I have been reading the new book by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, entitled Kosher Jesus. I found it refreshing to read so many positive statements by an Orthodox Rabbi about Jesus… but Rabbi Boteach still does not believe that Jesus is the Messiah or God in the flesh, or that He died for our sins. Instead, he presents Jesus as a good and pious Jewish man who loved his people and who died trying to free His kinsman from oppression.
Shmuley, whom I’ve come to know quite well as a result of our many public debates1 is still waiting for the Messiah to come and reign on David’s throne, like most religious Jewish people today.
However, Shmuley – who is sometimes called “America’s Rabbi” – has caused the debate on the issue of Jesus to take a new turn by publishing this book, which states positive views of Jesus that are at odds with those of many in the Jewish community.
For example, one author on a religious Jewish website writes,
However, writing a book that completely exonerates Jesus and promotes Jewish respect for him is something that I find grossly naive and severely imbalanced in light of the overall picture of history and early gospel texts. “Kosher Jesus” is a one-sided coin that presents a single perspective while being ignorant of all others.2
Another Jewish writer comments,
The vast majority of Jews will never read “Kosher Jesus” and understand that Boteach really referring to a Jesus who had a million-dollar makeover. They will think of the Jesus praised by Tim Tebow! For an Orthodox Rabbi to urge Jews to embrace Jesus is incredibly irresponsible, as it will inevitably facilitate the slide by some down the slippery slope toward Christianity.3
There are many additional – and even harsher – comments by Jewish leaders regarding Shmuley and his latest book, including one prominent Orthodox Rabbi in Toronto who has put a ‘ban’ on the book and says that Jewish people should not read it!
Last month, Shmuley wrote on his own blog:
…Rabbi Schochet declared the book heretical, banned anyone from reading it, banned me from speaking about it, banned others from hosting me, and refused to offer a single reason or explanation as to why.4
It appears that some Jewish leaders simply do not want Jewish people to even think about Jesus or to be exposed to the idea that Jesus was Jewish and that there was value in what He taught and did. I understand this concern – in fact, I was raised with it – and I contend with it regularly in my efforts to help my fellow Jewish people come to know Jesus as Messiah and Lord.
After reading the book, I have come to the conclusion that although Shmuley paints Jesus in a positive light, his approach is short-sighted and even disrespectful to Christians and Messianic Jews. Many of our core beliefs are eviscerated in his attempts to “retell” and reconstruct the Gospel story.
A writer from one of the leading Jewish newspapers in the New York area comments,
Boteach has the noble goal of improving the relationship between Christians and Jews, yet his approach here is problematic, as well. By severing the good Jewish Jesus from bad Christian teachings about him, he casts all Christian beliefs — about, for example, Jesus’ uniqueness and significance — as groundless and fantastic. Far from building a bridge between Jews and Christians, his portrait of Jesus will be rejected by most Christians as irrelevant and even insulting.5
I could not agree more with the above critique. I believe it is good to try to understand one another’s faiths and engage in respectful dialogue – and yes, even to try to persuade each another to accept what we believe as true. However, Boteach’s attempts to build relationships with Christians on the basis of his own imaginative Jesus will never build the bridges he desires. After all, who among us would want to give our lives in service and sacrifice for a failed first century revolutionary?
A Jewish Messiah who died once and for all to atone for our sins, reconcile us to God, and give us eternal life, however… that’s a Jesus worth loving and serving!
 A debate entitled, Is Jesus Kosher, between Shmuley and Dr. Mike Borown, will be held in Manhattan on March 13th at 7:30 pm at the Ethical Society building on West 64th street, Manhattan. If you happen to live in the New York area or are visiting the Big Apple, please attend. You can ask for the details by e-mail or call212-223-2252.
 Yehudah Ilan. Kosher Jesus, Treif Christianity, http://chizzukemunah.com/2012/01/16/kosher-jesus-treif-christianity
 Rabbi Michael Skobac. It’s Your Own Mess Shmuley – Clean it Up http://www.jewsforjudaism.ca/resources-info/response-to-shmuley-boteach-s-kosher-jesus
 Boteach, Shmuley. http://www.shmuley.com/news/details/P2/
 Gregerman, Adam. http://www.forward.com/articles/151028/#ixzz1mAbuEuEY