Rav Shlomo Riskin, he of the crying Torah, has found himself in hot water again. It seems a recent video interview he gave has landed him in hot water for expressing frankly heretical views. Having watched part of the video, I disagree. The troublesome views weren't heretical, they were just stupid.
All of this tends to revolve around an uncomfortable question for Jews. Who exactly was the Chrisian false god? Was he really a prophet? Was he really a rabbi? Was he really from the House of David? The Chrisian answer to all those questions is "yes and he was more". However, the Jewish approach has always been quite different. It seems recently that profound misunderstands have crept even into the Orthodox community, or at least its left feel-good fringe:
. The video was clearly posted for a Christian audience but it has caused shock waves among Orthodox Jews and especially the Charedi community. Rabbi Riskin stated on the video that Jesus was a model rabbi who “lived the life of a Jewish rabbi in Israel”.
Anyone who has learned the Jewish version of the history of that time, as opposed to the Church's, knows that Rav Riskin is completely incorrect. What we know about J.C. comes from censored sections of the Talmud. A character named Yeshu HaNotzri appears in a handful of places and in one he is listed as being a student of Yehoshua ben Perachya. This clearly contradicts the Church's version of history as it means he lived 200 years before the so-called Common Era as opposed to heralding its beginning with his birth.
Further, in his various appearances in the gemara it is quite clear that Yeshu was not a rabbi. Remember that in those days the term was reserved for someone who received official semicha from another rabbi. One didn't just go and do a degree program like JTU and HUC offer to get the title. If Yeshu couldn't get his teacher to give him semicha then he couldn't become a rabbi and the gemara makes it clear that this process never happened. Instead he was tossed out of class for inappropriate comments and lustful thoughts, hardly a fitting start for a putative messiah.
Surely, at a minimum, Jewish education today should include learning that Jesus and his family would have been Torah observant, kept Shabbat, circumcised their males, attended synagogue, observed purity laws in relation to childbirth and menstruation, kept kosher, and so on. While the Gospels record disputes about Jesus’s interpretation of a few of these, the notion of a Christian Jesus, who did not live by Torah or only by its ethical values, does not fit historical reality.
Let's look at another annoying historical fact. Josephus Flavius wrote extensively about the period of time in which Yeshu supposedly lived but never mentioned him. Yet we know that Josephus was fanatical about details big and small. This bothered the later Church so much that they altered the text of his books to include a record of Yeshua. Thus even if a Yeshu had been around at that point he was clearly an insignificant figure, possibly a forgetable rabble rouser, who should have disappeared from history.
Except that not much later after his death Saul of Tarsus decided to change history. Taking Yeshu's name, he created a new religion, one with much more mass appeal than Judaism, and spread it across the Roman Empire. Yeshua, either Yehoshua ben Perachya's student or some other, really gave nothing to this new religion other than his name. He was never a rabbi, or a prophet, or a potential messiah. And Rav Riskin should know that.
Yes, it is uncomfortable for Chrisians to read that this is the Jewish understanding of their so-called saviour. However, they must also recognize that their entire religion, including the whole abolition of "the law", the appropriation of the "Chosen people" moniker from us and 1900 years of relentless persecution in the name of Yeshu have been uncomfortable for us. We should not seek strife with them but we should also not alter our understanding of our history to accomodate them either.
Coincidentally, another Jewish leader is mentioned in the article making another, similar mistake:
However, they have caused as much outrage as the publication in 2002 of Chief Rabbi Sacks’s book, Dignity of Difference, which had to be quickly revised to avoid accusations of heresy.
Sacks was criticised for suggesting that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were equal on theological grounds, which led him to rephrase some statements. For example, in the second edition he removed the statement that “God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims”, which became “As Jews we believe that God has made a covenant with the singular people, but [this] does not exclude the possibility of other peoples, cultures and faith finding their own relationship with God within the shared frame of the Noahide laws.”
I hadn't heard this and was shocked to discover that Rav Sacks, a well-known Talmid Chacham had said this. His "God has spoken to mankind in many languages" would be explicable if each of the three religions mentioned didn't all contain mutually-exclusive clauses. The Navi tells us that "You alone have I known of all the peoples in the world". Chrisianity claims that with the rise of Yeshu the old convenant with the Jews is abrogated and transferred to the Church. And Islam claims, of course, that Moe spoke with God and became the last prophet, superceding and replacing all previous prophets and laws.
Does Rav Sacks think that God is a practical joker saying to himself in Heaven "I'll tell each of them that they're the chosen one and watch them fight it out for millenia!"? If we are right, then they are wrong and vice versa. Once again, this is an uncomfortable concept for the "can't we all get along" crowd but discomfort does not alter its validity.
Others are entitled to believe and practise as they see fit, of course. But that right does not also demand that accept their validity. Rav Riskin should have known better.