Shmuely Boteach is one of many Jewish people who are beginning to wonder why the most famous Jew of all has been monopolised by Christianity. He has written a book called “Kosher Jesus” about his desire that Jesus would be reclaimed as Jewish, and expresses regret that Jewish people allowed Jesus “to be ripped away from them without even a fight.”
Jewish people “Just accepted a Christian interpretation of his life and narrative”, says Boteach, suggesting that although he was Jewish, Jesus is seen as a Christian who loved the Romans and called Jews ‘children of the devil’. He asserts that because Christians no longer consider Jews to be their enemies, it is therefore time to recognize Jesus as a Torah-abiding Jewish patriot.
This book is telling the Jews to reclaim Jesus, the authentic Jesus, the historical Jesus, the Jewish Jesus’ and to be inspired by his ‘beautiful’ teachings.
This echos so much of what you can hear about Yeshua (Jesus) in Israel today. Of course, for most, “Yeshu” is still a curse word – the shortened name is an acrostic which stands for “may his name be forgotten and blotted out forever”. For centuries, his name and his followers have been the cause for much fear and loathing, but, perhaps with the extreme violent persecution against Jewish people fading in the memories, people are now wondering why this famous Jewish guy has been stolen from their heritage.
There is naturally ambivalence about the subject – for so many generations the very name has been to Jewish people what kryptonite is to Superman, but the younger generation who are less haunted by the horrors of the “Christian” Holocaust are more open to thinking about Jesus, and hearing what he had to say.
Now that Israel is 70 years old, Jewish Israelis are feeling more established as a people and less urgency to defend their Jewish identity – feeling more rooted and less hunted. The high walls might, just might, be coming down a bit, and there seems to be more willingness to explore what was in the past considered very dangerous territory.
It is still almost impossible to buy a copy of the New Testament in Israeli bookshops (it’s still considered dangerous and forbidden) but thousands of Israelis are searching for information about Jesus on the internet. In our websites, Israelis can hear about the Jewish man, Jesus, order a free New Testament in modern Hebrew, and hear personal stories of Israelis who have come to know him as their Messiah. Many people are coming to faith in this way, and the internet is proving an invaluable tool in providing a safe, private place to satisfy their curiosity about “Yeshu ha Notzri” (Jesus the Christian) and find that in fact he is YESHUA (which means salvation) and that he was very much a Jewish man in every regard.
Will the real Yeshua please stand up?
The common line that is spun in academic circles is that Jesus was a Jewish radical, a reformer, but that he never set out to start a new religion. So far, so good. You will hear this many times in lectures about the New Testament and that era of history. It has become a widely accepted understanding. What then follows is a slating of Paul the Apostle, who they claim twisted Jesus’ teachings, and made Christianity what it is today – against the intentions of Jesus.
“There was a lot of embellishment and editing,” Boteach asserts in his book. “We have to remember Paul never met Jesus. He cannot offer us a first-hand account of Jesus’ life… Jesus never declared himself God or meant to abolish Jewish law”. Boteach claims that Christian ideas of Jesus as divine messiah emerged as a savvy adaptation following the destruction of the Second Temple. Once Jews understand that, he suggests, they “can take inspiration from Jesus’ often beautiful ethical teachings and appreciate Jesus as a devoted Jewish son who became martyred while trying to lift the Roman yoke of oppression from his beloved people.”
Well. You can see that the movement towards accepting the true person of Jesus is not complete, but it should be encouraging to us none-the-less. If Jewish people overcome their abhorrence of the Gospels and begin to investigate what Jesus actually had to say, this can only be good news to the people of Israel.
Boteach’s book also challenges Christians to make an effort to enrich their Christianity through an understanding of the Jewishness of Jesus.
“Suddenly we have evangelical Christians emerging as the foremost supporters of the state of Israel,” he said. “We have this political alliance. What is a lacking is a theological bridge… Christians don’t know the Jewish Jesus… they know the Christ-divinity but not the Jewish man Jesus.”
 Raphael Ahren reviewed Shmuely Boteach’s new book Kosher Jesus (Gefen, 2012 [English]) in Haaretz, January 6
Click here to read interesting column by Boteach about his book and how it has been received