Tales From the Hollywood Zone: Was Jesus actually married?

You probably heard the story before a hundred times before.

A Catholic scholar, devoted to the Church and its doctrines throughout his life, died and went to Heaven, where he was greeted by St. Peter. For his heavenly reward, the scholar asked to see the heavenly archives where he could examine the original manuscripts of the New Testament. Hours later, St. Peter discovers that the scholar is distraught by what his eyes had discovered. One of the main tenets of the manuscript that was believed to state that all members, “…should stay celibate in all matters of sex…” has been found to be in error. The new translation has found the phrase to more accurately read that members, “…should stay, and celebrate in all matters of sex…” In other words, “Celebrate,” not “Celibate!”

The Church and sex . . . it sort of reminds me of the biblical prohibition against mixing meat and milk together–well, guess what? They don’t mix!

Well recently at my Introduction to Judaism class, one of my conversion students asked me the following two questions: “After reading the Da Vinci Codes, I began to wonder: Was Jesus actually married? Was a rabbi of that era supposed to be married? Secondly, what did you think of the movie’s overall premise?”

Let me say from the outset, that in ancient times, there was no official office of the rabbinate in the first century; generally speaking the epithet “rabbi” was an honorific title. Oftentimes, a wise person was called a “Chacham” (a Sage), or “Abba” since a spiritual teacher was considered to be like one who had given birth to a child or a disciple. Let us now examine the issues this person raised.

Now with respect to the old question, “Was Jesus ever mary-ied?” (great pun on “Mary”) The Talmud records an interesting question about Rav Huna (216-296) of Babylon. He is recorded as saying to one of his student, “‘See to it that you do not appear before me again before you are married,’ said he.” The Talmudic redactor observes, that R. Huna felt that “A man who has reached twenty years of age and still has not married, he will spend all his days in sin. ‘In sin’ — can you really think so? — But say, spends all his days in sinful thoughts.”

Another teacher, Rava (Abba ben Joseph bar Ḥama, ca. 280-350) adds, “The Academy of R. Ishmael also taught until the age of twenty, the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and waits. When will he take a wife? As soon as one attains twenty and has not married, he exclaims, ‘Blasted be his bones!’”  In the discussion that immediately follows, the Talmud cites a view from R. Hisda, who got married at a much younger age than 20. He recalls, “The reason that I am superior to my colleagues is that I married at sixteen. And had I married at fourteen, I would have said to Satan, ‘An arrow in your eye.’” [1]

It would be fairly safe to say that many Jews in the first century generally got married at a fairly young age so that they could fulfill the precept of raising a family. One rabbinic aphorism attributed to Ben Azzai (ca. 2nd century) reads: “Whosoever abstains from the precept of procreation is considered as if he shed blood” (T.B. Yebamoth 63b). Despite Ben Azzai’s endorsement of marriage, Ben Azzai remained a bachelor for all of his life, although some rabbinic traditions claim that he was married for a short period of time and got divorced. When accused of not practicing what he preached, he answered: “What shall I do if my soul yearns for Torah? The world can be performed by others” (Ibid.).

After Ben Azzai died, people used to say, “With the passing of Ben Azzai, diligent scholars passed from the earth” (Sot. 9:15). His intellectual pursuits were intensely passionate; he never wanted to be distracted from his Torah studies.

Perhaps Jesus had a similar attitude; and for that reason, he never married. On the other hand, perhaps he did get married; in all likelihood we cannot  know for sure. New Testament scholars readily admit that we know practically nothing about Jesus’ formative years.  This question is of little importance to Jews per se, but is obviously important to Catholics who have long rejected the idea of marriage as a biblical ideal for all of its spiritual leaders, which would explain why celibacy is so important in the Catholic faith.

Now, with respect to the Da Vinci Codes, Brown seems to take the goddess imagery a bit too far.  The protagonist Professor Langdon, observes, “The Grail,” Langdon said, “is symbolic of the lost goddess. When Christianity came along, the old pagan religions did not die easily. Legends of chivalric quests for the Holy Grail were in fact stories of forbidden quests to find the lost sacred feminine. Knights who claimed to be “searching for the chalice” were speaking in code as a way to protect themselves from a Church that had subjugated women, banished the Goddess, burned non-believers, and forbidden the pagan reverence for the sacred feminine.” [2] Continue reading “Tales From the Hollywood Zone: Was Jesus actually married?”

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What Inspired the Rabbis to say, “Thank God for not making me a woman!”? (Part 2)

A Greek Should be Thankful for Three Things . . .

At this point one could ask: What sort of teachings might have inspired Rabbi Judah to formulate these three blessings? There may be two possible sources: Greek or early Christian writings. Of the two choices, I believe the Greek influence is more dominant. However, as we shall soon see, the liturgical texts found in the Cairo Geniza  suggest that the early medieval liturgical scholars may have had Christianity in mind, since the  Graeco-Roman culture was supplanted by the Catholic Church. This, I think, is pretty historically plausible.

The 3rd century biographer Diogenes Laertius  writes,  “In his Lives, Hermippus refers to Thales (what has been sometimes attributed to Socrates) . . . .He thanked fortune for three things: first of all, that he had been born a man and not a beast; secondly, that he was a man and not a woman; and thirdly, that he was a Greek and not a barbarian.” [1]

One could argue that the negative rabbinic statements concerning women must be seen within a broader social context; that is to say, the rabbis’ opinions were formed to a certain extent by the dominant cultural attitudes of its time, which happened to be decidedly Graeco-Roman.

Moreover, the originator of this liturgical blessing, Rabbi Judah HaNasi, (ca. 135-219) used to frequent the company of many of Romes’ high society members, and was believed to even been intimate with the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (ca. 122-180 CE.).

Charles Carlston sums up the Greco-Roman world’s view of women: “ . . . on balance . . . the picture drawn is a grim one. Women . . . are basically ineducable and empty-headed; vengeful, dangerous, and responsible for men’s sins; mendacious, treacherous, and unreliable; fickle; valuable only through their relationships with men; incapable of moderation or spontaneous goodness; at their best in the dark; interested only in sex–unless they are with their husbands, in which case (apparently) they would rather talk. In short, women are one and all ‘a set of vultures,’ the ‘most beastly’ of all the beasts on land or sea, and marriage is at best a necessary evil.” [2]

A Second Possible Source of Rabbi Judah’s Statement

As we mentioned above, Rabbi Judah may have been directing his criticism to new Christian faith. According to Paul, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian,  slave, free; but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11-13). In Paul’s vision of the new Christian faith, the traditional distinction that characterized the old rabbinic view of Judaism no longer applied. For him, the gospel doesn’t confer on one class of people a privileged position in the social order–God doesn’t play favorites; God saves us all in the same way and for the same end.

Do not think for a minute that Paul was necessarily a social liberal–he definitely wasn’t. But he did know how to appeal to perspective converts! For the record, Paul had no problem encouraging slaves and women to mind their societal places–all of which he wholeheartedly endorses. Paul was the world’s greatest salesman–he knew what to say in order to sell his faith–but we shall have to return to this point in another discussion.

This passage is interesting because if we read the Geniza texts of the Siddur, we find language that is very similar to the Pauline passage cited above: ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם אשר בראת אותי אדם ולא בהמה ואיש ולא  אשה וישראל ולא גוי מל ולא ערל חופשי ולא עבד “Blessed are You …who has created me a human and not beast, a man and not a woman, an Israelite and not a gentile, circumcised and not uncircumcised, free and not slave.”

Early rabbinic passages also do not reflect particularly well on women: Continue reading “What Inspired the Rabbis to say, “Thank God for not making me a woman!”? (Part 2)”

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What Inspired the Rabbis to say, “Thank God for not making me a woman!”? (Part 1)

As we have pointed out in other postings, a strong case can be made that one of the most serious  “deadly sins” of history is the sin of misogyny. Every faith grapples with this problem in one form or another. In Judaism, there is a well known blessing men say every day upon getting up in the morning:

“Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler the universe who has not created me a woman.”

The Original Rabbinical Source of the Blessing

The origin of this prayer is found in the Tosefta to Berakhot 6:16 that reads:

R. Judah says: “A man is bound to say the following three blessings daily: (1) ‘[Blessed are You . . .] Who has not made me a heathen’, ‘. . . . (2) Who has not made me a woman’; and  (3) ‘ . . . who has not made me an uncouth person.’”

The Tosefta then explains its rational:  (1)    “. . . a heathen,” because it is written:  ‘Before him all the nations are as nought, as nothing and void he accounts them,’” (Isa. 40:17). (2)   “. . . an uncouth person,” because it is said, “an uncouth person cannot be pious” (Avot 2:5). (3)   “. . . a woman,” for women are not legally required to observe all the precepts.

To what is this matter (i.e., gentile, uncouth people, women who perform the precepts) analogous to? A mortal king once said to his servant, ‘Go cook a meal for me.’ However, unbeknownst to the king, the servant had never cooked a meal in his life! After cooking a meal, the king got upset with him. Another analogy: A king once asked his servant to hem a garment for him, but having never hemmed a garment before, the servant ruined the garment, thus angering the king. [The moral of the story: Let those who are unfamiliar with the observance of the commandments be exempt from observing them, lest they be an affront to their Maker.]

It is interesting to note that unlike the canned apologetic responses seen in subsequent rabbinic literature, which purports that women are essentially exempt from the performance of certain time-bound precepts because of her family obligations, the Tosefta dismisses such a perspective. Her legal exemption from the commandments is because of incompetence and not because of the lack of opportunity.

Re-interpreting the Tosefta

The Talmud discusses part of the Tosefta in BT Menachot 43b:

A learned discussion began: “ R. Judah [1] used to say, ‘A man is bound to say the following three blessings daily: ‘[Blessed are You . . .] who has not made me a heathen’, ‘. . . . who hast not made me a woman’; and ‘ . . . who hast not made me a brutish man.’

One of the Sages, R. Aha b. Jacob, once overhead his son saying ‘[Blessed are You. . .] who has not made me a brutish man’, when he immediately said to him, ‘Isn’t this blessing a tad bit presumptuous?’ (Who says the rabbis didn’t have a wry sense of humor?) His son retorted, ‘OK, what would you have me say instead?’ Surely it is better to say, ‘. . . Who has not made me a slave.’ Once again his son retorted, “ How is this blessing different from that of a woman (seeing that neither one is fully obligated to carry out the precepts of the Torah; in fact they are on equal footing in terms of their obligations)?  His father rejoined, “A slave is more contemptible” (since his character is generally prone to licentious behavior, which is not the case with women).

Now the 2nd century Roman emancipated slave Epictetus would have certainly took serious offense to the Talmudic discussion, had he been included as one of the respondents–but that too, is another discussion for a future date.

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The Lepers’ Messiah (02/04/10)

The Sages often wondered when and where the Messiah would appear. Despite their reticence to make messianic predictions, the rabbis nevertheless believed that his coming remains an eternal possibility. As for the time when this consummation was to take place, it was generally held to depend on the degree of progress men will have achieved in their moral development.

This point is well illustrated in the well-known Talmudic parable. “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi met Elijah standing at the entrance of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai’s tomb.… He then said to him, ‘When will the Messiah come?’ ‘Go and ask him’ was the reply. ‘Where is he sitting?’—’At the entrance of the city.’ And how shall I recognize him? — ‘He is sitting among the poor lepers, untying and rebandaging their wounds, while thinking, ‘Should I be needed, I must not delay.’ …[1]

So he went to him and greeted him, saying, ‘Peace be upon thee, Master and Teacher.’ ‘Peace be upon thee, O son of Levi,’ he replied. ‘When will thou come, Master?’ asked he. ‘Today’ was his answer.” When the Messiah failed to appear that day, a deeply disappointed Rabbi Joshua returned to Elijah with the complaint: “He spoke falsely to me, stating that he would come today, but has not!” Elijah then enlightened him that the Messiah had really quoted Scripture (Ps. 95:7): “Today, if ye hearken to His voice” (Sanhedrin 98a).

One might wonder: Why wasn’t the Messiah worried about ritual impurity? One exposition found in the commentaries suggests that the Messiah is among those afflicted with leprosy (cf. Isa. 53:4); while this is a plausible exposition, I prefer the image of the Messiah ministering to the lepers. The answer to the question is even more remarkable when considering how the ancients marginalized the lepers.

In the days of the Temple, lepers lived outside the cities in special huts, where they all congregated for support. People feared any kind of physical contact with them for fear of contagion, or because of the possibility they might become ritually contaminated.

It was not uncommon for children and adults to throw stones at the lepers because they were the outcasts of ancient society.[2] Anytime a person merely approached a leper, the leper had to say, “Unclean!” in order to avoid contact. One could only imagine the havoc this caused in the leper’s family. The mere appearance of a leper on the street or in a neighborhood was meant that everyone had to avoid him.[3] No one could even salute him; his bed was to be low, inclining towards the ground.[4] If he even put his head into a home, that home or building became ritually contaminated. No less a distance than four cubits (six feet) must be kept from a leper; or, if the wind came from that direction, a hundred were scarcely sufficient. For all practical purposes, a leper was like a walking dead man.

Yet, the Messiah of our story seems as though he could care less about ritual impurity; to him, caring for the lepers is a supreme ethical demand that transcends ritual laws.

Learning to heal the lepers—just like the Messiah

The Messiah’s response is intriguing. Redemption will not occur tomorrow, but today when we emulate his acts of selfless love; messianic redemption comes when we bandage the wounds of those suffering in the world around us. It seems as though the Talmud is suggesting, we have a personal role to play in redeeming the human condition. Redemption comes by living a redemptive life.

Bandaging the open wounds of the lepers, one open sore at a time, is the only viable human response to preparing the world for ultimate redemption. This process begins with treating the forlorn and abandoned members such as the lepers, or the AIDS victims, or anyone with a terrible disease with prayer, consideration, kindness and compassion— regardless of the disease.

The Talmud relates a story that is consistent with the ethos of the Messiah passage mentioned above. “R. Helbo was once sick. But none visited him. The Sage rebuked the scholars, saying, ‘Did it not once happen that one of R. Akiba’s disciples fell sick, and the Sages did not visit him? So R. Akiba personally entered his student’s house to visit him, and upon finding the chamber neglected, Rabbi Akiba instructed his students to clean up the home, and the sick student soon recovered. Thankfully, the student exclaimed, ‘My master—you have revived me!’ R. Akiba began his very next lecture with the statement, ‘Anyone who fails to visit the sick is like a shedder of blood’” (Nedarim 40a). The moral of the story stresses the importance of mutual-aid and responsibility. Simply put, we are our “brother’s keeper.

The French Jewish philosopher Emanual Lévinas stresses how God’s face is mirrored in the face of the ordinary people we encounter; when we see the beggar on the street asking for us to help, God’s face is present in the face of those struggling just to survive–one day at a time. Kabbalists sometimes describe the Shekhinah (the maternal aspect of the Divine) as always present among those who experience pain and loss. Jewish tradition teaches us that we become most God-like when we outflow compassion to a suffering world. Continue reading “The Lepers’ Messiah (02/04/10)”

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Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s bold acknowlegement of Jesus as a 1st century Sage and “Rabbi”

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin created shock-waves across the Internet by praising Jesus as a sage and even referring to him as “Rabbi Jesus.” For many Modern Orthodox and especially Haredi Jews, this disclosure tarnishes the pristine and almost  iconic status Rabbi Riskin cultivated over the last several decades. To his immense credit, Rabbi Riskin has done more to create a legion of  modern ba’alei tshuva (“returnees”),  who has set a path for aliyah and has emerged as one of the most distinguished disciples of the late  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik zt”l.

What are the ramifications of Rabbi Riskin’s glowing assessment of Jesus?  Based on what I have read in the Orthodox blogs, many think that Rabbi Riskin has crossed a line, and this statement is the proverbial  “straw that broke the camel’s back” according to many. Many even accuse him of kefira (heresy).

The video begins:

Shalom to all. My name is Shlomo Riskin. I am the Chief rabbi of the City of Efrat…..I am an Orthodox Rabbi…and an Orthodox Rabbi who is very profoundly interested in religion in general, in Christianity, and especially in the persona of Jesus in particular….I was truly fascinated by the personality of Jesus, whom to myself I have always referred to as “Rabbi Jesus”….because I think he is indeed a “model Rabbi” in many counts…and he lived the life of a Jewish Rabbi in Israel in a very critical time in our history…..I have constantly come back to the study of his personality and his teachings which are very strongly rooted in Talmudic teachings…..”

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a number of Talmudic teachings may well be grounded in the teachings of 1st century Judaism, which included the proto-Pharisaic teachings of Jesus.

Is Rabbi Riskin espousing a new concept that Jewish thinkers never heard of before?  Actually, Rabbi Riskin’s position has a strong antecedent in the writings of Rabbi Jacob Emden, whose euphoric admiration of Jesus stresses that we need to differentiate between the metaphysical Christ of Christianity from the “historical Jesus,” a fact that many Orthodox Jews fail to grasp because of their rudimentary grasp of 1st century Judaism. Simply put, if these critics took the time to seriously study the works of Professor David Flusser, they would walk away with a new appreciation of a hasid (Jesus) whose teachings indirectly or directly influenced subsequent rabbinic thought.

Beyond that, there are other 19th century Orthodox scholars who admired Jesus as a first century Sage. I will post more of this material in the days and weeks ahead.

Why is this subject so important? Largely because so much anti-Semitism has developed because Christians denied the essential “Jewishness” of Jesus, while Jews have historically viewed Jesus in negative terms because of the anti-Semitism of Jesus’ followers. In Chagall’s famous painting of Jesus, Chagall sees Jesus’ suffering as epitomizing Jewish suffering. Jesus lived as a pious Jew; he died as a pious Jew ….

Latest word on the newswire as of Jan. 1, 2010:

Rabbi Riskin sheepishly recanted, or at least attempted to give that impression. Being a Chief Rabbi of an Israeli city is too much of responsibility to maintain a perfect equilibrium. Still and all, Rabbi Riskin comes across the original video as being truly genuine. I more or less said the same thing at Gordon College a couple of months ago. But again, I care more for the truth than I do Orthodox barbs, because I consider the source …

In many ways, the entire question whether Jesus was a “rabbi” or not, is a moot point. The author of Mathew in 23:1–3, 8 suggests that “rabbi” might have been used for individuals who engage in public teaching. The gospel of John uses the term rabbi with respect to Jesus eight times.[1]

Reflecting an older and probably more historically correct tradition, Luke never refers to Jesus by this title at all, but simply refers to him as Luke uses διδάσκαλος (didaskalos = “teacher,”)[2] According to this reading, Jesus criticizes this group of scholars for enjoying the public recognition that came with appearing to be “pious” men before the masses. However, there is reason to believe that this particular passage is an example of what is commonly called an interpolation that was added long after the death of Jesus. A similar feature occurs in the Talmud, where Hillel is called, “Rabbi Hillel.” Since the writers of these ancient wrote for a later audience, they took certain poetic licenses with respect to the text. An argument from silence indicates that many, if not all of the 1st century Judaic teachers never preferred such an honorific epithet.

As with all first century scholars, the designation “Rabbi” did not mean or designate a professional class of people like it does today.

========

Notes

[1] John 1:38, 49; 3:2; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8; 20:16.

[2] Luke 7:40; 8:49; 22:11.

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A Famous 18th Century Rabbinic Appraisal of Jesus (more to follow)

RABBI JACOB EMDEN’S VIEWS ON CHRISTIANITY*
and THE NOACHIDE COMMANDMENTS

*Reprinted from the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 19:1, Winter 1982

Rabbi Emden(1697–1776) was one of the leading Torah authorities of the past several centuries. Historians of the rabbinate have often compared. him to Maimonides, both having written on all branches of Jewish knowledge, and both having shared a pragmatic and even innovative approach. Even those who disagreed with him sought his opinion, and he is read with interest to this day. Thus, Moses Mendelssohn, founder of the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement, wrote to him as “your disciple, who thirsts for your words.” Although Emden did not approve of the Hasidic movement–which had its beginnings in his time–his books are highly regarded amongst Hasidim. R. M. Sofer referred to him as a “prophet” (Hatam Sofer 6:59). Thirty-one works were published during his lifetime, ten posthumously while others remain in manuscript. In his time, he was a fearless champion of Orthodox Judaism.

RABBI JACOB EMDENS LETTER
(SEDER OLAM RABBAH VEZUTA)

For it is recognized that also the Nazarene and his disciples, especially Paul, warned concerning the Torah of the Israelites, to which all the circumcised are tied. And if they are truly Christians, they will observe their faith with truth, and not allow within their boundary this new unfit Messiah Shabbetai Zevi* who came to destroy the earth.

*(Shabbetai Zevi, a seventeenth-century mystic [d. 1676], represented himself as the Messiah, and many Jews initially believed his claim. When the Turks threatened him with death unless he converted to Islam, he meekly acquiesced, expiring in ignominy. However, secret cells of believers still followed his teachings and hoped for new leadership.)

But truly even according to the writers of the Gospels, a Jew is not permitted to leave his Torah, for Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 5) “I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, the Messiah will do you no good at all. You can take it from me that every man who receives circumcision is under obligation to keep the entire Torah.” Again because of this he admonished in a letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7) that the circumcised should not remove the marks of circumcision, nor should the uncircumcised circumcise themselves.

Many have asked that Paul appears to contradict himself here. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16), it is mentioned that Paul circumcised his disciple Timothy. And they found this very puzzling, for this act seems to contradict the later text which seems to indicate that he considered circumcision a temporary commandment until the Messiahs arrival; but this took place after the time of the Nazarene! Therefore you must realize–and accept the truth from him who speaks it– that we see clearly here that the Nazarene and his Apostles did not wish to destroy the Torah from Israel, God forbid; for it is written so in Matthew (Mt. 5), the Nazarene having said, “Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Torah. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. I tell you this: So long as heaven and earth endure, not a letter, not a stroke, will disappear from the Torah until it is achieved. If any man therefore sets aside even the least of the Torahs demands, and teaches others to do the same, he will have the lowest place in the Kingdom of Heaven, whereas anyone who keeps the Torah, and teaches others so, will stand high in the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is also recorded in Luke (Lk. 16). It is therefore exceedingly clear that the Nazarene never dreamed of destroying the Torah.

We similarly find Paul, his disciple, in a letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5), accusing them of fornication, and condemning one who had lived with his fathers wife. You may therefore understand that Paul doesnt contradict himself because of his circumcision of Timothy, for the latter was the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father (Acts 16), and Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, well-versed in the laws of the Torah. He knew that the child of a Jewish mother is considered a full Jew, even if the father should be a Gentile, as is written in the Talmud and Codes. He therefore acted entirely in accordance with the Halakha by circumcising Timothy. This would be in line with his position that all should remain within their own faith (1 Cor. 7). Timothy, born of a Jewish mother, had the law of a Jew, and had to be circumcised, just as he was enjoined to observe all commandments of the Torah (Pauls condemnation of the man who lived with his stepmother is similarly understandable, as such an act is also forbidden to Noahides), for all who are circumcised are bound by all the commandments. This provides a satisfactory reply to the question.

This will also solve the apparent contradictions in the Nazarenes own statements. Christian scholars have assumed from certain passages in the Gospels that he wished to give a new Torah to take the place of the Torah of Moses. How could he then have said explicitly that he comes only to fulfill it? But it is as I have said earlier–that the writers of the Gospels never meant to say that the Nazarene came to abolish Judaism, but only that he came to establish a religion for the Gentiles from that time onward. Nor was it new, but actually ancient; they being the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah, which were forgotten. The Apostles of the Nazarene then established them anew. However, those born as Jews, or circumcised as converts to Judaism (Ex. 12:49; one law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger) are obligated to observe all commandments of the Torah without exception.

But for the Gentiles he reserved the Seven Commandments which they have always been obligated to fulfill. It is for that reason that they were forbidden pollutions of idols, fornication, blood, and things strangled (Acts 15). They also forbade them circumcision and the Sabbath. All of this was in accord with the law and custom of our Torah, as expounded by our Sages, the true transmitters from Moses at Sinai. It was they who sat upon his seat (as the Nazarene himself attested [Mt. 23]). It was they (the Sages or Pharisees) who said that it is forbidden to circumcise a Gentile who does not accept upon himself the yoke of (all) the commandments. The Sages likewise said that the Gentile is enjoined not (fully) to observe the Sabbath. The Apostles of the Nazarene therefore chose for those Gentiles who do not enter the Jewish faith that instead of circumcision they should practice immersion (for truly immersion is also a condition of full conversion), and a commemoration of the Sabbath was made for them on Sunday. — But the Nazarene and his Apostles observed the Sabbath and circumcision as mentioned earlier, for they were born as Jews. They observed the Torah fully, until after a period of time a few of them decided to give up the Torah among themselves completely. They said that its observance was too difficult for them and agreed to remove its yoke from their necks (Acts 15).

But even here they did correctly as far as the Gentiles were concerned, for they were not commanded to observe it. Nor is it proper to make it difficult for them, since they did not receive (accept?) the Torah and are not enjoined to ob serve the 613 commandments. However, it is completely different as far as the Jews are concerned, for they became obligated to fulfill the Torah because God delivered them from the iron furnace (Egypt) to be the people of his possession. Therefore they and their children became subject to it forever. This, their covenant, will not be forgotten from their mouths, nor be discontinued from their children. For it they have given their lives throughout the generations, as the Psalmist has recorded (Ps. 44:18): All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten Thee, neither have we been false to Thy covenant.

Certainly, therefore, there is no doubt that one who seeks truth will agree with our thesis, that the Nazarene and his Apostles never meant to abolish the Torah of Moses from one who was born a Jew. Likewise did Paul write in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7) that each should adhere to the faith in which each was called. They therefore acted in accordance with the Torah by forbidding circumcision to Gentiles, according to the Halakha, as it is forbidden to one who does not accept the yoke of the commandments. They knew that it would be too difficult for the Gentiles to observe the Torah of Moses. They therefore forbade them to circumcise, and it would suffice that they observe the Seven Noahide Commandments, as commanded upon them through the Halakha from Moses at Sinai.

It is therefore a habitual saying of mine (not as a hypocritical flatterer, God forbid, for I am of the faithful believers of Israel, and I know well that the remnant of Israel will not speak falsehood, nor will their mouths contain a deceitful tongue) that the Nazarene brought about a double kindness in the world. On the one hand, he strengthened the Torah of Moses majestically, as mentioned earlier, and not one of our Sages spoke out more emphatically concerning the immutability of the Torah. And on the other hand, he did much good for the Gentiles (provided they do not turn about his intent as they please, as some foolish ones have done because they did not fully understand the intent of the authors of the Gospels. I have recently seen someone publish a book, and he had no idea about what he was writing. For if he had understood the subject, he would have kept his silence and not wasted the paper and ink. There are also found among us foolish scholars who know not their right from their left in the Written and Oral Torahs and cause the people to err with their pompous pronouncements. But there are true scholars among the Christians, just as there are the chosen few among Torah scholars; and there are few of the truly great.) by doing away with idolatry and removing the images from their midst. He obligated them with the Seven Commandments so that they should not be as the beasts of the field. He also bestowed upon them ethical ways, and in this respect he was much more stringent with them than the Torah of Moses, as is well-known. This in itself was most proper, as it is the correct way to acquire ethical practices, as the philosopher (Maimonides) mentioned. We have written similarly in our Siddur. However, it is not necessary to impose upon Jews such extreme ethical practices, since they have been obligated to the yoke of Torah, which weakens the strength of the (evil) inclination without it. They have taken the oath at Sinai and are already trained in proper practice and nature. These are clear words that will not be rejected by a clear-thinking person.

If certain Christians who consider themselves scholars would understand this secret, who believe that they are commanded to abolish the Torah of Moses from the seed of Israel, they would not engage in such foolishness. The people listen to their self-conceived words, something which was never intended by the writers of the Gospels. Quite the opposite, they have written clearly that they intended the contrary.

Because of these errant scholars, hatred has increased toward the Jews who are blameless of any guilt and proceed innocently to observe their Torah with all their heart, imbued with the fear of God. They should instead bring their people to love the ancient Children of Israel who remain loyal to their God, as indeed commanded to Christians by their original teachers.

They even said to love ones enemies. How much more so to us! In the name of heaven, we are your brothers! One God has created us all. Why should they abuse us because we are joined to the commandments of God, to which we are tied with the ropes of his love? We do this not to enjoy the pleasures of the (evil) inclination and emptiness of a passing world. For truly (Ps. 44) we have become a byword among the nations, and with all this (ibid.). In God have we gloried all the day, and we will give thanks unto Thy name for ever. We pray for the good of the entire world, and especially for the benefit of these lands in which we reside, protecting us and our observance of the Torah…

You, members of the Christian faith, how good and pleasant it might be if you will observe that which was commanded to you by your first teachers; how wonderful is your share if you will assist the Jews in the observance of their Torah. You will truly receive reward as if you had fulfilled it yourselves-for the one who helps others to observe is greater than one who observes but does not help others to do so–even though you only observe the Seven Commandments. I have written similarly in my pleasant work Torat Ha-Kenaot– that the Jew who observes the Torah, but doesnt support it, is considered among the cursed; and the Gentile who does not observe the 613 commandments, but supports it, is considered among the blessed.

Translated by Harvey Falk

The above is part of Chapter 1 of “Jesus the Pharisee, A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus”, by Harvey Falk, 1985

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Who were the Pharisees?

The name “Pharisee,” often gets a lot of bad press because of Jesus’ criticism, which we will shortly examine. Historically, they proved to be great people; the gentle Hillel, who taught the “Golden Rule,” was certainly one of its best examples of Pharisaic ethics and piety. The same could be said of numerous other great teachers of the 1st-2nd century. Their wisdom can be found in the ancient Jewish tract of “Pirke Avoth,” The “Ethics of the Fathers.”

Some of their wise aphorisms include:

Moses received Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Joshua, Joshua to elders, and elders to prophets. And prophets handed it on to the men of the great assembly. They said three things: (1) “Be prudent in judgment, (2) “Raise up many disciples,(3) “Make a fence for the Torah.”

Simeon the Righteous was one of the last survivors of the great assembly. He would say: “On three things does the world stand: (1) “On the Torah, (2) “and on the Temple service, (3) “and on deeds of loving kindness.”

Antigonos of Sokho received [the Torah] from Simeon the Righteous. He would say, (1) “Do not be like servants who serve the master on condition of receiving a reward, (2) “but [be] like servants who serve the master not on condition of receiving a reward. (3) “And let the fear of Heaven be upon you.”

There are hundreds of examples found in this wonderful work and I would encourage you the reader to study these texts if you really wish to understand who the Pharisees were.

But were all those who purported to be Pharisees such noble souls? Not quite. For the record, there were Pharisees who obviously did not excel in the area of religious ethics—much like we see in the Haredi world today! This should not come as a great surprise to any of us because it is a lot easier to be observant of Halacha minutia than it is to be an ethical human being. Various moral lapses within both the Haredi and Hassidic communities painfully illustrate that developing an expertise in Jewish law is absolutely meaningless unless it engenders personal piety in the sphere of human ethics. The human face demands we treat all people with respect and dignity–this was the great lesson of Hillel, who taught: “What is hateful unto you, do not do to your fellow man.”

Now back to our original topic…

“Pharisee” probably comes from the Hebrew word prš meaning “expositors.” They were among the very first individuals who championed biblical interpretation (Jastrow). However, it is also possible the name prš might also mean “separate,” “detach.” Thus the Pharisees were probably the separated ones,” whose commitment to Jewish law and ritual set them apart from everyone else. However, Pharisaic piety pales in comparison with the Essenes  whose scrupulous observance of the purity laws make the Pharisees seem almost “secular.” Continue reading “Who were the Pharisees?”

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Did Jesus believe in Original Sin?

Q. I know that Christians and Jews share many religious beliefs and are very close to each other in spiritual brotherhood. But Christians basically believe that they are created sinful and unclean and, therefore, need a Redeemer, Jesus, to take the sins of believers on Himself so that they may come to God’s Kingdom when they pass over. Since Jews do not have this Redeemer, how do they become pure enough to enter God’s Kingdom? I realize there is the Law, but human beings, being who and what they are, cannot keep these laws sufficiently to reach purity and freedom from sin. Christians also believe that they are able to receive the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit directs their lives and brings them to true belief in God through Christ. How does Judaism look at the Holy Spirit and is the Holy Spirit considered to be active in bringing Jews to true belief? I can answer this question myself, from a Christian point of view, but that would be a one sided answer. I would very much appreciate learning what Judaism teaches in this matter. Thank you very much.

Answer: You are correct in assuming that most Christians believe in Original Sin, to a greater or lesser degree. As to whether Jesus himself really believed in Original Sin or not, I have serious doubts. In one of the Gospels, we read about how Jesus’ disciples once asked Jesus, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” (John 1:1). However, Jesus gives one of the most profound rabbinical answers imaginable, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (John 9:2-3).

As a Jew reading the Gospel narrative, it seems to me that Jesus explicitly disapproved of any idea that man suffers from an inherited sin. By extension, every human fault we are born with serves a spiritual purpose so that we may glorify the Creator despite our natural shortcomings. Nowhere does Jesus ever speak of anything resembling the idea of a prenatal sin. Continue reading “Did Jesus believe in Original Sin?”

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How is this Pope different from all other Popes?

 How is this Pope different from all other Popes? For one thing, Pope Benedict XVI has been an outspoken critic for the plight of Christian minorities suffering in Islamic countries. Most recently, in his visit to the Jordanian capital of Amman, Pope Benedict made it a special point to speak out about the shabby way Iraqi Christians have been treated by their host country. Fearlessly, Pope Benedict is continuing his ideological battle against religious extremism that he in his 2006 speech at Regensberg where he quoted a Byzantine emperor from the Middle Ages criticizing Islam for seeking to spread its message by the sword. Although the Pope apologized to the Muslim community, he delicately made an apology only for the hurt his statement caused, but not for the substance of his remarks.[1]

 
During his visit at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman on Saturday, once more Pope Benedict alluded to the 2006 speech. When he said, “It is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society,” Benedict was reinforcing—if cryptically—his basic criticism of radical Islamic extremism.
 
Obviously Pope Benedict realizes that Israel is the only country that can ensure that the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem remain protected under her care. The relationship between Jews and Christians is, according to the Pope, spiritually profound and intimate. In one of his speeches Pope Benedict spoke about “the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people …. From the beginning, the Church in these lands has commemorated in her liturgy the great figures of the patriarchs and prophets, as a sign of her profound appreciation of the unity of the two Testaments. May our encounter today inspire in us a renewed love for the canon of sacred Scripture and a desire to overcome all obstacles to the reconciliation of Christians and Jews in mutual respect and cooperation in the service of that peace to which the word of God calls us!”
 
 A Jewish interest in protecting the holy sites of Jerusalem is not merely a matter of Jewish concern; it is also of Christian interests. In saying this, the pope made clear that he views the preservation of Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem as essential for Christian heritage. For the record, the Islamic Wakf (religious leadership of Jerusalem) which desires to be the sole custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites in the event of its partition, has already gone to great lengths to systematically destroy the ruins of the Temple Mount and the Jewish and Christian heritage of the holy basin through archeological theft, illegal building and digging.
 
The Pope is very cognizant of the anti-Christian sentiment that the Palestinian community has expressed over the passed sixty years. During the week of the pontiff’s arrival, Palestinian Authority Muslims went on a rampage Sunday and desecrated 70 Christian graves two weeks after the pope praised efforts for a new PA state and tried to appease Muslim anger over previous disputes between the two religions. The vandals smashed gravestones and knocked metal and stone crosses off graves in the village of Jiffna, near Ramallah, home to approximately 900 Christians and 700 Muslims. Greek Orthodox Church official George Abdo told Reuters the head and hand of a statue of Madonna also was severed.
 
If I were a Christian, I certainly would not want a bunch of Muslim gangsters and thugs controlling my faith’s holy sites in Israel. Frankly speaking, their track-record is pretty pathetic. 

 

 


[1] Pope Benedict XVI, during a speech in Germany, at a university where he used to teach, quoted a 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor: “He said, I quote, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’ . . . Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. ‘God,’ the emperor says, ‘is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.'” And, the pontiff even condemned violent jihad, or “holy war.”

 


 

 

 

 

 

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More on Pope Benedict XVI’s Historical Visit to Israel

Earlier we saw how a Rabbi Wolpe conducted himself in a manner that desecrates God’s Name, here is a different kind of response that reflects the best values of our faith and people that appeared today in the JPost written by the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen:

“On the occasion of your visit to Israel I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you, our most honorable guest, Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict XVI arrives on the altar inside the International Stadium of Amman to celebrate a Holy Mass on Sunday.

I pray that you will continue the work begun by your predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, and express your friendship for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

I see in your visit to the Holy Land a declaration that you intend to continue a policy and doctrine that refers to my people as “Our Older Brothers” and “God’s Chosen People,” with whom He entered into an everlasting covenant. Continue reading “More on Pope Benedict XVI’s Historical Visit to Israel”

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