As the two Jewish websites publishing the most incendiary attacks against me over my upcoming book "Kosher Jesus" have severely limited my ability to respond -- with COLLIVE having removed my response completely -- I have decided to do so here in my regular column.
The only reason I have decided to address Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf of Chicago and the legion of irresponsible online hate-mongers he now heads, is for the sake of my children. I raised them to love Chabad for its devotion to every Jew, its heart and its humanity. Read the comments that are attached to Rabbi Wolfe's attacks on me and what you'll see is something utterly unrecognizable. A frenzied rabble accusing me of being a Christian, invoking Hitler's name and mine in the same sentence, demanding that I be thrown out of a Jewish movement -- or worse! And rhetoric so inflammatory that is borders on incitement.
I just returned from Israel where the country was up in arms over a Haredi man who spat in the face of an eight-year-old girl and where another Haredi man was arrested the next day for calling a female soldier a 'whore' on a bus for refusing to move to the back of the bus. The comments attached to Rabbi Wolfe's diatribe sadly seem to be the natural continuation of such dangerous, religious fanaticism. Only this time, tragically, it is members of Chabad, the Jewish educational movement committed to being different. We are witnessing a battle for the very soul of the movement. Will Chabad be overtaken by ignorant extremists who condemn a book that they have never even seen, let alone read, and call for the excommunication of a Rabbi who has devoted his life to fighting the battles of the Jewish people? Will they call me and the book to be banned?
My children go to school in Crown Heights, and I am highly concerned at them having to read these sickening, stomach-turning comments and attacks. The incendiary comments being posted on Crownheights.info and Collive are a violation of Judaism and Jewish values. The incitement must stop.
One would expect that Rabbi Wolf, who is himself an educator, would be more responsible before launching a series of rabble-rousing personal attacks. One shudders to think of the example he is setting for the impressionable young minds who are his charge. Rather than engaging in an intelligent discussion of the subject, based on Jewish sources and facts, he continues to indulge his rank ignorance of the Second Temple period and early Christianity, libelously claiming that I am advocating that Jews embrace a Christian Jesus while in fact the very essence of the book is that true story of Jesus is of a Jew who adhered to Jewish law and taught his followers to do the same.
"Kosher Jesus" is a work of scholarship and it is difficult to convey its complexities in a defensive article on a website. But one of the core ideas which Rabbi Wolf in his considerable illiteracy of the development of early Christianity and the Talmudic take on Jesus overlooks is that, according to the Talmud, there are at least two major Jesus figures. He is confusing the Talmud's Yeshu, who was a student of Yehoshua ben Perachia (Talmud Bavli, Sotah, 47a), with the Jesus who would later be connected to Christianity. The two cannot be the same person since no one disputes the fact that Yehoshua ben Perachia died about 130 years before the destruction of the Temple, that is, at least 100 years before Jesus was even born, which makes it impossible for Christianity's Jesus to have been his disciple. The Seder Hadoros likewise explains, based on these Talmudic sources, that there were two major Jesus figures. (Josephus goes further and speaks of approximately 22 historical figures of the time with the name Yeshu). Hence, Rabbi Wolf's continued insistence that I am asking Jews to embrace Jesus is a deliberate attempt to simplify an extremely complex and scholarly argument. That's the problem with the knee-jerk religious extremism. It dismisses nuance and seeks to create bogeymen.
My book "Kosher Jesus" explains all of this. It is designed to educate Jews like Rabbi Wolf who are utterly ignorant of the source materials, as most Jews are. Indeed, one of the reasons that Jews fall prey to Christian missionaries is that they don't know the facts. All too many Jews have been lost to a faith not their own through a simple inability to respond to missionary claims. Rabbi Wolf would prefer to keep them in the same darkness where he himself resides, even if it robs them of the immunity to missionary arguments that "Kosher Jesus" offers, although that is not its primary purpose. The reason missionaries make inroads in converting Jews is that most of our people are utterly ignorant of the Jewish and Christian source material with regards to Jesus and how to respond.
Rabbi Wolf could have easily read the book, or at least got in touch with me, prior to his unforgivable call that a Jew and fellow Rabbi be expelled. He did not do so because his purpose is seemingly to attack rather than enlighten.
His focus on the Israeli Haaretz newspaper account of my press conference in Jerusalem was deliberately taken out of context. I said that Jews should embrace the truthful version of Jesus as opposed to the heavily edited Christian depiction. What missionaries seek to do in converting unsuspecting Jews is portray Judaism as a failed religion that was replaced by Christianity. Their intention is to show Jews that without a divine Jesus they cannot achieve salvation from sin. But contrary to these demeaning and false claims, Christian scripture is itself absolutely clear that Jesus kept the entire Torah and advocated that any Jew who did not do likewise would be cast out from heaven. It is this Jewish Jesus -- the one that "Kosher Jesus" uncovers from the pages of the New Testament itself which was edited so as to deny some much of Jesus' Jewishness and intentionally Romanize him -- that I am asking Jews to reclaim. The book seeks to inspire Jews who have embraced Christianity to come back to their people and keep every letter of Jewish law as Jesus himself both advocated in the New Testament and adhered to himself. Jesus, according to even Christian scripture, led a completely Jewish life and was killed by the Romans for opposing their tyranny and paganism, as the source material quoted in "Kosher Jesus" explains. How absurd that Jews would accept a deliberately distorted version of Jesus' life -- designed to appease Rome and blame the Jews for Jesus' death -- rather than discovering the truth.
Publisher's Weekly, in its first review of "Kosher Jesus," called it an "informed and cogent primer on Jesus of Nazareth.... a brave stab at re-evaluating Jesus through an intensive look at the New Testament and historical documents... and a well-researched analysis that will certainly reopen intrafaith and interfaith dialogue," and it is good to get their stamp of approval on a book that will no doubt be challenged by my Christian brothers and sisters as to its conclusions that Jesus never claimed to be divine and fought the Romans on behalf of his people.
Rabbi Wolf could easily have used the very same computer with which he sent his harangue to COLlive to simply Google my name where he would have encountered tens of audio and video debates between me and leading Christian missionaries all over the world where I am at the forefront of combating efforts to evangelize Jews and reverse the trend by bringing Jews who have converted to Christianity back to Judaism. Those efforts are the reason that Christian missionaries -- many of whom I have come to know personally through our debates -- are feeling so threatened by the book and working overtime on a response.
In my book I actually included blurbs from leading missionaries who condemn my conclusions due to how it proves that Jesus never intended to do anything but persuade Jews to keep Rabbinic Judaism. That is why at the press conference it was Christian reporters rather than the Jewish journalists who debated the book's conclusions. (The full audio and video of the press conference will be made available on my website.) They argued that my book, which demonstrates from Christian and Jewish sources that Jesus never claimed to be divine and struggled to uphold the Torah, is insulting to Christianity.
I have repeatedly said that I mean no such insult to Christianity. On the contrary. The book is written primarily for my Christian brothers and sisters to rediscover the lost Jewishness of Jesus, how he kept the Sabbath, ate only kosher food, observed the Jewish festivals, respected the Jewish purity rituals, and enjoined all his followers to do the same, emphatically stating in Matthew 5:18 that anyone who did not would be the least in the kingdom of heaven.
The book likewise dismisses the lie -- once and for all, and with considerable scholarship -- that the Jews had anything to do with his death. Indeed, Luke 13:31 makes it clear that the Rabbis actually saved Jesus life when Herod tried to kill him. Similarly, in the first verse of the same chapter describes the brutality of Pilate as a mass murderer, even as the New Testament later tries to absolve him of the death of Christ and blame the Jews.
In "Kosher Jesus" I to trace back the major teachings of Jesus to their original sources in the Torah as a means of demonstrating, not only that Jesus never meant to found a new faith, but also to show how the light of Judaism has permeated the world, even if our faith is given little credit for doing so, with much of its global spiritual contribution going today by a different name.
Here are some simple and basic examples from Jesus' most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teachings are easily shown to be extracted from earlier Hebrew Bible sources:
Jesus: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
Torah: The meek will inherit the earth, and enjoy peace and prosperity. (Psalms 37:11)
Jesus: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)
Torah: Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart. (Psalms 24:3-4)
Jesus: If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:39)
Torah: Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him... (Lamentations 3:30)
Jesus: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
Torah: Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalms 37:4)
Jesus: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)
Torah: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)
Jesus: Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:23)
Torah: Away from me, all you who do evil... (Psalms 6:8)
Jesus: Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:6)
Torah: Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words. (Proverbs 23:9)
Rabbi Wolf should let up on his vicious attacks and incendiary rhetoric and read the book or at the very least call me to discuss the source materials. He should tell his inflamed masses that there is no place for hatemongering in Judaism. To bring an end to this madness, I am prepared to meet him in public debate on this subject at any reasonable time and place of his choosing -- at his first convenience to end this madness. It is a serious offer and I await his response. Rather than fight this out in the pages of websites with attacks against me becoming more and more extreme, let's have a scholarly and civilized discourse.
This essay is written in memory of Machla Debakarov, a close friend of Rabbi Shmuley, who died last year. May her memory be a blessing.