When Rabbi Shmuley Boteach approached me to read the manuscript of his newly published book Kosher Jesus, I was reticent and even a bit cautious given the massive and diverse audience of people that would likely be affected by his unique perspective on the subject of Jesus. Upon completion of the book, however, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that his approach had resolved many outstanding questions that I myself have struggled with in my religious studies, particularly as they relate to Christianity and its impact on Judaism throughout history. Still, I felt the need to interrogate Rabbi Shmuley further in order to discover what his intentions had been for penning this latest work on a conspicuously controversial topic. As it turns out, Rabbi Shmuley’s earliest efforts to uncover the real facts regarding the origin of Christianity stemmed from his exasperation by the treatment unsuspecting Jews received from Christian missionaries who would target them in an attempt to convert yet another Jew to Christianity. So alarmed was Rabbi Shmuley at the pervasiveness of this kind of missionary work that, as a young scholar learning in Yeshiva, he was often memorizing long passages of the New Testament in his Hebrew Bible classes, for how could he hope to counter the words of others if he had no real knowledge of what stood behind their arguments?
As I expected, in the past few weeks, the vitriolic attacks hurled at Rabbi Shmuley have been gaining momentum steadily and often seem to come from those who, themselves, have no real knowledge of Rabbi Shmuley’s thesis or the scholarship behind his argument. Simply put, Kosher Jesus traces the Jesus narrative in its original sources and demonstrates how Jesus was, in fact, a Torah-observant Jew who fought to uphold Judaism in the face of pagan dominance and Roman persecution. Following the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66 C.E., however, Jesus’ followers began to strip him of his Jewish identity in order to sever any link between Jesus and the increasing Roman animosity against Jews. With the passage of time and the rising hegemony of Christianity, an alternate narrative of Jesus ultimately prevailed, one in which Jesus is depicted as an enemy to his people and was eventually killed by them. Not only has this thoroughly Christian narrative caused centuries of Jewish persecution, it has also offered a distorted view of Jesus that perverts the very essence of Jewish monotheism. Yet Jews have fallen for this depiction of Jesus so thoroughly that his name has been all but blotted out from the Jewish vocabulary.
Rabbi Shmuley takes on these issues without pulling any punches, aiming the purpose of Kosher Jesus squarely at contemporary Jewish salvation while simultaneously enlightening Christians about Jesus’ original desire to spread Jewish teachings and values and, moreover, how he never intended to found a new faith. Unlettered Jews, whose beleaguered history has prevailed despite having to endure the torment of Egyptian enslavement, Babylonian exile, Roman destruction, the Spanish Inquisition, Russian pogroms and the German Holocaust, are continuously the target of missionaries who prey on the dichotomy of Jesus the Jew and the Savior in their relentless efforts to lead Jews into Christian belief. This missionary offensive has certainly done its fair share of damage not only through the generations of converts from Judaism but even in terms of the cultural impact the mainstream Jesus narrative has had on the existing Jewish identity. The Christian alteration of Biblical figures and passages has weakened the essence of Jewish interpretations of Scriptures and dismantles what should be the Jewish defense against those who would seek to lead them away from their faith.
Kosher Jesus is brilliant because it factually and painstakingly dissects the historical logic that Christianity upholds as its narrative of Jesus. In so doing, Rabbi Shmuley offers an unadorned image of Jesus as a Jewish fighter who came to Jerusalem to rescue the Temple from Roman dominance. For these efforts, Jesus was turned over to the Romans by the corrupt Jewish High Priest Caiaphas, a Roman stooge who acted as Rome’s police enforcer. The merits of this interpretation are born out in the evidence itself, yet the prejudice against this alternative view runs so deep that, when a Jew like Rabbi Shmuley seeks to expose the truth, even other Jews will cry out its denial. Having followed the stream of invectives that have been thrown at the book and Rabbi Shmuley, I find myself wishing to purchase a copy of Kosher Jesus for every Chabad emissary around the world: those men and women who are at the forefront of bringing Jewish values to the broader world. Not only should they read and understand Rabbi Shmuley’s research for what it really is rather than be swayed by the rants and responses of others but they should also be empowered by the tremendous value Kosher Jesus provides in helping any and all understand the real place Jesus has in both Jewish and Christian history. I have made my offer of purchasing and sending a copy of Kosher Jesus to every Chabad emissary to the Chabad hierarchy and await a response. In the final analysis, Rabbi Shmuley provides Jews with the ammunition to disarm missionaries who peddle the narrative of Jesus as ‘god the son’ with a new historical approach to Jesus as simply a son of God, like every other human being. As the Book of Deuteronomy articulates quite beautifully, “You are all children to the Lord Your G-d.” Every person has a claim on being one of God’s children, and by dedicating oneself in thought, mind and action each individual can rise to this elevated state.
Kevin Bermeister was the founding investor in Skype and other leading internet startups. Noted for his philanthropy to Jewish causes worldwide, he is the founder of Jerusalem 5800 which seeks to significantly enhance the infrastructure of Israel’s capital city. An honoree of many philanthropies, he recently received Sydney Australia’s Chabad Yeshiva Center Leadership in Philanthropy Award.