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The Historical Jesus Is No Longer Taboo

I’ve always said that the only times Jewish people mention Jesus are when they stub their toe, miss the bus, or tell you about their theater tickets to a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera. Two new books will change that. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus and The Jewish Annotated New Testament (edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine). The former discusses the Jewish life of Jesus of Nazareth and the latter is a newly revised edition of the Christian Scriptures with notes and essays from Jewish scholars in the hope of making the “New Testament” accessible to Jews.

In my final years of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, I was living and working in Caldwell, New Jersey as a rabbinic intern. One of the congregants at the synagogue, Agudath Israel, was a professor at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey. She asked me to give a presentation about Judaism to the women in her undergraduate class. In preparation for my visit she asked the students to submit a list of five questions each that they would like me to consider. Without any exaggeration, a full 90% of the students included at least one question about Jesus Christ in their list.

I had received questions from Christians in the past concerning the Jewish view of Jesus, but that experience confirmed for me just how curious Christians are about how Jews understand Jesus in both historical and theological perspectives. Many of the women in that class at the College of St. Elizabeth were surprised to learn that Jews do not consider Jesus to be the messiah and the entire class was shocked to discover that Jesus’ teachings were not part of the required coursework I was doing in my rabbinical school studies. By far, to this day the most frequent questions I receive from Christians all have to do with the Jewish understanding of Jesus.

The topic of the contemporary view of Jesus among Jews has long been stuck somewhere between taboo and “we just don’t talk about it.” But now, thanks to two new books it is front and center. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who refers to himself as “America’s Rabbi” has written a new controversial book that will be released next week. For those who thought Boteach’s Kosher Sex was too radical, his new Kosher Jesus is sure to ruffle feathers. With Boteach, it is difficult to know if he writes these provocative books and articles because he’s genuinely passionate about the scholarly discussion it will generate or if he just lusts after the spotlight. Still playing up his friendship with the late Michael Jackson and very passively campaigning to be the next Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has been busy publicly questioning what all this fuss is about with his new book. In truth, Boteach knows that every Orthodox rabbi and scholar — from Chabad Lubavitch to the Haredim — who attack Kosher Jesus as blasphemous and its author as a heretic are only helping his book sales.



1 Comment

  1. Paqid Yirmeyahu on 02/02/2012 12:37 PM at 12:37 PM

    No longer taboo???

    For more than a quarter century I’ve been publishing this approach, for which my family has suffered slander and extortion–threats to invalidate our Orthodox conversion if I didn’t shut down our website (–from some of the same rabbis who now attack R. Boteach.

    Just last month Yad lakhim circulated an unsigned poster in our neighborhood (Ra’anana, Israel) with my photo warning that I’m a “missionary goy.”

    My wife and I were converted by 2 Orthodox rabbis in 1984. R. Yitzkhaq Peretz (Shas) approved our status–returning Jews under the Law of Return–in 1985. For 27 years our family has lived as Orthodox Jews in good standing, the last decade praying in the Orthodox Yemenite synagogue (Moreshet Avot) as a member of the Amutah. My daughter, now in her 20s, was born a Jewess sabarit, educated exclusively in the dati system, graduating from Amit as the president of the student body, delivering the commencement address and featured in the international Amit magazine for her achievements in science. Now, the local rabbi, Ishon, tells this girl, who has never in her life known anything but Orthodox Judaism, that she is a goyah and cannot marry.

    Why am I not even acknowledged? Consulted? Not even a copy of your book to review?


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