Christianity and Judaism are major world religions which, though they worship the same God, have marked differences which have caused two thousand years of strife and animosity between the two religions. In his book We Jews and Jesus, Samuel Sandmel likens the link between Judaism and Christianity to a type of parent-child relationship, saying, “Early Christianity was a Judaism; within a century after the death of Jesus it was a separate religion.
It was critical of its parent, and hostile to it, and elicited from its parent reciprocal criticism and hostility. “1 Opposing views of Jesus Christ caused the initial rift between Judaism and Christianity and is the primary source of the tension between the two religions which has continued for the last two millennia. Therefore, in order to understand how Judaism and Christianity relate to one another, it is essential to understand the way Jesus is perceived in each religion.
The way that Christians view Jesus is quite well known, but Judaism’s view of him is much lesser known, so it is important to explore Judaism’s perceptions of Jesus, beginning with New Testament times, and to examine the ways in which these feelings and opinions have changed over time. Although the New Testament is the main source of information regarding Jesus’ life, Jews often disregard it as a reliable source of information. It was not written until two to three generations after Jesus, hence it cannot be considered a primary source.
Also, from a Jewish perspective, the aim of the Gospels is not to give an accurate account of Jesus’ life and teachings; the Gospels served as missionary documents containing accounts recorded by biased evangelists. They reflect the aims of the church rather than actual facts, and their writers were more concerned with the advancement of Christianity than the transmission of factual historical information. For these reasons, it is impossible to separate the historical Jesus from the divine Christ presented in the Gospels, and Judaism regards the Gospels as unreliable and irrational.
It is not known exactly when Jesus was born, but according to the Christian calender, his birth year was circa 4 B. C. Christmas, the day of Christ’s birth, is celebrated by Christians on December 25, but the actual day and month of his birth are unknown. Rachel Zurer, a follower of Judaism, points out that December 25 was celebrated as the birthday of Mithras, a Roman god, until church leaders declared the day as Jesus’ birth date.
Jewish scholars believe that contrary to Christian teaching, Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem, and the idea of the Immaculate Conception is not accepted. According to the Talmud, Jesus was actually an illegitimate child. In a passage narrated in the Tract Kallah, 1b (18b), Rabbi Akibah says to Mary, “Tell me, what kind of son is this of yours? ” to which Mary responds, “The day I was married I was having menstruation, and because of this my husband left me.
But an evil spirit came and slept with me and from this intercourse my son was born to me. “3 The Talmud (the Babylonian Talmud in particular) refers to Jesus as “Son of Stada/Satda” and “Son of Pandera” ; these titles are not used clearly, but it is evident that both are used in reference to Jesus, and scholars have inferred their probable meanings. Sanhedrin 67a states that “The son of Stada was son of Pandera. Rab Chisa said: The husband was Stada, the lover Pandera. . . his mother was Miriam, the women’s hairdresser; as they would say.
S’tath da to her husband”; S’tath da means “she was unfaithful” or “she proved faithless,” and is obviously used in reference to Mary’s lack of faithfulness to her husband. 4 According to this passage, Stada was Jesus’ legal father (Mary’s husband), and Pandera was his biological father, Mary’s alleged lover. Stada is also used as a nickname for Mary, again, in reference to her alleged infidelity. According to Jewish belief, God has no son; since Joseph was not Jesus’ father, Jesus must have been illegitimate.
There exists a statute which reads: “A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of the Lord,” and the Talmud is absolutely certain that Jesus was illegitimate. 5 Knowing this, one may wonder why Jesus was allowed “into the assembly of the Lord. ” A possible answer is that Jesus actually passed as the son of Joseph until the claim of immaculate conception. 6 The Talmud again dishonors Mary by calling her a m’gadd’la n’sajja, a women’s hairdresser, an occupation which was not considered fitting for a virtuous married woman.
The Gospel recorded by Matthew asserts (and followers of Judaism believe) that Mary gave birth to other children, but this is denied by the Catholic Church, which refers to Mary’s other children as Jesus’ cousins. John 8:57 says that Jesus was”not yet fifty,” when he was executed. However, his execution is generally believed to have occurred when he was between the ages of 26 and 36, and it is commonly accepted that he was 33. The Jewish view of Jesus’ crucifixion greatly conflicts with the Christian interpretation of the event.
According to the book Zohar, III, (282), Jesus died like a beast and was buried in a “dirt heap. . . where they throw he dead bodies of dogs and asses, and where the sons of Esau [the Christians] and of Ismael [the Turks], also Jesus and Mahommad, uncircumcized and unclean like dead dogs, are buried”; in short, Jesus was buried in Hell. 8 The search for historical facts concerning Jesus’ execution has historically been a Jewish concern because of the hostility toward Jews because of this event.
From a Jewish perspective, one might wonder why Christians express such animosity toward those who they believe crucified Christ. If the crucifixion brought atonement to mankind, why would Christians hate those who were involved? If the crucifixion was God’s will, the role of those who carried out the crucifixion was determined by God and was no fault of theirs. 10 Judaism rejects most of Jesus’ teachings and characterizes him as a fool, idolater, and seducer of the people who, as described by Reverend I. B. Pranaitis, “could teach nothing but falsehood and heresy whish was irrational and impossible to observe. “11
Jesus is called a fool by the Elders in Schabbath, 104b: “He was a fool, and no one pays attention to fools. ” This was at least partially because of teachings in which he called himself the son of God or claimed that he and God are one. Jesus is also considered an idolater. In Sanhedrin, 103a, it is mentioned that Jesus “burns his food publicly,” which is equivalent to “[destroying] true doctrine through heresy, the true worship of God through idolatry. 2 Jesus is also accused of “[setting] up idols in the streets and public places. “13
During early Christianity, it was a general belief of Jews that Christians offered sacrifices to idols, and it was concluded that this practice must have commenced with Jesus. 14 Jews consider idolatry to be the “highest form of falling away from God”15, and it is believed that one who practices idolatry denies the entire Torah. Jesus is also charged with corrupting and seducing the people of Israel and is referred to as Balaam, a title which means “devourer” or “destroyer” of the people.
This title expresses the belief that Jesus was viewed as the spiritual destroyer of Israel because he caused a rift in the synagogue and “according to the Jewish conception is the greatest destroyer of the people, who has ever risen up in the midst of Israel. “17 Often, Jews and Jewish scholars parallel many of Jesus’ teachings and assertions to sayings in Jewish literature which preceded his existence and use this to deny Jesus’ originality. It is believed that although it is not known exactly what Jesus’ actual words were, they could only have come from Judaism.
After all, Jesus was a Jew, and he never turned away from Judaism. Stolper boldly asserts that none of Jesus’ teachings “added even one iota to the strength of the Torah,”18 and Rachel Zurer maintains that, “Christians who grew up believing that the gospels present original truths uttered by Jesus, need to turn to the Bible (their Old Testament) and to the rabbinic wisdom circulating in his time. Here will be found the sources for sayings attributed to Jesus. (Except of course for the scurrilous words and vilifications put into his mouth by the missionary evangelists). “19
Although some Jews see the similarities between Jesus’ teachings and Jewish literature as a lack of originality on Jesus’ part, some use this circumstance to demonstrate Jesus’ “essential Jewishness. “20 The problem with this thinking is that from a Jewish standpoint, the view that Jesus was a devout Jew and advocated full obedience to Jewish law cannot be derived from the gospels. This view can only be held if one denies a large among of testimony that contradicts it. In many biblical passages, Jesus considers himself superior to the Law and acts according to this belief.
He points out the law’s weaknesses, considers himself free from obligation to uphold it and frees others from this obligation as well. Instead of teaching his followers to follow the Law literally (which is the traditional Jewish practice), he taught them to live according to ethical, moral, and religious principles; Jesus taught that it was better to do the will of God out of free choice than out of obligation to a legal system. 21 It is common knowledge that Jesus performed many miracles.
However, some Jews accuse him of doing sorcery or “Egyptian magical arts. 2 Jesus was a healer and an exorcist; one should remember that in Jesus’ times, sickness was believed to be the result of sin, and that by healing the sick, Jesus was also forgiving their sins. 23 According to Laible, the assertion that Jesus was a sorcerer is the complement of another judgement of the Pharisees concerning Jesus’ miracles: Jesus wrought his miracles by means of sorcery, which he had brought with him from Egypt. “24 It was impossible to ignore Jesus’ miracles or convince people that they were not genuine; he had healed so many, and these people often gave him great support.
Thus, arose the claim of Jesus’ sorcery, which was specified as “from Egypt,” because Egypt was a land which was known for its magical arts. There, it was known how to imitate the miracles of Moses; “Ten measures of sorcery came down into the world. Egypt received nine measures, an all the rest of the world one. “25 This distinction is made because asserting that Jesus obtained his knowledge of magic in Egypt marks him as an arch magician. 26 Jesus was also accused of practicing magic which involved self-mutilation.
In Deuteronomy 13:2, God warned of a false prophet who could perform miraculous acts: “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer, and he gives you a sign or a miracle. And the sign or miracle comes to pass, and he calls on you, saying, Let us go after other gods, whom you have not known, and let us worship them. ‘ You shall not listen to that prophet or dreamer. For God is testing you, to see whether you love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul. ” To Jews, this verse is a clear indication that God had warned them about movements such as Christianity. Jesus did not fulfill Jewish messianic expectations; therefore, traditional Judaism vehemently rejects the characterization of Jesus as the Messiah.
Jesus is distinguished as the divine son of God, but the Jewish messiah is expected to be an extraordinary human with no claim of divinity. From a Jewish perspective it is preposterous and blasphemous to claim that the Messiah could be the son of God, and it is unacceptable to think of him as anything more than an extraordinary human who is “full of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of G-d.
It is Jewish belief that “When the Messiah is revealed to Israel, he will only open his mouth for peace,29” but Jesus clearly contradicted this, saying, “Think not that I come to send peace on earth. I come not to send peace, but the sword. “30 According to traditional Jewish thinking, Jesus could not have possibly been the Messiah that Jews are anticipating because he was unsuccessful. Additional messianic expectations are found in Isaiah 11:4, which states that the Messiah will “smite the tyrant. . . slay the wicked.
He is expected to perfect the world, redeem mankind, abolish all forms of impiety, and eliminate all forms of warfare. The Jewish Messiah is also expected to redeem Israel both spiritually and politically. In the book Hilkoth Melakhim, it is asserted that, “If all the things he did had prospered, if he had rebuilt the Sanctuary in its place, and had gathered together the dispersed tribes of Israel, then he would certainly be the Messiah. . . But if so far he has not done so and if he was killed, then it is clear he was not the Messiah whom the Law tells us to expect. 1 It is quite obvious to Jews that Jesus was not successful because evil and godlessness still exist, and Israel has not yet been redeemed.
Christians claim that Jesus was not actually unsuccessful and that he will return in a “second coming,” but this too is rejected by Jews, who expect that their Messiah will accomplish his goals of defeating evil and restoring Israel in only one attempt. Also, because the Jewish Messiah is mortal, he functions only as an instrument of God, and he is not the primary figure in the Kingdom of Heaven. For these numerous reasons, Jews consider Jesus to be merely one of many who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah; it would have been perfectly normal for such a person to attract a following, but Jesus’ claim is disregarded just as other messianic claims have been.
Christianity regards Jesus as more than human, which does not coincide with Judaism; Samuel Sandmel explains that, “Such a Jewish Jesus may well have been a good and great man – a prophet, a rabbi, or a patriotic leader – but he was not better or greater. than other great Jews. “33 Thus, Jesus’ claim to divinity is completely unacceptable to the Jews. Because Judaism denies Jesus’ claims to divinity, it also rejects the ideas of the Holy Trinity, incarnation, and Jesus’ role as mediator between man and God. The Holy Trinity, a doctrine which Jesus suggested, is the Christian belief in the Father (God, the creator), the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit (the godhead which speaks to prophets).
Twice a day, a believer of Judaism will recite the verse, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One,” which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. Christians claim that the Trinity is the same as the God worshiped by Jews, but according to Jewish teaching, to believe in the Trinity is to believe in multiple Gods. Since the Bible specifies that god is “One,” anyone who believes anything contrary to this is taking part in idolatry.
In fact, some believe that the development of the Trinity was a missionary attempt to adapt Christianity to pagans who were accustomed to polytheism. Judaism also rejects the idea of incarnation, which is best expressed in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. Born of the Father before all ages. . . Begotten, not made, of one substance with the father. . . Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And he became flesh by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary: and was made man. “35 Simply stated, this is the belief that Jesus and God are one in the same.
This was among Jesus’ teachings, and according to the New Testament, Jesus proclaimed this doctrine on numerous occasions; for example, “I and the father are one,”36 “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgement unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. “37 There are several verses in the Bible which from which one could discern that this view is false; one such verse is Deuteronomy 4:39: ” God is not a mortal that He should lie, nor a man, that He should change his mind.
This belief is clearly rejected by the Jerusalem Talmud, which states, “If a man says to thee I am God,’ he lies. “38 Jesus also claimed that he was to function as an intermediary between man and God, saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me. “39 To Jews, one who follows this doctrine is in violation of the first Commandment, which begins with “I am the Lord your God. . . You shall have no other gods before me. “40 Judaism also is against the use of the crucifix as a religious symbol. There is no word which, when directly translated, refers to the Christian Cross.
The cross typically used for crucifixion was often called Tau by Hebrews and Phoenicians. However, the cross adopted as a symbol of Christianity is called several names: Tsurath Haatalui (“the image of him who was hanged), Elil (“vanity, idol”), Tselem (in Jewish books, Crusaders are called Tsalmerin), Scheti Veerbh (“warp and woof, which is taken from the textile art”), Kokhabh (“star; on account of the four rays emanating from it”), and Pesila (“a sculpture,” “a carven idol”). 41 Whenever the cross is mentioned, it is in the sense of an idol or something which is unacceptable in Judaism.
It is evident that early Judaism disregarded Jesus and his followers, but to what extent have traditional Jewish attitudes toward Jesus perpetuated? How is the attitude of modern Judaism toward Christ different from the traditional attitude? This may be explored using the Jewish Encyclopedia – a record of Judaism from its earliest times – as a source. The articles in the Encyclopedia which discuss Jesus Christ were written by scholars of reformed or progressive Judaism (the two terms can be used interchangeably), which is the “product of modern thought, investigation, and adaptation to existing conditions.
Progressive Judaism began to develop during the early nineteenth century when interaction between Jews and gentiles increased and the exchange of ideas occurred much more than it had in the past. As a result of this movement, many Jewish beliefs have been modified to coincide more with modern times and to “promote assimilation with modern conditions without sacrificing the integrity of Judaism. “43 As the beliefs of Judaism have evolved, so has the attitude toward Jesus.
Naturally, followers of progressive Judaism do not see Christ as Christians do, but their view of him is more genial than it previously has been. Clyde Votaw, a Christian, welcomes the new trends in Judaism and believes that “the worst is past in the alienation of Jews from Christianity. “44 Progressive Judaism holds that Jesus was born around the year 2 B. C. in Nazareth; his public ministry lasted for approximately ten months, and he was executed in Jerusalem in 29 A. D. 45 Jesus was a figure who was extremely emotional about religion, and he often had visions and “celestial experiences.
He performed many miracles and was particularly devoted to casting out demons, which is now understood to mean that he cured mental and nervous conditions. He shared many beliefs and practices of the Essene sect, of which he was a part, but he also distinguished himself from them in many ways. 46 Jesus could be amiable and understanding toward friends but allusive and unfair toward others. Jesus was a devout and steadfast Jew, never turning away from Judaism. He believed that as a Jew, it was his duty to literally follow the Law.
If this is true, one may ask, if Jesus were considered a devout Jew, why has he continually been rejected by Jews? ) It is believed that in his teachings, Jesus was only reiterating previous Jewish beliefs. Essentially, Jesus’ teachings were a continuation of the teachings of John the Baptist, which had two central points: repentance and the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus’ doctrine of the fatherhood of God and the Prayer that he gave his disciples were also based largely upon previously existing Jewish ideas.
Therefore, all originality is denied to him. In response to this, Clyde Votaw asks, “. . . how comes it that the Jews did not first show, and through nineteen centuries have never shown, any real appreciation of the Lord’s Prayer, or of Jesus’ other teachings, which nevertheless they claim were reiterations of their own best thoughts? “47 It is also a belief of progressive Judaism that Jesus would not have attained the level of success that he achieved if it were not for his works; his teachings alone would not have been enough.
He performed miracles and great works for the common people, and in return they accepted and supported him. It was never his intention to establish a new religion; his mission was to Judaism. Progressive Jews believe that the Christian movement, which developed after his crucifixion, was not foreseen by Jesus and would not have been alluring to him. Contrary to the belief of traditional Judaism, progressive Judaism asserts that Jesus never actually claimed to be divine but instead that he regarded himself as an ordinary human.
The passages in the Gospels about Jesus’ divinity and status and the literal son of God reflected ideas of his disciples which developed after his demise. 48 Progressive Judaism is uncertain about whether Jesus considered himself the Messiah. In modern Judaism, the idea of the Messiah is discarded; it is not longer expected that a Messiah will come to redeem mankind. 49 Jesus did not know in advance that he would be crucified; contrary to traditional belief, progressive Judaism contends that Jesus’ death came as a surprise to him. He did not expect to be captured and executed.
Therefore, his death was not the self-sacrificing act that it is portrayed to be in the Gospels. It was represented this way because Christians needed to explain how God would allow the Messiah to be executed as Jesus was. The party responsible for Jesus’ execution was a small group of Jewish priests. Roman authorities depended on the Temple priests to inform them of dissenters and opposition, and these priests often functioned as puppets of the Roman empire. Because these priests were acting on behalf of personal benefit, they saw Jesus as a political threat to Rome which must be extinguished.
Jesus had no formal trial or hearing; he was secretly arrested and sentence, and Pilate was persuaded to execute him. Jewish common people were actually supporters of Christ and were in no way responsible for his execution. 50 The results of Jesus’ life were quite minimal. He had little or no influence upon Jewish thought and made no permanent impressions on Judaism. Christianity arose because of Jesus’ fervent disciples who abandoned Judaism to begin a religious movement among gentiles. Paul founded the movement in the name of Jesus Christ. 51
As was previously mentioned, Christ taught that it is preferable to fulfill the will of God out of free choice rather than merely out of obedience to a legal system. Thus, he undermined the importance of literal interpretation of and adherence to Jewish Law. Ironically, Progressive Jews have adopted Jesus’ policy regarding adherence to their ancestral Law. They do not consider the Law to be “binding upon themselves further than they approve for their own lives”; they reserve the right to decide which parts of the Law to observe and which to disregard. 52
It is quite amazing that two seemingly similar religions could have differences so significant that two thousand years of hostility and misinterpretations could arise from them. Many of the differences actually appear quite minor, but they are, in fact, so significant that followers of these two religions could not begin to comprehend one another’s doctrines. It hopeful that with continuing study of the historical events surrounding Jesus’ life, efforts of Judaism and Christianity to clarify and communicate their beliefs, and open-mindedness on the part of both religions, some of these tensions can be (and have been) alleviated.
Samuel Sandmel effectively explained this idea when he wrote, “The issue here is not whether he Jewish way is better, or the Christian way is better, but only that these two ways are so different as to be to most Jews and Christians incomprehensible to each other. “53 If these two religions learn to accept their differences and continue to view one another with open-mindedness and respect, as is the trend in reformed/progressive Judaism, it is probable that the worst of the strife between these two religions and their followers is in the past.