As a book reviewer I receive countless requests to read books and, when I received one regarding “Kosher Jesus” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, I was intrigued by the title. In addition to fathering nine children, the rabbi has written 27 books, is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and the profile on his website is filled with achievements and encomiums
I was, quite frankly, floored by his book. As a longtime informal student of world religions, I found his comparisons between the biblical and historical Jesus impressive. As word of this book gets out, I suspect he will be contested by Christians because he meticulously reclaims the historical Jesus as quintessentially Jewish without a hint of the Christology that was applied to his life following his death at the hands of the Romans.
With some irony, it is another rabbi, Immanuel Schochet, who recently issued a letter banning anyone from reading “Kosher Jesus”, calling it heretical. Rabbi Boteach replied saying that “America is not Iran and rabbis in the American Jewish community are not the Revolutionary Guard.” Well said!
Debuting officially on February 1st, I suspect Rabbi Boteach is going to come in for a world of disputation from elements of both the Jewish and Christian communities. Their problem will be that Rabbi Boteach is a serious student of the Torah, the Talmud (rabbinical analysis and commentary on the Torah), and the New Testament.
His book is testament (no pun intended) to his central assertion that Jesus was a charismatic rabbi, a Jew preaching exclusively to Jews at a time when Israel was seeking to throw off the occupation of the greatest pagan power of his era, the Roman Empire. Indeed, their rebellion would culminate in the destruction of the Second Temple and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews in 70 CE.
Rabbi Boteach dissects the gospels, all written well after the death of Jesus, and the writings of Saul of Tarsus, saying in effect, that Christianity wrongly asserts that the Covenant and laws of Judaism had been replaced by a religion based entirely on faith in the belief that Jesus died for the sins of the world and accepting him as a personal savior removes one’s personal responsibility to live a holy life, a righteous life, and one that accepts the Torah as God’s word and law.
Among Jewish and Christian martyrs who died for their faith, Rabbi Boteach places Jesus as the best known Jew in the world. He condemns the New Testament for seeking accommodation with the Roman Empire, composed of idol-worshipping pagans, by turning the historical Jesus into an enemy of Judaism and thereby letting loose two thousand years of anti-Semitism.
The rabbi is not seeking to convert Christians to Judaism and notes several times that Judaism does not proselytize. “Theologically, Christians and Jews think differently about the nature of the world.” Instead, he seeks to restore Jesus “to his authentic Jewish roots” to “allow a new era of Jewish-Christian reapproachement to begin.” Indeed, in the wake of the Holocaust and the reestablishment of the nation of Israel, it is clear this change has been occurring.
In a time of resurgent Islamism, Rabbi Boteach rightly says that “Jews and Christians have so much in common, we must unite behind our democratic values, defend the embattled State of Israel, and participate in a unified front against those who have vowed to defeat us.”
Amen to that!
“Kosher Jesus” will not be an easy book for Christians to read because it rebuts much of what the New Testament has to say about Jesus. It eviscerates the claims of the gospel writers and of Paul, an apostle who never knew the Jesus he promoted as part-god, part-human, a distinctly pagan belief. The Romans routinely believed their emperors were gods. The Greek pantheon of gods had distinctly human characteristics and failings.
“Restoring his Jewish identity makes (Jesus) available to us as a flesh-and-blood hero who fought for what is right, in place of a celestial icon utterly detached from human experience”, says Rabbi Boteach.
The perfection attributed to Jesus, the rabbi notes, is comparable to that attributed to the Buddha and, in the Hindu faith, to Krishna. Humanity longs for such perfection, but Judaism believes that we achieve righteousness in our struggle to do the right thing, by our acts, not by faith alone. Jews know it is human to fail and that is why God offers redemption. Indeed, the word “Israel” means “he who wrestles with God.”
I recommend “Kosher Jesus” to anyone who wrestles with God, who wrestles with their human imperfections, and who strives to live a righteous life.
Editor’s note: One can read Caruba’s monthly report on new fiction and non-fiction at http://www.bookviews.com./
© Alan Caruba, 2012