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Jesus and his followers were seen as a separate sect among the Jews during the time he lived on earth. When did the Jews or Rabbis decided to declare him as an impostor, and why? What was the main reason of controversy or dispute between Jesus and the Jews in his lifetime?

I fully appreciate that this is a Jewish Q&A forum but I like to explore the Jewish roots of Christianity. After all Jesus was born among the Children of Israel. He used to pray in the Synagogue. Then what really happened all of a sudden? What caused the divide between him and the Rabbis?

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closed as off topic by Hacham Gabriel, yoel, Seth J, Shmuel Brin, Will Mar 12 '12 at 17:55

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From the Christian perspective, the real dispute began with Paul of Tarsus around 50 CE. (Stories about Jesus show that he was in conflict with other Rabbis He was executed because Rome saw him as a revolutionary and there is a strong implication that the crowds turned against him when he claimed divinity. But those stories were edited sometime after Paul.) –  Jon Ericson Mar 11 '12 at 6:08
If you want to "explore the Jewish roots of Christianity" you might consider asking on the Christianity site. (But the answer you got was enlightening to me.) –  Jon Ericson Mar 11 '12 at 6:09
@Jon Ericson I am here to know about the Jewish perspective of what Rabbis of his times reacted upon his teachings. Honestly, since Chritianity evloved and took the current form many years after the times of Jesus therefore the Christianity site cannot really answer to my question. Although, the bible does speak a lot about the incidents but versions according to some other person is not a credible source...well atleast to me (this is a separate debate). What i want to know is the Jewish version of the history. –  Maxood Mar 12 '12 at 12:53
@Maxood From the traditional Jewish perspective, peace and blessing is not upon him. Just thought I'd point that out. –  Seth J Mar 12 '12 at 16:05

2 Answers 2

There is little to indicate that the Rabbis went against Jesus, or that Jesus in his lifetime, even claimed to be a prophet or the messiah.

However, by the time Christianity started to make inroads in Israel, there were rules to keep Christians separate from Jews. The reasons for this were many, but the most clearly documented ones are that

  1. Christians started to profess that only the 10 commandments were important, or Gd given, and not all of the Torah. Requiring the Rabbis to remove the third section of the Shema from the 10 commandments, to the section about Tzizit which represent all 613 commandments.

  2. Christians started to make comments after the Shema, suggesting that Gd was a trinity rather than singular. Stopping the custom in Israel to say "Baruch Shem Kavod.." silently, and instead in Israel they said that phrase outloud.

  3. Christians tried to pull Jews away in practice, and claim they could remain part of the Jewish community, causing the Rabbis to add the 19th Blessing to the Amidah.

edit: There are few writings that we have about Christians in Jewish literature until about the start of the Crusades. Everything until then, must be gleaned from whatever the Jewish law was. In that regard, there only seems to be 3 specific rulings made because of, or against Christians.

In Jewish literature, before the Crusades, Jesus is just a footnote.

edit2: Some more clarifications..

In Jewish sources there was no interaction between Jesus and the Rabbis. Jesus was just one of many Jews in Israel whom the Romans decided was "getting uppity" and crucified him for Rebellion. The Tanach is full of Prophets who criticise the actions of the Jewish people and ask them to repent for this sin or another. Some criticisms were universal ones which lasted the ages, and so they were placed in the Tanach. Others were applicable only to small groups of people, and they were not placed in the Tanach. The Gemorah (Megillah 14a) says that from the time of the Exodus, till the destruction of the Temple, there were over 1.2 Million prophets acting in this manner.

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I appreciate you answering the question although this is not what I am actually looking for. I like to go back in the biblical times and find what differences were there between Jesus and the Rabbis. Some account of the incidents are narrated in the new testament of the bible but that is not a credible source. I being a Muslim, respect both religions but am very keen to know about the correct historical facts of the 3 Abrahamic Religions namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. moderator-edited –  Maxood Mar 10 '12 at 21:04
So what was the year when Rabbis decided to declare Christians as Christians? Also I wonder why this incident only happened in the case of Jesus? Why not before him? I mean were there no false prophets(Jesus according to Judaism)? Was he the first one among the Jews? –  Maxood Mar 10 '12 at 21:08
@Maxood my understanding is that it happened around Pauls time, or closer to the year 100 or so. The books say that False prophets get stoned by the courts, but I'm not aware of anything which tells us who they were or how many existed. –  avi Mar 10 '12 at 21:37
From what I know of early Christianity, each of these rules seem like reasonable responses to Paul's teachings. There's an indication that #3 had already begun: "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen." (Romans 9:3-5 ESV) –  Jon Ericson Mar 11 '12 at 6:00
@Jon Ericson The early Christain history is more than interesting however the question is very different here. One movie that tends to answer my question was "Passion of the Christ" by Mel Gibson. But again that isn't a credible source and depicts the Christian perspective of what happened with Jesus(may peace and blessings be upon him). What i am interested to know is the Jewish perspective and what Rabbis say about him and his preaching. Thanks –  Maxood Mar 12 '12 at 10:10

The ultimate answer lies not with the Rabbis but with the Christians. Specifically with Paul/Saul of Tarsus and finally the Christianized Roman Empire.

To understand the issue you need a good background in Church history.

First let me clarify the etymology of the name Jesus. In Hebrew, Jesus' name would be correlated to the anglicised Joshua which is actually Yehoshua יהושע (LORD is Salvation). In the Torah, Moses had renamed Joshua's original name from Hosea ושע to Joshua יהושע. But in Greek, in which the Christian testaments were consolidated, Yehoshua was transcribed due to Greek grammatical declination as Iesous, which became latinized into Iesus and then romance languages furthered it to "Jesus" where the J was originally pronounced with the consonantal Y.

The messiahship and deity of Jesus
Many Jewish commentators believe that Jesus/Joshua never claimed to be a deity or the messiah. However, that is irrelevant to the question. It does not matter whether Jesus had made such claims - what matters was what his followers and early adherents had ultimately made him to be.

From my analysis of literature, early Christians had frequently sought refuge in synagogues from pre-Christian Roman persecution. And in doing so, attempted to proselytise their Jewish brothers. This practice became intolerable and was the beginning of the rift between Jews who believed in Jesus and those who did not.

Pauline theology
Peter had sought to keep Christianity a Jewish domination. Paul, as you can read from the epistles that he (supposedly) had written, invented a new twist in the universalization and globalization of the Christian gospel. Paul famously wrote to the Roman church that salvation is by faith and not by works. Which directly countered the theology of James and Peter. In that, Paul asserted that believers in Jesus should no longer need or seek to fulfill the covenant of circumcision. That was the most brilliant marketing strategy that Paul had to make for the new religion he invented to be completely palatable to non-Jews. Within the power struggle, Paul is believed by many analysts to have appointed himself as the apostle to replace Judas - even a replacement had already been appointed by the auspices of Peter's circle.

The globalization of Christianity had a very pronounced effect on the Roman empire. The number of disenfranchised Romans (and non-Romans alike) had become too numerous, and had found Christianity as the suitable replacement for the degrading morals and morale of the Roman Empire. Did Emperor Constantine really had a vision or he saw the wisdom and opportunity of reuniting his empire under Christianity, or both - is left to be guessed. Christianity was no longer a Jewish sect. Paul's legacy had triumphed over Peter's.

While Paul was the foundation of the Roman church and that the Roman church owes its existence to Paul, it is ironically Roman Church tradition that Peter (the theological adversary of Paul) is the founder of the Roman Church.

The Christian Church had become overwhelmingly non-Jewish.

Persecution of Jews
Due to Jewish intransigence in accepting Jesus' deity and messiahship, the now powerful church began persecuting Jews and started blaming Jews for crucifying their founder. Especially where many of the Christian testamental scripts depicted Jewish priesthood and commoners as the enemy of Jesus. There was no unification possible between Jews and Christians at all from then on.

The observance of Sabbath
Early Christians who were Jews still observed the traditional Jewish Sabbath. Therefore, they had to meet on the morning of first day of the week, in performing their "work" of furthering their gospel message. So meeting on Sunday was considered "work" that should not be performed on Shabbat.

In my personal theory, non-Jewish believers consequently mistook the Sunday meetings as the Sabbath and evolutionarily and gradually instituted Sunday as the Sabbath.

There were reports that the rate of conversion to Judaism competed with the rate of conversion to Christianity in the Roman Empire.

The Church finally put its foot on the ground and declared that Sunday is the new Sabbath of the "new covenant". This had the effect of helping people differentiate which religion they were actually converting to or had converted to and that the two instruments of faith were not inter-convertible.

The declaration, I believe, was a great relief to the rabbis.

The current status
Modern Orthodox Judaism would still recognise Jews who had converted to Christianity as Jews but not the state of Israel.

In Israel, I have encountered some Jews who declare their belief in the messiahship of Jesus. The legality of their Jewishness being recognised by the state of Israel is intact because they do not declare themselves as Christians.

A minority of them believe in the messiahship of Jesus but not in his deity, which should not be problematic because after all many Chassids in the Lubavitch circles believe that Rabbi Schneerson is the messiah. Legally speaking, what is the difference anyway?

What I do find concerning is a large number of Russian Jewish immigrants who are legally recognised as Jews, but who have become very accustomed to celebrating Christmas in the land of their birth. And who have become very persistent in abolishing the practices of Shabbat and the abstinence from a non-kosher diet in the legal and municipal regulations.

But on the whole, Christianity is not accepted as a Jewish sect at all primarily due to the belief in the deity of Jesus. Even then the theology instituted by Paul have made it impossible to be considered a Jewish sect.

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Hello Blessed Geek, welcome to Judaism.SE and thank you for your enlightening answer! Please consider adding sources for some of your assertions above. Thanks again, and I hope to see you around! –  HodofHod Mar 11 '12 at 8:23
Hello and welcome to Judaism.SE. This is a good overview (as best I can tell :-) ) of the history of the early church, but I don't see within it the answer to the question, which asks about issues during the time Jesus lived (pre-church). –  Monica Cellio Mar 11 '12 at 18:16
I disagree with @Monica that this is a good overview of church history. The section on Paul is overly speculative. There's bits of truth mixed in with obviously misleading statements. For instance, I don't know of any scholar who doubts that Paul wrote the letters to Rome, Corinth, and Galatia, which cover the core of his teaching. The claims about early Christian synagogue and Sabbath practices ought to be sourced. –  Jon Ericson Mar 12 '12 at 9:56
@Maxood, J.SE welcomes participation from everyone. My comments are about being sensitive to the norms of the place, not about exclusivity. I wouldn't go into a church (or Christianity.SE) and talk about Jesus as a false messiah no matter now I feel, nor would I go into a Hindu temple and talk about false gods or idolatry, etc. On yuor latter comment, there have been several false messiahs and false prophets, but I haven't heard anyone praise the memory of (e.g.) Shabbatai Tzvi. –  Monica Cellio Mar 12 '12 at 14:20
@Maxood the Torah commands Jews to reject all false deities and false prophets. The individual to whom you refer was both, and nothing more. –  yoel Mar 12 '12 at 16:24

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