Jesus!

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Is it permissible to use the word “Jesus” in the course of everyday conversation?

One would think not. This is because the Torah clearly says that it is forbidden to mention the names of foreign gods.[1] Nevertheless, we find that many people regularly use words such as “Jesus” and “Mary” in everyday conversation. Is there any halachic basis for doing so?

This question is discussed in the Chavot Yair.[2] The Chavot Yair says that although it may be best not to use such words, there is no true prohibition in doing so. Among the reasons for his ruling is because he is of the opinion that Christianity is not considered to be avoda zara, an idolatrous religion.  He says that the Torah’s prohibition on mentioning the names of foreign gods only applies to religions that are polytheistic or idolatrous in nature.

Additionally, since Jesus was merely the name of a person, and continues to be used as a first name in many countries, it is not subject to the prohibition of mentioning the names of foreign gods. It is also noted that the prohibition against mentioning the names of idols or foreign gods only applies to names that were designated from their inception for idolatry. The word “Jesus”, however, is simply a name that was used for quite some time before it ever became associated with a foreign religion. Once a name, word, or term is introduced without any intention for it to be associated with idolatry it remains permitted to be used even if it later does.[3] This is similar to the names of the planets and other stars which we are permitted to mention even though there have been cults throughout the ages that have worshipped the planets.[4]

Based on these and other considerations, the Chavot Yair rules that the Torah’s prohibition against mentioning the names of foreign gods does not apply to the use of “Jesus”, “Mary”, or the other figures in early Christianity. This, of course, is especially true according to the school of thought that Christianity is not an idolatrous religion at all. Nevertheless, one should probably not use the word “Christ”, as it is Greek (and/or Latin) for “the messiah”, “the savior”, and even “the lord” all of which are terms that are forbidden to be attributed to anyone.

On a related note, there does not seem to be any halachic advantage to using “Xmas” over “Christmas” as many are accustomed to do. This is because “X” (the Greek letter “Chi”) is not only a direct abbreviation for “Christ” but it is also used as a stand-alone symbol, known as the “Labarum” or “Chi-Rho”, to represent Jesus in both the Catholic and Protestant churches. As such, the use of the “X” might be much more of a problematic religious reference than the use of the colloquial “Christmas”.[5]

There is also some confusion whether or not it is permissible to mention other theological figures such as “Mohammed”, “Buddha” and “Zeus”. It would seem that saying “Mohammed” is completely permissible as it is virtually unanimous that Islam is a monotheistic religion. So too, Mohammed himself is not worshipped in any way.[6]

One would need to have a solid grasp of Buddhism and Greek Mythology in order to authoritatively rule on the latter two examples. We find, however, that such figures are regularly mentioned in everyday conversation. Therefore, although not completely clear, it appears that the halacha is in accordance with the Chavot Yair. There are also other authorities who rule that it is permissible to mention the name of a foreign deity when it is for a constructive purpose.[7] Indeed, the Gemara, especially in Masechet Avoda Zara, freely mentions the names of idols, deities, and ancient gods without hesitation.[8]


[1]  Shemot 23:13.

[2] Chavot Yair 1:1:11.

[3] Hagahot Maimoniot, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 5:10.

[4] Biur Hagra, YD 147:3.

[5] See Divrei Chachamim (Rabbi Arye Zev Ginzberg) 217, Olat Yitzchak 2:159, the view of Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, all cited in Marc B. Shapiro, “Torah Study on Christmas Eve,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 8 (1999), 319-353.

[6] But see Tzitz Eliezer 14:91, 10:1:9:45; Orchot Rabbeinu Vol. 1 p. 307 for a dissenting view.

[7] See Meiri to Sanhedrin 63b. Also: “Pok Chazi Mai Amah Davar” (For more on this concept see Eruvin 14b; Yerushalmi, Peah 7:5; Shu”t Harosh 55:10).

[8] Hagahot Maimoniot, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 5:10.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

101 comments

  1. What to do then with “Mordechai”?

  2. Nevertheless, one should probably not use the word “Christ”

    Actually, I have been wondering for a while about a construct where the word “christos” applies to a real anointed king, a mashiach, such as the kings of Yehudah and Yisrael, or to Cyrus, who, in Yesha’yahu’s prophecy, is called meshi’hi, “My anointed one.”

    Planets and days of the week were, AFAIK, named after those deities and their service, so I am not sure that the heterim you mention suffice. However, regarding Zeus, there is an additional hetter, namely, that the cult of Zeus seems to have ended many centuries ago. Similarly, nowadays, hardly anyone worships Thor (the god of thunder; Thursday), and the entire Graeco-Roman sun and moon worship has disappeared (African sun and moon worshipers are unconnected to the names Sunday and Monday), so that hetter would apply to the days of the week and the planets. Sadly, I cannot chapter and verse this hetter right now (lazy commenter I am ;-)), but it’s worth referencing.

  3. What about a name like “Vishnu”? (which is the name of a Hindu deity, and is still a commonly used name among people from India)

  4. Jerry-

    The Gemara says that Mordechai is alluded to in the Torah – mar dachya.

    Why could there be an issue with “Mordechai”?

    Ari Enkin

  5. Rael-

    Seems to be the same shayla, but possibly more problematic since Hinduism is idolatrous.

    Ari Enkin

  6. I once had to ask about using the names of government programs named after Greek idols. I was told I could refer to the Apollo program by name(for those of you too young to remember this was the series of rocket launches to the Moon.)

  7. Mordechai from Marduk. Esther from Astarte.
    Christos in Greek means mashiach in Hebrew, or anointed in English, not saviour or lord. They are just later connotations. I’m surprised you didn’t discuss the permissiblity of saying Christchurch, given the recent earthquake. R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin discusses these questions at length in his Shu”t Benei Vanim. Whatever the strict halakha, it strikes me as in very bad taste for a Jew to use words like Jesus in common parlance.

  8. Since @HaDarda”i mentioned Christchurch, I should point out that Tzehelm is the Jewish name of the Austrian town Deutschkreuz (on the Hungarian border). The story is told that once upon a time, when the newly elected rav’s postcard reached his family back home in Poland, with his greetings from his new community in Christchurch, they all sat shivah.

    Bombai/Mumbai seems an actually more serious question, as that AZ is still actively worshiped and the association is proudly maintained in teh name.

  9. A learned man I know refers to Pupa-Tzeilim as the Christian Chassidim, Pope and cross. 🙂

    I always look at it from the other angle: A real religious Christian would consider it blasphemy to curse saying “Jesus!” So perhaps freely using the name is actively *dismissing* Avoda Zara.

    A kvetch, I know. It sort of comes naturally when you grow up in a Christian country, I think.

    Personally, I think it’s much more offensive when people refuse to say things like “San Diego.” This is especially true in Chabad, where we see things like “S. Francisco” or even “Simcha Monica.” I suppose they wouldn’t say Beit El or Ginger Ale either, though.

    “So too, Mohammed himself is not worshipped in any way.”

    Well, maybe not officially, but the riotous cult that developed over the cartoons et al seems to show something different.

    “since Hinduism is idolatrous.”

    This is not completely clear, not the least because there is no one religion called “Hinduism.” Certainly there are some branches that stress one god, not many.

    “Chi” does not appear alone, but with Rho (“P”), but your point is well taken. Again, I’d davka say “Christmas” rather than “Holidays” or some nonsense.

    Finally, “Buddha” is a title, not his personal name. Some sects worship him; some don’t.

  10. A minor question regarding paragraph 3, was “Jesus” used before it was taken up by another religion? I think it’s a Latin transliteration from the Greek from the Hebrew. I presume that the Hebrew form was used beforehand. But were the Greek and Latin forms? Does the form or transliteration matter? That is, would a different form or transliteration be regarded as the same name or not?

  11. @SC: Josephus uses Greek forms of Hebrew names profusely, which shows that by that time, that was fairly common. I do no see why Iesu for ישוע, which is a form of יהושע already found in early Bayit Sheni literature, would be different. Usage probably dates back to the beginning of the Hellenist era.

  12. HaDarda”i-

    Keep in mind that Jews name their children Matthew!

    Ari Enkin

  13. Ben Sira, who lived about 200 BCE, is called Jesus. (Or his father is; the exact line is unclear.)

  14. The “X” in “Xmas” is a representation of the letter chi because they have a similar appearance, but there isn’t a direct correspondence. The “x” sound in Greek was represented by another letter that has no Latin equivalent.

  15. I will contemplate this further while drinking a refreshing glass of Ginger Ka-le 🙂

  16. What about the month Tammuz, an Akkadian deity? See Ezekiel 8:14.

  17. There’s a joke (supposedly its true and happened in a shul in Miami) where a guest is given hagbahah. He lifts up the Torah and immediately exclaims “Jesus this is heavy” and begins to sway to and fro in an effort not to drop it. Another person present at the back of the shul, seeing this, yells out “For Chrissakes, somebody help him!”

  18. Just noting that the Darchei Teshuvah (147:7) is also lenient about saying the name Jesus: http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14570&st=&pgnum=287&hilite=

  19. Michael Rogovin

    Given that whatever their association with mythology, no one worships these deities anymore, and the uses of the names are cultural references/relics, I wonder if the prohibition is relaxed. That would not, of course, apply to Jesus or any other presently worshiped deities.

    On the other hand, there was a thread on a list serve about a year ago that a child enamored with the Percy Jackson book series used the names of the characters (Greek deities and demi-gods) in play. At one point on Shabbat before a meal, imitating a repeated scene from the books, he “offered” the kiddush grape juice to “Poseidon” much to the consternation of the father (who poured the juice down the drain, assuming it could not be used, having been made an offering to AZ). Greek, Roman and many other deities are commonly used in English as names of buildings, ships, products and people (as well as days, planets, etc.).

  20. Nice article, and have a happy birthday!

  21. Mordechai Tzion

    Some are strict in this regard, such as the Satmar Rebbe, who did not call it Satmar but rather SaKmar.

  22. RAE: The Gemara says that Mordechai is alluded to in the Torah – mar dachya.

    Right. The motivation for this comment is precisely that it’s not a normal Jewish name. It’s a Babylonian name (Marduk). Ditto for the explanation of Esther (Ishtar – I saw Ashtarte mentioned above, but I think the Hebraized form of that deity’s name is Ashtoret) This becomes clear from the name of the OTHER Mordechai in Tanakh which is even more explicitly Babylonian: Mordechai Bilshan.

  23. How about the great Jewish name Isidore, which means gift of Isis.

  24. With the kind permission of our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student, I would offer a conservative interpretation of the Darkhei Teshuvah that he excellently cites. I think Darkhei Teshuvah permits saying the name of the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s motion picture when there is a meaningful pedagogical purpose to doing so, “lihaveen ulihorot”. If a Gemara Maggid Shi’ur is teaching the sugya in Avodah Zarah 10a, and he realizes that there are missing words in Rashi (s.v. umi mukmei), then the Maggid Shi’ur may indeed wish to identify the protagonist in Mel Gibson’s motion picture as the subject that Rashi is discussing. But just to articulate the name of the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s motion picture as a means of emotionally jarring oneself or others is certainly not within the vocabulary of any Jew. Jews are righteous and speak with refinement; we even change the first word in Tractate Pesachim for the purpose of doing so.

    Parenthetically, in the fascinating story that R’ Rafael Araujo excellently cites, I am certain that the magbihah meant to say “Cheeses – this is heavy”, and what he intended was to indicate the weightiness of the obligation to eat kosher cheeses. The gemara in Avodah Zarah 35a (explaining a highly enigmatic exchange between the Tanna’im in the mishnah on 29b) declares that (in a certain dimension) the weightiness of the rabbinic obligation to eat Gevinat Yisra’el is even greater than the weightiness of observing mitzvot di’oraita.

  25. I actually heard from my Rabbi, that the name Mara Dachya is itself an allusion to the possible non-kosher origen of the name, as there are many mepharshim like the Ibn Ezra who hold that מור is the dried scent of an animal extracted in a non-kosher way.

  26. ““So too, Mohammed himself is not worshipped in any way.”

    Well, maybe not officially, but the riotous cult that developed over the cartoons et al seems to show something different.”

    See the reception one would get in Eastern Parkway if one were selling cartoons about RMMS A’H.

  27. My father heard the Rebbe zy”a say Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed in a sichah some 50 yaars ago.

  28. Shalom, it’s kinda odd that your post fits your criteria to a T and yet you can’t bring yourself to type the man’s name.

    But I know one prominent Jewish scholar who also avoids it when he can (“The founder of Christianity”), so who am I to talk.

  29. Parenthetically, on a pshuto shel mikra level, this pasuk in Shemos can’t mean simply mentioning the names of other gods for any reason at all, since there are numerous places in Tanakh where psukim refer to other gods (aside from marduk and ishtar (in the names Mordechai/Mordechai Bilshan and Esther) we have baal, baal pe’or, ashtoret, sin, asherah, molech, kemosh, etc.).

    Furthermore, many have pointed out (most recently I heard R. Wieder from YU say this) that Tanakh sometimes makes mention of pagan gods while at the same time demythologizing them. Thus, we have mention of pagan gods like tanin, yam, mot, shachar, etc.). From what I remember of R. Wieder’s point, sometimes the origin of these terms as referring to deities is in fact preserved in Chazal, as in the case of “yam.”

  30. The more I speak to Hindus, the less I am convinced that they may be worshipping idols. Rather, it seems to me that a) they believe in one God, and b) he has these meshorsim, lehavdil kevayochol, who are in charge of different portfolios on his behalf, and c) they don’t think the meshores idol itself is a getchke, but rather it is a representation of the meshores. They don’t really think, for example, that when they give something to a figure representing the meshores that the figure eats it for dinner.

  31. “Mordechai Tzion on March 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Some are strict in this regard, such as the Satmar Rebbe, who did not call it Satmar but rather SaKmar.”

    It is possible that he did but that would demonstrate that he didn’t know roumanian. Satumare does not mean st. mary ; it means greater satu. Oradea mare= Grossvardein etc.

  32. Mordechai Tzion

    Shalom Piateletka!
    You are correct. In many sefarim about the Satmar Rebbe, it is written that he did not know Roumanian.

  33. According to Wikipedia, the original meaning was a Hungarian personal name that was reinterpreted into Romanian. But myths are a powerful thing.

    Another example of god names becoming chol: The beginning of Ekev talks about “shegar alephecha ve-ashterot tzonecha” and “deganecha, tiroshecha, yitzharecha.” These are the names of the gods of cattle, sheep, grain, wine, and oil, although the Bnei Yisrael probably didn’t even know this back then, much as we don’t think that Wednesday is Odin’s Day or that Neptune is anything other than a planet. (Dagan does appear later in Tanach, turned into a fish god.)

    Isaac, one important thing to note is that you probably are talking to educatd, Westernized Hindus. They certainly have what to be “somech” on in Indian tradition, much as MO/ rationalist Jews can be somech on the Rambam (l’havdil), but others have other traditions. And I don’t think it’s meshartim as much as avatars, not that some groups in Judaism don’t have similar (although certainly not identical) things.

    I suppose a question is, what happens when the hamon am don’t worship correctly? Certainly there are Christians who venerate icons almost as divine, even though Christianity doesn’t preach that, for example.

  34. “I do no see why Iesu for ישוע, which is a form of יהושע already found in early Bayit Sheni literature,”

    Incidentally this is one of many cases in which Israelis don’t pronounce their H’s. We see the same in the Yerushalmi (R’ “Yudah”), and in modern Israeli pronunciation! Somehow, things never change.

    “The beginning of Ekev talks about “shegar alephecha ve-ashterot tzonecha” and “deganecha, tiroshecha, yitzharecha.” These are the names of the gods of cattle, sheep, grain, wine, and oil,”

    Which came first? The Canaanite sea-god was named “Yam”, but presumably the deity was named after the sea, not vice versa.

  35. >Which came first? The Canaanite sea-god was named “Yam”, but presumably the deity was named after the sea, not vice versa.

    Unless they were never separated. We look at an ocean and see an ocean, but ancient pagans may have looked at it and seen a mighty god.

  36. “The Canaanite sea-god was named “Yam”, but presumably the deity was named after the sea, not vice versa.”

    On what basis do you make this assumption? This assumption seems logical from a Biblical perspective (since we’re so used to “yam” simply meaning “sea”), but that just shows how exceedingly successful Tanakh was in demythologizing and neutering these false gods!

    But as far as the Canaanites were concerned the god “Yam” was not just an abstract personification of “water” or some such, but some sort of monster (like a dragon, or sea-serpent). Yam is paralleled in Ugaritic texts with Leviathan, who also seems to be a sea-serpent of some kind. The Babylonian pantheon has a somewhat similar water deity, Tiamat (similar in that both Yam and Tiamat end up being deposed by another god).

  37. To Issac and Nachum – I am responding to your comments from work at the request of a Jewish co-worker. The mistake you make is to see Hinduism as one monolithic religion. Under the title Hinduism you find Vaishnavites, Shaivites, and devotees of Devi. You find advaitins (monists), dvaitins (dualists) and visishtadvaitins (qualified monists). We share a common scripture (Vedas) and beliefs in dharma, karma, re-birth, etc. Similarly, the use of statues / idols and what they represent differs among groups – whether it is merely a visible way to focus the mind on a greater non-visible reality or whether it is a true manifestation of God. I would also like to correct your use of the term “Hindu God”. As a Sri Vaishnava, I worship Vishnu and Lakshmi. Vishnu is not a “Hindu” God or an “Indian” God – he is the God of the Universe worshipped under many names. In American water is called “water”, in Spain “agua” in Germany “wasser” – its one liquid, many names. Were it otherwise, I would – as a resident of the USA – need to seek another God. Thank you. Narasimha Ramanuja Srimannarayan

  38. Nachum,

    Forget Chabad. I’ve heard Rav Willig actually seriously entertain the notion that one can’t say “St. Nicholas Ave.” I’ve long wondered why anyone considers Rav Willig Modern Orthodox. Both his halachic hashkafos and his manner of speaking are quite yeshivish.

  39. Narasimha: Thanks for contributing. Of course, probably none of us can speak as authoritatively as you on this subject, so it’s most appreciated.

    Baruch: Wow.

  40. R’ Nachum,
    Thank you for your kind words. Indeed, it appears that I am personally stringent on this point.

  41. Dear Narasimha Ramanuja Srimannarayan,

    Like R’ Nahum, I thank you very much for contributing the information you provided. I recommend that you visit http://noahidenations.com/ for information on the Noahide Code, which provides Torah guidance to all human beings on how to fulfill the Will of the Creator of the Universe. May the Giver of the Torah bless you with ultimate success, both worldly and spiritual.

  42. Dear Narasimha Ramanuja Srimannarayan,

    Just to clarify my previous comment so I do not appear to be sending mixed messages: I am thanking you for the information you provided, because the information you provided helps Jews better observe the principles of Torah law contained in the Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zarah. [E.g. the information you provided may have implications for Jews being able to don wigs from India, etc. etc.] And at the same time, out of gratitude for the valuable service you have rendered, I as an Orthodox Jew am recommending that you embrace monotheism as dictated by the Noahide Code. Hence my reference to a website that promotes the Noahide Code. Thank you for your kind understanding, and once again all the best wishes.

  43. This am haaretz’l wants to know whether Yeshu’s name, and for that matter, Mohammed’s name should not be uttered, not because of AZ, but rather in accordance with the posuk ושם רשעים ירקב

  44. Rabbi Spira, I mean this in this nicest way possible: you sound like (to put it in your terms) “Jews for the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s motion picture” right now.

  45. lawrence kaplan

    Note that the Rambam considered Christianity to be idolatrous, yet in (the uncensored version) of Hilkhot Melakhim refers to Yeshua ha-Nozri.

    Rabbi Spira: If it’s good enough for the Rambam…

  46. MiMedinat HaYam

    to Isaac Balbin on March 2, 2011 at 12:28 am (regarding the hindu a”z):

    dr berger once mentioned that whenever he speaks to his “christian fellow professionals” and inadvertently mentions that cathloics worship idols (in / outside their churches), he is corrected that these idols are only “representations” of the saints, not the saints (i.e., a”z) themselves. or so they claim.

    2. the haftraha that specifically mentions “khmosh elohecha” (chol)

  47. Srulie-

    That verse is not forbidding the mention of reshaim. For example, we do say “Hitler”, “Amalek” etc. We then add “yimach shmo” in the spirit of that verse.

    The verse is there to remind us that their names are garbage.

    Ari Enkin

  48. Mr. Spira’s last post is terrible. I’m somewhat embarrassed that is even appears here and offer an apology. Even if true- and it’s not- סיג לחכמה, שתיקה, you know.

  49. Srulie, I’m not so sure that Yeshu- even as described in the Gemara- can be described as a Rasha. Certainly there are grounds to go either way. And, of course, as the center of the Christian religion, he’s become much more than a historical figure.

    Mohammed is a whole ‘nother story.

  50. R’ Nachum,
    Thank you for expressing your important concerns. I stand by my words, for they correspond to tbe theme of the Malkhuyot blessing of the Rosh Hashanah mussaf. Namely, we Orthodox Jews look forward to all human beings, including the distinguished citizens of India, accepting the Kingship of the Giver of the Torah. [Regarding the technical halakhic question of wigs from India, here I am not taking any particular stance. I admit that I’m not a connoisseur of the wig industry. R. Moshe Sternbuch has a responsum in Chelek Chamishi of Teshuvot Vihanhagot. Sorry – I don’t have the volume before me at this moment, so I don’t know exactly how he rules. Bli neder, I’ll get back to you. Thank you for patiently waiting. (I also note that my mother recently visited India, and she reports from her conversations with Indians that barbers there take a secular (and hence halakhically innocuous) view of the act of trimming a hair follicle.)]

    R’ Jerry,
    Thank you for expressing your important concerns. One may rest assured that I am completely loyal to Orthodox Jewish theology, “ka’asher tzivah Hashem et Mosheh” (to cite a key phrase in this week’s Parashat Pekudei). I will take greater care in the future to formulate my statements in an Orthodox Jewish manner.
    Happily, I am rescued by Mori ViRebbi R. Kaplan, who pointed out that I am going beyond the letter of the law in avoiding mentioning the name of the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s motion picture. [In this respect, I am emulating R. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb’s example, in the press conference he delivered following the release of that motion picture.]

  51. Ari – Precisely my point. We would say yimach sh’mo on a rasha, and then utter his name needlessly?

    Nachum – Wasn’t ישו a מחרף ומגדף? Also, doesn’t the word ישו stand for ימח שמו וזכרו which is only said on a rasha?

  52. R’ Spira —

    Your commitment to evangelizing the true word of God is commendable; but, I must point out that as an infinitesimally small minority in the World population, we have historically been victims of this very same theological exceptionalism when it has been applied to us.

    Due to a comment on another thread, I was reminded about the huge debate that occurred in mid-19th century Britain when a Jew was repeatedly elected to the House of Commons, but felt unable to take office because it involved an unambiguously heretic oath. In the debate that ultimately ensued, the head of the Church of England stated:

    From http://www.jewish-history.com/occident/volume7/sep1849/disabilities.html:

    “The Earl of Eglinton objected to the bill, chiefly on religious grounds. The Jews suffered no persecution in this country; but the solemn duty of their lordships was not to permit those who did not believe in Christ to legislate for a Christian Church and nation.”

    “The Archbishop of Canterbury believed that the effect of the bill would be to lower the character and obligations of members of parliament, by making it a matter of indifference whether they belonged to the Christian communion.”

    “The Bishop of Oxford [Dr. Wilberforce, son of William Wilberforce of the slave-trade abolition memory,] professed the kindest feelings toward the Jews, individually, but would not admit them into Parliament; for, by so doing, they would destroy the foundations of the greatness of that Christian England, which had hitherto afforded them an asylum.”

    We no longer live in a time or place when others feel the need to save our souls. Perhaps, we ought to refrain from offering such help ourselves.

  53. R’ IH,
    Thank you for your kind words as well as important response. I agree with you that a Jew is not halakhically required to proactively promote the Noahide Code for Noahides, as RJDB explains in Benetivot Hahalakhah III (pp. 50-57). We are only required as Jews to provide guidance in the Noahide Code when we are actually consulted by Noahides for guidance. However, in terms of Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah, we Orthodox Jews are certainly obligated to believe that the prophecy of Mosheh Rabbeinu is eternally true, to the exclusion of all prophecies that claim to supercede Mosheh Rabbeinu. To that effect, RYBS speaks in Confrontation of “our expecting confidently the fulfillment of our eschatological vision when our faith will rise from particularity to universality”. Hence, on a website like Torah Musings dedicated to Orthodox Judaism, it is permissible for me to profess my belief in the truth of Mosheh Rabbeinu’s prophecy. [Indeed, RMDT cites the Torah Musings website approvingly at the culmination of his recent shi’ur regarding hilkhot piku’ach nefesh at
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/755404/Rabbi_Moshe_D._Tendler/Organ_Donation_-_Halachic_Imperative
    That’s an awesome compliment to R. Student and R. Enkin.]
    Thanks to your excellent insights and response, I think I have phrased my words in a people-friendly manner.

  54. “Wasn’t ישו a מחרף ומגדף?”

    The Gemara implies that; it also implies that he meant to do teshuva but was prevented from doing so wrongly.

    And the Gemara’s account isn’t exactly historical. I think the description may be applied to the Jesus of the New Testament as well, but I also think he says contradictory things. So like I said, what he can be called isn’t clear. I wouldn’t follow him myself, and don’t think others should, but I’m just not sure “Rasha” is correct.

    “Also, doesn’t the word ישו stand for ימח שמו וזכרו which is only said on a rasha?”

    Erm, no. It’s short for “Yehoshua.”

  55. Returning to see if there were any comments or follow-ups to my comment, I would like to address Mr. Spira: I am neither insulted by nor interested in pursuing your suggestion. I am very glad to be a serious adherent of the religion to which I was born. I would like only to encourage you to use your enthusiasm for your own tradition to educate the masses of your own Jewish people. I am from South India living for a short time in the USA. You might be aware that India (especially the North)has many young Jews seeking spiritual knowledge and fulfillment in the dharmic religions – Hinduism and Buddhism. Ironic – in light of your suggestion – your Jewish descendents have more of a chance of practicing some sort of dharma than mine do of practicing a Western religion. Peace

  56. Dear Narasimha Ramanuja Srimannarayan,

    Thank you for your kind wishes of peace. Thank you, as well, for your encouragement for me to bring Torah teaching to the Jewish People. Indeed, the Giver of the Torah said to Moses: “Behold I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the [Jewish] people shall hear when I speak to you, and also in you shall they believe forever” (Exodus 19:9). Peace

  57. “Wasn’t ישו a מחרף ומגדף?”

    This is why the study of Jewish History is very important. In this particular case, the study of early Jews and Christians makes a big difference. How and when did Christians develop an identity separate, and antithetical to an identity as a Jew? How and when did Christians come to reject Jewish law? My own sense is that this happened in different ways for different people at different times. In other words, these questions have more than one answer.

    Other questions make this even more complicated. Who were the leaders of the Jews during this period? Were there more than one set of leaders? On what basis did leaders arise (theological, political, ideological, etc.)? Did most Jews identify with the Bayis Sheni “sects” that we know of? If so, how? If not, then what did most Jews believe/do?

    These are all really difficult questions to answer.

  58. R’ Jerry,

    Yi’yasher kochakha for the excellent questions.
    Regarding who were the Oral Torah leaders of the Jews during the period of the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s motion picture, we have the answer from the Rambam’s introduction to Mishneh Torah where he lists the forty links from Mosheh Rabbeinu until Rav Ashi.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=39979&st=&pgnum=3

    Regarding the historicity of the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s motion picture, R. Ovadiah Yosef in Shu”t Yabi’a Omer III, Yoreh De’ah no. 9 writes that the script of the motion picture is not accurate.

    Regarding the importance of studying Jewish history: Good point. In the 1988 brain death symposium with HaRav HaGa’on RMDT and HaRav HaGa’on RHS, R. David Berger poses a question to RHS. In introducing R. Berger’s question, the moderator says “Dr. Berger… Perhaps Rabbi Berger here… I’m not sure which one…”, thus highlighting the central roles of both the Jewish historian and the Rabbi in the beit midrash.
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/711848/Rabbi_Moshe_D._Tendler/Definition_of_Death_II
    (62:40 into the recording)

  59. בן זומא אומר, איזה הוא חכם–הלמד מכל אדם

    It seems to me that the exchange with Narasimha illustrates this point. Negotiating with one’s self dullens the mind and blinds the eyes.

  60. R’ IH,
    Thank you for the valuable Pirkei Avot guidance you have offered. I agree with you. At the same time, Pirkei Avot’s opening mishnah clearly professes belief in the eternal truth of Mosheh Rabbeinu’s prophecy. [“Mosheh kibel Torah mi-Sinai umesarah li-Yehoshua…”]

    I should have also mentioned that our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student has published an article regarding the historicity of the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s motion picture.
    http://www.angelfire.com/mt/talmud/jesusnarr.html
    It would be interesting to compare R. Student’s approach with R. Ovadiah Yosef’s approach. [I can’t comment on this further because I have not studied the two sources with sufficient diligence to offer a comparison.]

  61. MiMedinat HaYam

    the discussion here reminds me of one of my professors at yu (r dr reiner) who told us there is no historical proof that jesus (come to think about it, i recall he used the name) ever existed.

    the historical proofs are :

    1. the talmud — consisting of excerpts taken in and taken out of the talmud, even contradicting one another. nor is there any clear definition of him being one person, or an amalgam of diff people.

    2. the gospels — a biased source. not valid as a source, historiographically (?sp?) either way, they were written by his (supposed) followers, were aimed at presenting a certain vision of such a (possibly fictional) character, etc. and they contradict each other.

    3. josephus — but we know excactly which pope couldnt believe that jesus was never mentioned in josephus’s writings, the prime historical souyrce of the era, so we know exactly which monk was commissioned to add exactly what to the vatican archives of josephus. and we have prior manuscripts that do not mention jesus at all.

  62. lawrence kaplan

    MMHY: Dr. Reiner is neither an expert on early Christianity nor on jospehus. His “proofs” are very weak. Why don’t you brush up on recent scholarship which universally believes that Jesus was an historical figure.

    Where in the world did you get your information about Josphus?

  63. MiMedinat HaYam

    lk:

    he is an expert on ancient near east texts, the course this was mentioned in.

    and this discussion was with regards to “historiography”, or the science of history. which is his field.

    the josephus matter is well known. i even had a discussion about it with a realcatholic, (who acknowledged, but poo-pooed its importance.) i assume you can google it.

  64. Rabbi Spira,

    Your unique style of thinking and writing (in addition, of course, to your great erudition) is always appreciated. I anticipate much talk-past-each-other if I venture down the path of engaging this discussion, so I’ll just add one note: I did not say anything about “Oral Torah” leaders.

  65. Medinat,

    I’m not sure exactly how RD Reiner qualifies as an expert on anything relevant to this discussion. The only published material I can find from him (from, at the latest, the early 70s no less) is on Yosippon, or related inyanim. Aside from the obvious points about relevance, I would note that a lot has happened since 1972 (the last time I can find a record of him publishing anything).

    For what it’s worth, I’ve heard Louis Feldman – a much more respected and respectable source – express skepticism about the historicity of Jesus. But again, a lot has happened since his heyday. As much as I admire Dr. Feldman, I think you’d be very hard-pressed to find a scholar today of the Bayis Sheni period, New Testament, early Judaism, Josephus, etc., who actually believes Jesus was a fictional character.

    I would also point out that using your criteria, one could easily argue that, say, most of the tannaim are fictional characters.

  66. R’ Spira — are you suggesting the two mishnayot are related? I.e. Ben Zoma’s mi’Kol Adam is limited to those who accept the mesorah as per Avot 1:1 (and ?

    If not, I’m not sure what point you are making?

    FWIW, my comment was not directed at you, per se.

  67. Prof. Kaplan, regardless, I thought it was pretty universally accepted that Josephus didn’t necessarily write everything he supposedly says about Jesus- that at least certain crucial words were added later.

  68. Nachum,

    The “James, brother of Jesus” passage is pretty much accepted in modified form. There aren’t really any grounds to remove it altogether, since it makes very good sense in context (and Jesus is hardly the only messianic instigator that Josephus mentions), and the heavily Christian interpolation into the passage is pretty easy to identify. While there are some scholars who accept the reference in its entirety, and some who reject it in its entirety, I’d say most scholars accept the modified passage – and thereby accept the identification of James and Jesus within the passage.

  69. Lawrence Kaplan

    Nachum: Jerry said exactly what I was about to say in reply to you.

  70. MiMedinat HaYam

    there were, shall we say, several jesus type characters during the end of the bayit sheni period, per josephus ( i guess, per other comments above, and per contradictory talmud statements which seeem to indicate an amalgam of different characters, subject to removal and insertion and rewriting, etc.)

    recall, too, the hiding of the dead see texts for many years by those who originally claimed it would shed light / be the main historical documents of the period, which turned out to be a complete “dud” for them. (not much of anything in the very end, anyway.)

  71. R’ Jerry and R’ IH,

    Thank you both for your very kind words. Vihamevarkhim yitbarkhu. Yes, you reading me correctly: I believe that – by definition – the leaders of Jews are the Oral Torah leaders, and I also believe that Ben Zoma’s mishnah in Pirkei Avot is dependent on the opening mishnah in Pirkei Avot, such that one can only learn theology from people who believe in Mosheh Rabbeinu’s prophecy.

    I do have to apologize, though, for a misrepresentation I committed yesterday. I had claimed that R. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb never articulated the name of the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s motion picture in the press conference he delivered following the release of that motion picture. I have now reviewed the press conference ( http://www.ou.org/videos/5764/rweinrebtp.wmv ), and R. Weinreb does articulate the name once during the press conference. [I guess I was wrong to rely on my biased selective memory! My apologies.] Still, it was clearly a legitimate pedagogical technique for R. Weinreb “lihaveen ulihorot” (and it was a superb lecture by R. Weinreb, to that effect. I would personally prefer a partition at future such lectures so that Kaddish Dirabbanan can be recited at the end, though I do not insist this is necessarily an absolute mitzvah as it is in the synagogue, and in any event this does not detract from the greatness of R. Weinreb’s speech).

  72. Re: “My apologies”. I am apologizing to my fellow distinguished readers of this website. I am not apologizing – chas vichalilah – to the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s motion picture. No such latter apology is needed, (nor permitted as a matter of Jewish tradition.)

  73. R’ Spira — I understand this is the current fashion, but I think you will acknowledge it was not always so. There is, for example, the sugya from Sanherdin I raised in the BSD discussions that indicates Rebbe not only consulted Antoninus, but acknowledged that he learned a correct theological view from him.

    Shabbat Shalom

  74. MMDH: “recall, too, the hiding of the dead see texts for many years by those who originally claimed it would shed light / be the main historical documents of the period, which turned out to be a complete “dud” for them. (not much of anything in the very end, anyway.)”

    This is not an accurate description of the dispute over control of the DSS prior to 1991, and even less accurate a description of the scholarly appraisal of the DSS since then. In any event, not sure what any of this has to do with the historicity of Jesus.

  75. “I believe that – by definition – the leaders of Jews are the Oral Torah leaders”

    I know that you believe this. That was never in question. Your views are definitely…interesting.

  76. “I believe that – by definition – the leaders of Jews are the Oral Torah leaders”

    Either way today this is the case, baruch Hashem.

  77. Rabbi Spira: on the leaders within the Sanhedrin, see Acts 23:1-10. Maybe your statement would therefore make better sense if it read “I believe that – by definition – the leaders of Jews SHOULD BE the Oral Torah leaders” (also, maybe “sages” would be a better term, since while we both believe in the non-written complement to Toras Moshe, the term TSBP appears quite late – that doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist until later, just that the name we give it would be anachronistic in the 1st century CE).

    Even if you respond by quoting the makor in Megillas Taanis about Shimon b. Shetah and the Sadducees in the Sanhedrin, one could respond in at least three ways: 1) by saying that this state of affairs clearly did not last, 2) by saying that he chased them out ON THAT DAY – meaning not permanently, but simply on that occasion, or 3) simply by disputing the historicity of the story. (I don’t have any firm views on this question, so one would probably be best advised to check Vered Noam’s fantastic edition of Megillas Taanis).

  78. I never really got this one:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_H._Christ

    Ari Enkin

  79. R’ IH,
    Thank you for your kind words of response and your excellent proof from the gemara in Sanhedrin 91b. I think that where the gemara itself cites and endorses a lesson derived from Antoninus, we can be certain that it is a valid source of theological guidance. This is similar to the fact that Par’oh, Avimelekh, Lavan and Bil’am are all sources for theological guidance in the narrative of the Pentateuch. Since the Torah includes their words, they are sources of wisdom.

    R’ Jerry,
    Thank you for your very kind words of response and excellent rejoinder. Thank you, also, for apprising me of the Vered Noam edition of Megillat Ta’anot. I lack sufficient rabbinic stature to be permitted to read the Book of Acts, pursuant to the limitation RMF places on this in IM YD 2:111. RMF allows only Jews who are “Gedolei Hador” to read the book, and S. Spira is the last individual who would qualify under such a rubric.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14676&st=&pgnum=181
    Thus, I apologize that I am unable to respond to the important issues you have raised.

    As a “consolation prize”, however, at least I was finally able to see R. Moshe Sternbuch’s responsum on wigs from India (Teshuvot Vihanhagot V, Yoreh De’ah no. 260). He is indeed stringent, claiming that the wigs have the status of an offering to religious worship, from which a Jew may not receive benefit. Of particular interest is R. Sternbuch’s invocation of the Rashba to Tractate Avodah Zarah 51b, s.v. “vi’otan”. R. Sternbuch concludes his analysis by reminding the righteous ladies of Israel that they are heroes for declining to donate gold to the calf, and that they should repeat the same heroism in the wig context.

  80. Parenthetically, in the responsum of RMF I referenced, he refers to “mikhtavi hakodem” (my previous letter). This does not mean the immediately preceeding teshuvah (no. 110) because – as one can see – that teshuvah is unrelated, but rather apparently refers back to no. 53, which addresses the same topic and was sent to the same recipient. http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14676&st=&pgnum=69

  81. R’ Spira — there is much interesting discussion one could have on your most recent comments. But, I am curious as to why — given your views — you choose to live in a country whose formal head of state is her “most excellent Majesty, acting according to the laws of the realm, is the highest power under God in this kingdom, and has supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil.”

    Surely, Israel, The Jewish State; or even the US or France which have no established religion by law, would be less problematic from the halachic perspective of RMF.

    Just curious, really…

  82. “I lack sufficient rabbinic stature to be permitted to read the Book of Acts, pursuant to the limitation RMF places on this in IM YD 2:111. RMF allows only Jews who are “Gedolei Hador” to read the book, and S. Spira is the last individual who would qualify under such a rubric.”

    A quick perusal of this tshuva indicates that you would kal v’chomer be forbidden to read many of the DSS (since some of it might be tziduki/beitusi literature – and surely Essene literature, if that is what it is, counts equally as part of this category), anything in the NT, or any of the apocrypha or pseudepigrapha.

    This is not the time or place to analyze this tshuva in depth (although I think there is much room to interpret the mekoros differently from how R’ Moshe did, and if I have time I’ll post some thoughts later), but from a practical standpoint suffice it to say that it would appear to me that many of my personal gedolim and rebbeim at YU do not agree with this tshuva. Either way, if this is how you pasken that’s fine, but I regret to say that this means that if so, you cannot possibly make any serious contribution to a conversation about Jewish history during this period. That is unfortunate, but I’m sure you understand!

  83. lawrence kaplan

    Rabbi Spira seems to believe that RMF is the posek aharon whom he must follow, certainly le-humra.

    IH: Be serious.

  84. Prof. Kaplan: with respect, if your student is so serious about the evil of Christianity and other external influences, it is legitimate to question his choice to live in such a forbidden society now that Medinat Yisrael exists (however theologically imperfect).

  85. Reminds me of the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David steps on the hand of the reform rabbi as he is placing down the glass at a wedding renewal ceremony and the cleric shouts “J.”

  86. Lawrence Kaplan

    IH: Had you suggested Rabbi Spira move from Canada to Israel, I would agree with you But you you mentioned France and the USA as well. Take it from one who knows– and you can also ask any sociologist while you are at it: the USA is much much more Christian than Quebec.

  87. Lawrence Kaplan

    By the way: Rabbi Spira took just two courses with me at McGill: 1)Introduction to Jewish Law; and 2) a reading course in Talmud. For better or worse, I am not exactly his Rebbe muvhak.

  88. Prof. Kaplan: Fair cop. The 2nd edition is more accurate (as is usually the case).

  89. Prof. Kaplan:

    RE: “the USA is much much more Christian than Quebec”

    HUH? Let’s compare the French (Quebec only!) national anthem of Canada and the national anthem of the USA.

    Quebec is one giant Catholic consulate!

    Regards,

    Ari Enkin
    (Cote St. Luc 1976-1989)

  90. Lawrence Kaplan

    Ari: Compare the percentage of churchgoers in the USA to Quebec. The churches are EMPTY in Labelle Province. You,like IH, mistake symbols for the reality. As if the French anthem or Queen Elizabeth have anything to do with the facts on the ground!

  91. Actually, I did not mistake symbols for the reality. I chose not to argue the point that Canada, by choice, remains subservient to the Church of England because this would take the topic adrift.

    The issue I was raising was demonstrated sufficiently by the Israel point, which Prof. Kaplan conceded.

  92. Lawrence Kaplan

    IH: my apologies. I should have made it clear that I was just referring to your first post on the issue.

  93. I thank Mori ViRebbi R. Kaplan for effectively and accurately advocating on my behalf. I am particularly appreciative to him for noting that I am following RMF only “li-humra”, so as to be consistent with the analysis I presented in the BSD forum. Namely, although I believe RMF interpreted Chatam Sofer to equate BSD with death, RSZA counter-interpreted Chatam Sofer to equate BSD with doubtful life, and so I believe “safek nefashot lihakel” (as per Shabbat 129a) requires concern for RSZA’s counter-interpretation in the post-1991 era. [And vice-versa: Although RSZA interpreted the Noahide Code as granting flexibility to how Noahides apply the laws of homicide, RMF questioned this, and so here – too – I believe one must be stringent. This results in a doubly stringent halakhic outcome that neither RMF nor RSZA personally fathomed.]

    R’ IH,

    Thank you for your kind response. I agree with you that all things being equal, a Jew should always aspire to live in the Land of Israel, as per Rambam Hilkhot Melakhim ch. 5. “Li’olam yadur Adam bi-Eretz Yisrael.” As Rambam makes clear in that chapter, this is not a halakhic obligation per se (because a Jew is allowed to live anywhere in the world except Egypt) but is certainly a highly advidable course of action. I accept your important admonition and will investigate whether my geographic location can be modified to best comply with Torah values. I think, at the same time, there is a special mission for Diaspora Jewry to fulfill as per the gemara in Pesachim 87b that “the Holy One blessed be He did not disperse Israel among the nations except in order to acquire converts [i.e. to spread knowledge of the Noahide Code to humanity. We do not proactively seek literal converts.]” This theme is particularly pronounced in the last sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe before his death, where he speaks of redemption coming from North American Jewry as residents of the “chatzi kadur hatachton”. Moreover, I see Diaspora and Israeli Jewry currently co-existing in symbiosis. In other words, Diaspora Jewry plays an important role in supporting the interests of Israeli Jewry (and vice-versa). [By way of analogy: the Yom Kippur garments of the Kohen Gadol must be produced in the Diaspora (mishnah, Yoma 34b).] Therefore, I believe it is permissible for a Jew who was born in the Diaspora to continue to live in the Diaspora, at least under present conditions. “Bikhol hamakom asher Azkir et Shemi, Avo elekha u-Verakhtikha” (Exodus 20:20), and thus the Shekhinah will visit anywhere in the world that a Jew studies Torah.

    I am glad that you have eloquently articulated the incompatability of Mel Gibson’s film with Jewish tradition. Yi’yasher kochakha. One may note that I am careful to describe the protagonist of Mel Gibson’s film as a “protagonist” (a neutral and diplomatic term). There are definitely positive aspects to the conduct of righteous Noahides who are educated by Mel Gibson insofar as the Noahide Code is concerned. But you are correct to employ the word “evil” in the sense that it would be evil for a Jew to betray – chas vichalilah – his role as an Orthodox Jew for any foreign religion (Mel Gibson’s or otherwise). There is no substitute to Orthodox Judaism for the Jewish soul. That’s precisely the point RYBS renders in “Confrontation”, RMF renders in IM YD 3:43, and RSZA renders in Shulchan Shelomoh, Erkei Refu’ah I, p. 138. [In the latter source, RSZA prohibits a Jew from receiving medical treatment at a hospital whose purpose is to convert patients to a foreign religion, even in a case of piku’ach nefesh for the Jewish patient.] And this is the message of R. Weinreb’s press conference. At 5:23 into the recording, R. Weinreb calls the themes of Mel Gibson’s motion picture “false beliefs”, and then a moment later is careful to further explain “false beliefs – from a Jewish point of view”. R. Weinreb’s remarks (like yours and R’ Jerry’s) are good Jewish theology and good diplomacy.

    R’ Jerry,

    Thank you for your kind response. I agree with you that your personal Gedolim, as well as yourself, are all halakhically authorized to read the Book of Acts. I am only disqualifying myself, apropos the principle “lev yode’a marat nafsho” (Proverbs 14:10 – a person knows his own incompetence, cf. Yoma 83a). Regarding whether RMF’s responsum prohibits a Jew from reading the Apocrypha, there is a contemporary responsum in R. Aharon Yehudah Halevi Grossman’s Shu”t Vidarashta Vichakarata III, Yoreh De’ah no. 32 devoted to whether a Jew may read Mishlei Ben Sira.

  94. lawrence kaplan

    Rabbi Spira: Just to be clear; I tried to present your position accurately. I did not say I agreed with it, which, in fact, I don’t.

  95. There’s a story – supposedly true – of a young woman who, on taking the dip in the mikveh to conclude her conversion, found the water to be a bit on the chilly side and ejaculated ‘Jeezus!’ The rabbis supervising proceedings heard her, called her out and told her she needed more time before she was ready to convert. Apparently she successfully converted a few months later.

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