Today begins a weekly series on the New Testament, Christianity and Paul of Tarsus as viewed from a Jewish perspective.
The Jews did not believe in Moses, our teacher, because of the miracles he performed. Whenever anyone’s belief is based on seeing miracles, he has lingering doubts, because it is possible the miracles were performed through magic or sorcery. All of the miracles performed by Moses in the desert were because they were necessary, and not as proof of his prophecy.
What then was the basis of [Jewish] belief? The Revelation at Mount Sinai, which we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears, not dependent on the testimony of others... as it says, “Face to face, God spoke with you...” The Torah also states: “God did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us – who are all here alive today.” (Deut. 5:3)
—Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides),
Foundations of Torah, ch. 8:1
Foundations of Torah, ch. 8:1
The Tanakh and The Chumash are two of the most common books found in Jewish homes. The Tanakh (תַּנַ"ךְ )is the complete Hebrew Bible, 24 books in total; the Chumash (חומש) is the Torah in book form, the Five Books of Moses. There are various editions that have been published over the years; this is the Stone Edition, Artscroll Series.
Photo Credit & Source: Perry J. Greenbaum, 2015
Such individuals have gone by various names throughout history, including Judaizers, Judeo Christians, Jewish-Christians, Hebrew-Christians and now, most recently, Messianic Jews, The Jewish community generally refers to such persons as “Jews for Jesus,” which in fact is the name of one of the organizations that represents their interests. One of their interests is to bring a Jewish understanding of Christianity to a wider audience; another is to make Messianic Judaism more acceptable to mainstream Judaism.
Both are nevertheless difficult tasks, a result of the evolution of Christianity from a small Jewish sect to a large dominant religion that has views and rituals that are foreign to Judaism. Yet, this desire for acceptance explains why when Messianic Jews address a Jewish audience, they point out that the New Testament is a Jewish book, supporting this view by asserting that its authors were all Jewish with the possible exception of Luke.
This statement is made with such a sincerity that one wants to believe it, and accept it at face value as proof of its Jewish origins and thoughts. Yet, a close reading of the complete New Testament reveals that even if such authorship claims are indeed valid, this by no means validates it as a Jewish book. Moreover, the argument here is that this book is highly hostile both to Jews and to Judaism, that Church history has increased and multiplied the differences, and that such differences are not reconcilable.
It starts with Paul of Tarsus (a port city in Turkey under the Roman Empire), who was born with the Jewish name, Saul; he became a follower of the new sect after his “Road to Damascus” experience. But he did not merely become a follower; he became its prime mover of change, its intellectual force of anti-Judaism. Paul wrote 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament. While Jesus might be the person Christians worship, it is Paul who shaped most of the important arguments that the New Testament contains. His influence is so great that many refer to Christianity as Pauline Christianity.
Thus, the New Testament is many things. It is the “good book” of billions of its Christian followers; it contains the words of Jesus and the writings of Paul; it is an instruction manual of life for those who believe; and its opposite for those who do not believe. The last statement, the Jewish rejection of the New Testament and its claims, a historical reality, has led to numerous attacks and atrocities directed at Jews for most of Church history. [see writings of Church Fathers.]
Words do matter. By dint of using the word “new” there is a suggestion that it is better, superior to what it has replaced, the “old.” The Old Testament (the Tanakh) records the everlasting covenant that G-d made with the Jewish People, first mentioned in the Book Of Genesis (Bereishit), Chapter 17 when G-d speaks to Abraham:
And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a G-d unto thee and to thy seed after thee. (v. 7)This is referred to as the Abrahamic Covenant. G-d affirms this covenant with the Jewish People many times in the Torah, including with Isaac, with Jacob, with Moses and with King David. The New Testament bluntly says that this original Abrahamic covenant and the others that follow are no longer valid, conferring a different meaning on the word “everlasting.” Since its early beginnings, Christianity has done everything in its power to discourage the Jews from keeping the only covenant they know, the only covenant they revere and the only covenant they cherish.
For Jews, there is no new covenant, no new testament, no better deal. In Judaism, the ancient and original covenants, affirmed time and time again, remain in force. This unwavering obstinate belief by the Jewish People, marked by their steadfast faith in G-d for millennia, has been a sore point with Christianity.
After all, what would be better to validate Christianity’s assertions as emanating from (and also superseding) Judaism than widespread Jewish acceptance of the claims of the Pauline Church. This has never happened, and never will; it cannot. Christianity is too much of a foreign belief system for any mildly educated Jew to accept its claims. The New Testament’s arguments were and continue to be insufficient to convince Jews of their merits. Thus explaining Christianity’s history of violence and forced conversions, notably in Europe during the Dark and Middle Ages, to add to its numbers. What couldn’t be achieved by discourse was achieved by force.
Yet, force does not make a sound and reasonable argument. The stumbling block has been and remains the New Testament itself; it is not a Jewish book. Other than three of the four gospels (referred to as the Synoptic Gospels), the book is primarily a Pauline document addressed to a non-Jewish audience. Unlike Jesus of Nazareth, who considered himself a Jewish messiah, and thus only addressed his coreligionists, Paul broadened the message to include non-Jews, which only further excluded the Jews. This ensured that Jews would never be part of this new sect. (As an aside, Jews can have some sympathy for Jesus, but not for Paul.)
Consider the epistles, which Paul wrote to address a host of problems common to a young sect, including how to worship, what is permissible and what to eat. Paul got rid of the laws of kashrut (from Hebrew כַּשְרוּת, meaning “fit” or “proper”), the Jewish dietary laws that G-d instituted and gave to Moses on Mount Sinai (as part of the Sinaitic covenant). These laws were transmitted directly to the complete nation in what is called “The Revelation at Mount Sinai” as the basis of a national covenant. The whole nation was present, the Bible says (see Deuteronomy 5:1-4). Of the many thousands of religions, it is the only known religion where a national covenant was made.
And so it has been said; and so it has been written. These laws are found in the Torah, primarily in the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and form a fundamental part of Judaism. The written and oral Torah derive from the Mosaic laws. Paul also got rid of male circumcision or brit milah (from Hebrew בְּרִית מִילָה, meaning “covenant of circumcision”), another fundamental law of Judaism that dates to Abraham and the Book of Genesis (17:10-14), and to the original covenant that G-d made with the Jewish People.
Such abrogations of fundamental Jewish law would be sufficient to place the new sect outside of Judaism. But Paul went further. Through his forceful arguments, most notably at the Council of Jerusalem, in 50 CE, the small Jewish sect put aside most of the Jewish laws of the original covenant (the Mosaic Laws) handed down on Mount Sinai—including the laws pertaining to the Sabbath or Shabbat (from Hebrew שַׁבָּת, meaning “to cease;” “to rest”), the most important ritual observance in Judaism—rendering them invalid and unnecessary. Once that decision was made— to not observe Jewish practices—it ceased to be a Jewish sect. Jews naturally lost interest, pushed out by anti-Jewish practices, and it became something else altogether, what we now know as Christianity.
The history of its compilation and codification, including the arguments made to distance itself from Judaism, starting with Paul and continuing with the Church Fathers during the first three hundred years of the Common Era, has ensured that it will forever remain solely in the canon of Christianity. The gulf between the two religions is too wide to bridge. Jews and Judaism can never willingly and sincerely accept its claims; to do so would undermine the very foundations of the carefully built superstructure that has characterized and supported the Jewish People for thousands of years.
Christians have every right to practice their religion; they have no right to expect Jews to accept and follow such beliefs, particularly given their foreign nature. They are alien to Jewish history, to Jewish practices and to Jewish thought. Christians ought to accord the Jews the same rights they accord themselves: freedom to practice a religion without harm or interference (e,g., stop proselytizing). Jews do not require Christian validation or acceptance of their practices, but do desire to live in peace with their non-Jewish neighbours: Loz unz lebn arayn ruik.
After all, the Jewish People have been successfully practicing their religion for almost 4,000 years, dating to the time of Abraham, the Father of Monotheism and one of Judaism’s patriarchs.
As for Messianic Jews, if they are halachically Jewish, they are always welcome to return to authentic Judaism and follow the Jewish religious tradition. They can go to a synagogue (or shul) for a Shabbat service, and get a taste of Yiddishkeit. Much like the Jewish Prodigal, they will be accepted and welcomed back—as is the case with all assimilated Jews—with tears of joy.
There is no time like the present.
Next week: “Paul Of Tarsus: Father of Anti-Judaism”