Judaism, the true faith of Jesus

Judaism, the true faith of Jesus

Ann Coulter’s bigoted and stomach-turning comments about how Jews "needed to be perfected" by becoming Christian demonstrates not only her own bigotry but her abysmal ignorance of the teachings of Jesus. Judaism was the faith practiced by Jesus for his entire life and from which he never wavered. Indeed, Jesus declares in Matthew that "whoever goes against the smallest of the laws of Moses, teaching men to do the same, will be named least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who keeps the Law of Moses, teaching others to keep them, will be named great in the kingdom of heaven." (5:19)

It was lamentable that few of our evangelical Christian brethren, in whose name Coulter purports to speak, condemned her contemptuous disrespect of the faith of their savior. In this new era of Jewish-Christian brotherhood, there can be no place for malicious abuse heaped by any Christian on the Jewish religion, or vice versa. More important, Christian dismissals of Judaism virtually guarantee that the Christian community will never have a deep understanding of Jesus. Paul, of course, portrayed Jesus as a religious reformer whose mission it was to abrogate Judaism and begin a new faith. But the gospels themselves rebut this conclusion. Jesus derived all his principal teachings from Judaism. His aphorisms are restatements of earlier biblical verses and his allegories are mostly teachings of the rabbis that are found in the Talmud.

Here are a few examples from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ famous statement, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5), a lesson that an obnoxious Coulter would be wise to take to heart, derives from Psalms 37: "The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace." Jesus’ teaching, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8) directly echoes Psalm ‘4: "Who shall ascend the mount of the Lord — the purehearted." Jesus’ instruction that "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matt 5:39) is a restatement of Lamentations 3:30: "Let him offer his cheek to him who smites him." Jesus’ promise to his apostles to "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (Matthew 6:33) is a reformulation of the pledge of Psalm 37: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." And finally, Jesus’ teaching, "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you" (Matthew 7:7), is a repetition of an earlier pronouncement of Jeremiah’s: "When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah ‘9:13)

A much more famous example, however, is Jesus’ Golden Rule of Matthew 7: "Whatever you would that men would do to you, do you even so to them." Jesus is here repeating the famous teaching of Hillel (born 75 BCE), "That which you hate don’t do unto others?" which is itself a reformulation of the biblical maxim (Leviticus 19:18), "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Similarly, when Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, it is based on the biblical precedent of Exodus ‘3: "If you meet your enemy’s ox or your enemy’s ass going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again."

Christians often associate parables exclusively with Jesus and believe that he invented a new method of teaching. But anyone familiar with the Talmud will recognize Jesus’ parables as the common form of rabbinic expression in the Second Temple period. Jesus was a trained rabbi who thought like a rabbi, taught like a rabbi, and spoke like a rabbi.

In trying to prove Jesus’ break from the rabbis and tradition, the Christian scriptures relate that Jesus allowed his apostles to desecrate the sabbath. But in justifying the desecration, Jesus famously says, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath." This pronouncement is actually a classic rabbinic statement about the sabbath that is found in the Talmud.

Jesus’ disciples were in a field and they picked corn, which indeed violates biblical law. And while the Christian scriptures do not give us the story’s background, Jesus’ answer to the critical "Pharisees" seems to supply us with a clue. He refers to an incident in the book of Kings where David is fleeing his enemy with a few loyal men. Their lives are in danger and they have no food. David allows his men to eat the showbread in the Temple in order to save their lives, even though they were not priests and were thus not permitted to eat the showbread. What Jesus is thereby inferring is that he has allowed his students to break the Sabbath and pick corn because their lives are in danger and they are in desperate need of food.

The Talmud says, "The sabbath was handed over to you, and you were not handed over to the sabbath." This maxim, directly echoing Jesus’ words, is found throughout the Babylonian Talmud, for example in Yoma 85b. The Talmud takes it for granted that human life must be saved at all costs, and the question of keeping the sabbath when life is endangered is quickly brushed aside.

In Matthew 9, Jesus offers his harvest parable: "The [work of] harvesting is great and the workers are few. Ask the owner of the harvest to bring [more] workers for the work of the harvesting." What does this cryptic saying mean? This saying of Jesus derives from a well known collection of rabbinic proverbs, "Ethics of the Fathers." It reads (‘:15): "The day is short and the work is great, the workers are lazy; the wages are high and the master is in a hurry." The implication of the parable is that life is short and there is so much virtuous work to do. God rewards you greatly for the good you do, and He is in a hurry to banish evil from the world and establish the reign of righteousness. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are lazy. They exchange a life devoted to justice for a life devoted to the pursuit of pleasure. There are not enough "workers" to get the job, the harvest, done.

Perhaps Coulter could follow these beautiful teachings of the Torah and Jesus and use her God-given talent to add light to the world rather than religious hatred.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is working on a book on the Jewishness of Jesus. In one month St. Martin’s Press will publish his book "The Broken American Male." He lives in Englewood.