Christianity and Judaism are major world religions which, though they worship the same God, have marked differences which have caused two thousand years of strife and animosity between the two religions. In his book We Jews and Jesus, Samuel Sandmel likens the link between Judaism and Christianity to a type of parent-child relationship, saying, "Early Christianity was a Judaism; within a century after the death of Jesus it was a separate religion.
It was critical of its parent, and hostile to it, and elicited from its parent reciprocal criticism and hostility."1 Opposing views of Jesus Christ caused the initial rift between Judaism and Christianity and is the primary source of the tension between the two religions which has continued for the last two millennia.
Therefore, in order to understand how Judaism and Christianity relate to one another, it is essential to understand the way Jesus is perceived in each religion. The way that Christians view Jesus is quite well known, but Judaism's view of him is much lesser known, so it is important to explore Judaism's perceptions of Jesus, beginning with New Testament times, and to examine the ways in which these feelings and opinions have changed over time.
Although the New Testament is the main source of information regarding Jesus' life, Jews often disregard it as a reliable source of information. It was not written until two to three generations after Jesus, hence it cannot be considered a primary source.
Also, from a Jewish perspective, the aim of the Gospels is not to give an accurate account of Jesus' life and teachings; the Gospels served as missionary documents containing accounts recorded by biased evangelists. They reflect the aims of the church rather than actual facts, and their writers were more concerned with the advancement of Christianity than the transmission of factual historical information. For these reasons, it is impossible to separate the historical Jesus from the divine Christ presented in the Gospels, and Judaism regards the Gospels as unreliable and irrational.
It is not known exactly when Jesus was born, but according to the Christian calender, his birth year was circa 4 B.C. Christmas, the day of Christ's birth, is celebrated by Christians on December 25, but the actual day and month of his birth are unknown. Rachel Zurer, a follower of Judaism, points out that December 25 was celebrated as the birthday of Mithras, a Roman god, until church leaders declared the day as Jesus' birth date.
2 Jewish scholars believe that contrary to Christian teaching, Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem, and the idea of the Immaculate Conception is not accepted. According to the Talmud, Jesus was actually an illegitimate child. In a passage narrated in the Tract Kallah, 1b (18b), Rabbi Akibah says to Mary, "Tell me, what kind of son is this of yours?" to which Mary responds, "The day I was married I was having menstruation, and because of this my husband left me. But an evil spirit came and slept with me and from this intercourse my son was born to me."
The Talmud (the Babylonian Talmud in particular) refers to Jesus as "Son of Stada/Satda" and "Son of Pandera" ; these titles are not used clearly, but it is evident that both are used in reference to Jesus, and scholars have inferred their probable meanings. Sanhedrin 67a states that "The son of Stada was son of Pandera. Rab Chisa said: The husband was Stada, the lover Pandera. . . his mother was Miriam, the women's hairdresser; as they would say. . . S'tath da to her husband"; S'tath da means "she was unfaithful" or "she proved faithless," and is obviously used in reference to Mary's lack of faithfulness to her husband.4
According to this passage, Stada was Jesus' legal father (Mary's husband), and Pandera was his biological father, Mary's alleged lover. Stada is also used as a nickname for Mary, again, in reference to her alleged infidelity. According to Jewish belief, God has no son; since Joseph was not Jesus' father, Jesus must have been illegitimate. There exists a statute which reads: "A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of the Lord," and the Talmud is absolutely certain that Jesus was illegitimate.5 Knowing this, one may wonder why Jesus was allowed "into the assembly of the Lord."
A possible answer is that Jesus actually passed as the son of Joseph until the claim of immaculate conception.6 The Talmud again dishonors Mary by calling her a m'gadd'la n'sajja, a women's hairdresser, an occupation which was not considered fitting for a virtuous married woman.7 The Gospel recorded by Matthew asserts (and followers of Judaism believe) that Mary gave birth to other children, but this is denied by the Catholic Church, which refers to Mary's other children as Jesus' cousins.
John 8:57 says that Jesus was"not yet fifty," when he was executed. However, his execution is generally believed to have occurred when he was between the ages of 26 and 36, and it is commonly accepted that he was 33. The Jewish view of Jesus' crucifixion greatly conflicts with the Christian interpretation of the event. According to the book Zohar, III, (282), Jesus died like a beast and was buried in a "dirt heap. . . where they throw he dead bodies of dogs and asses, and where the sons of Esau [the Christians] and of Ismael [the Turks], also Jesus and Mahommad, uncircumcized and unclean like dead dogs, are buried"; in short, Jesus was buried in Hell.8
The search for historical facts concerning Jesus' execution has historically been a Jewish concern because of the hostility toward Jews because of this event.9 From a Jewish perspective, one might wonder why Christians express such animosity toward those who they believe crucified Christ. If the crucifixion brought atonement to mankind, why would Christians hate those who were involved? If the crucifixion was God's will, the role of those who carried out the crucifixion was determined by God and was no fault of theirs.
Judaism rejects most of Jesus' teachings and characterizes him as a fool, idolater, and seducer of the people who, as described by Reverend I. B. Pranaitis, "could teach nothing but falsehood and heresy whish was irrational and impossible to observe."11 Jesus is called a fool by the Elders in Schabbath, 104b: "He was a fool, and no one pays attention to fools."
This was at least partially because of teachings in which he called himself the son of God or claimed that he and God are one. Jesus is also considered an idolater. In Sanhedrin, 103a, it is mentioned that Jesus "burns his food publicly," which is equivalent to "[destroying] true doctrine through heresy, the true worship of God through idolatry."12 Jesus is also accused of "[setting] up idols in the streets and public places."13 During early Christianity, it was a general belief of Jews that Christians offered sacrifices to idols, and it was concluded that this practice must have commenced with Jesus.14 Jews consider idolatry to be the "highest form of falling away from God"15, and it is believed that one who practices idolatry denies the entire Torah.
Jesus is also charged with corrupting and seducing the people of Israel and is referred to as Balaam, a title which means "devourer" or "destroyer" of the people.16 This title expresses the belief that Jesus was viewed as the spiritual destroyer of Israel because he caused a rift in the synagogue and "according to the Jewish conception is the greatest destroyer of the people, who has ever risen up in the midst of Israel."17
Often, Jews and Jewish scholars parallel many of Jesus' teachings and assertions to sayings in Jewish literature which preceded his existence and use this to deny Jesus' originality. It is believed that although it is not known exactly what Jesus' actual words were, they could only have come from Judaism.
After all, Jesus was a Jew, and he never turned away from Judaism. Stolper boldly asserts that none of Jesus' teachings "added even one iota to the strength of the Torah,"18 and Rachel Zurer maintains that, "Christians who grew up believing that the gospels present original truths uttered by Jesus, need to turn to the Bible (their Old Testament) and to the rabbinic wisdom circulating in his time. Here will be found the sources for sayings attributed to Jesus. (Except of course for the scurrilous words and vilifications put into his mouth by the missionary evangelists)."19
Although some Jews see the similarities between Jesus' teachings and Jewish literature as a lack of originality on Jesus' part, some use this circumstance to demonstrate Jesus' "essential Jewishness."20 The problem with this thinking is that from a Jewish standpoint, the view that Jesus was a devout Jew and advocated full obedience to Jewish law cannot be derived from the gospels.
This view can only be held if one denies a large among of testimony that contradicts it. In many biblical passages, Jesus considers himself superior to the Law and acts according to this belief. He points out the law's weaknesses, considers himself free from obligation to uphold it and frees others from this obligation as well. Instead of teaching his followers to follow the Law literally (which is the traditional Jewish practice), he taught them to live according to ethical, moral, and religious principles; Jesus taught that it was better to do the will of God out of free choice than out of obligation to a legal system.21
It is common knowledge that Jesus performed many miracles. However, some Jews accuse him of doing sorcery or "Egyptian magical arts."22 Jesus was a healer and an exorcist; one should remember that in Jesus' times, sickness was believed to be the result of sin, and that by healing the sick, Jesus was also forgiving their sins.
23 According to Laible, the assertion that Jesus was a sorcerer is the complement of another judgement of the Pharisees concerning Jesus' miracles: Jesus wrought his miracles by means of sorcery, which he had brought with him from Egypt."24 It was impossible to ignore Jesus' miracles or convince people that they were not genuine; he had healed so many, and these people often gave him great support.
Thus, arose the claim of Jesus' sorcery, which was specified as "from Egypt," because Egypt was a land which was known for its magical arts. There, it was known how to imitate the miracles of Moses; "Ten measures of sorcery came down into the world. Egypt received nine measures, an all the rest of the world one."25 This distinction is made because asserting that Jesus obtained his knowledge of magic in Egypt marks him as an arch magician.26 Jesus was also accused of practicing magic which involved self-mutilation.
In Deuteronomy 13:2, God warned of a false prophet who could perform miraculous acts: "If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer, and he gives you a sign or a miracle. And the sign or miracle comes to pass, and he calls on you, saying, Let us go after other gods, whom you have not known, and let us worship them.' You shall not listen to that prophet or dreamer. For God is testing you, to see whether you love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul." To Jews, this verse is a clear indication that God had warned them about movements such as Christianity.27
Jesus did not fulfill Jewish messianic expectations; therefore, traditional Judaism vehemently rejects the characterization of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is distinguished as the divine son of God, but the Jewish messiah is expected to be an extraordinary human with no claim of divinity. From a Jewish perspective it is preposterous and blasphemous to claim that the Messiah could be the son of God, and it is unacceptable to think of him as anything more than an extraordinary human who is "full of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of G-d."
28 It is Jewish belief that "When the Messiah is revealed to Israel, he will only open his mouth for peace,29" but Jesus clearly contradicted this, saying, "Think not that I come to send peace on earth. I come not to send peace, but the sword."30 According to traditional Jewish thinking, Jesus could not have possibly been the Messiah that Jews are anticipating because he was unsuccessful. Additional messianic expectations are found in Isaiah 11:4, which states that the Messiah will "smite the tyrant. . . slay the wicked." He is expected to perfect the world, redeem mankind, abolish all forms of impiety, and eliminate all forms of warfare.
Jewish Messiah is also expected to redeem Israel both spiritually and politically. In the book Hilkoth Melakhim, it is asserted that, "If all the things he did had prospered, if he had rebuilt the Sanctuary in its place, and had gathered together the dispersed tribes of Israel, then he would certainly be the Messiah. . . But if so far he has not done so and if he was killed, then it is clear he was not the Messiah whom the Law tells us to expect."31 It is quite obvious to Jews that Jesus was not successful because evil and godlessness still exist, and Israel has not yet been redeemed.
Christians claim that Jesus was not actually unsuccessful and that he will return in a "second coming," but this too is rejected by Jews, who expect that their Messiah will accomplish his goals of defeating evil and restoring Israel in only one attempt.
Also, because the Jewish Messiah is mortal, he functions only as an instrument of God, and he is not the primary figure in the Kingdom of Heaven.32 For these numerous reasons, Jews consider Jesus to be merely one of many who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah; it would have been perfectly normal for such a person to attract a following, but Jesus' claim is disregarded just as other messianic claims have been.