01/13/2012 06:45 am ET

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach Interview

By Lauren Markoe
Religion News Service

(RNS) Celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, spiritual counselor to Michael Jackson and author of the best-selling "Kosher Sex," is about to publish "Kosher Jesus." The Orthodox Boteach deems it "the true story of Jesus of Nazareth ... a man who lived, taught and died as a Jew."

It is also, he says, a book that can mellow Jewish antipathy toward Jesus and better explain Jesus to Christians. In Judeo-Christian tradition, he writes, "Jesus is the hyphen that unites us."

But some right-wing Jews have already denounced Boteach as a heretic for promoting Jesus, and the rabbi has heard from some conservative Christians who don't appreciate the chapters on why Jews reject the idea of Jesus' divinity.

Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why are so many Jews so uncomfortable with Jesus?
A: Here you have the most famous Jew of all time who became the symbol and the source of world anti-Semitism for two millennia, and countless Jews died in Jesus' name. So Jews then naturally assume that he is the height of un-kosher.

But it seems absurd that we would have allowed so prominent a figure to be divested from his people without even getting to the bottom of the story.

Q: What do Christians fail to understand about Jesus as you have studied him?

A: The true story of Jesus is that he was a patriot of his people who was completely Torah observant and fought against Roman oppression. It's time for non-Jews to discover the source of those teachings.

Evangelical Christians want to bring values to the country, but notice that their attempt to do so is politically polarizing. One of the reasons for this is that Christians are not focusing sufficiently on the humanity of Jesus.

Q: What's the problem with focusing on Jesus' divinity?

A: When you focus on someone's divinity, you judge other people by a standard of perfection. When you focus on their humanity, you judge other people by a standard of struggle. You are more forgiving and less judgmental.

The Jewish Jesus is a very human Jesus because the word "Israel" means "he who struggles with God." There are no perfect people in the Hebrew Bible.

Q: You've got a beef with the Apostle Paul, who is widely considered the founder of Christian theology.

A: He claims to be a disciple of one of the greatest Torah scholars of the ancient world, yet it seems certain that he could not read Hebrew.

In Deuteronomy, the Bible says it's a curse to God to leave a man hanging on a tree. Paul interprets the tree to be the tree of the Torah. In that mistranslation, he relegates Judaism to a subservient status. It's "replacement theology" and a wildly inaccurate translation. Thank God our Christian brothers and sisters no longer advocate replacement theology.

Q: Studying Jesus, you have concluded that some Christians have misconstrued his advice to "love your enemies" and "turn the other cheek." Why?

A: They're often misused as a justification for pacifism. Jesus resisted the brutality of the Romans. Jesus said to love your enemies. He never said to love God's enemies. Your enemy is the guy who took your parking space. Jesus said overlook it; I agree 1,000 percent. He never says love the Emperor Caligula, who's killing everybody in ancient Judea.

Q: Oprah gave you your own radio show. You had Michael Jackson's ear. Why do you associate with celebrities?

A: My first consideration is nothing other than helping someone in need. But to the extent that famous people have strong followings, they can help propagate a wholesome message. Judaism has useful universal values that are healing for people and for society. I took Michael Jackson to synagogue, but I never tried to convert him. We are not a proselytizing people.

Q: And you think Jesus can help spread that Jewish message too?

A: The Jews have relegated themselves to spiritual obscurity. People go to the Dalai Lama to discover their deeper spiritual core. They come to the Jewish community for campaign contributions.

Look how many Jews practice Buddhism and don't know anything about their own religion. Jesus is a person who brought the teachings of Judaism to the widest possible audience.