A rabbi’s ban

A rabbi’s ban

By right, I ought to thank Rabbi Immanuel Schochet for banning my book “Kosher Jesus,” because doing so further propelled it up the international bestseller lists, even in pre-publication. Bizarrely calling his own views “authoritative,” Schochet declared my book to be heresy, banned anyone from reading it, banned me from speaking about it, banned others from inviting me to speak about it, and refused to offer a single reason or explanation as to why.

Truth regardless of consequences This dictatorial edict follows a growing wave of religious fanaticism hitting the world Jewish community all at once with right-wing reactionaries seeking to impose a primitive dogmatism on those who believe Judaism can be Orthodox yet informed, Torah-based yet educated, true to halachic sources yet fearless in the marketplace of ideas. The Jewish community is not Iran and its rabbis are not the Revolutionary Guard. Let the ayatollahs burn books and condemn authors. Jews are the people of the book, not the people who ban books. We have all too much experience with the medieval practice of outlawing books. Schochet’s attack deserves to be pasted on a wall of Meah Shearim, not sent by mail, as it was, to Chabad emissaries around the world.

“Kosher Jesus” is a work of scholarship and it is being reviewed as such. It goes back to the original gospel source materials to uncover the real story of Jesus and portray him as he was, not as later Christian editors made him out to be to accommodate Romans who had their fill of the rebellious Jews. Jesus was, as many, especially Hyam Maccoby, have argued before me, a Torah-observant Jew who made it his mission to restore Jewish observance among his brethren while fighting against Roman persecution and paganism. Jesus was a martyr for his people who never claimed to be divine, who never changed the Torah, and who would be scandalized to see his teachings – nearly all of which my book traces back to their earlier Jewish sources – misused to persecute his people. It was Paul, who never met Jesus, who first sought to deify him and who claimed that Jesus rejected Torah law.

Far from this theory being heretical, as Schochet libelously claims, it is expressly conveyed by Rabbi Jacob Emden, one of the greatest rabbis of the past millennium, who wrote in 1757:

“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 (5:17-19), 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 all is accomplished. If any man therefore sets aside even the least of the Torah’s commandments, 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 16:17. It is therefore exceedingly clear that the Nazarene never dreamed of nullifying the Torah.”

Michael Scobak, the director of education for the Orthodox Jewish anti-missionary group Jews for Judaism, similarly notes in his pamphlet “The Da Vinci Code: A Jewish Perspective”:

“The Torah-positive stance taken by Jesus was maintained after his death by his disciples based in Jerusalem under the leadership of his brother James….What a stunning example of history being written by the victors! For all intents and purposes, Christianity as we know it today is an invention of Paul.”

In reality, however, the battle over my book is about something far bigger than me. Schochet came of age at a time when Christians were seen primarily as proselytizers and enemies of our people. Today, they are among the State of Israel’s most reliable and stalwart friends. Still, there are Jews who would undermine the relationship between Jews and evangelicals. That is Schochet’s purpose. He and likeminded others accuse the evangelicals of ulterior motives. I disagree. Jewish evangelical support for Israel is real.

The information contained in “Kosher Jesus” grants Jewish readers an immunity to missionary efforts at proselytizing, but is written primarily for my Christian brothers and sisters – whose praise the book has justly earned and who hunger to learn more about the Jewishness of Jesus, even as they disagree profoundly with my conclusions that Jesus never claimed to be divine, cannot be the messiah, and insisted on the eternity of Torah law.

And why should not Judaism get the credit it deserves for the values it has disseminated to the world through Christianity? We gave the world God; today, his name is Jesus Christ. We gave the world the Sabbath; today, it is called Sunday. We gave the world the Ten Commandments; today, it is called morality.

And we gave the world the biblical insistence that all humans are created equally in the image of God. Today, it is called democracy.

Virtually all Jewish ideas that have shaped the world have been taken from our people without attribution, so that Judaism is treated today as a discarded relic with little contemporary relevance.

It is time that these universal Jewish ideas that have so influenced the world be traced back to their original source. It is time that the Jewishness of Jesus be rediscovered by Christians. It is time for the wisdom of Judaism to brighten the world so that the Jews live up to their ancient biblical mandate to be a light unto the nations.