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Jews reclaim Jesus as one of their own
Some Jewish leaders are encouraging Jews to see Jesus as one of their own.
April 5th, 2012
02:36 PM ET

Jews reclaim Jesus as one of their own

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - The relationship between Jews and Jesus has traditionally been a complicated one, to say the least.

As his followers' message swept the ancient world, Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah found themselves in the uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, position of being blamed for his death.

Mainstream Christian theology's position held that Judaism had been supplanted, the Jewish covenant with the divine no longer valid, because of the incarnation of God as Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.

Jews, for their part, tended largely to ignore Jesus.

That's changing now.

In the past year, a spate of Jewish authors, from the popular to the rabbinic to the scholarly, have wrestled with what Jews should think about Jesus.

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And overwhelmingly, they are coming up with positive answers, urging their fellow Jews to learn about Jesus, understand him and claim him as one of their own.

"Jesus is a Jew. He spent his life talking to other Jews," said Amy-Jill Levine, co-editor of the recently released "Jewish Annotated New Testament."

"In reading the New Testament, I am often inspired, I am intrigued. I actually find myself becoming a better Jew because I become better informed about my own history," she said.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a media personality who recently launched a bid for a U.S. House seat, argues in his own new book, "Kosher Jesus," that "Jews have much to learn from Jesus - and from Christianity as a whole - without accepting Jesus' divinity. There are many reasons for accepting Jesus as a man of great wisdom, beautiful ethical teachings, and profound Jewish patriotism."

And Benyamin Cohen, an Orthodox Jew who spent a recent year going to church, admitted that he's jealous that Christians have Jesus.

"He's a tangible icon that everybody can latch on to. Judaism doesn't have a superhero like that," said Cohen, the author of the 2009 book "My Jesus Year."

 

"I'm not advocating for Moses dolls," he said, but he argued that "it's hard to believe in a God you can't see. I'm jealous of Christians in that regard, that they have this physical manifestation of the divine that they can pray to.

"There could be more devout Jews than me who don't need that, but to a young Jew living in the 21st century, I wish we had something more tangible," he said.

The flurry of recent Jewish books on Jesus - including this month's publication of "The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ" by Daniel Boyarin - is part of a trend of Jews taking pride in Jesus, interfaith expert Edward Kessler said.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, Christian New Testament scholars rediscovered the Jewish Jesus. They reminded all New Testament students that Jesus was Jewish," said Kessler, the director of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, England, which focuses on relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

A generation later, that scholarship has percolated into Jewish thought, he said, welcoming the trend: "It's not a threat to Jews and it's not a threat to Christians."

For Jews in particular, he said, "It's not so threatening as it was even 30 years ago. There is almost a pride that Jesus was a Jew rather than an embarrassment about it."

Boteach agrees, writing in "Kosher Jesus" that "Jews will gain much from re-embracing him as a hero."

"The truth is important," Boteach writes. "A patriot of our people has been lost. Worse still, he's been painted as the father of a long and murderous tradition of anti-Semitism."

Boteach aims to claim, or reclaim, Jesus as a political rebel against Rome and to exonerate the Jews of his death. But Boteach's book has attracted plenty of criticism, for instance for blaming the Apostle Paul for everything he doesn't like about Christianity, such as hailing Jesus as divine and cutting his ties to Judaism.

"Paul never met Jesus, and Jesus certainly never would have sanctioned Paul's actions and embellishments," Boteach argues about the apostle who wrote much of the New Testament. "Jesus ... would have been appalled at how his followers would later define him."

"Jews will never accept his divinity. Nor should they," Boteach writes, in one of many instances of presuming to know what Jesus really thought and meant. "The belief that any man is God is an abomination to Judaism, a position that Jesus himself would maintain."

He cherry-picks the Gospels to to suit his arguments, writes in casual modern idioms (calling Pontius Pilate a "sadistic mass murderer" and comparing him to Hitler), and gets wrong the most basic details of the Passion story, such as the amount of money Judas took to betray Jesus.

Other experts in the field label Boteach's book "sensationalistic," and call him a "popularizer," but Kessler sees "Kosher Jesus" as part of the trend of Judaizing Jesus. Cohen, the "My Jesus Year" author, offered some support for Boteach even as he expressed doubts about the book.

"I understand what Shmuley is trying to get at there," he said, but added: "I don't think anyone has the right to say 'This is the definition of Jesus,' especially a rabbi. He's not ours to claim."

Levine, who teaches New Testament and Jewish studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, also framed Jewish efforts to study Jesus in terms of mutual respect.

"Speaking personally as a Jew, if I want my neighbors to respect Judaism, which means knowing something about Jewish history, scripture and tradition, I owe my Christian neighbors the same courtesy. It's a matter of respect," she said.

She urged Jews to "become familiar with the material and make up their own mind as to how they understand Jesus."

Ironically, she added, Jews can understand their own history more thoroughly through studying the life of Jesus.

"The best source on the period for Jewish history other than (the first-century historian) Josephus is the New Testament," she said.

"It's one of those ironies of history that the only Pharisee writing in the Second Temple period from whom we have records is Paul of Tarsus," she said. " 'The Jewish Annotated New Testament' is designed in part to help Jews recover their own history."

But she also wants Christians to use it to understand Judaism more deeply, she said. While many Christian leaders acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew, she said, not many know much about what that means.

"Many Christian ministers and educators have no training in what early Judaism was like," she said. "Not to take seriously first-century Judaism seems to dismiss part of the message of the New Testament."

Cohen, the "My Jesus Year" author, found that Christians were very interested in Judaism during the 52 weeks he spent going from church to church.

"Many Christians look on Judaism as version 1.0 of their own religion. Because of that historical relationship, they're interested in a lot of the theology of Judaism," he said.

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For his part, Cohen learned much that surprised him. "I was shocked when I went to church and heard them give sermons about the Old Testament," he said. "I had no idea Christians read the Old Testament."

"One week, I went to church and the pastor gave exactly the same sermon my rabbi did the night before about Moses and the burning bush, and the pastor did it much better," he continued.

Cohen came away from his Jesus year with a clear understanding of what he believes.

"People ask me all the time if I believe in Jesus. Do I believe he exists? Sure. Do I believe he's your God? Sure, I have no problem with that," he said he tells Christians who ask.

"I understand Christians' love for Jesus and I respect that," he said. "If anything, I learned a lot from them and did become a more engaged Jew, a better Jew, and I appreciate my Judaism more because I hung out with Jesus."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Jesus • Judaism

soundoff (2,641 Responses)
  1. M

    I too believed that Judaism doesn't recognize Jesus at least to follow. I have since been made aware of at least one Jewish place of worship, located in northern Ohio, that feels differently. I've included their url.

    http://www.adatadonai.com/

    January 3, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
  2. Star

    Renowned Rabbi in Israel reveals name of the Messiah...

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0DTT3u2JZ8&w=640&h=390]

    November 21, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  3. james jordan

    Reading the parable of the Net in Matthew 13:47-50 makes it very clear that Jesus had NO INTENTION of creating a religion anything like Pauline Christianity. If he had, there is no way he would have taught this parable.

    The angels keep the GOOD and toss the BAD. Jesus is speaking in MORAL terms, not in terms of believers and unbelievers like Paul and Mohammed love to do. (Paul and Mohammed are VERY similar in many ways.)

    Here is Jesus the Jew: the Jesus the church would crucify a second time if they could. Comparing the doctrine of Paul and the doctrine of Jesus it becomes increasingly clear to me that the only Jew guilty of crucifiying Jesus is PAUL. He’s the only Jew whose doctrine was sufficiently different enough from Jesus’ doctrine to where its believable that he would want him dead. What a racket Paul had going on!!!!!! Kill your opponent, then proclaim him to be a god who validates your own whacky theology! That Paul was one brilliant devil.

    October 7, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • Cloud-man

      No James, you got it wrong - there is no scripture to support your far-off-the-mark interpretation. The Apostle Paul is 100% in sync with Jesus Christ. In your remarks you separate the "good and the bad" from the "moral and the inmoral"; and there is no such distinction in the Bible and in God's view (or Jesus' view, or the Apostle Paul's view. Good people are moral people, and bad people are inmorale people. You cannot be good while practicing inmorality or be bad and somehow still be morale. But to the "world or heathens" they think that they can be without the other. So God, Jesus, will cast out the bad and only take the "good", those who have accepted Jesus as God and have been "covered" by the blood of Jesus. Even though we are ALL sinners, those who accept Jesus, the second death will not touch them, because God will see them as "under the protection" and will considered "good" in the eyes of God. That is the distinction of how we can be considered "good" in the eyes of God. Those who accept the blood, will be protected just like the Hebrew were protected in Egypt during the "Passover"; the angel of death had to "pass over" and not touch those families' first born children. Accept Him and also be protected from the coming judgment!!!

      October 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  4. Anne Marie Garrett

    I agree with Cloud-man Accept Jesus as your Lord and savior so you will be allowed in heaven-Also believe in the Father and Holy Ghost!

    April 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  5. WvCoalMiner

    I believe in Jesus because he fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecy about the messiah. (It's not the only reason why I am a Christian but its the best way to show Jesus's divinity. The old prophets told us everything we needed to know about the Son, the Savior and clearly it was Jesus. I don't understand why the rabbi's can't identify the messiah prophecies to Jesus. Do they think he didn't perform all the miracles, healed all the sick, was born of a virgin, was betrayed by one of his own, beaten and crucified and in 3 days resurrected from the dead, then ascended to heaven for all us sinners so we can have a chance to go there too?

    April 13, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  6. phariseeinrecovery

    Jesus has always been a friend to the Jews, being one himself. If you consider the world and how things normally go, if Jesus were not the Messiah how is it that the United States, who calls itself a Christian Nation, would be so strong in their support of the Jewish Nation of Israel if Jesus were not a friend of the Jewish Nation. Think about it. You would think after the Jewish rejection of Christ we would be their greatest enemies, not so. Jesus loves the Jews and everyone else.

    February 19, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      The US does not call itself a christian nation. There are some citizens that do say that, but they are wrong. The US is not based in theocracy...it is not a christian nation.

      February 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • paradigmcore

      Except for those of us who DO call it a Christian nation. We actually believe that it is more Christian than not (as statistics bear out). Funny enough, there are not yet enough atheists and agnostics here to to call this an atheist or secular nation, although as soon as there are, we'll surely now it in a very real, and painful way. Now China, there is a nation that is not a Christian nation. See the difference? Yeah, it's pretty obvious why we say America is a Christian nation. It's what my drill instructor used to call "monkey easy." It's so easy a monkey can get it. Are any of you dumber than a monkey?

      June 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  7. boguslawa

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    boguslawa http://szkolakosmetologii.wordpress.com

    January 27, 2013 at 6:45 am |
    • paradigmcore

      Wow, boguslawa. That was inspiring. I'm so totally convinced by this random promotion that I'm going to click the link and hire this amazing person that you are promoting. Never mind that it doesn't even make a lick of sense. Never mind that it has nothing to do with the topic of hand. Wait. Hold still. I want to throw money at you. Catch it! Catch my money while I throw it at you.

      June 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  8. Irwin

    Yeshua/Jesus was Jewish, their is no debate on that. And His Father was of course God, though born of a human mother. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Both geneologies are given in the NT or New Covenant. Joseph's in Mathew and Mary's in Luke. Both Joseph and Mary were descended from King David. He is the Promised Messiah of Israel. Believe on Him and follow Him as the Holy Spirit leads you and you will know the truth, and the truth will indeed set you free. God bless.

    January 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  9. Vincenzo Giovanni Ruello

    I have discovered the second shroud type photographic image in the St Peters Veronica Veil showing an alive Jesus Christ about to be crucified 2011
    http://www.veronica-veil.com

    January 13, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
  10. empresstrudy

    This is retarded. I'm ex Chabad you can have Jesus.

    January 8, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  11. Des Currie

    Jesus was not Jewish. He was Galilean, far from Judah and Jerusalem where Jews used to reside. He was from the tribe of Judah which did not make him automaticly a Jew.
    The only place he was referred to as a Jew in scripture was by Pilate prior to the cruxifiction and by the woman at the well in Sameria, both who not in a position to know whether he was a Jew or not. Look at the book of John, (after Luke) where is a scathing attack on the Jews, John would never have been so scathing if Jesus was a Jew.
    So don't denigirate Christ Jesus by calling him a Jew.
    Des Currie

    January 2, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Abe Bird

      Des Currie; Jesus was a Jewish. Being a Galilean meaning a Jew from Northern Israel land. At that time Jews lived even in Greece, Rome, Cartago, Alexandria etc, not to mention of course Israel land itself. Jews were one tens of the population of the Roman Empire. Judah is just the name of the Southern area of Israel Land, where Judea tribe was settled 1200 years before Jesus. Maria came to born her child to Bethlehem Judea because the core of her large family originated from that place and lived there. Jew means in Medieval Latin Judean. Judea was the Jewish kingdom of the second temple time. First Christians were Jews. Christianity was born within Judaism and was spread well among Gentiles. Jewsus was a Jew and dies as a Jew by the Roman conquerors of the land of Israel called at that time Judea, because most of the Jews were descendants of Judea tribe (while all Judeans were of course Jews. Judean is the Greek word for medieval Latin word for Jew and for Yehudi in Hebrew )Judea = Yehuda / Jew = Yehudi).
      Jews are for Christians what Israel is for the world! Christians without Jews are as the world without Israel!!!!

      January 4, 2013 at 1:57 am |
  12. ODa

    I attended a service at the Russian orthodox church where the myrrh streaming icon of Holy Theokos of Iveron was present . http://orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html
    I had a chance to bow my head in front of this icon and the smell of heavenly roses was very strong and myrrh was streaming from the glass. It was a true blessing !

    November 21, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  13. Albert

    Beautiful. Jew and Goy are 1 in God. We Christians esteem Judaism reciprocity will unite the cause of Zion. Jesus yes was a great Prophet and seperate from God but of one mission of the same will. When we say "Forgive us Jesus" we are praying to Jehovah. The Shema is correct. St.Paul is our friend. He founded Christianity amongst the Roman Empire in order to spread God to all nations. Now Israel exists which proves the God of Moses exists. Thank you Israel for gving us Religion. May Hashem Bless You Forever Israel.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:25 am |
  14. kamanakapu

    There are many Truths that you will never find in any religious tome. Here are some of them:
    (a) The only two things every living thing everywhere ever needed were food and shelter;
    (b) Every living thing everywhere had to have a mother;
    (c) There is not a single living species anywhere that truly needed a father, brother, son or husband;
    (c) Truths are constants that have never had a begining, will never have and end, go on forever in every direction, cannot be distorted or destroyed, and can be repeatedly be reproduced or replicated;
    (d) One plus one equals two (1 + 1 = 2) is just one of the infinite constants to be found in mathematics making mathematics the language of Truth.

    October 28, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  15. John David

    "..they will look upon Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only Son". ....Zechariah 12:10 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ...Yeshua/Jesus Mathew 11:28

    October 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  16. R.J. Gramer

    While growing up a catholic in grade and catholic high school, the thought that the Jews were to blame for Jesus's crucifixation was still present, although not heavily discussed. Things have changed, such as my older sister's catholic pastor and many fundamental evangelistists that it was all part of the plan. They accept Judaism and many strongly support the state of Israel. Sometimes History changes in our minds, or at least in our views. Could there come a time when christians accept Islamics in a similar manner?

    October 8, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  17. Good News

    Jesus said: So do not work for food that perishes
    but for the FOOD that endures for Eternal Life
    which the Son of Man will give you! ...

    For this is the will of my Lord,
    that everyone who sees the Son (of Man) and believes in him
    may have eternal Life!
    And (my Lord said:) I will thus raise him on the (Third) Last DAY (=MILLENNIUM)! (John 6/27, 40)

    So here it is,
    in the beginning of this most critical (Third) Last DAY (=MILLENNIUM) now:

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com

    ==UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES!

    October 8, 2012 at 7:25 am |
  18. John David

    "God, in these last days, has spoken to us through His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the world. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." Hebrews 1:2-3

    September 24, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Keith

      So, what point were you trying to make?

      October 6, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  19. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    The Jews can have him... thankfully, take him, I insist... Please.

    September 21, 2012 at 6:06 am |
    • gg

      YOU ARE GOING TO BURN IN HELL

      October 3, 2012 at 2:39 am |
      • thecollegeadmissionsguru

        No, I am not going to hell, because hell does not exist. But, thank you for caring.

        October 4, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Keith

      I'm with you, he hasn't done much for mankind so far except to cause trouble.

      GG – we are probably both better Christians than you pretend to be.

      October 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
      • thecollegeadmissionsguru

        Thanks man, I'm actually an atheist, but it really shouldn't matter, should it?

        October 7, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
        • Keith

          No it doesn't matter, that was my point. I have had a long journey going from being raised in a Fundamentalist home to finding my own way.

          I can accept that I have a spiritual life, which is the part of me that loves, has empathy, cares for others and practices those parts of life that separates us from the animals. If I do that then I will basically follow the tenants of most religions without the bother of joining one of their cults.

          October 8, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Cloud_man

      God said: My people perish, because of lack of knowledge. He also said that the fool says in his heart, "there is no God". I don't say this to offend anyone, but rather because of compansion for your souls. One day we will ALL be judged for our actions, and only those who believed in God and followwed His commandments will receive His mercy and be saved. There is no other way around it. This is the most simple plan of salvation and yet many still refuse to listen to God's word and warnings. You will have no valid excuse on that day when the "roll is called up yonder", and your name is not found in the book of life. All your deeds and offerings will not save you if you did not believe and truly followed His commandments. Analyze your life while you are still in this earthly vessel, and seek Him out in prayer and humbleness - you are ultimately responsible for your own decisions. Why risk you eternity separated from God; in a hot, dark, lake of fire where the demons and the evil-one will pleasure in tormenting your screaming, frightened, helpless soul? Is that what you want for yourself? Open your eyes and heart and accept His free gift of salvation, that He paid with His own blood and suffereing. Now is the time of salvation! Don't gamble with atheism's lies, and the path to everlasting suffering. On that day you will have NO excuse, no matter what you believed, besides His Word and Truth. Friend, do you chose Life or Death? It is your choice

      November 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
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