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What attitudes toward Jesus are acceptable for a Jew? I understand that idolatry, or embracing the mainstream Christian perception of Jesus as divine, is absolutely out of the question. Furthermore, there are strong textual and cultural reasons that Jews should not consider Jesus to be Moshiach. However, is it acceptable to revere or even love Jesus? To appreciate his teachings to any degree? To consider him righteous, a tzaddik, or a good person?

(Please note: I am not asking "Was Jesus actually righteous/a tzaddik/worthy of reverence by a Jew?" But since that question will inevitably encroach on mine, I would like to mention that the "New Testament" contains wildly disparate reports of what Jesus actually taught during his lifetime. Whereas some gospelists portray Jesus as rejecting halacha, other accounts, including his most famous sermon, quote him as insisting categorically that halachic observance must be maintained in its entirety. What Christians actually did with that information is, I think, irrelevant to this question.)

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Although I did not read Kosher Jesus by controversial rabbi Schmuley Botech, it may provide some answers. Let me suggest SAH, that you read information from the Internet with caution. In my experience, many sites, including come-and-h### and talmudreve###, tend to be anti-Jewish and hardly reflect Jewish thought on Jesus. timesofisrael.com/… –  JJLL Aug 12 at 23:07
    
Basically, this question is that if we change information, or select what we think is real, and come to the conclusion that he was righteous, may we actually think so. Keep in mind that he is irrelevant to Judaism. There is no prescribed law of what to think of him. Just like I may have whatever opinion I want about Homer, yeshu, once he becomes anonymous and is getting a new description may be anything between a saint and most evil. –  HaLeiVi Aug 24 at 3:39

3 Answers 3

The "yeshu hanotzri" described by the uncensored Talmud is very much a no-goodnik. It is fair game to question which of those passages were intended literally, or referred to which character, or were intended as a way of disparaging people from moving to an emerging religion that was competing with rabbinic Judaism at the time. (The comments may have been more about the religion and its followers than the personality around whom it was founded.)

So it is not violating any of the principles of our faith to say, for instance, "so-and-so was a nice person with good ideas, but we can't accept him as a prophet." Obviously, a certain amount of distance is healthy.

I'd heard a fascinating quote (in a lecture from Rabbi Yaakov Haber) from R' Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, that once a person reaches the 49th level of holiness, they have to make a decision -- they can either acknowledge that their greatness belongs to G-d alone, or they can decide to be greedy and take the credit for it. Two notable people who did the latter, says R' Tzadok, were Jesus and Shabtai Tzvi.

I'd similarly heard from Rabbi Dr. David Berger, who'd asked Dr. Bernard Lewis, about the Jewish attitudes towards Mohammed during the late medieval "golden age" of Jewish existence in Muslim lands. He said Jews were not in trouble for believing whatever was necessary for them to be Jews (and not Muslims), hence a Jew would not be in trouble for saying "we could not accept his prophecy and redefinition of the law"; he could get in trouble for calling Mohammed insulting names.

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I've heard in the name of Yaavetz (Aharon) that any referrence in the Talmud to Yeshu is not Jesus. –  Hacham Gabriel Mar 14 '13 at 15:38
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Was there more than one Yeshu Ha'Notzri? That seems pretty specific to me... –  SAH Mar 14 '13 at 16:09
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@SAH Is there more than one Jon the New Yorker? –  Double AA Mar 14 '13 at 18:01
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@SAH here is one discussion of it angelfire.com/mt/talmud/jesusnarr.html –  Danno Mar 14 '13 at 18:13
    
@DoubleAA lol, point taken –  SAH Mar 14 '13 at 18:27

Related: For better understanding between Jews and Christians, some reading material

I think there is an important distinction to be made between the Jesus(es) that Christians believe in and the real historical Jesus.

The sources available to us are highly questionable in terms of veracity. The "gospels" were written by people who never met Jesus, and in most cases, people who never met people who met him. No eyewitness accounts exist, and it is almost certain that none were made.

The sources which do exist have been heavily redacted and revised by later scribes, largely in the interest of combating heresies (see Dr. Bart D. Ehrman's The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture).

The only aspects of the story of Jesus' life which almost all credible scholars agree are authentic are:

  • He was born in Nazareth.

  • He was an itinerant preacher.

  • He was baptized by John the Baptist.

  • He told his followers to eat bread and drink wine in memory of him.

  • He was crucified by the Romans as a public nuisance.

The Jesus Seminar found that the only sayings of Jesus almost certain to be authentic are:

The sayings the Fellows voted as most likely to be authentic were:

Other cheek (Q) Matt 5:39, Luke 6:29a

"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."

Coat & shirt (Q) Matt 5:40, Luke 6:29b

"And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well."

Congratulations, poor! (Q, Thomas) Luke 6:20, Thomas 54 Matt 5:3

"Looking at his disciples, he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."

Second mile (Q) Matt 5:41

"If anyone forces you to go a mile, go the second mile with him also"

Love of enemies (Q) Luke 6:27b, Matt 5:44b, Luke 6:32, 35a

"But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"

Leaven (Q, Thomas) Luke 13:20-21, Matt 13:33, Thom 96:1-2

He spoke another parable to them, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened."

Emperor & God (Thomas, Mark) Thom 100:2b, Mark 12:17b, Luke 20:25b, Matt 22:21c

"20And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" 21They said to Him, "Caesar's." Then He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." 22And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away."

Give to beggars (Q) Matt 5:42a, Luke 6:30a

"Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you."

The Samaritan (L) Luke 10:30-35

"30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denariie and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’"

Congratulations, hungry! (Q, Thomas) Luke 6:21a, Matt 5:6, Thom 69:2

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. "

Jesus Seminar Fellows also came to consensus on the following:

Jesus of Nazareth did not refer to himself as the Messiah, nor did he claim to be a divine being who descended to earth from heaven in order to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. These are claims that some people in the early church made about Jesus, not claims he made about himself.

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching and actions was a vision of a life under the reign of God (or, in the empire of God) in which God’s generosity and goodness is regarded as the model and measure of human life; everyone is accepted as a child of God and thus liberated both from the ethnocentric confines of traditional Judaism and from the secularizing servitude and meagerness of their lives under the rule of the empire of Rome.

The Jesus Seminar is rather controversial among scholars, and I think they got a lot of things wrong, but the quotes above reflect the consensus view of the academic community for the most part, although many scholars think that Jesus may have thought of himself as the messiah; in the absence of more reliable information, however, we can't say this with any certainty. It is entirely possible that Jesus never claimed to be anything but a man who was committed to strict adherence to Jewish law and scriptures.

It is widely believed that the passages from the Christian scriptures in which Jesus rejects the Halacha are later inventions by scribes who held anti-Semitic views, not accurate representations of his actual beliefs and instructions.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to uphold them. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
- Matthew 5

This passage is likely to reflect Jesus' own views. The laws of Moses and the teachings of the prophets are inviolable and eternal, and no one can enter the kingdom of God without reference to these requirements.

We can't say with certainty that Jesus' message was consistent with Jewish laws, but it seems very likely that this is indeed the case.

One of the most highly regarded scholars in this field summed up the majority position on the subject of the dissimilarity between the historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus as follows:

In the simplest terms, Christianity is a religion rooted in a belief in the death of Jesus for sin and his resurrection from the dead. This, however, does not appear to have been the religion that Jesus preached to the Jews of Galilee and Judea. To use a formulation that scholars have tossed about for years, Christianity is not so much the religion of Jesus (the religion that he himself proclaimed) as the religion about Jesus (the religion that is based on his death and resurrection).
- The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

The gap between what Jesus believed and what his followers believe about him is almost certainly enormous.

Although I'm not an expert in the subject, I think it is possible and acceptable to hold positive or neutral views of the historical Jesus while rejecting the Christian Jesus, who is probably nothing like the real man. Someone who is better qualified to answer questions about Jewish law may be able to determine whether the passages quoted above are consistent with Jewish laws.

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You're welcome to give your opinion, even as a non-Jew, on this site (and see meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/32), but if you're wary anyway then of course you have the option of deleting this answer. –  msh210 Aug 12 at 22:02
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@msh210 - As long as people know that I don't pretend to be qualified to judge Jewish law, I will let the answer stay as is. I just don't want to offend anyone. Note that I didn't say "You should _____", only "I think it is possible to _____". Diplomacy for the win. :) –  Wad Cheber Aug 12 at 22:08
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@msh210 - In the interest of avoiding offense, I asked a meta question. Thanks for the advice. –  Wad Cheber Aug 12 at 22:22
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Somehow I see this as an extended comment or reference point for the question, but not an answer. The question asks what is acceptable for Jews, not what do secular scholars believe about the historical figure. –  Seth J Aug 24 at 21:16
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@WadCheber your comment above adds emphasis to my sense that this is an extended comment, not an answer. The basic answer provided, sans commentary (which can be reduced to just that link), is "I think you can believe two different things," which doesn't really answer the question. Summarize the position of those rabbis, perhaps, and that may be a more direct answer to the question than this is. –  Seth J Aug 24 at 21:33

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote a piece called "Behold the man: The real Jesus" found on page 37 of this pdf: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/the_real_messiah.pdf&ved=0CBwQFjAAahUKEwjlnv2m_p_HAhUEGz4KHV-WCdA&usg=AFQjCNES1jJc_ogRECuMZ0R85M8ZKr3B7A&sig2=oTjNB_o19HledMZOeFweXQ

He brings proofs from the new testament showing that Jesus was not the loving, kind person he has been made out to be. Rather he was an unloving, unforgiving, vindictive person who acted with hypocrisy in light of his own teachings.

He focuses for a bit in the opening remarks how impossible it would be for the vicious acts of the crusaders and the inquisition to have stemmed from the teachings of a good man.

Although he doesn't mention it, this idea seems to based on a passuk in Mishlei that the Talmud in the first chapter of Chulin, 4b brings to prove that all in Achav's camp were bad, and all in Yehoshaphat's camp were good.

משלי כט-יב: מושל מקשיב על דבר שקר כל משרתיו רשעים.

This was all written to combat the common mentality found amongst people, and I quote: "Many people are fascinated by the person of Jesus. Even when they find it impossible to accept Christian theology, they still feel that they can identify with Jesus the person. They see him as someone who preached love and peace, and whose life embodied the greatest ideals."

According to Rabbi Kaplan, Jesus does not deserve your love or admiration.

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