Jewish Perceptions of Jesus Christ Essay

This essay has a total of 5378 words and 20 pages.

Jewish Perceptions of Jesus Christ

Jewish Perceptions of Jesus Christ
Christianity and Judaism are major world religions which, though they worship the same
God, have marked differences which have caused two thousand years of strife and animosity
between the two religions. In his book We Jews and Jesus, Samuel Sandmel likens the link
between Judaism and Christianity to a type of parent-child relationship, saying, "Early
Christianity was a Judaism; within a century after the death of Jesus it was a separate
religion. It was critical of its parent, and hostile to it, and elicited from its parent
reciprocal criticism and hostility."1 Opposing views of Jesus Christ caused the initial
rift between Judaism and Christianity and is the primary source of the tension between the
two religions which has continued for the last two millennia. Therefore, in order to
understand how Judaism and Christianity relate to one another, it is essential to
understand the way Jesus is perceived in each religion. The way that Christians view Jesus
is quite well known, but Judaism's view of him is much lesser known, so it is important to
explore Judaism's perceptions of Jesus, beginning with New Testament times, and to examine
the ways in which these feelings and opinions have changed over time.

Although the New Testament is the main source of information regarding Jesus' life, Jews
often disregard it as a reliable source of information. It was not written until two to
three generations after Jesus, hence it cannot be considered a primary source. Also, from
a Jewish perspective, the aim of the Gospels is not to give an accurate account of Jesus'
life and teachings; the Gospels served as missionary documents containing accounts
recorded by biased evangelists. They reflect the aims of the church rather than actual
facts, and their writers were more concerned with the advancement of Christianity than the
transmission of factual historical information. For these reasons, it is impossible to
separate the historical Jesus from the divine Christ presented in the Gospels, and Judaism
regards the Gospels as unreliable and irrational.

It is not known exactly when Jesus was born, but according to the Christian calender, his
birth year was circa 4 B.C. Christmas, the day of Christ's birth, is celebrated by
Christians on December 25, but the actual day and month of his birth are unknown. Rachel
Zurer, a follower of Judaism, points out that December 25 was celebrated as the birthday
of Mithras, a Roman god, until church leaders declared the day as Jesus' birth date.2
Jewish scholars believe that contrary to Christian teaching, Jesus was born in Nazareth,
not Bethlehem, and the idea of the Immaculate Conception is not accepted. According to the
Talmud, Jesus was actually an illegitimate child. In a passage narrated in the Tract
Kallah, 1b (18b), Rabbi Akibah says to Mary, "Tell me, what kind of son is this of yours?"
to which Mary responds, "The day I was married I was having menstruation, and because of
this my husband left me. But an evil spirit came and slept with me and from this
intercourse my son was born to me."3 The Talmud (the Babylonian Talmud in particular)
refers to Jesus as "Son of Stada/Satda" and "Son of Pandera" ; these titles are not used
clearly, but it is evident that both are used in reference to Jesus, and scholars have
inferred their probable meanings. Sanhedrin 67a states that "The son of Stada was son of
Pandera. Rab Chisa said: The husband was Stada, the lover Pandera. . . his mother was
Miriam, the women's hairdresser; as they would say. . . S'tath da to her husband"; S'tath
da means "she was unfaithful" or "she proved faithless," and is obviously used in
reference to Mary's lack of faithfulness to her husband.4 According to this passage, Stada
was Jesus' legal father (Mary's husband), and Pandera was his biological father, Mary's
alleged lover. Stada is also used as a nickname for Mary, again, in reference to her
alleged infidelity. According to Jewish belief, God has no son; since Joseph was not
Jesus' father, Jesus must have been illegitimate. There exists a statute which reads: "A
bastard shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall
none of his enter into the assembly of the Lord," and the Talmud is absolutely certain
that Jesus was illegitimate.5 Knowing this, one may wonder why Jesus was allowed "into the
assembly of the Lord." A possible answer is that Jesus actually passed as the son of
Joseph until the claim of immaculate conception.6 The Talmud again dishonors Mary by
calling her a m'gadd'la n'sajja, a women's hairdresser, an occupation which was not
considered fitting for a virtuous married woman.7 The Gospel recorded by Matthew asserts
(and followers of Judaism believe) that Mary gave birth to other children, but this is
denied by the Catholic Church, which refers to Mary's other children as Jesus' cousins.

John 8:57 says that Jesus was"not yet fifty," when he was executed. However, his execution
is generally believed to have occurred when he was between the ages of 26 and 36, and it
is commonly accepted that he was 33. The Jewish view of Jesus' crucifixion greatly
conflicts with the Christian interpretation of the event. According to the book Zohar,
III, (282), Jesus died like a beast and was buried in a "dirt heap. . . where they throw
he dead bodies of dogs and asses, and where the sons of Esau [the Christians] and of
Ismael [the Turks], also Jesus and Mahommad, uncircumcized and unclean like dead dogs, are
buried"; in short, Jesus was buried in Hell.8 The search for historical facts concerning
Jesus' execution has historically been a Jewish concern because of the hostility toward
Jews because of this event.9 From a Jewish perspective, one might wonder why Christians
express such animosity toward those who they believe crucified Christ. If the crucifixion
brought atonement to mankind, why would Christians hate those who were involved? If the
crucifixion was God's will, the role of those who carried out the crucifixion was
determined by God and was no fault of theirs.10

Judaism rejects most of Jesus' teachings and characterizes him as a fool, idolater, and
seducer of the people who, as described by Reverend I. B. Pranaitis, "could teach nothing
but falsehood and heresy whish was irrational and impossible to observe."11 Jesus is
called a fool by the Elders in Schabbath, 104b: "He was a fool, and no one pays attention
to fools." This was at least partially because of teachings in which he called himself the
son of God or claimed that he and God are one. Jesus is also considered an idolater. In
Sanhedrin, 103a, it is mentioned that Jesus "burns his food publicly," which is equivalent
to "[destroying] true doctrine through heresy, the true worship of God through
idolatry."12 Jesus is also accused of "[setting] up idols in the streets and public
places."13 During early Christianity, it was a general belief of Jews that Christians
offered sacrifices to idols, and it was concluded that this practice must have commenced
with Jesus.14 Jews consider idolatry to be the "highest form of falling away from God"15,
and it is believed that one who practices idolatry denies the entire Torah. Jesus is also
charged with corrupting and seducing the people of Israel and is referred to as Balaam, a
title which means "devourer" or "destroyer" of the people.16 This title expresses the
belief that Jesus was viewed as the spiritual destroyer of Israel because he caused a rift
in the synagogue and "according to the Jewish conception is the greatest destroyer of the
people, who has ever risen up in the midst of Israel."17

Often, Jews and Jewish scholars parallel many of Jesus' teachings and assertions to
sayings in Jewish literature which preceded his existence and use this to deny Jesus'
originality. It is believed that although it is not known exactly what Jesus' actual words
were, they could only have come from Judaism. After all, Jesus was a Jew, and he never
turned away from Judaism. Stolper boldly asserts that none of Jesus' teachings "added even
one iota to the strength of the Torah,"18 and Rachel Zurer maintains that, "Christians who
grew up believing that the gospels present original truths uttered by Jesus, need to turn
to the Bible (their Old Testament) and to the rabbinic wisdom circulating in his time.
Here will be found the sources for sayings attributed to Jesus. (Except of course for the
scurrilous words and vilifications put into his mouth by the missionary evangelists)."19

Although some Jews see the similarities between Jesus' teachings and Jewish literature as
a lack of originality on Jesus' part, some use this circumstance to demonstrate Jesus'
"essential Jewishness."20 The problem with this thinking is that from a Jewish standpoint,
the view that Jesus was a devout Jew and advocated full obedience to Jewish law cannot be
derived from the gospels. This view can only be held if one denies a large among of
testimony that contradicts it. In many biblical passages, Jesus considers himself superior
to the Law and acts according to this belief. He points out the law's weaknesses,
considers himself free from obligation to uphold it and frees others from this obligation
as well. Instead of teaching his followers to follow the Law literally (which is the
traditional Jewish practice), he taught them to live according to ethical, moral, and
religious principles; Jesus taught that it was better to do the will of God out of free
choice than out of obligation to a legal system.21

It is common knowledge that Jesus performed many miracles. However, some Jews accuse him
of doing sorcery or "Egyptian magical arts."22 Jesus was a healer and an exorcist; one
should remember that in Jesus' times, sickness was believed to be the result of sin, and
that by healing the sick, Jesus was also forgiving their sins.23 According to Laible, the
assertion that Jesus was a sorcerer is the complement of another judgement of the
Pharisees concerning Jesus' miracles: Jesus wrought his miracles by means of sorcery,
which he had brought with him from Egypt."24 It was impossible to ignore Jesus' miracles
or convince people that they were not genuine; he had healed so many, and these people
often gave him great support. Thus, arose the claim of Jesus' sorcery, which was specified
as "from Egypt," because Egypt was a land which was known for its magical arts. There, it
was known how to imitate the miracles of Moses; "Ten measures of sorcery came down into
the world. Egypt received nine measures, an all the rest of the world one."25 This
distinction is made because asserting that Jesus obtained his knowledge of magic in Egypt
marks him as an arch magician.26 Jesus was also accused of practicing magic which involved
self-mutilation. In Deuteronomy 13:2, God warned of a false prophet who could perform
miraculous acts: "If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer, and he gives you a
sign or a miracle. And the sign or miracle comes to pass, and he calls on you, saying,
‘Let us go after other gods, whom you have not known, and let us worship them.' You
shall not listen to that prophet or dreamer. For God is testing you, to see whether you
love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul." To Jews, this verse is
a clear indication that God had warned them about movements such as Christianity.27

Jesus did not fulfill Jewish messianic expectations; therefore, traditional Judaism
vehemently rejects the characterization of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is distinguished as
the divine son of God, but the Jewish messiah is expected to be an extraordinary human
with no claim of divinity. From a Jewish perspective it is preposterous and blasphemous to
claim that the Messiah could be the son of God, and it is unacceptable to think of him as
anything more than an extraordinary human who is "full of wisdom and understanding,
counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of G-d."28 It is Jewish belief that "When the
Messiah is revealed to Israel, he will only open his mouth for peace,29" but Jesus clearly
contradicted this, saying, "Think not that I come to send peace on earth. I come not to
send peace, but the sword."30 According to traditional Jewish thinking, Jesus could not
have possibly been the Messiah that Jews are anticipating because he was unsuccessful.
Additional messianic expectations are found in Isaiah 11:4, which states that the Messiah
will "smite the tyrant. . . slay the wicked." He is expected to perfect the world, redeem
mankind, abolish all forms of impiety, and eliminate all forms of warfare. The Jewish
Messiah is also expected to redeem Israel both spiritually and politically. In the book
Hilkoth Melakhim, it is asserted that, "If all the things he did had prospered, if he had
rebuilt the Sanctuary in its place, and had gathered together the dispersed tribes of
Israel, then he would certainly be the Messiah. . . But if so far he has not done so and
if he was killed, then it is clear he was not the Messiah whom the Law tells us to
expect."31 It is quite obvious to Jews that Jesus was not successful because evil and
godlessness still exist, and Israel has not yet been redeemed. Christians claim that Jesus
was not actually unsuccessful and that he will return in a "second coming," but this too
is rejected by Jews, who expect that their Messiah will accomplish his goals of defeating
evil and restoring Israel in only one attempt. Also, because the Jewish Messiah is mortal,
he functions only as an instrument of God, and he is not the primary figure in the Kingdom
of Heaven.32 For these numerous reasons, Jews consider Jesus to be merely one of many who
claimed to be the Jewish Messiah; it would have been perfectly normal for such a person to
attract a following, but Jesus' claim is disregarded just as other messianic claims have

Christianity regards Jesus as more than human, which does not coincide with Judaism;
Samuel Sandmel explains that, "Such a Jewish Jesus may well have been a good and great man
- a prophet, a rabbi, or a patriotic leader - but he was not better or greater. . . than
other great Jews."33 Thus, Jesus' claim to divinity is completely unacceptable to the
Jews. Because Judaism denies Jesus' claims to divinity, it also rejects the ideas of the
Holy Trinity, incarnation, and Jesus' role as mediator between man and God. The Holy
Trinity, a doctrine which Jesus suggested, is the Christian belief in the Father (God, the
creator), the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit (the godhead which speaks to
prophets). Twice a day, a believer of Judaism will recite the verse, "Hear O Israel, the
Lord is our God, the Lord is One," which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. Christians claim
that the Trinity is the same as the God worshiped by Jews, but according to Jewish
teaching, to believe in the Trinity is to believe in multiple Gods. Since the Bible
specifies that god is "One," anyone who believes anything contrary to this is taking part
in idolatry. In fact, some believe that the development of the Trinity was a missionary
attempt to adapt Christianity to pagans who were accustomed to polytheism.34

Judaism also rejects the idea of incarnation, which is best expressed in the Nicene Creed:
"I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. Born of the Father
before all ages. . . Begotten, not made, of one substance with the father. . . Who for us
men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And he became flesh by the Holy Spirit of
the Virgin Mary: and was made man."35 Simply stated, this is the belief that Jesus and God
are one in the same. This was among Jesus' teachings, and according to the New Testament,
Jesus proclaimed this doctrine on numerous occasions; for example, "I and the father are
one,"36 "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgement unto the Son;
that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father."37 There are several
verses in the Bible which from which one could discern that this view is false; one such
verse is Deuteronomy 4:39: " God is not a mortal that He should lie, nor a man, that He
should change his mind." This belief is clearly rejected by the Jerusalem Talmud, which
states, "If a man says to thee ‘I am God,' he lies."38

Jesus also claimed that he was to function as an intermediary between man and God, saying,
"I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me."39 To
Jews, one who follows this doctrine is in violation of the first Commandment, which begins
with "I am the Lord your God. . . You shall have no other gods before me."40

Judaism also is against the use of the crucifix as a religious symbol. There is no word
which, when directly translated, refers to the Christian Cross. The cross typically used
for crucifixion was often called Tau by Hebrews and Phoenicians. However, the cross
adopted as a symbol of Christianity is called several names: Tsurath Haatalui ("the image
of him who was hanged), Elil ("vanity, idol"), Tselem (in Jewish books, Crusaders are
called Tsalmerin), Scheti Veerbh ("warp and woof, which is taken from the textile art"),
Kokhabh ("star; on account of the four rays emanating from it"), and Pesila ("a
sculpture," "a carven idol").41 Whenever the cross is mentioned, it is in the sense of an
idol or something which is unacceptable in Judaism.

It is evident that early Judaism disregarded Jesus and his followers, but to what extent
have traditional Jewish attitudes toward Jesus perpetuated? How is the attitude of modern
Judaism toward Christ different from the traditional attitude? This may be explored using
the Jewish Encyclopedia - a record of Judaism from its earliest times - as a source. The
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