Thursday, December 28, 2006

A nice word about Jesus

[The Christmas post I had planned]

In my opinion, Jews give Jesus a raw deal. Many of us refuse to speak his name (even I can't bring myself to say Christ) and we remember him as a bastard, a blasphemer and the son of hairdresser who slept with many men.

The Rabbi's of the Talmud are partially to blame for this. Though Gil credibly argues that the Talmd never discussed Jesus, in the popular imagination all of the references to the son of the carpenter who was the bastard son of a whore are about him. Gil proves to my satisfaction that not one of those allusions refer to Jesus, but the haredi on the street, unfortunately, does not read Hirhurim.

(Anyway, the whole method of relying on the Talmud for history is suspect. The fact that someone was a Tanna or an Amorah and an expert in Jewish law besides doesn't make him an omniscient historian. Or, as one friend recently put it, "It's one thing to use rabbinic literature as a source for history, its another thing to assume that it is history. Would you quote a Chassidishe sefer from 19th century Galicia as a source for Jewish history in the 1500s?")

But back to Jesus. In our memory, he was not a Jew. We speak about him as if he came at Judaism from the outside, with the intention of destroying it, but this is faulty thinking. The real Jesus was a Jew who cared about other Jews. He had no intention of abolishing Judaism, or of establishing a church that would one day torment his people.

The Jesus scholars (who are no more or less omniscient than the Rabbis) paint Jesus with a variety of brushes. To some, he was a 60s-style rabble rouser standing against the man. Some think he was an illiterate peasent; others say he was a learned elitest who looked down on the folk religion of the masses; still others paint him as a wise man or prophet, and there are those who say he came to correct the hypocrisy of the Jewish people. From our vantage point its impossible to know. What is indesputable though, is this: his faith was Jewish faith.

I take the view that Jesus was a failed reformer. I don't know what it was about first century Judea that upset him, but I've satisfied myself that he was upset and that there were problems within Judaism he wanted to fix. Perhaps he was a bit of a mad man, too.

In my imagination Jesus came not to destroy Judaism but to fix it, and from within the Jewish context. Whether it was Temple corruption, or Saduccean materialism, or the minutia of the Pharisses that animated him is impossible to know - and indeed, it may have been something else entirely. Perhaps he came not to reform, but to preach hope to a divided and demoralized nation. Perhaps he came to remind Israel the God's love is ever-lasting. My bottom line point, though, it that whatever his reasons for entering public life his message was one of Jewish renewal, and his goal was to help his people begin again.

A generation after his death, Jesus's followers began a polemical war against the Jews who hadn't accepted him, and those polemics eventually were gathered into what became the New Testament. That book lies about Jews, for political gain, and those lies have been the cause of great Jewish suffering. One result of those lies is that hardly anyone -Chrsitians included - remember that Jesus was a son of our people, someone who grew up with our teachings, our customs, our Torah and who was murdered, first, because he was a Jew.

After 2000 years it seems fair and proper and good to give him that, at least.

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