Boteach’s ‘Kosher Jesus’ stirs Lubavitcher wrath

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By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California –I could not help but read the Chabad reaction to Shmuley Boteach’s new book, Kosher Jesus. Most of us, who have no inner access to the Chabad inner circle, might be surprised by the ferocity of the Lubavitchers’ reactions.

Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf, Dean of SJ Abrams Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day School in Chicago, wrote a scathing attack on Boteach’s book, even though he did not bother reading it. Wolf writes, “With utter contempt I have read the title of Shmuely Boteach’s new book ‘Kosher [Yoshke].’” Note that “Yoshke” is the contemptuous name Hasidic Jews give to Jesus.

Wolf goes on to say, “This book is telling the Jews to reclaim J…, the authentic J…, the historical J…, the Jewish J….” and to be inspired by his “beautiful” teachings, as this author and TV show host told Ha’aretz this week in Jerusalem. This book poses great danger to thousands of unsuspecting Jews who are approached daily by Jews for J with the sole purpose of getting them to embrace Christianity. To Jews for J this book will now become the Jewish Rabbinical textbook urging embracing Yoshke as an authentic Jew, urging us to be inspired by him, G-d forbid.”

My old Professor Lewis Rambo (no relation to Sylvester Stallone) once explained how closed societies build a force field around their communities; contact with undesirable people or thinkers are in a manner of speaking, quarantined. Since Boteach’s days at the Chabad House of Oxford, G.B., Chabad has always viewed Boteach with suspicion. After all, what kind of Chabadnik writes articles for Playboy Magazine, or associates with people like Michael Jackson?

The other reactions from the Lubavitcher community are laced with criticism. “Thank you for saying what nobody seems to have the courage to say…” Another person writes, “Thank you Rabbi Wolf, it is refreshing to see a Shliach [Lubavitcher emissary] who is not afraid of what others will think, and not afraid to say the truth… The silence is deafening . . . we should be hearing an outcry”

Reacting to Wolf’s condemnation of Kosher Jesus, one man writes, “This is quite possibly the most judgmental, disparaging, close minded statement EVER made on this site. It’s obscene and unheard of to not only “judge’ but condemn a book by its cover.”

Then again, the critic cites Wolf, “There is absolutely no need to read the actual content of the book; the title will do more harm than imaginable, Heaven forbid!!

The condemnations get even more interesting:

  • I  just read the Ha’aretz article and comments—what Boteach has done is a complete Chillul HaShem. He has no Rav, no Mashpia and clearly suffers from delusions of grandeur and messianic complex. I used to like Shmuely until I was in Israel and turned on the television in my hotel room to discover him on his show with a women who had been recently widowed and he COULDN’T STOP HUGGING HER. He decided that shomer nagiah no longer applies to him. To me, that was the beginning of the end. We cannot trust anything he says or does. Will the frum world put him in Cherem? We must take action to stop this ego maniacal monster. He is rewriting our holy Torah.

Another reader argues that public condemnations of Boteach’s book are actually helping Boteach sell more books! He writes:

  • Rabbi Wolf, how much did Shmuely pay you to make this most horrendous statement? Nothing sells books like controversy. You noticed the title (don’t judge a book by its cover) and what was written second hand. Had you a least gone to Amazon and read the table of contents, you would have seen a major section of the book is “WHY JEWS CAN’T BELIEVE IN J.”Seems you have been duped.

One person makes an observation that I completely endorse.

  • Rabbi Boteach’s book shows that Yushke wanted people to keep Halacha completely and shows that Yushke did not think he was a god, and that the Christians rewrote his life story and lied about him. There are 100,000 Jews who have converted to Christianity in America and no one is successfully doing anything to reach out to them and bring them back to torah. This book could help them return to Yiddishkeit. This book {shows}Christianity is a lie and is a very good tool in anti missionary work.

This particular respondent hits the nail on its head. Boteach has taken a bold step in trying to reach out to the Messianic Jewish community, in an effort to raise some cognitive dissonance among its ranks.

Personally, I have engaged a number of “Jews for Jesus” in discussion with the sole purpose of showing them how and why the Jesus of Christianity is the creation of Paul and the Early Church Fathers. Historically, Jesus’s brother James, felt nothing but contempt for Paul. In his view, Paul transformed Jesus into something that was totally alien to Jesus’s overall message. Once I have demonstrated James’ negative opinion of Paul the Apostle, a fair number of the Jews for Jesus have abandoned their cult, and I have helped many of them return to Judaism. In the controversial 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Jesus Christ, producer Martin Scorsese (a Catholic), took quite a bit of heat from the Christian world when he portrayed Jesus as a sensuous man, who marries Mary Magdalene, raises a huge family and lives a full life.

True to my contrarian nature, I argued that the real heresy is when Jesus in a vision (produced by Satan himself), hears Paul the Apostle preaching about the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection; Jesus discovers that his mother was a virgin, while he is  “son of God.” Jesus confronts Paul, and asks him, “Did you ever see this ‘Jesus of Nazareth?’  Paul sheepishly admits, all he saw was the blinding white light on his way to Damascus.

Jesus then reveals his identity to Paul. Bluntly, Jesus asks, “Why are you promoting this nonsense about me ‘rising from the dead’ ?  . . . I live a normal and happy life for the first time . . .” and he threatened to expose Paul for the fraud he was.  Paul basically admits that he made up the story because people need someone to believe in and that he was willing to make up just about anything so that people would believe in something that would give purpose to their lives.  Striking is Paul’s comment, “I will crucify you and resurrect you if I have to. . .  The Jesus Christ I believe in is greater than you . . .”

It is a pity Shmuely does not refer to the Last Temptation. It’s a greater pity Shmuely didn’t write an entire chapter about James, Jesus’s brother. Unlike Paul, who believes a man is saved by faith alone, James differs; he is concerned about the primacy of deeds; behavior reflects one’s true values and faith more so than all the platitudes about faith. No man can be “saved” by faith alone—as Paul taught, but each man can gain Eternity through living an ethical life that includes integrity and compassion. When reading the book of James, we can better understand Jesus’s real message. It is a pity the Early Church did not name itself, “Paulanity,” instead of “Christianity.” Paul alienated the Jewish community from Jesus more than anyone else. Boteach seems to share this position as well. It is a pity that Lubavitchers are not looking at the total picture here.

Lubavitchers do not want to know anything about Jesus. For them, Jesus is the reason why so many Jews have died throughout for almost 2000 years. The Rebbe and his followers would rather hold on to a medieval mindset and ignore the facts that contradict rabbinic opinions found in the Talmud and Maimonides.

Modern NT scholars have shown that the historical Jesus is not the same as the Jesus of Paul and the Early Church. The Jesus Seminar scholars have done a fabulous job showing the evolution of the NT and how the New Testament assumed its present form.

If Jesus were to appear today, he would scarcely recognize the religion that has arisen in his name. In all likelihood, he would attend a synagogue for Shabbat services and conduct himself like a religious Jew—and not a Christian.

While I personally do not care for much of Shmuely’s antics, he actually did something bold here. However, I think he should have used a less provocative title for his book. Perhaps he might consider writing a sequel “Dancing with Wolves: Shmuely Boteach and His Lubavitcher Critics.” I think such a book would be a more interesting read.

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Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Sholom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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