Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The only reason I have decided to respond once again to Rabbi Wolfe and the legion of hatemongers he now heads, is for the sake of my children. I raised them to love Chabad for its ahavas Yisrael, 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 Lubavitch – 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 Charedi man who spat in the face of an eight-year-old girl and where another Charedi 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. Read the comments attached to Rabbi Wolfe’s diatribe and it is the natural continuation of such dangerous, religious fanaticism. Only this time, tragically, it is Chabad. 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 for the book to be burned if not banned?
My children go to school in Crown Heights, and I am becoming very concerned at 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 an educator would be more responsible before launching a rabble-rousing personal attack. 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 abysmal 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 one hundred and thirty years before the destruction of the Temple, that is, at least one hundred 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 Wolfe who are utterly ignorant of the source materials. Indeed, one of the reasons that Jews fall prey to Christian missionaries is that they don’t know the facts. 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. The reason missionaries make inroads in converting Jews is most of our people are utterly ignorant of missionary arguments and how to respond, and Rabbi Wolfe has now done terrible damage in our ongoing efforts to combat Christian missionizing.
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 those preposterous claims, Christian scripture is itself absolutely clear that Jesus kept the entire Torah and advocated that any Jew who did not would be cast out from heaven. It is this Jewish Jesus that I am asking Jews to reclaim. My intention is 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.
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 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 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 get 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 insult to Christianity. But I do intend to trace back the major teachings of Jesus back 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 and today goes by a different name.
Here are some simple and basic examples from the Sermon on the Mount:
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 read the book or at the very least call me to discuss the source materials. He should tell his braying 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 to end this madness. It is a serious offer and I await his response.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 27 books, won the London Times Preacher of the Year competition at the Millennium, and is recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Kosher Jesus will be published in February 1st by Gefen. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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January 10, 2012 | 11:29 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
On CNN a few weeks ago I was asked whether I agree with the sentiment that Tim Tebow’s religious displays in football games are overdone and out-of-place. “Oh yes,” I replied, “it certainly is. Faith should have no place in sport. Indeed, I believe that the only thing that should be allowed at football games are truly dignified displays like women jumping up and down in lycra with pompoms and cleavage, and bare-chested, pot-bellied men with their teams written across their stomachs, and people wearing cheese hats on their heads. But faith? G-d forbid.”
Yes, I’m a Tim Tebow fan. And not only because he’s the underdog who pulls off miraculous victories, the scrappy boyish quarterback who always snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. Nor because he is openly religious and celebrates the fact that amid his love for football there are things in life infinitely more important than sport. No, I’m a Tim Tebow fan because frankly my dear he just doesn’t give a damn. Here is a guy who has decided who he is, what his convictions and principles are, and will stick with it whatever the criticism, whatever the price. And in age where people have such wobbly identities, that kind of enthusiasm for one’s core beliefs is positively infectious.
The attacks on Tebow are bizarre, the hatred shown to him by critics strange. People seem to loathe his missionary work more than Beth Roethlisberger’s treatment of women (Ben’s repented, so let’s move on). They seem more offended by his morality than by Kobe Bryant’s infidelity. Tebow is touching some real nerve.
I believe it is this. America is a religious country, and sincerely so. Ninety-two percent of the population believes in G-d, who is even on our money. It is a Church-going, Synagogue-supporting nation. But it loves compartmentalizing religion. Keep it in the Church, but not in the schools. Put G-d in Presidential campaigns, but never in the popular culture. Aside from those who pay for their air time, like Joel Osteen, notice that you never see religion on TV. There are a thousand different reality TV shows on the cable networks about everything under the sun. That is, except faith. You never see religion it in a concert hall or in Rock and Roll. And aside from the occasional mention of G-d by a coach or a player in an interview, you never see it in sport.
Until Tim Tebow.
Tebow brought prayer to the secular cathedral of the stadium, and infiltrated the foremost religion of all, worldwide sport. What Tebow is most guilty of, and what gets him under people’s skin, is breaching the line that all are supposed to respect, namely, that which separates the secular from the religious, the holy from the profane, the sacred from the everyday. G-d is a serious subject. People want Him in their lives, and will turn to Him at the appropriate time. But not in their recreation. We just want to have a good time. We want to see bone-crunching tackles, running backs diving into the end zone, not people on their knees in prayer.
So Tim, take it to the Church, man. We’ll catch up with you later. We came to watch touchdowns.
But people like me admire Tim Tebow precisely because we don’t believe in these artificial lines. We believe in live and let live. We’re not here to ever impose our faith on anyone else. But we won’t accept having it knocked out of us either. We’re not fanatics. We don’t argue that it’s our way or the high way. We’re not going to make you pray but less so are we going to allow you to forbid us to practice our faith. It’s a free country. Some want to spike the ball in the end zone, some want to get on a knee and give thanks. Who does it bother?
Public schools should never have mandatory prayer. But as the Lubavitcher Rebbe argued, they should have a moment of silence where students can choose to reflect on something higher if they so choose. G-d should not be mandated at school but He need not be chased out either.
Religion should obviously not be enforced in public schools, but parents should get vouchers to send their children to religious schools if they so choose. It’s their tax money, after all.
So hack away at that artificial line, Tim. Pray away on the Gridiron. Keep on visiting orphans in your down time while your colleagues do their thing. Keep on being you. We’re rooting for you. And you’re plenty large, whether you win the big game or not.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 27 books and has just published “Kosher Jesus.” He was The London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium, and received the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
January 3, 2012 | 10:23 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Two forms of religious extremism confronted me last week as lectured in the United Kingdom and launched my book Kosher Jesus at a press conference in Jerusalem. The first was at Limmud where a full one percent of all Jews in Britain gathered for a Jewish studies conference that has by now become the most successful Anglo-Jewish export in recent history. Every Jewish group was represented, that is, with the exception of the orthodox Rabbinate who boycott the event because of the Reform and Conservative (Masorti) Rabbis present. This is in sharp contrast to Limmud NY where, for example, Yeshiva University—responsible for ordaining the vast majority of modern orthodox Rabbis in the United States—sends an official delegation.
The second and more insidious example of frightening religious intolerance hit me as I landed in Israel and discovered a country up in arms about Haredim (poorly translated as ultra-orthodox) who had spit on an orthodox eight-year-old girl for immodest dress and another Haredi man arrested for calling a female Jewish soldier a ‘whore’ for refusing to move to the back of a bus. On New Year’s Eve Haredi activists donned Holocaust prison garb with yellow ‘Jude’ stars in a vulgar attempt to allege Nazi-like persecution at the hands of Israeli society when in truth all they accomplished was to trivialize the gassing of six million Jews. The finishing touch was placing their own children in concentration camp garb before the world’s media which added the violation of innocence to the defamation of the Jewish state.
There is a common thread uniting these stories. Religious extremism festers when decent lay people are cowed into submission by fanatics whom they falsely believe to be more religious than them. But there is nothing holy about Rabbis refusing to teach 2500 young Jews who are pining for Jewish knowledge. More importantly, it is an abomination to faith for men to treat women abusively. A black coat will never redeem a dark heart and a long beard is poor compensation for a shriveled soul.
Their defenders pointed out that these heinous acts are perpetrated by only a small number of Haredim. True. But in the face of Islamic terror outrages we in the West rightly demand that mainstream Islamic leaders condemn the extremists, lest their silence make them complicit in the violence. The Jewish community must be judged by the same standard and Rabbis of every stripe must condemn this abuse as sickening and contrary to the core of Judaism.
Other defenders maintained that while the behavior was deplorable, secular women were also at fault by insensitively visiting religious neighborhoods immodestly attired and inflaming local sensibilities. Sorry. Judaism’s core value is freedom of choice and men calling themselves religious can choose to transcend even the most incendiary provocation. Violence in the name of G-d is never allowed, a point we have repeatedly made to some of our Muslim brothers who justify Palestinian suicide bombers with arguments that “Israeli humiliations” provoke the murders. The Jews suffered extermination at the hands of the Nazis. But that never led them to blow up nurseries and buses, and Haredim who feel provoked must register their protests respectfully and lawfully. The Talmud is clear: a religious man who humiliates a woman by calling her a whore in public has lost his place in eternity.
In the UK draconian standards have long governed what purports to be a modern orthodox community. Travel to any college campus where Chabad and other orthodox groups are active and you will see female students serving as presidents of Jewish student organizations and regularly delivering Torah speeches at prayers. Yet in Anglo-Jewry the question of whether a woman can serve as a mere officer of an orthodox Shule or deliver a Dvar Torah remains hotly contested.
There is something magical about England’s Jews. They proudly hold on to their Jewish identity, generously support an endless array of Jewish social welfare organizations, and have a higher percentage of children in Jewish education then we do in the United States. But there are now only 250,000 Jews in all the United Kingdom and the community can ill afford any kind of internal, civil strife, especially given the rapid rise of anti-Semitism in the UK where Israel is regularly lambasted as being more wicked than North Korea.
But British Jews are curiously submissive to their Rabbinic leadership, even when they feel in their gut that some of the rulings contravene basic Ahavas Yisrael and basic decency. The Baal Shem Tov extolled the virtue of ordinary Jews who were not Rabbis. Even non-scholars are aware of common courtesy and must pressure their spiritual leaders to work with non-orthodox colleagues to increase Jewish learning and defend the State of Israel.
At Limmud I was peppered by journalists asking whether I was a candidate for British Chief Rabbi and the strange speculation reached a fever pitch when The Jerusalem Post published a long feature on the conference’s third day exploring the possibility.
I spent eleven years of my life building Jewish student life in Oxford and six of my nine children were born in Britain. I am deeply attached to the country and the community. But the office of a Chief Rabbi, which muzzles its occupant from reaching out to thousands of young Jews for fear of offending right-wing sensibilities, cannot cater to anything but vanity and egotism. And while I am certainly not immune to those ills, I have never allowed myself to be silenced for any title and never will. A Chief Rabbi is not an Ambassador but a leader. The office must be expanded from its current focus on mesmerizing the BBC, thereby perpetuating a myth of Jewish subservience and the need for Jews to win non-Jewish approval, and focus instead on electrifying Jewish youth, before it can attract serious candidates.
The Jewish homo religiosus is not the submissive man of the spirit but rather Yisrael, the rebellious man of faith. And if we Jews are enjoined to emulate our patriarch Jacob who wrestled with an angel, then surely we must also respectfully challenge our spiritual leaders and reclaim our human voice.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium and will this month publish Kosher Jesus, a ten-year study of Jesus’ Jewishness and his life as a Rabbi, based on early Christian and Jewish sources. www.shmuley.com.