by Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow | firstname.lastname@example.org
Shmuley Boteach’s book Kosher Jesus has become the hottest topic of Jewish debate on the internet with many rabbis objecting to it and Shmuley defending it.
The heart of Shmuley’s defense rests on the lack of specificity in the rabbinical objections. The condemnations of the book and its author are largely based on the title and spirit of the book rather than it content. (The exception being Rabbi Dr. Immanuel J. Shochet, a widely acclaimed authority on the subject, who issued his objection after reading the book) Shmuley maintains that books cannot be critiqued unless they have been studied and under normal circumstances he is absolutely right.
But these circumstances are hardly normal. Shmuley’s book isn’t being condemned on its merits but on its consequences. Rabbis have no wish to engage in polemics for the very reason they seek to discourage readership of the book.
They object for fear that public declarations about the Kashrut of Christianity’s founder may lead to a blurring of the line between the two faiths. Regardless of the book’s content there is a real danger that unlettered Jews will be made vulnerable to Christian proselytizers who might easily quote Shmuley out of context to demonstrate that America’s Rabbi doesn’t think
Words are tricky and the wise heed the calling of the Mishnah to select them carefully. Allow me to use a quick example from Shmuley’s Facebook page. In making the argument that Judaism is behind most world religions (hardly a novel argument – it is the thesis of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi’s medieval book, the Kuzari) Shmuey states that Judaism “gave the world G-d, Now His name is [Jesus].”
Of course I realize that Shmuley was merely trying to say that what Christians call G-d is a knock off Jewish product, but think of what the enterprising missionary can do with this statement. They will claim that Shmuley Boteach, America’s Rabbi, declared the real G-d of the Jews is…. [Jesus]! There was once a Jewish G-d, but with the advent of Christianity the Jewish G-d became…. Can you imagine the fallout from this quote? What will the unsuspecting Jew, who has always known that notwithstanding his own religious lapses, [Jesus] remains beyond the pale, say when presented with this quote? How will this Jew know that it was quoted out of context.
Will Shmuley be responsible for this fallout? Absolutely! He can argue till he is blue in the face that his quote was shamelessly misinterpreted, but his subtle nuance will be lost on the average Jew because measured arguments are poor responses to sensational sound bites.
Shmuley can argue all day that his intent was the very opposite and that anyone who reads his book will know that Christianity was the last thing on its founder’s mind. Shmuley can argue all day that embracing a Kosher J strengthens our Judaism and insulates it against missionary efforts, but even if this is true, it only helps those who read it. The vast majority of Jews will not likely read the book and won’t know this little fact. The vast majority of Jews won’t have an efficient response when confronted with America’s rabbi’s support for J. The vast majority of Jew has just been exposed to the powerful tool Shmuley has placed in the missionary’s hands.
Reading the book and debating its points doesn’t mitigate this simple fact. Shmuley’s argument that you can’t object to his book until you read it is false because these objections are directed at those who are not likely to read it, but who are likely to be influenced by it.
Raising the Book’s Profile
That these very objections raise the book’s profile and will likely increase its readership is regrettable, but, just the same, the public nature of this debate will also achieve the aim of its detractors.
Bearing in mind that our primary concern is for the vast majority of Jews, who won’t read the book, this very public discussion will inform even them that the book doesn’t endorse the Christian faith. Further, it will inform them that even if America’s self proclaimed Rabbi claims [Jesus] is Kosher, the preponderance of his colleagues disagree.
This very public controversy is welcomed by the book’s detractors because it empowers the unlettered Jew in the missionary’s sight. Even if s/he hasn’t read the book, s/he can still know that it doesn’t endorse Christianity and that any quote from it that appears to do so is out of context. The response to such quotations would simply be, “I haven’t read the book but I know that most Jews disagree with it. Further, its author claims that if I read it I would know you just quoted him out of context.”
In this most ironic of ways we are grateful to Shmuley for using his star power to highlight the objections. Without Shmuley’s very public responses the objections would have hardly been heard on America’s streets. Now the world at large knows that all might not be kosher with Shmuley’s new book and that all is certainly not Kosher with the missionary who uses this book to bolster his faith.