It’s not officially out just yet (that should come about February 1st), but Shmuley Boteach’s latest book Kosher Jesus is already, in a very public way, running the gamut of Jewish responses. Just google “Kosher Jesus” and you’ll have enough reading material for an entire airplane ride.
It’s not officially out just yet (that should come about February 1st), but Shmuley Boteach’s latest book Kosher Jesus is already, in a very public way, running the gamut of Jewish responses. Just google “Kosher Jesus” and you’ll have enough reading material for an entire airplane ride. The Brooklyn-based Allgemeiner newspaper carried dueling reviews: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen praises Boteach’s efforts to re-present Jesus as an anti-Roman Torah advocate though Rosen doubts we can know anything about the historical Jesus and that we should abandon attempts to persuade one another on religious issues. He notes too that Boteach largely re-cycles the work of Hyam Maccoby, a scholar whose work one tends to either love or hate. Meanwhile Rabbi Immanuel Schochet (who refuses to write the name “Jesus” and refers only to Kosher J) issues a halakhic (legal) opinion that it is forbidden to any person to buy or read the book, finding that it “enhances” the missionary message. And over at Haaretz, Raphael Ahren notes Glenn Beck’s approval of Kosher Jesus, presumably since Glenn Beck is always newsworthy or at least noteworthy.
All this has prompted responses from Boteach himself. In a Huffington Post article, he responds to his most virulent attackers, who appear to be part of his own Chabad movement, by explaining his intentions: to reclaim Jesus from the New Testament overlay “which was edited so as to deny some much [sic]of Jesus’ Jewishness and intentionally Romanize him.” At the Jerusalem Post, Boteach writes that “a battle is being waged for the soul of Judaism between a lunatic fringe who are slowly encroaching on the mainstream – as we have seen recently with religious men spitting on little girls in Beit Shemesh, Israel – and those who believe Judaism must always be informed, educated, open and loving. But the religious middle risks being cowed into submission by the crazies.”
It should be noted that this is hardly the first time a Jewish writer has come under attack for writing about Jesus in a positive way. Twentieth-century Yiddish writer Sholem Asch was notoriously vilified for writing a trilogy of books published in English translation as The Nazarene, Mary, and The Apostle (that is, Paul). And this, even though Jesus became a familiar trope among East European Yiddish writers of the time (see for example, From Rebel to Rabbi: Reclaiming Jesus and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture. The recent Jewish Annotated New Testament also seeks to present the Jewish Jesus as someone about whom the modern Jewish community should be knowledgeable apart from any intentions of “proselytization.”
None of these Jewish writers embrace Jesus as Messiah, as God incarnate, or as one whose death atoned for our sins. What their writings accomplish is to underscore something too often forgotten or minimized—by both Jews and non-Jews—that Jesus was indeed a Jew himself. That, at least, is the start of a dialogue. Except for those who would rather ignore, in Shmuley Boteach’s words, “the 600-pound gorilla in the room.”
Watch for a future blog after I have had a chance to read the book.