Kosher Jesus: judging a book by its cover

UPDATE: Rabbi Boteach has taken an interest in Jewish Israel's report and graphic presentation (see correspondence between Jewish Israel and Rabbi Boteach)

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Last August Jewish Israel reported on Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's plans to launch his book "Kosher Jesus".  It was clear to us from the outset that Boteach's journey with Christianity's lord and savoir was largely inspired and motivated by an outpouring of Christian love for Israel.   

How far and low will a Jewish man go in order to ensure and secure that loving embrace from evangelicals?  We're about to find out as "Rabbi Shmuley", sometimes scholar, other times therapist, "rabbi to the stars", iconoclast, and comedian, gets set to take "Kosher Jesus" on his road show.  His mission: an attempt to theologically reconcile Judaism with Christianity.

Although the official release date is scheduled for February 1st, the book is already being actively and critically reviewed. Boteach has already been featured at numerous pre-publication press conferences and book launches, both in Israel and the Diaspora. As anticipated, the book has raised the forecasted storm of reactions among Christians and Jews.  Jewish Israel will be updating this report as reviews, reactions and denunciations come in.

 

Two weeks ago week, Eve Harow host of Arutz 7 radio's Judean Eve program, contacted this writer and asked for an interview. Eve had interviewed Shmuley Boteachthe previous week and seemed to fully endorse his new book.  She contacted us in search of some balance.

Although we have previously reported on Boteach's efforts, we have not yet read the book, so we requested that Eve also bring Penina Taylor of Shomrei Emet Institute for Counter-Missionary Studies as a guest on her show.  Penina has read and reviewed"Kosher Jesus". She covered the theological angle and suggested that Boteach's efforts will be seen as offensive to Christians.

This writer emphasized that the very PR savvy Rabbi Boteach knew too well that this book was going to be judged by its cover.  The masses, many of whom will not read the book, will see its provocative cover and title, and assume that an Orthodox rabbi is endorsing jesus, a pagan deity as far as Judaism is concerned, as kosher.  Rabbi Boteach wants to turn the Jewish and Christian world upside down on this issue. The title itself is a marketing tease - deliberately misleading and an affront to Jewish dignity and sensitivities.

If it was meant to be a serious scholarly work, then a title such as "A Rabbi Looks at Historical Jesus" would have been more appropriate and the Boteach name certainly would have been a drawing card.  

Jewish Israel is fully aware that New Testament studies and Christian theology are legitimate fields for Jewish and Gentile scholars alike, and that Jewish professors like Flusser, FredriksonVermes, Levine and others have all explored the "Jewishness of Jesus" from an academic perspective.

But while Jewish academics may be inspired intellectually, Boteach is admittedly driven by an emotional and grandiose agenda and aspires to break down the barriers between faith communities. The following are just a few of many quotes which illustrate Boteach's theological designs to meld jesus into Judaism and vice versa:

  • “I wrote the book to create the theological bridge between Christians and Jews.” (the Jewish Chronicle – January 12, 2012)
  • “Christianity is an extension of Judaism. Jews can accept him as a teacher and martyr.” (the Jewish Chronicle – January 12, 2012)
  • Boteach calls for "a global movement to disseminate Jewish values and spirituality to all Earth’s inhabitants, making no distinction between Jew and gentile." (The Jerusalem Post – January 16, 2010)
  • In Judeo-Christian tradition, he writes, “Jesus is the hyphen that unites us.” (The Washington Post – January 13, 2012)
  • How can you have a relationship with close friends and you can't talk about the most important thing in their life and the most famous Jew that ever lived?", Boteach asked.  (Ha'aretz – January 6, 2012)
  • "Christians are our best friends today," he [Boteach] said. "There has to be a discussion of the theology. You can't have this 600-pound gorilla in the room and just ignore it." .  (Ha'aretz – January 6, 2012)

 

Ironic, irreverent and problematic

The debate is on as to whether or not Boteach's work is heretical, but his approach to a sensitive subject and insistence on wrestling with the forbidden is being deemed irreverent by both Jews and Christians alike.

It has been suggested by some that the best way to make the bestseller list is to get a book banned prior to its release, and Boteach has managed to do just that.

Respected rabbinic scholar and counter-missionary Dr. J. Immanuel Schochet has labeled the book heretical and has issued a ban:

"I have never read a book, let alone one authored by a purported frum Jew, that does more to enhance the evangelical missionary message and agenda than the aforementioned book."

 While JewishIsrael will refrain from commenting on the wisdom of book banning, we do note that Boteach's joint venture with jesus runs contrary in every way to what we understand to be the currently accepted halachic position on the matter of interfaith relations. Boteach dismissed the widely accepted halachic approach of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, reportedly claiming, "That was right for his time. It's not right for our time."

Boteach, of course, is kvelling about the benefits of the book ban on Facebook

 

Jewish Israel's rabbinic director, Rabbi Dr. Sholom Gold, has the following message for Boteach:

"Not only is banning books a bad idea, but sometimes writing them is too."

It's intriguing that banned books have been making headlines this week, with Joseph Lelyveld and Salman Rushdiejoining Boteach in the bestselling censured author's club.   

What all three authors have in common is their ability to trample religious sensitivities in the name of freedom of expression. Two of the three censured authors are Jews who felt knowledgeable and confident enough to tamper with the revered icons of other cultures and religions (Lelyveld touched upon intimate sexual matters, concerning Mahatma Gandhi, in his book "Great Soul".)

Boteach, who touts himself as "one of the world's leading relationship experts", should perhaps consider that elephants and gorillas sometimes sit in rooms to ensure respectful and fruitful relationships between parties who are deeply committed to diametrical points of view.  Not everything has to be touched or engaged. 

"Christian Zionist" leader David Parsons, media director of Jerusalem's International Christian Embassy (ICEJ) and contributing editor of the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, was clearly offended by Boteach's creative spin on Jesus and trashing of the new testament, as evidenced by his book review which appeared in last weekend's Jerusalem Post Magazine:

"Boteach's assault on the integrity of the New Testament is not the disciplined science of textual criticism…Rather, this is a wholesale shredding of the New Testament, based on pure conjecture on an agenda-driven imagination."

That's a pretty harsh retort to a man who penned a book out of a love for Christian evangelicals and a desire for a theological union with them.

 

Missionaries and messianics welcome the publication.

Some may be led to believe that Boteach's book is providing an essential educational tool with which Jews can respond to missionary overtures. Indeed, much of his book focuses on de-deifying jesus and taking a counter-missionary stance.  But ironically and quite sadly, the book is being praised by missionary and messianic organizations which target Jews for conversion.  Jews for Jesus and a number of messianic organizationshave expressed excitement about the book because it is indicative of a new openness towards the gospels:

" …. You can see that the movement towards accepting the true person of Jesus is not complete, but it should be encouraging to us none-the-less. If Jewish people overcome their abhorrence of the Gospels and begin to investigate what Jesus actually had to say, this can only be good news to the people of Israel." (oneforisrael.org)

But this reaction was also anticipated by Boteach, as he has Christian apologist and missionary extraordinaire, Michael Brown featured prominently in an opening page endorsementof "Kosher Jesus".

Brown shows up in a gushing acknowledgment, too.  Boteach professes his love for his "dear friend" and "my debating partner Dr. Michael Brown, a Jew who converted to Christianity and is now a Christian scholar and missionary who runs a renowned missionary school…" Apparently "savage debates" are followed by "warm dinners".

Jewish Israel and those in the field of counter-missionary workare concerned that an ill-prepared Jewish community, which is neither adept at the art of Christian polemics nor well-versed in their own traditions and Tanach, will now be engaging their time and efforts in inept attempts to explore Jesus and debate Christian scripture.

 

Counter Missionary Claims and Consensus

Boteach claims that he is at "the forefront of combating efforts to evangelize Jews and reverse the trend by bringing Jews who have converted to Christianity back to Judaism".  He cites as proof, "tens of audio and video debates with leading Christian missionaries all over the world"

Jewish Israelcontacted the leading counter-missionary professionals in the field, representing a number of organizations and asked them if Boteach is effective in bringing Jews back via his debates and if they considered him at "the forefront" of counter-missionary efforts?

This is the considered opinion of a consortium of counter-missionary activists working worldwide to confront the missionary challenge:

"Brown has the upper hand emotionally, psychologically as well as substantively. He presents a plethora of arguments to advance his position which for the most part go unchallenged by Shmuley. Unless someone came to the debate with their mind made up against Christianity, Brown would win on points.

It is impossible to imagine Shmuley being the counter-missionary that he claims to be when the missionaries keep inviting him back to debate and selling the CDs of the programs. He is simply blinded to the possibility that he is being used and exploited."

Boteach is already scheduled for another round with Brown, centered around "Kosher Jesus". It will be debate number twenty and scheduled for March 13th.

 

Kosher J. in LA and behind the bus station in Jerusalem

True to form, Boteach, the "rabbi to the stars", will be launching his book in Beverly Hills this week. The event is being billed as "The West Coast Launch of Rabbi Shmuley's Blockbuster and Controversial Book Kosher Jesus"

But light years away from Beverly Hills, located behind Jerusalem's central bus station, is a modest building housing Gefen Publishing, the publishers of "Kosher Jesus".

This writer spoke with Ilan Greenfield, owner of Gefen Publishing House a few years ago - just prior to their publishing a Hebrew version of David Brog's book "Standing with Israel".   At the time Greenfield explained to me that the Christian book market showed great promise, whereas the Jewish market was at a standstill or worse. 

It seems Gefen has indeed entered the Christian market and waded into the kind of waters traditionally reserved for John the Baptist. The Israel Trade Commission in Sydney Australia is featuring two of Gefen's titles for children: Jesus is Alive!  The empty Tomb in Jerusalem and John 3:16 Jesus and Nicodemus in Jerusalem.  And then you have The Jesus’ Family Tree Poster, which "traces lineages from Jesus Christ all the way back to Adam and Eve!"

Forget Jesus, we have bigger problems

An entire section of "Kosher Jesus" is dedicated to "Restoring Judeo-Christian values". In Judeo-Christian tradition, Boteach writes, "Jesus is the hyphen that unites us."

Jewish Israel feels that the hyphen may actually be a minus symbol, or an indication to "fill in the blank". According to Rav J.B. Soloveitchik, z"l, the missing link is "Hellenistic":

"People confuse two concepts when they speak of a common tradition uniting two faith communities such as the Christian and the Judaic…As a matter of fact, our Western heritage was shaped by a combination of three factors, the classical, Judaic, and Christian, and we could readily speak of a Judeo-Hellenistic-Christian tradition within the framework of our Western civilization."

Boteach's "Judeo-Christian "obsession may ultimately be more disturbing and destructive than any exploration and/or reinvention of Jesus. This is because the average committed Jew remains unimpressed by the persona of Jesus (unlike certain rabbis), but they arelikely concerned about Jewish continuity and the threat of spiritual assimilation via a crossing of theological lines between faiths. 

Jesus may very well be good for the Christians, but he's not for the Jews. And while all Jews appreciate upstanding, moral Gentiles, the Christian messagedoes not reverberate in the Jewish heart and soul.  We turn to our own ethical teachings, which were custom-made for us.

Boteach may find that in his attempt to hurdle over the barriers, put in place to protect Jewish tradition, he could trip and collide into some pretty solid foundations.

Shmuley Boteach could very well make a dent in the annals of Jewish history. He may go down in the record books as the radical rabbi who, in clinging to and depending upon a foreign "judeo-christian" tradition and invention, trampled religious sensitivities, overturned accepted halachic boundaries, and left his own people in the dark and confused.

Alternatively, Boteach could find his new venture utterly rejected and summarily relegated to history's dustbin, with a few souls vaguely recalling that it was with the publication of "Kosher Jesus" that Shmuley Boteach jumped the shark into obscurity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related Report:

Jesus gets Smicha and a Hechsher from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Correspondence between Jewish Israel and Rabbi Boteach

Related Video:

Inspired by Christian love, Boteach promotes "Kosher Jesus" 

 

Rabbinic reactions and counter-missionary reviews

IT'S YOUR OWN MESS SHMULEY - DON'T USE ME TO CLEAN IT UP Rabbi Michael Skobac

“Kosher Jesus” – A Book Review  Rabbi Eli Cohen of Jews for Judaism Australia.

Boteach's Book: when Kosher isn't Kosher Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Letter regarding "Kosher Jesus" Rabbi Dr. Immanuel Schochet

Not Everything Is as Kosher as It Seems  Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

Is Jesus Really Kosher?  Lawrence H. Schiffman

Kosher Jesus, Treif Christianity Yehuda Ilan

You Can't Kasher Jesus: An in-depth critique of Rabbi Shmuley Botea... Penina Taylor

Kosher Jesus Reviewed Gil Student in Jewish Action

Other opinions and reports

Shoving 'Kosher Jesus' Down Jews' Throats Eliyahu Federman

Rabbis face off over book about ‘Kosher Jesus’ Randy Boswell

Kosher Jesus Avakesh

Three Easy Steps to a Kosher Jesus Hirhurim Musings

Kosher Jesus?! Rabbi in the Middle of America

New book by U.S. rabbi depicts Jesus as a Jewish patriotHaaretz

"Christian Zionist" book review

Beware of the Bar-Kokhba Jesus David Parsons

Scholar of Christian and Jewish Studies review

It's "Kosher" to Accept Real Jesus Adam Gregerman 

Debates

Rabbi Tovia Singer debates Rabbi Shmuley Boteach 

 

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Comment by Jewish Israel on February 1, 2012 at 10:44am

Jake,

I'm not sure if we can speculate over any hidden agenda Rabbi Boteach has vis a vis his attachment to Chabad (emphasis on "his attachement", as Chabad's connection with Boteach appears to be an on again - off again affair), nor can we know how or if Boteach's book will influence the fringe "meshichist" movement.

We do know that, in the past, Boteach has added fuel to the missionary fire in his clumsy attempts to refute "meschichist" claims:

"Still, I disagree utterly with those unkind critics who warn that the Rebbe-as-Messiah phenomenon is proof that some in Chabad will ultimately write themselves out of Judaism. Indeed, to compare Chabad messianists with Christians is libelous, preposterous, and ignorant. It was not the early Jerusalem Church's insistence on the messiahship of Jesus that broke them off from normative Judaism, but rather Paul's later abrogation of the law. Early Christians did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, only that he was the long-promised Messiah. There was nothing inherently heretical about this belief, even if it was not normative." ---Shmuely Boteach

A number of Chabad affiliated rabbis have indeed been in the forefront of voicing opposition to the book "Kosher J.", but it's most likely because

a) they are in the field and at the forefront of kiruv work and counter-missionary endeavors - so they see the dangers

b) Boteach - who often drops the Rebbe's name - has caused a scandal and conventional Chabad voices obviously want to disassociate the Chabad organization and the Rebbe's name with the "Kosher J." endeavor.

We have previously reported on the way in which Christian missionaries exploit Chabad...

Excerpt:

“Messianic” Christian groups frequently use their spin on the beliefs of Chabad’s so-called “meshichist” faction (Rebbe = Messiah) to bolster arguments for the legitimacy of “messianic Judaism” and the “messiahship of jesus”.

Jewish Israel continues to call for responsible voices within Chabad to step forward and draft a comprehensive statement which clearly draws the line between Christianity and Judaism and allays all misconceptions about Chabad’s beliefs.  Perhaps the Boteach book controversy will encourage Chabad leaders to move on this matter.

Comment by Jake Jacobs on January 31, 2012 at 2:18pm

Upon reflection as to the entire controversy this book has caused and WILL cause in the future, I do believe that Shmuley belief as a Chabadnik may also be a factor in this entire messianic mess. By not repudiating those Chabadnik's who believe that the Rebbi is Moshiach (something which he himself denied most vehemently when several Roshei Yeshiva leaders came to visit him and asked him point blank if he was Moshiach) Shmuley's is actually also paving the way for the Messianic Chabadniks to justify their Beliefs.

After all, the logic would go something like this,  "If Jesus wasn't so bad for the Jewish people, then the Rebbi who did much more for the Jewish people and never became a deified Messiah can't be all that bad after all".

A hidden agenda from Shmuley before he reveals who the Messiah should really be (or was)? Only time will tell. Speedily in our days...

Comment by Jewish Israel on January 31, 2012 at 11:37am

Thanks Moshe Shulman,

Appreciate your scholarship on this.

Comment by Moshe Shulman on January 31, 2012 at 1:22am

Let me state my personal objections to Shmuely's book. I need to first state that he himself admits that the material in the book is based on already published works by Chaim Maccoby. So it must be understood that he really breaks no new ground. Let me state the objections that I have to his book and the views that he (and Maccoby) have taken.
 
1. He advances the idea that all Jews need to learn the NT, because there are Jewish ideas there. I agree that there are Jewish ideas there, but why waste time on a book that has some 'Jewish' ideas and many that are not? Do we advocate reading Marx, because we can trace concepts in his works back to Biblical themes?
 
I believe that if one wishes a good source of Jewish moral ideas from that time, by people of high moral character then they should not be looking into the NT but into works like Perkei Avos and Avos d'Rabbi Nosan. There are a number of well known instances of Jesus acting towards his mother (and father) in ways that are outside of the Biblical requirements of honoring parents. Also I find his hypocrisy at times disturbing. For example, he castigates those who give their money to the Temple because it deprives their parents of support, but at the same time he tells a rich man to give all his money away to charity which likewise leaves his parents without support.
 
2. Shmuely, Maccoby and a number of others push the idea that Jesus was a Pharisee. While it is true that Josephus states that the majority of people followed the views of the Pharisees there are problems with saying that Jesus was one.
 
First, it involves selective quoting from the NT. It is a big jump from saying that Jesus was a Jew to saying that he followed X group.
 
Second there are valid scholarly views that would place doubt on that view. For example in Mark and 1 Corinthians we see the view of Jesus on Divorce. This qualifies as multiple attestation and earliest source material. But the view taken there is one that is not Pharisaic!! It is beyond the most stringent view that the Pharisees took on this issue. Interestingly Matthew will later modify this to bring it more in line with Pharisaic rulings. So the question is was he really a Pharisee, or did the editors of the NT make modifications (as Matthew did) to bring Jesus more in line with the views that the majority of Jews in that time would approve of,i.e. the Pharisaic ones?
 
To close, we Jews need only look to the shining examples of holy men like Hillel and others who actions and teachings are related in the above sources.We do not need to rehabilitate people just to impress Christians who are our 'friends'.

Comment by Jewish Israel on January 29, 2012 at 9:49am

Moshe,

It is sad, because Rabbi Boteach has brilliantly discussed and confronted a number of cultural issues and problems facing contemporary society.  But he just bit off far more than any Jew should chew. 

Comment by Jewish Israel on January 29, 2012 at 9:35am

Zahava,

With regards to Jewish history on the matter of interfaith theological dialogue and debate (even in a friendly setting) Rabbi Amnon of Mainz (11th century) comes to mind. And we're reminded of his fate and prayers every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we recite 'Unetanneh Tokef'

Comment by Moshe Verschleisser on January 29, 2012 at 1:54am

Rabbi Boteach has always been open promoting himself. While I'm sure that his motives are genuine, it all manifests as a publicity hound. So, so sad.

Comment by Jewish Israel on January 28, 2012 at 9:03pm

Thanks, Batya.

It seems that a number of very talented rabbis have directed their potential and energy away from their people are now exploring foreign markets.

Comment by Batya Medad on January 28, 2012 at 8:23pm

Important post.  Thanks for the information.  It's so sad that a rabbi with so much learning and potential has been written such a dangerous book.

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