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Judaism and Jesus

Modern Christian religion ...moves...


By Pastor Jory Steven Brooks

There really should be no doubt about it: Christians are confused
about Christ! This is apparent from the very existence of a
plethora of denominations which have separated from one another
through the centuries due to often widely differing views
concerning His teachings. Recently, however, there has been a
growing emphasis to portray our Savior in terms of modern Judaism
and its beliefs. This year the historic Passion Play at
Oberammergau, Germany, has been brought into the controversy. Set
in a picturesque village in Bavaria, this production has been
presented once each decade since 1634. Although based upon the
Biblical account in the four gospels of Christ's passion and
death, through the years the message and text of the play has
changed with the times and politics of the day.
The theme this year seems to be "understanding Judaism." The
director, Christian Stuckl, and all of the actors and crew,
prepared for the production by spending a full week in the Jewish
state learning about Judaism. For the first time in the history
of the play, Jesus is depicted as a reformist Jewish rabbi, and
he and his disciples light menorahs, read the Torah and wear
yarmulkes. In the current production, Jesus' suffering and death
are downplayed, while an emphasis is made on his teachings in
light of his Jewishness.

"Now Jesus is portrayed as a reformist rabbi," according to
Rabbi Noam Marans, associate director for interreligious and
intergroup relations of the American Jewish Committee. Rabbi
Marans and others were quoted in a Wall Street Journal article,
May 28, 2010, page W6. Despite the emphasis upon a positive view
of the Jewish religion in the current Passion Play, the
Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Congress brought out
their usual statements expressing "concern" about the production.
Frederik Mayet, who portrays Christ in this years' play,
summarized the underlying message of the current production:
"Jesus was against hierarchy and against institutions." Another
reviewer, Ingrid Shafer, stated, "It is showing that ... it is
those who have the power who abuse it. And the play's goal was to
show what happens with the abuse of power."

The general modern deemphasis of Christ's suffering and death for
sin has also resulted in a weakening or elimination of the
Christian core message of salvation. No longer is Jesus' death of
supreme importance. Instead, it is his life and teachings that
are to be remembered, and those teachings are summarized
primarily as a rebellion against authority and an expression of
his Jewishness.

It is ironic that Jewish organizations are influencing Christians
to accept the idea that Jesus was a reform rabbi, when at the
same time they refuse to accept the idea of Christianity being a
legitimate offspring of Judaism. There seems to be a conflict
here: a different message for different audiences.

There are three issues that are most significant when considering
Jesus' connection with Judaism. 

First, is the question of whether modern Judaism is identical to
the Hebrew religion of the time of Christ. The 2010 Oberammergau
Passion Play, for example, has Jesus and His disciples wearing
yarmulkes, Jewish prayer hats. The origin of this custom,
according to Jewish author Arthur Koestler, is not Hebrew at all.
In his book, "The Thirteenth Tribe," Koestler attributes the
origin of the yarmulke, or kepa, to the fox-fur cap worn by
Khazar Tartar tribes before their conversion to Judaism. Gifilte
fish and other common Jewish customs also have their origin among
the Khazars, not the Bible. The "Star of David" emblem was
unknown to King David and developed many centuries later in
Babylon. According to the Wall Street journal editorial, "it is
unlikely that firstcentury Jews carried silver menorahs in
public..." as is done in the Passion Play. Judaism through the
centuries adopted a multitude of customs, rituals, and traditions
that have no Biblical origin. The same can also be said about
Christianity, and has much to do with the multitude of Christian
denominations and their varied rituals found in the world today.

Another issue is whether Jewish rituals, both now and during the
time of Christ, are soundly based upon God's Word and how He
expects to be worshipped. The famous "Sermon on the Mount"
contains a series of significant declarations in Matthew 5:21-48
that are prefaced with "you have heard that it was said."
Surprisingly few Christians understand that our Savior was not
invalidating the Mosaic law, but instead criticizing Jewish
traditions which had weakened it. For example, in discussing
adultery He was not saying that it was wrong under the Old
Covenant but now it is allowed; rather, He was reinforcing and
putting into practice the law of Moses. Christ also discussed
divorce in this passage because traditions of men had allowed
wives to be put away for the most trivial reasons, such as
over-salting their husband's food! (See Matt.5:32)

Finally, a related issue is whether Christ followed the Jewish
worship and rituals of His day. Was He a hypocrite who practiced
the ritual practices that He condemned? This is answered
decisively for us in the gospel of Mark chapter 7: "Then came
together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes,
which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his
disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen
hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews,
except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition
of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they
wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they
have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen
vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him,
Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the
elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said
unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it
is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their
heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me,
teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside
the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the
washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of
God, that ye may keep your own tradition." (v.1-9)

Our Savior and His disciples endured criticism and persecution
for standing firm against false rituals and traditions of His
day. It is clear that in order to understand Jesus, we must look
to the words of Scripture, not to modern Judaism.

Taken from "Thy Kingdom Come" - July 2010 - a publication of The
Association of the Covenant People, Burnaby, B.C. Canada.

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