Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond Apple Larry Brandt

What do Jews think of Jesus?

Which Jesus are we talking about? Christians themselves have various Jesus-concepts. One is the person Jesus whose life is told in the Gospels (where there is no certainty which account is correct) – another is the later, doctrinal Jesus who is central to Christianity (once more, with a range of versions).

When Christians make up their minds we can take the discussion further.

For starters we can say that Jesus was Jewish and did not regard himself as outside Judaism. He went to synagogue, not to church. There was no Church then, and no Christianity.

Little is known of his childhood. We know his parents’ names but are not certain (nor are the Christians) about a virgin birth. He was brought up in Judaism and observed Jewish practices.

He is recorded as sitting with his elders, but why in the Temple and not a Bet Midrash? Why did he say the Torah was superseded when he himself took part in Torah discussion? He said, "Anyone who keeps the (Jewish) law will stand high in the kingdom of heaven".

Fellow Jews were his target audience; he was derogatory about gentiles. He thought his arguments were better than his interlocutors’. He felt that out of the restlessness of the time would emerge the end of history.

Other Jews felt he took too much upon himself by claiming personal authority and saying, "It has been told you… but I say…"

He called God his Father but did not say others were children of God. He claimed Divine rights such as pardoning sins.

He was a healer and preacher, not a rabbi – a title not yet in use. He criticised the Pharisees, but was probably one of them and echoed their self-criticism.

Did he see himself as part of God and more than human? – probably. Messiah? – possibly, though he did not fulfil the messianic prophecies, which say nothing of a second coming. Did sin vanish with his death? – no.

What did Jews think of him? Most had never heard of him; but both his supporters and opponents were Jews.

The Romans saw him as a trouble-maker (their mocking phrase was "king of the Jews"). Gospel writers produced a confusing story of his arrest, trial and execution. Did "the Jews" (which Jews?) want him dead? Probably no. Did he really die on the cross? – some scholars say his death was staged.

Jewish writings have few authentic references to him whilst Christian writings redacted the story to make him iconic. Maimonides says, "He was in error, but respect him".

Christians need the Jewish Jesus for their own self-knowledge. Jews do not need him and he has no status or role in Judaism.


THE FAST OF TAMMUZ

There are two types of fast in Judaism – private fasts and public fasts.

Private fasts can be associated with days of joy (an example is the fast of a bride and groom leading up to their wedding) or with days of sadness (such as the fast on the day of a Yahrzeit).

Public fasts involve the whole community – for example, occasions of supplication like the existential day of 7 June, 1967, when no-one could be certain that Israel would survive, and the historical fasts associated with the destruction of the Temple.

Yom Kippur is the only occasion when there is fasting on Shabbat. If a historical fast like 17 Tammuz ("the fast of the fourth month": Zech. 8:19) is due to fall on Shabbat (like this year), it is postponed to the following day. An exception is the Fast of Esther, which is observed on the previous Thursday.

Only Yom Kippur and Tishah B’Av ("the fast of the fifth month") run from evening to evening. 17 Tammuz and the other fasts are from daybreak to nightfall.

Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com