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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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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
Was there more than one Yeshu Ha'Notzri? That seems pretty specific to me... –  SAH Mar 14 '13 at 16:09
@SAH Is there more than one Jon the New Yorker? –  Double AA Mar 14 '13 at 18:01
@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

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