‘Kosher Jesus’ and other oxymorons

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Click photo to download. Caption: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Credit: DRosenbach.

In theory, interfaith debates may sound like a good idea. After all, how could the free, open exchange of ideas be anything but beneficial for anyone within hearing range? But the reality is that, more often than not, they’re platforms for one side to try and convert the other, to hawk newly published books and DVDs, or both.

This involves the use of public spectacles as a means to degrade Judaism and persuade Jews to abandon their heritage. The church has been doing this since at least the 13th Century; of course back then, such debates were mandatory for the Jews. Now, apparently, that which we were once coerced into doing, we now volunteer for. Such was the case March 13 at the New York Society for Ethic Culture, when Rabbi Shmuley Boteach debated Christian scholar and missionary Dr. Michael L. Brown regarding the premise of Kosher Jesus, Rabbi Boteach’s most recent book.  

In Kosher Jesus, Boteach tries to close the rift between Jewry and Christendom, arguing that the Jewish community needs to embrace Jesus as one of our own. In so doing, we can teach the Christian community a thing or two about the one it worships, and foster in a new era of goodwill between Christians and Jews. “For the first time in two millennia,” writes Boteach, “we can forge a deep bond of togetherness using Jesus of Nazareth as a bridge, even as we understand him in completely different ways.”

Boteach’s theories on Jesus as a Pharisee and a distinguished teacher of Torah are primarily based on the works of the late Hyam Maccoby, a distinguished but controversial British biblical scholar.

Professor Maccoby theorized that the progenitor of the Christian religion was actually the Apostle Paul, a notion dismissed by almost all modern scholarship. He holds that the Synoptic Gospels were edited heavily to reflect developing theologies, and that the original Gospels can be restored by lifting the non-Judaic Christian elements out of the story. Cherry picking to reconstruct someone else's theology, though, is no less misguided and morally questionable an undertaking when done by Jews, than when Christians apply the same techniques to the Hebrew Bible in order to undermine Judaism.

Boteach, in his debate with Brown, ably brought to light one of the key deficiencies in the Christian New Testament—namely, why does the Gospels’ account of Jesus’s execution go so easy on the Romans who carried it out? But neither side presented any argument explaining what, if anything, would render Jesus “kosher.”

The problem with the title is that the word kosher implies that the subject referred to as such is acceptable for Jewish consumption. That is not the case here.

The New Testament canon was compiled exclusively to teach the world that Jesus is their lord and savior, a messiah and man-god who came to this world and died for their sins. This is completely antithetical to Jewish thought. It borrows liberally from the authentic Jewish scriptures, adds a heavy dose of pagan mythology, frequently misquoting Hebrew texts and conjuring up historical events.

Even if someone was to argue that the historical Jesus was a good man, the New Testament itself is essentially the only source to which one can look, and its own words have to be edited to demonstrate that. Indeed, a “kosher” Jesus would have to undergo a pretty heavy scrubbing before he could even look the part. People holding that he was a great rabbi would have to whitewash or completely ignore certain texts. One example would be how Jesus that treats his mother like a second class citizen in the wedding at Cana in John chapter 2, where, when she notes to him that they had no wine for the wedding, and he responds by saying (in verse 4) “Woman, what have I to do with you?”

Does that sound like the reverence spoken of in Exodus 20 and Leviticus 19? Does it sound like behavior fitting a sinless man?

Compare and contrast Jesus’s treatment of his mother with our sages’ view. The Talmud in Kiddushin 31b has the sages of blessed memory pointing towards the actions of Dama ben Natina for how someone should treat their parents. Dama (who was, incidentally, not Jewish) was approached by the sages, who sought to purchase some gemstones from him to use in the breastplate of the High Priest. The sale would have garnered Dama ben Natina an enormous profit. But alas, the key to the vault was under his father’s pillow. So rather than deprive his father of one moment of rest, he turned the rabbis away, foreswearing the business deal of a lifetime as he did so. There is simply no comparing this gold standard to Jesus’s conduct. And this is hardly an isolated incident. Observe, for instance, Jesus’s treatment of his family in Matthew Chapter 12:

“While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, [Jesus’s] mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with him. Then one said to him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with you.’ But he answered and said to the one who told him, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ And he stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’” (Matthew 12:46-49, italics added for emphasis)

When his own family came to speak with him, and someone told him that they wanted to see him, what did Jesus do? He turned to his audience and said, in essence: you are my real family. A thorough deconstruction of the alleged words and deeds of the Christian deity is beyond the scope of this essay, but you can see where we’re going with this.

Judaism has done quite well over the past 2,000 years without Jesus, having survived against all odds, those odds usually being stacked by self-professed followers of Jesus, who went to extraordinary lengths to exterminate us, both physically and spiritually. We don’t need the Gospel message, we don’t need a watered-down version of it, and we certainly don’t need a “kosher Jesus.”

Frankly, we have some serious misgivings about the hechsher

Moshe Verschleisser is the New York Regional Coordinator for Jews for Judaism Baltimore, the only full time counter-missionary organization on the East Coast. Jews for Judaism Baltimore provides education and counseling to concerned individuals, families, and communities affected by missionary activity. For information, questions or to schedule lectures, call (410) 602-0276, or email Baltimore@jewsforjudaism.org.

Daniel Perez is Managing Editor of the Jewish Voice, a weekly publication serving the New York City metro area, as well as select locations in New Jersey and Florida. You can read more from the Jewish Voice at www.jewishvoiceny.com. Mr. Perez can be reached at dperez@jewishvoiceny.com.

This column is distributed by JointMedia News Service with the permission of the Jewish Voice.

Posted on April 1, 2012 and filed under Opinion, U.S..