It’s Your Own Mess Shmuley – Don’t Use Me To Clean It Up. By Rabbi Michael Skobac
While no doubt reveling in all the attention his recent book is receiving, Shmuley Boteach has begun feeling the heat of scrutiny that it and he are attracting. His recent attempt to invoke a booklet I wrote as support for his "Kosher Jesus" is a desperate tactic. While there may be some similarity between my "The DaVinci Code: A Jewish Perspective" and his work, Boteach surely knows that it’s a far stretch from similar to congruent.
Many students of Christian origins have entertained the possibility that Jesus and his early followers were Torah observant Jews who did not seek to establish a new religion. While I am not married to this idea, I do find it plausible and explore it in my booklet. If Shmuley had stopped there, I would not be writing this response.
Because of the ambiguity and unreliability of so much of the primary source material, I inform my readers that the ideas I will be sharing are not conclusive and are controversial. Boteach, on the other hand, doesn’t introduce his work as speculative – it is presented as the truth.
My booklet was written with a counter-missionary agenda, directed primarily to Jews who have embraced Christianity. The goal was to provoke them to consider the possibility that Jesus did not deny the binding nature of the Torah and did not claim to be divine. Boteach goes beyond asking followers of Jesus to rethink who he was and seeks to encourage the Jewish community to re-examine Jesus. This ignores age-old rabbinic policies enacted to distance Jews from non-Jewish religions and inevitably encourages the exploration of the New Testament, a book that certainly cannot be deemed "kosher".
In my publication, I never refer to Jesus as a devout rabbi, impressive scholar or holy man. There is absolutely no evidence that he was any of these. Merely being someone who advocated observance of the Torah would not warrant these honorifics bestowed in "Kosher Jesus".
Boteach argues that Jews need to learn from Jesus. I don’t believe this and did not assert in my booklet that Judaism can gain by his teachings. The ideas attributed to Jesus in the Christian scriptures that are consistent with Judaism don’t need his validation. Any teachings of his that are not consistent with those of Judaism have no validity for Jews.
More troubling is Boteach’s implication that Jesus was a prophet and that the Christian scriptures were divinely inspired. These are specious and dangerous ideas that run contrary to traditional Jewish belief and are nowhere to be found in my work.
Finally, I never wrote or implied that Jews should reclaim Jesus or embrace him. These are meta themes of Boteach’s book and a tremendous cause for concern. Rightly or wrongly, and irrespective of the possibility that traditional Christianity has distorted who Jesus may have been – he is strongly associated with that religion. The vast majority of Jews will never read "Kosher Jesus" and understand that Boteach is really referring to a Jesus who’s had a million dollar makeover. They will think of the Jesus praised by Tim Tebow! For an orthodox rabbi to urge Jews to embrace Jesus is incredibly irresponsible, as it will inevitably facilitate the slide by some down the slippery slope toward Christianity.
We live in an age where communication is ruled by sound bites and headlines. The greatest illustration of where Boteach went wrong is in the title of his book. "Kosher Jesus" will not be associated with the recondite and reconstructed Jesus of Shmuley’s imagination. The headline and take home message of "Kosher Jesus" will be that Jesus is perfectly acceptable for Jews – and that an orthodox rabbi said so. There are already tremendous forces of assimilation and conversion bearing down on the Jewish people. Placing a stumbling block of potential spiritual danger in front of any of them is inexcusable.
Rabbi Michael Skobac
Director of Education and Counselling
JEWS FOR JUDAISM (Canada)
(416) 789-0020 – Fax (416) 789-0030
JEWS FOR JUDAISM (Canada) is an affiliate of JEWS FOR JUDAISM (International) www.jewsforjudaism.org