Sunday, May 11, 2008

Toward Formulating a Jewish View of Jesus (Part II)

(This is a continuation of an earlier post.)

While all that I have said previously is true, it does not really address the core issue. The very question of what role does Jesus play within Judaism or how do Jews view Jesus is predicated on the assumption that Jesus plays some sort of role within Judaism. The truth of the matter is that Jesus, from a strictly theological perspective,[1] plays no role within Judaism. This, it should be pointed out, is different from Islam where Jesus, even though he is not viewed as divine, is venerated as a prophet.

While this notion that, from the perspective of Judaism, Jesus is irrelevant may seem to be almost a tautology, internalizing this concept, in practice, would require many Christians to rethink how they approach Judaism. Traditional Christian thought views Jews through the lens of their rejection of Jesus; Jews are people who do not accept Jesus and therefore continue to practice Mosaic Law. A more helpful way of looking at Judaism would be to say that Judaism believes in the Old Testament and Mosaic Law. This strict adherence to the Old Testament has had a profound effect on how Judaism has evolved; one such effect is that Jews do not accept the divinity of Jesus nor do they believe that he superseded the Law.

Viewing Judaism from the perspective of their rejection of Jesus makes it very difficult to understand Judaism as it forces one to always view Judaism within the context of Christianity. This leads to a rather unhelpful line of discourse. Why do Jews reject Jesus? Why would someone continue to practice Mosaic Law; don’t they know that it has already been fulfilled by Jesus? Don’t Jews know that the Old Testament predicted the coming of Jesus? How can Jews simply believe in the God of the Old Testament, who judges and punishes, and reject the love and forgiveness that is Jesus? This line of questioning ultimately leads to a caricature of Judaism as this inflexible, close-minded religion, built around law and judgment, with no sense of love and forgiveness.

In order to understand Judaism, one must be willing to understand it on its own terms. In order to do this one must come with a very different set of questions. How do Jews read the Old Testament? What role does Mosaic Law play within Judaism? How do Jews understand God? What does Monotheism mean for the Judaism? How do Jews understand Messianism? Most importantly one has to ask the question: how have Jews throughout the ages understood their Judaism and how have they struggled with each other over this matter? Such a line of questions would allow a person to formulate a more nuanced view of Jews and Judaism. Judaism can become something more than just a straw-man for Christian polemicists, something that exists in its own right and has its own legitimacy.

An excellent example of such an inquiry is Judaism by Hans Kung. This book, by a Catholic theologian, has to be counted as one of the best one-volume works about Judaism out there. As I Jew I must acknowledge that Kung treats Judaism with near perfect fairness. I challenge any Jew out there to write a book about Christianity that treats it with equal fairness. Kung wrote this book to teach Christians about Judaism in order to further the cause of ecumenical dialogue. He also wrote a book on Islam.

[1] The figure of Jesus has traditionally played a very important cultural role for European Jews. Many Jewish customs have elements in them that were meant as social polemics against Christianity.


C. J. said...

I started out as a non-church going Christian. This was due to my mother's lost faith in the insitution of church. If you knew the reasons why, you'd shudder and not blame her. So, I was raised as a christian, loosely, because my father never allowed religious discussions to go on at home when he was around. My mother didn't do my teaching, however handed me a Bible, put on Christmas and Easter specials. I was taught the ten commandments and lived by them and in general the golden rule.

When I hit that awkward nearly an adult phase of life, my mother sent us all to church. It was an interesting experience. Though not religious in the sense of going to church every Sunday I was a religious girl. I followed the ten commandments, held to a high moral code, and I prayed to God regularly in my own way. I saw nothing wrong with it. Though rarely stepping in foot inside a church in my youth many of my friends deemed me to be religious, christian or jewish, though none had ever seen me go to either place of worship.

So, back to the point: Jesus. Even as a Christian, I never saw Jesus as divine. He was a man, a good one. I understood him to be a prophet of God sent to strengthen the belief in God. Mind you, I was self taught as a child. Literally, my view was Jesus is great, but he is not God. Was he the Son of God in my world? Yes, because we were all said to be the children, the creation of God. I didn't see him as being a more special child. As for cruxification and dying for my sins, I believed that no man or woman pays for the sins of others. Nor did I believe that I had to be Saved to go to heaven. This was all my belief as a practicing Christian Baptist. Needless to say, I had difficulty in my mother's chosen church.

When it comes to Jesus, my opion is this and I have heard it taken by several Jews: Jesus is a Jew who lived and helped people. He probably had some knowledge of medicine at the time and helped the poor because no one else would. He preached in order to bring the spirit of the law back to the people, perhaps trying to restore a bit of morale to the Jewish people after being oppressed by Rome. If he preformed miracles it was as God's prophet. As for the crusification, I am more apt to believe that it was Rome deciding that Jesus had the ability or did incite riot amongst the Jewish people.

My ex-pastor would probably crusify me, pray for my soul to return to the flock, and such. I have nothing against Christianity, except people feeling this compelling need to convert me back or at the time keep me a Christian. In general, though this might get me in trouble with my rabbi, Jesus and Christianity in general has played to be both good and bad in the world or for people, just like every other religion. Belief in Jesus give people comfort and the ability to get through hell in their lives, in general people need something to believe in, that goes for agnostics and athetis. Athetis tend to believe in themselves if nothing else. Who am I to take about another's faith, I respect a person's right to believe what they wish and practice so long as they are harming no one in the process, in this, it is an expectation of mine that other leave me to practice what I chose so long as I am not going out an harming anyone.

Perhaps not a formulation on Jewish Veiw of Jesus, but it is this Gal's view. I started out Christian and became Jewish. I do encourage others to read up on religions other than their own to form a bridge of understanding like Izgad linked for us in his post.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled accross your blog and like what you've written here. I wish more in the Jewish community would think like you, it would make things much easier for people like me.

I have christian background, but my studies of the historical Jesus have led me to Torah and Judaism. I have much respect and interest in the historical Jesus, and in a sense, as much as one can, I do consider him my Rabbi who brought me to HaShem and the Torah.

My wife and myself are learning Judaism now from orthodox sources and working toward conversion, yet we have been turned away because we still hold that Yeshua of Nazareth was a righteous Jew and was a prophet who predicted the destruction of the second temple. We hold that he was a man, but an innocent righteous man who taught Torah and was killed for his service to HaShem. We do believe his death brings a type of atonement to the world, like the deaths of all the Tzaddikim. Our beliefs are not outside of Judaism, our faith is centered on HaShem and His Torah and we hold to the 13 principles of the Jewish faith.

Yet, because of our positive views of the historical Jesus, we have been shunned by the Jewish community and have been told we can never convert. We believe HaShem will make a way for us. We are striving to learn and apply Torah now and, G-d willing, we'll find a way to convert soon, with our positive views of Yeshua intact.


Andrew H.

Izgad said...

I sympathize with your situation. In an ideal world believing that Jesus was a righteous man and a prophet, whose death, just like the deaths of other righteous people, achieved an atonement for the world, would not bar someone from converting to Judaism. That being said in the world that we live in things are not so simple. I am not sure if you are familiar with Jews for Jesus and other such Hebrew Christian groups, but there have been documented cases in the past in which these groups have sent Christians to "convert" to Judaism as a means of infiltrating the community and spreading Christian beliefs. In light of this situation when the rabbinic establishment hears the words "belief in Jesus" they will automatically assume the worst and nothing you can say will convince them otherwise.
To give an example; during the 1950s there was a wide spread fear of Communism and for a good reason. There was a very real Soviet threat. In such a climate a person who was known to be into Karl Marx would automatically be treated with suspicion. Now granted one can see value in the work of Karl Marx without being a Communist or a supporter of the Soviet Union. That being said such a person would not have been able to get a job with the State department.
Have you considered the Bnai Noach movement?

Anonymous said...

I have considered this...and have studied these things. I quit doing a lot of Torah as I pursued this..but ended up taking it all back as I found permission to to this from certain Rabbi's I've had contact with. I am much happier living the Torah and the 7 are not enough. It is a starting place for me, not an ending place. I think this is the way with most who have been in this movement.


Bob MacDonald said...

A throw away comment at the end of Romans shows that Paul considered Jesus to have been 'the servant of the circumcision'. (Romans 15:8)

You are right about the barrier of incarnation and trinity and about love of Torah and Moses. I think there is less contradiction than is evident in the common views. The covenant dialogue of the Psalms is deeply shared by both traditions. Perhaps if we considered the Gentiles worshiping the God of Israel (as Romans 15 implies) more unity than disunity might emerge. Jesus 'at the centre' is certainly a problem too as you note - e.g. the veil of the temple as an icon of his flesh. More bold than Korah!

Nonetheless, if one could accept the circumcision of the Gentiles in the crucifixion (Colossians 2:11) then even the Abrahamic covenant is not nullified. Still, I can see that every generation will wrestle with these difficulties - if not with these, then perhaps with worse ones.