An Open Letter to Rabbi S. Boteach
Dear Rabbi Boteach. You seem to be surprised by the firestorm that erupted around your new book Kosher Jesus”. Your book was not even released and it was already banned. You have found yourself attacked from all quarters and you have valiantly wielded your keyboard against your critics. The upshot of your self-defense is that you are the representative of a fearless and broad-minded Judaism, while all of your opponents belong to the medieval, closed-minded, fanatical Judaism which the authors of the New Testament so vividly portray.
May I humbly introduce a new concept into your vocabulary which may allow you to see this controversy in a new light. It is called: sensitivity.
Symbols come with a lot of baggage. Take a flag as an example. If I were to burn the stars and stripes in front of a crowd of veterans who risked their lives for this great country; that would be insensitive. If I am wearing a uniform of the United States Army as I burn the flag; then my act would be doubly insensitive. If I then get up and explain to the enraged crowd that the stars actually represent communist North Korea, the red stripes represent China, while the white stripes represent the robes of the Afghan Taliban; it would not make my act any more refined.
Whether you like it or not, the word “Jesus” has become a symbol. 2000 years of history have imbued that word with a lot of negative meaning for our people. Aside from the horrors of persecution that have become so inextricably bound up with this name, there is the issue of idolatry. 2000 years of history have infused the word “Jesus” with the connotation of worship of a man – a concept that is the very antithesis of what it means to be a Jew.
The word “Kosher” also comes along with a meaning. “Kosher” doesn’t just mean that something is fine and good; it means that something is fine and good for those Jews whose lives are dedicated to God and to His Torah.
The fact that you are an Orthodox Rabbi and a Chabad Chassid is also accompanied by symbolism. When you talk, you represent something that is larger than yourself. You represent Chassidus Chabad, you represent Orthodox Jews, and you represent all of the Jews throughout history who carried the name “Jew” through fire and water.
Putting the words “Kosher” and “Jesus” on the same line in a public setting, is insensitive. Doing so while wearing the uniform of an Orthodox Rabbi, is doubly insensitive. Your shock at the firestorm that erupted when you trampled on the deepest feelings of the people who your uniform represents, would indicate that the concept: “sensitivity”, is completely foreign to you.
When one of Judaism’s most respected scholars banned your book, you could have used that as an opportunity to share one of Judaism’s most precious teachings with the world, namely; respect for Torah scholars. You could have humbled yourself towards a Torah scholar, and respectfully asked for an explanation. You would have set an example of humility before those who have imbibed more of God’s Torah than ourselves. Instead, you chose the opposite path. You chose to teach the world how to trample on the honor of Torah knowledge.
You were recently criticized by Rabbi M. Skobac, a man who has dedicated his life to the education of our people, specifically in the realm of countering the persuasions of Christian missionaries. Rabbi Skobac echoed Rabbi Schochet’s sentiment by identifying your book as a stumbling block, a work that will cause confusion, rather than encouraging education. Instead of stepping back, and considering the words of people who are both wiser and more experienced than yourself, you went on the attack. You had the incredible arrogance to lecture down to one of the foremost educators of our nation, “advising” him to write more books to educate Jews!
Your article attributes motives to those who criticize your book. You contend that your critics denounce your book because they want us to “fear the Christians”.
Did it perhaps occur to you that men who tower over you in every virtue are not as petty, fanatical and closed-minded as you make them out to be? Is it so hard for you to understand that in your attempt to redefine “Jesus”, you have inadvertently made a statement that redefines Judaism? Is it so difficult for you to see that the two slogans: “Kosher Jesus” and “Jews for Jesus” are synonymous?
Your article goes on to “warn” Rabbi Schochet and Rabbi Skobac that if they don’t come around to seeing things your way that they run the risk of becoming “dinosaurs”.
You may be aware that this “warning” has been the theme-song of all of our spiritual enemies throughout the ages. The Jewish people have always been “warned” that if they don’t join in the society where chutzpah reigns supreme, and Torah knowledge means nothing, then they run the risk of becoming dinosaurs. But the Jewish people are still here. The Jewish values of sensitivity and respect for Torah knowledge are eternal. Those who live by these eternal values will live forever in the memories of our people and in the lives they impact. It is those who trample on these values who run the risk of becoming dinosaurs.
Rabbi Boteach, you could have avoided causing our people so much heartache, by consulting with the wise men of our nation before taking unilateral action. It is too late for that now. But it is still not too late for you to teach the world another Jewish value. You could set an example for repentance. Should you choose the path of repentance, your memory would shine forever as a rare example of courage in retracting a public mistake. However, should you chose to tie your reputation to the crude and confusing slogan: “Kosher Jesus”, then you would be better off being a dinosaur.
Yisroel Chaim Blumenthal
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal