The foundational texts of Christianity take the time to tell their readers much about Jews and Judaism. The writings of the Church Fathers and the subsequent luminaries of the various Churches maintained this pattern of instructing their respective audiences on the subject of Judaism.
This Christian habit of discussing Judaism is not a positive one. The pages of history are stained with the ramifications of this ugly tradition. And the effects of this pattern are still very evident in the conversation between the Christian and the Jew. The Christian enters into a conversation with a Jew assuming a load of misconceptions that were taught as “gospel” truth. The Jew may talk but the Christian will not hear because he already “knows” what the Jew will say.
The purpose of this humble article is to dispel some of the more prominent myths that Christians believe about Jews and Judaism. It is my hope and prayer that these simple words will help people reconsider. If one person comes to the realization that it is irresponsible to characterize a community with the judgment of their theological opponents then my words were not written in vain.
Myth # 1
The Jewish people reject Jesus because they have a materialistic expectation of the Messiah. The Jewish people expect a conquering king who will give them dominion of the world and the deeply spiritual message of Jesus does not resonate with them.
The Jewish people reject Jesus’ Messianic claim because they have read the words of the prophets concerning the Messiah. The prophets presented a portrait of the Messiah both in letter and in spirit. Jesus did not conform to the letter of the prophet’s vision; the practical details of the Messianic prediction. But more importantly, Jesus is the very antithesis of the spiritual underpinnings of the Messianic hope.
The prophets of Scripture looked forward to a day when every man, woman and child join together in accepting God as Master over all. They foretold a time where people recognize that their very existence is an undeserved gift from the Creator. The Messiah that the Jewish prophets spoke of will accentuate and emphasize the truth that every iota of existence is intrinsically indebted to God.
The message of the “Messiah” of Christianity stands in direct conflict to the message of the Jewish prophets. His whole claim is built on the obfuscation of the distinction between Creator and created. The deification of a man is a denial of the inherent debt that all existence owes to God and it is certainly not an acknowledgement of that truth.
Myth # 2
The Jewish Scriptures clearly and unequivocally speak of the advent of Jesus. But the Jewish people, under the manipulative influence of their corrupt leaders, refuse to acknowledge this obvious truth.
The Jewish Scriptures say nothing positive about Jesus. The only way that the gospel writers were able to find “proof” for the advent of Jesus in the words of the prophets is by mistranslating, mauling and manipulating the text of the Jewish Scriptures. Not only do the gospel writers disregard the plain meaning of the Biblical text, but they also violate the spirit of the prophetic word. A passage like Isaiah 53 which is a message of comfort for the Jewish people that are loyal to God is turned by the Church into a word of condemnation and denunciation against these same people.
The Jewish rejection of the claims of the Church is not based on a disregard for Scripture. The Jewish rejection of the Christian claims is rooted in the spirit and in the letter of the Scriptural message.
Myth # 3
The ancient Jewish teachers spoke of a suffering Messiah but modern Jews suppress this teaching in order to discredit Jesus.
The teaching of a suffering Messiah is as popular amongst the Jewish people as it ever was. This teaching has never been suppressed in any way. This teaching was never presented as the straightforward contextual message of Scripture but as an allegorical and symbolic message. The modern Jewish teachers who focus on the symbolic messages of Scripture still speak of a suffering Messiah today.
The Jewish concept of a suffering Messiah has nothing to do with the Christian teaching about Jesus. One of the deepest differences between these two messages relates to the issue of faith. According to Christianity the suffering of Messiah only benefits those who believe in him and in the atoning power of his suffering. There is no parallel to this belief in all of the vast literature of Jewish thought. The Driver and Neubauer compendium on Isaiah 53 presents a quote from Rabbi Eliyahu di Vidas which would seem to indicate that this rabbi did believe in the concept of faith in the atoning power of Messiah’s suffering. But this quotation is simply a gross mistranslation. Rabbi di Vidas actually says the very opposite of what these professors would have their audience believe.
Myth # 4
The Jewish Scriptures and the ancient Jewish teachers spoke of corporeal manifestations of the Divine but Maimonides suppressed these teachings in order to discredit Jesus. The conflict between Maimonides and the ancient teachers is still reflected in the friction that exists between those Jews who emphasize the Kabbalistic teachings and those who favor the approach of Maimonides. The Jewish rejection of the Christian theology of the incarnation is only one side of the story. The Kabbalistic school of Judaism has no problem with that teaching.
All of Judaism rejects idolatry. All of Judaism, starting from the Scriptures, defines idolatry as worship of an entity other than the God who revealed Himself to our ancestors at Sinai as our ancestors preserved that revelation. The entire discussion between the Kabbalists and the rationalists is unrelated to worship. No school of thought within Judaism ever directed worship toward a finite existence no matter what the philosophical explanation. Every school of thought within Judaism identified this worship as the very antithesis of everything that Judaism stands for.
Christians seem to have a difficulty distinguishing between the act of worship and abstract discussions about God’s methods of interacting with the world. They see the distinction between worship and understanding God’s interaction with finite existence as an artificial distinction invented by Jews in a desperate effort to discredit Jesus. But this distinction is obvious in the Scriptures. The Scriptures clearly describe worship as an act of spiritual adultery and not as a misunderstanding of some theological abstract. The Christian devotion to Jesus is idolatry according to the only definition of idolatry that is recognized in Judaism.
Myth # 5
Judaism is a religion based on the arrogant notion that humanity can somehow earn God’s favor.
Judaism’s foundational premise is that everything belongs to God. No one can give to God that which does not already completely belong to God. As the true Messiah of Israel put this into words when he addressed God: “For everything is from You and it is from Your hand that we give to You” (1Chronicels 29:14). Judaism affirms that God’s favor can never be “earned”; not through works and not through faith. But God’s grace allows our activities and our heart to play a positive part His plan for the world.
It is Christianity that denies the absolute sovereignty of God with the belief that God’s favor can somehow be earned by a “perfect” performance of His commandments.
Myth # 6
The Talmud teaches Jewish people to hate Jesus.
The Talmud contains more than 2700 pages. In the entirety of the Talmud there are 3 paragraphs that some scholars understand as negative references to Jesus. (Contrast this with the amount of paragraphs that the Christian Scriptures fill with negative misinformation about the Pharisees in particular and about the Jewish people in general.) Jesus and Christianity are non-issues for most Jews. In the Yeshiva schools, where Talmud is taught according to the tradition, Jesus and Christianity are not considered subjects of discussion.
An Appeal to Reason
One of the great Jewish teachers was a man named Hillel. This stories that are recorded about Hillel portray a man of endless patience and deep humility. Hillel taught that the core of Judaism is the maxim: “that which you hate done unto yourself do not do unto others.”
If you are a Christian I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of the Jew. Imagine if someone were to arise and claim that she is an incarnation of Jesus. This new prophet claims that the only valid path to Jesus is through faith in her and that your faith in Jesus is meaningless without faith in her. This prophet claims that the certain passages in the Christian Scriptures speak of her advent but when you read those passages in context you see that she has misappropriated the words of the apostles. This woman expects total and unequivocal faith in her message and she responds with impatience and anger when her words are not received as she would like.
You then meet up with some devoted followers of this prophet and you disregard their efforts to persuade you to join their faith. These followers then point to your rejection of their hero as proof that you are blinded, spiritually hard of heart and a child of the devil.
If all of this were to happen to you, would you feel that you were treated fairly?
If this is not how you would like to be treated then please do not treat others this way.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal