Annelise on “Hypocrisy or Loyalty ?”
The claim that another human being is the only way to follow or worship God should never be taken lightly. But when someone chooses not to accept Jesus, well-meaning Christians often ask: “Would you accept any proof for this? What would be enough for you to believe?”
Questions like this assume that the other person rejects a claim regardless of the clear and acceptable truth. Those who ask them feel that enough evidence is plainly laid out for Jesus being a king and restorer of Israel in David’s lineage, and the only way of knowing the presence and forgiveness of God in your life or community. The implication is that someone would only reject Jesus if they were hypocritical in their faith; surrendered to an unreasonable bias or fear rather than responding to the simple words of their Creator.
The New Testament portrays Jesus and his followers having the same attitude. According to these documents, they believed that most of the Torah observant leaders and teachers lived hypocritical lives. When these leaders did not treat Jesus as one anointed or sent by God, they were accused of not listening to God or relying on His mercy by faith.
Christian sources usually describe the Pharisees as caring more for their own traditions than for the heart of Torah, while rabbinic memory documents the same Pharisaic tradition having a heart for justice, kindness, devotion, and sincerity in obedience. It is the word of one side against the other. In any case, if the leaders really were hypocritical, it would certainly have been appropriate to emphasize the old prophetic message of sincerity and justice. But this issue is entirely separate from the fact that they rejected Jesus’ claims of a new fulfillment arriving. The important thing is that if these teachers, and many other Jews, did not disobey a clear and explicitly relevant Torah commandment when they rejected Jesus, then they did not reject God or His covenant in their choice.
How can that be a fair assumption? It is possible that Torah allows something even while it does not command it in detail. So with enough evidence, why can’t a future revelation show that something is not only allowed but also absolutely necessary? If the things claimed about Jesus were verifiably true, there would be no direct prohibition in Torah about accepting them. So if miracles were enough to verify Moses, why not for Jesus?
Part of the answer is that since Moses’ time, the Torah has described a complete path for a Jew returning to God, with every step detailed already. The whole path has always been available to walk on, and if someone does take it, then according to the Torah they have done enough. God promised that when the Israelites came under the curse and punishment of breaking His Law, they would be restored “when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today.” (Deuteronomy 30:2) This was the full answer that should have been given to a Jew in the first century who asked how he or she could be saved from judgment. If a Jew comes back to the original Torah wholeheartedly, thanking God for His mercy and not disregarding the things commanded under Moses, they have done enough.
You can’t just show that one ‘may’ do something, and then claim that an extra revelation shows that one ‘must’, if that new thing is not supported by something that God taught already Israel to test and accept.
A question emerges here. Jesus was not the first Jewish leader after Moses to say that the Israelites would be disobeying God if they ignored a new message not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. One example is Jeremiah, who said:
“Remnant of Judah, the Lord has told you; ‘Do not go to Egypt’… I have told you today, but you still have not obeyed the Lord your God in all he sent me to tell you. So now, be sure of this: You will die by the sword, famine and plague in the place where you want to go to settle.”
The difference is that God gave a clear directive for recognizing and following a prophet. To disobey Jeremiah would be against those commandments. But God never gave a way to recognize an incarnation claim. As for the claim about being the promised king, there is no commandment given in Tanach to recognize or accept that king until he is actually anointed and enthroned amidst the restoration.
A Jew who refuses to accept a claim like this is not ignoring or missing any instruction of the Law that God said would be the single way to return to Himself. One who is careful to turn towards obedience by action and by heart, with God’s help, also fulfills all the plain instructions of the prophets. He or she can stand confidently and thankfully as a part of the righteous witness community of Israel.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal