) concerns of early Reformers, no?

    Re the earlier Gil/Nachum discussion – seems obvious to me, as Nachum wrote, that the amoraim really didnt know much about Jesus, and just recorded the few hazy things they had heard. The Talmud records everything, including hazy traditions. That is a perfectly accurate statement. I think it only seems disresepctful to you, Gil, because the “daas torah” mindset has begun creeping in on you, leading you to think that the rabbis of the talmud – all 2000 of them, over 500 years + – were always right about everything.

  67. J. says:

    Just to clarify:
    a) Rabbi Rapoport’s piece was not intended to be a full review; it was originally a letter written to friends as a condemnation. Indeed his letter itself states that he did not have the time (yet) to give provide a full analysis (and he has told me that he is in two minds as to whether this is even desirable)!

    b) In general, just because Rabbi Rapoport wrote a book length review on Heilman (defending his rebbe) does that mean that he is obliged to write the same on every book that he adamantly opposes? There will be many people who will undoubtedly be dealing with Boteach in detail. Rabbi Rapoport merely wanted to make a robust protest and set the tone for others.

    c) Note that whilst Rabbi Rapoport spoke sharply against Heilman he never called him a meisis u-madiach or even a rasha. It is clear that Rapoport sees a much greater danger in Boteach!

  68. Hirhurim says:

    DF: Jesus was the first Reform Rabbi. Is it not fair to say that?

    That assume: 1) he was a rabbi and 2) he denied the binding nature of the law. I’m not sure that either is correct. Certainly Maccoby denied #2.

    I think it only seems disresepctful to you, Gil, because the “daas torah” mindset has begun creeping in on you

    I’d be interested in your pre-modern sources that support a critical stance to Chazal’s history, like exists regarding science. I don’t believe mine is a new attitude, although I note again that I did not dismiss the other attitude.

  69. S. says:

    Why make it in advance, and why make it in a way that neither proves that he read it or that leaves the contrast as obvious?

    I think it was a mistake. Not writing that quick letter and not writing it before the book is even released would have been wiser in mt view.

  70. Hirhurim says:

    Presumably he reacted immediately after reading it, in the heat of his passion.

  71. MDJ says:

    >> I’d be interested in your pre-modern sources that support a critical stance to Chazal’s history, like exists regarding science.

    Why the (artificial) distinction between the science and history of Chazal?

  72. S. says:

    Presumably. And that’s why I said it was a mistake.

  73. DF says:

    When I say Jesus was a Reform Rabbi, I mean to say he was a leader of the flock. I dont mean he was a formal “Rabbi” who took bechinos in bosur bicholv, tarubos, and melicha.

    And I dont think its necessary to deny the binding nature of law to be a reform rabbi. RABBINIC law, surely, every reform rabbi would tell you is not binding. But some of them would tell you Torah law is. We are speaking of Jesus, who lived before the era of rabbinic law. Jesus, it is clear, thought the Pharisees [= orthodoxy] was too caught up in ritual. In that sense he was Reform.

  74. Moshe Shoshan says:

    Why the (artificial) distinction between the science and history of Chazal?

    MDJ
    I dont think the distinction is necessarily artificial. Our God is much more a God of history than of nature,. Lemaaseh Idont think many, of any rishonim challenge chazal’s history. but I agree the notion that it is disrespctfull to chazal to say their knowledge of church history was lacking is pretty silly.

  75. Moshe Shoshan says:

    I odnt know if Jesus was the first Reform rabbi, but the first reform rabbis werre certainly influenced by Jesus and his followers!

  76. MDJ says:

    Moshe,
    That explains why a distinction might be desirable, but not why it is reasonable.

  77. Shlomo says:

    I meant that when people open the door to changes in classical, traditional beliefs, like claiming that a Messiah can come from the dead, can open the door to similar reexaminations, such as ‘kosher J’.

    I see this book more in tradition of his previous work aimed at a popular audience, particularly “Kosher Sex”. Sex and Jesus – can you think of any two more non-kosher topics?

  78. shaul shapira says:

    “IH: You know that bit isn’t in the standard printed Rambam. Of course, Chabad twists themselves into knots to try to fit the Rebbe into that.”

    Not that I agree with them or anything, but I’ve heard meshichistim claim that the Rambam specifically says “killed” as opposed to dying naturally like the Rebbeh.

  79. MDJ says:

    Shlomo,
    What’s not kosher about sex?

  80. Anonymous says:

    Shaul: They do say that indeed. It’s twisting the Rambam, who clearly says “If he does not do X *OR* is killed…” The first half clearly means “died.”

    Is it true the book isn’t actually out and no one has read it?

    Gil: Does Azaria DeRossi count? In any event, it’s apples and oranges. Science (or “science”) has always been evolving. History made a sudden transition a few centuries ago.

  81. Hirhurim says:

    Anonymous: Right, AdR was the first.

  82. P. says:

    Shlomo: “I see this book more in tradition of his previous work aimed at a popular audience, particularly “Kosher Sex”. Sex and Jesus – can you think of any two more non-kosher topics?”

    Yes, he knows the meaning of shock value well. He also wrote a book called ‘Kosher Adultery’. I don’t know if a ‘kosher ham’ is in his future, may not be enough on it to make for a book, but who knows.

    I will say though, that considering his background, a Lubavitcher BT from Los Angeles and Miami Beach, I am not totally surprised at his antics.

  83. shaul shapira says:

    “Shaul: They do say that indeed. It’s twisting the Rambam, who clearly says “If he does not do X *OR* is killed…” The first half clearly means “died.””

    Interesting, I hadn’t thought of that. But can’t they still claim he”ll do it eventually? (what with the gemara in sanhedrin about moshiach being like the dead Daniel)

  84. Hirhurim says:

    Shaul: See my Kuntres Bikores HaGeulah: http://moshiachtalk.tripod.com/bikores/

  85. shaul shapira says:

    Wow, looks long! Is there one part that is particularly applicable here?
    Thanx

  86. Hirhurim says:

    Specifically os tes.

  87. shaul shapira says:

    Scratch my last comment- I thought the table of contents were chapters not pages. I printed out the whole thing and plan to read it tonight. Thanx again.

  88. P. says:

    Correction – At the Jerusalem book launch, he said that he was raised religious (but not Lubavitch).

  89. Nachum says:

    Sorry, Anonymous was me.

    Shaul, Rashi gives two explanations of that Gemara. One is what Lubavitch would like. The other is the obvious p’shat. (He will be *like* Daniel if we *compare* him to someone dead.)

    Yishayahu clearly says that Mashiach won’t die until he does what he has to. That was always used to say that he *would* die eventually, but it also makes it clear that he has to do what he must *before* he dies.

    So, Gil, AdR is “modern”?

  90. shaul shapira says:

    nachum- Can you provide the source in Yeshayahu. Or is it in the kuntres?

    I’m only really interested in this because I read Dr David Bergers’ book and came away very underwhelmed. He pretty much tries to ignore the pro chabad sources (which he admits to in his respose to David Singer) and instead argues that if we accept messianic chabad we lose our #1 historical anti-missionary argumet- that we don’t accept a dead messiah. That seemed very weak to me, because our problems with X-tiantiy are more about the 3 in 1 trintiy, abrogated old testament, and a god that dies, than the exact nature of who moshiach is anyway. I’m sort of left with the feeling, that if they want to believe he’s moshiach- nu gezunterheit. I think it’s silly, but so is the tooth fairy, and I don’t ostracize tooth fairy-niks. I’m still looking for the exact halachik problem here with what they believe, and I’m intersted to see if R Gil’s kuntres deals with that.

  91. shaul shapira says:

    [As an aside, someone seems to have sent in R Gil's post about the weather the readers comments in the FJJ under the name flatbush resident or something like that.]

  92. Y. Aharon says:

    R’ Gil, if memory serves correctly, the ‘Baal Hamaor’, R’ Zerachia HaLevi, comments on the pronouncement in the first perek of T.B. Rosh Hashana, “Hu Koresh, hu Daryavesh, hu Artachshasta”, i.e. all the ‘good’ Persian emperors were one and the same person. He cites historical evidence that show Cyrus, Darius, and Artxerxes to be individual monarchs with much different life stories and reigns.

  93. Hirhurim says:

    Shaul: Thank you for bringing that to my attention. This is outright plagiarism. Second time a yeshivish newspaper did that to me. I just sent them a strongly worded e-mail.

  94. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Gil: Why am I shocked but not surprised?

  95. Hirhurim says:

    As I suspected, someone e-mailed it to them without any attribution so they published it as an anonymous letter. In my opinion, irresponsible.

  96. S. says:

    Give me a break. Someone emails it anonymously and they don’t put ten sample words in quotes into Google to check?

    Or, to put it another way, they don’t constantly Google “Flatbush Jewish Journal” to see how they are doing among the masses?

    Puhleez, as they say.

  97. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    S. We should go easy on Gil. After all, these are the people among whom he chooses to live!

  98. S. says:

    I’m not sure what you mean. I think it is likely that they printed it knowing that he wrote it, since I find it very difficult to believe that his post on what is quite possibly the single most popular frum blog (apart for the blogs that don’t call themselve blogs, like Matzav, etc.) about them escaped their attention. I can’t say if they themselves decided to print it or if they truly did receive it as an email, but my point is that they are not absolved of lifting someone else’s work and printing it without permission. Either they knew or they should have known.

  99. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    S.: Of course, I agree with you. I was just making a small joke at Gil’s expense.

  100. Hirhurim says:

    I’m convinced they didn’t know. They forwarded me the e-mail they received and I can see the trail of forwards, all omitting attribution. You have to be burned once before you start Googling material to check for plagiarism.

    This is the third frum publication I’ve found (one did it to a different blog and I caught it and sent the editor a strongly worded e-mail). I’ve never caught the same publication doing it twice.

  101. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Gil: OK. We’ll be dan le-kaf zechut.

  102. S. says:

    I’ll say that I am. ;-)

  103. shaul shapira says:

    I wonder if proper attribution is a chumra? :)

    “Lawrence Kaplan on January 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm
    Gil: OK. We’ll be dan le-kaf zechut.”

    As IH has pointed out in correcting me in the past- the words are Dan LeCHaf zechut.

  104. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    like i mentioned in the sun weather post, they are a pretty professional publication. the publisher is a public relations consultant and a board member of the aguda. the staff might not be. so i assume too it was unintentional.

  105. Anonymous says:

    What staff? They don’t have reporters and a printing press. They get their *news* from Yeshiva World and Matzav. They excerpt Divrei Torah from pre-existing books (e.g., Rabbi Reisman’s Pathways of the Prophets). They have a small amount of original content. I assume they have a graphic designer, someone in charge of rounding up the content, someone in charge of booking ads, and Mordy Mehlman. The New York Times this isn’t. Maybe it will grow as local newspapers like the 5TJT did from a small beginning, but it’s not exactly this labyrinthine company.

  106. ToddV says:

    I’ll read this book, but I think I already know what to expect. I doubt it can approach the distilled scholarship and profundity of David Flusser’s “Jesus”.

    Todd

  107. Ian Thal says:

    Of course, many of these visions of a “kosher Jesus” are widely accepted by contemporary scholars, and even by Christian theologians and historians of religion. So while it might be polite not to have a stated opinion, it’s not necessarily disrespectful.

  108. ToddV says:

    Actually another reason I plan to read it is to see how much R. Boteach has likely gleaned from Flusser and if there is any attribution. I do think R. Boteach is a very good communicator.

  109. IH says:

    The book has preview pages up on Amazon, including most of its notes.

  110. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Rapidly paging through the pages of notes availibe in Amazon (Thanks IH), I note that the main Jewish author cited is Hyman Maccoby. Flusser is not mentioned. The general approach of R. Boteach seems to be “Jesus good, Paul bad.” So what else is new?

  111. IH says:

    A good reminder to move my unread copy of “What Paul Meant” by Garry Wills back to the pile of books I’d like to read sooner rather than later :-)

  112. ToddV says:

    Before an author of a book rehashes “Jesus good, Paul bad”, they ought to familiarize themselves at least a bit with the academic development called “the New Perspective on Paul” so they can provide a fully informed view.

  113. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Toddv: I want to make it clear that I agree with you. In general, R. Boteach seems out touch with recent (and not so recent) scholarship on the NT.

  114. ToddV says:

    Mr. Kaplan – I never doubted you. :-)

  115. ToddV says:

    The comments by IH on this post also alerted me to the publication of The Jewish Annotated New Testatment of which I was not aware (although I had read Amy Jill Levine’s “misunderstood jesus”). So I went ahead and ordered on my Kindle. I figured a good sense of their approach/depth could be obtained by going to the annotations of Romans (especially chap 9-11). Based on that read last night, I would say this monograph is going to exceed my expectations. Wow- great job.

    Todd

  116. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Toddv: I’ve been reading the Jewish Annotated New Iestament and have finished Mark and most of Matthew. It’s good, but I’d appreciate a bit more commentary, and not so many parallels, which most people won’t check anyway. But I haven’t read the Letter to Romans yet, actually one of my favorite New Testament texts. I know that R. Boteach’s view is Jesus good, Paul bad, but personally I’ve always found the letters of Paul much more fascinating than the Gospels.

  117. Moshe says:

    Lawrence,

    Romans is possibly the key book in the new testament canon. A lot of the early theology is there.

    I’ve read much of Boteach’s material on the subject, and heard him debate – I’m not sure if he’s clueless because he’s unable to understand it, or his vision is limited because his ego is in his way.

  118. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Moshe: As should be clear, I agree with you about Romans.

  119. [...] As for Maimonides’ strident criticism of Jesus as a heretic who led the Jews astray, I explain in Kosher Jesus that the Talmud’s Jesus’, upon whom Maimonides bases himself, is not the Jesus of the gospels, as Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, and other authoritative Jewish sources, have maintained.  It is a known fact that the name Jesus had been exceedingly common in Second Temple times. Rabbi Gil Student recently published an informative piece on this issue entitled Three Easy Steps to a Kosher Jesus which is well worth reading. http://torahmusings.com/2012/01/three-easy-steps-to-a-kosher-jesus/. [...]

  120. Eliyahu Konn says:

    ” he is simply irrelevant to my life. Kosher or non-kosher, Jesus is not someone important to me since the religion founded on his life, whether accurately or not, is not mine.”

    Who is “he” that is so irrelevant to your life that you write an article regarding a book about him?

    If he (the Jew not the “J”) has simply been maligned for 1800 some odd years then if you are keeping Torah, you are required to trumpet his innocence and clear his name. לֹ֥א תַעֲמֹ֖ד עַל־ דַּ֣ם רֵעֶ֑ךָ אֲנִ֖י הי׃

  121. [...] from endorsing R. Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus, can still be construed as doing so (link). After reading the book, I regretted even possibly giving that impression and wrote this review to [...]

 
 

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