Excerpt from Critique of Volume 4

25. Page 216

In this section Brown takes a page out of Jesus’ book, and paints Judaism and her teachers in a negative light.

When Jesus presented his moral teachings to his audience, it was not enough for him to encourage his followers to aim for a higher moral standard. It was important for him to claim that his teaching was original, and that the teachers who preceded him failed to understand some basic moral insights. By doing so, Matthew’s Jesus set the stage for the subsequent teaching of John’s Jesus that the Jews are children of the devil. Eventually, the European people came to believe that the Jewish people are so intimately connected with evil that they fail to appreciate some of the most basic principles of morality.

Brown too is not satisfied to present Jesus’ moral teachings. He finds the need to paint a fictitious portrait of Judaism as a legalistic belief system with only the dimmest understanding of morality.

Brown points to Jesus teaching against anger as a “deeper” understanding of the Law. The fact is that Jesus taught the Jewish people nothing that they did not already know. The rabbis taught against anger, making sure to point to the Scriptural source for their teaching (b. Nedarim 22b, based on Ecclesiastes 7:9).

Brown points to Jesus’ teaching against lustful thoughts as another example of an “exclusive” moral insight of Jesus. The Rabbis also taught against lustful thoughts, making sure to attribute the moral insight to Scripture (b. Eruvin 18b, based on Proverbs 11:21, see also Job 31:1).

Jesus’ teaching “let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”, is also cited by Brown as an example of Jesus’ moral superiority over the teachers of Rabbinic Judaism. The problem with Brown’s assertion is that the Talmud records precisely the same teaching, again pointing to a Scriptural source for this concept (b. Bava Metzia 49a, based on Leviticus 19:36, see also Leviticus 19:11, Proverbs 12:22).

The famous teaching of “turning the other cheek”, which Brown interprets as “not seeking retaliation”, is explicitly stated in the Torah – Leviticus 19:18.

The philosophy of “loving your enemies”, is also echoed in Rabbinic literature (b. Bava Metzia 32b, based on Exodus 23:5, see also Leviticus 19:17).

Brown speaks of Jesus’ advice to perform acts of righteousness in secret as another example of Jesus’ “original” insights. Again, this is a well known Rabbinic teaching based on Scripture (b. Succah 49b, based on Micah 6:8).

The teaching “forgive others so that we may be forgiven” is also not a “Jesus original” as Brown seems to assume. The Talmud presents the same teaching (b. Rosh Hashana 17a, based on Micah 7:18).

Jesus’ warning not to store up treasures on earth is found in the Talmud as well (b. Bava Batra 11a, with various Scriptural quotations including Isaiah 3:10).

The warnings against greed and love of money are also found in the Rabbinic writings (Avot 4:21, Kohelet Raba 1), and these concepts are found in the books of Scripture especially in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (e.g. Proverbs 15:27, Ecclesiastes 2:11).

The concept of trusting on our Father’s goodness is a prevalent theme in both the Rabbinic writings and in the Jewish Scriptures (e.g. Jeremiah 17:7, Psalm 55:23).

Jesus’ teaching against being judgmental, and his encouragement for self-examination are also paralleled in the Rabbinic sources (b. Bava Kama 93a, Bava Batra 60b based on Zephaniah 2:1).

(At this point, one might ask: How did Jesus provide an example for self-examination? By teaching that he could do no wrong, his followers could not fathom why he died such an ignominious death. In sharp contrast to Jesus, when two of the Pharisee leaders were being executed by the Romans they provided an incredible example for self-examination. One said to the other: “in an instant you will be together with the righteous, why then do you cry?” The response was: “I am crying because we are dying like those who have murdered and violated the Sabbath.” The former comforted his companion: “perhaps you were eating or sleeping and a woman came to ask you a question concerning the Law and your students turned her away. Does not the verse say “if you oppress them (the widow and the orphan) I will smite you by the sword?” It is these people who Jesus slandered when he taught the world that the Pharisees ignore the commandment of caring for the widow and the orphan (Matthew 23:14).)

Brown concludes that traditional Jews might find these concepts: “profound but vague”. Brown warns that traditional Jews will need “some level of reorientation” to implement these moral teachings (page 217). I find this simply amazing. Brown seems to be under the impression that no traditional Jew ever heard of these concepts. Just to get an idea as to how skewed Brown’s view of reality actually is, please consider the following. A Messianic teacher decided to try to implement Jesus’ moral teachings. He created a website that focuses on the ethical and moral teachings of Jesus and he elaborates and expands on each one. He draws most of his sources from rabbinic literature! (Here is the link to his site – http://rivertonmussar.org/)

Brown seems to be locked into an “either or” world view. Either one follows a religious legal code, or one follows a moral code. The Scriptures teach and the respective histories of the Church and the Synagogue confirm that it is “both or neither”.

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Thank You

Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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6 Responses to Excerpt from Critique of Volume 4

  1. naaria says:

    A Godly & humble person would never take credit for the words or the actions of others. When you are trying to show commonality with the “old”, to show compatability, continuance, or dependence, you accentuate the links and similarities. Otherwise, you must draw distinctions and demonize others who also share the “old”, but who disagree with your truly new teachings that are incompatible with the old.

  2. From Darkeness to Light says:

    I truly feel sympathy for those Jews who do not recognize the precious gems that Torah holds. For a Jew to believe that he/she can only avail themselves of this Eternal wisdom through the self nullification and worship of a man, is tragic. I know. That was me at one time. Therefore my first reaction to the link mentioned above, rivertonmussar.org, was one of anger at the deceptive tactics used to lure Jewish individuals who are not yet knowledgeable in Torah. Yet, on the other hand, truth always speaks for itself. For a Jew, authentic Jewish learning surely wakes up the neshama inside and perhaps, ironically, as the Messianic movement more closely aligns itself with traditional Judaism, the poor souls trapped in a world of deception will wake up to the truths of a pure, unadulterated, Torah life.

  3. Sharlee says:

    Aloha Rabbi,
    Since leaving Christianity and therefore giving myself permission to question its teachings, the teaching on turning the other cheek has brought up some issues for me. I can see where, in Jewish teachings, it would be taught that we are not to see vengeance. However, in Christian teaching, it is not so much not seeking vengeance as it is to not even seek justice. To allow one’s self to be persecuted and abuse for the sake of the name of Jesus and the possible salvation of the abuser.

    Coupling that with his warnings against unjust anger (who decided what that is anyway?), I have found that, in Christianity, these both have lead to unreasonable expectation on the Christian to dismiss abusive behavior and centuries of backlog on unresolved conflict. Essentially, I find them very dysfunctional. A have a friend whose husband left her for another woman after 24 years of marriage. Abandoning her and their two daughters. It would be understandable that there would be anger. I feel it should be understandable that she doesn’t want to “turn the other cheek” and just take more abuse (he has made things very hard for her). She has been told time and again that she gave up her right to anger when she took Jesus as her savior and these are the verses that get quoted to her. To not be unjustly angry (Mtt 5) gets turned into, you can’t be angry at all. If you are, you get labeled as bitter and unforgiving. Turn the other cheek gets distorted into, you gave up your right to justice when you became a Christian. Loving your enemy get tied into all of it. Are these the teachings of the Rabbis, or has Christianity taken these teachings, and because of their lack of understanding of Judaism, distorted the true intent of the original concept?


  4. Sharlee
    I prefaced my comments on the teaching of turning the other cheek with Brown’s interpretation of not seeking retaliation. The concept of not turning the other cheek to the degree of not defending oneself is not a Biblical teaching – the Bible is full of the exhortation to pursue justice – which obviously includes putting evil-doers in their place and a healthy hatred of evil.
    As it relates to your friend. I find it astonishing that other people should encourage her to give up her negative feelings towards someone who is hurting her. Friends are there to share feelings. She should be feeling that her friends harbor the same feelings of anger towards the injustice that is being done – she will feel less alone – this is what the prophet meant when he said “take up the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1). You notice – it doesn’t say “preach to the widow to forgive and forget”. Once she feels less alone she could start sorting out her feelings in a way that is beneficial for herself and for her children – but before that – she needs empathy – not preaching.
    The attitude that you describe (preaching to her to stop being angry) is not what the Bible teaches – at least not the Bible of Moses and Isaiah. Justice comes before mercy – and justice includes a deep desire to right wrongs – not to overlook them. Sharlee – if these are her friends – you got to give her all the support that you can.

    • Sharlee says:

      Thank you for explaining this to me. That was my understanding of the Jewish teachings, but I am constantly learning and “un”learning stuff. I do support my friend, however, it is hard for my friend to receive this kind of support because of the Christian teachings on forgoing justice. I am sure it is not even what Jesus meant. I believe he taught much Judaism and Christianity has twisted it to their own destruction in order to control and manipulate others. If I offer the right to someone to be angry, I am answered with, “No, you are not allowed to be angry!” or if they are a little more liberal, you can be angry but sin not, which is to essentially do nothing.
      I liked your comment that justice comes before mercy. Do you have any scriptural references I can look at off the top of your head? I can research it as well, if it is not on the top of your head.

  5. kenneth c. says:

    dr brown is not the founder of riverton mussar

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