Judaism’s View Of Jesus

Judaism’s view of Jesus is the most influential and, consequently, the most damaging of all false messiahs. However, since the traditional Jewish belief is that the messiah has not yet come and the Messianic Age is not yet present, the total rejection of Jesus as either messiah or deity has never been a central issue for Judaism.

Judaism has never accepted any of the claimed fulfillments of prophecy that Christianity attributes to Jesus. Judaism also forbids the worship of a person as a form of idolatry, since the central belief of Judaism is the absolute unity and singularity of God. Jewish eschatology holds that the coming of the Messiah will be associated with a specific series of events that have not yet occurred, including the return of Jews to their homeland and the rebuilding of The Temple, a Messianic Age of peace and understanding during which “the knowledge of God” fills the earth.” And since Jews believe that none of these events occurred during the lifetime of Jesus (nor have they occurred afterwards), he was not the Messiah.

Traditional views of Jesus have been mostly negative, an account that portrays Jesus as an impostor, although in the Middle Ages Judah Halevi and Maimonides viewed Jesus as an important preparatory figure for a future universal ethical monotheism of the Messianic Age. Some modern Jewish thinkers have sympathetically speculated that the historical Jesus may have been closer to Judaism than either the Gospels or traditional Jewish accounts would indicate, starting in the 18th century with the Orthodox Jacob Emden and the reformer Moses Mendelssohn. This view is still espoused by some.


Main article: Christianity and Judaism

The belief that Jesus is God, the Son of God, or a person of the Trinity, is incompatible with Jewish theology. Jews believe Jesus of Nazareth did not fulfill messianic prophecies that establish the criteria for the coming of the messiah. Judaism rejects Jesus as God, Divine Being, an intermediary between humans and God, messiah or holy. Belief in the Trinity is also held to be incompatible with Judaism, as are a number of other tenets of Christianity.



Jewish theology

Oneness and indivisibility of God

See also: God in JudaismShema Yisrael, and Shituf

In Judaism, the idea of God as a duality or trinity is heretical — it is even considered by some polytheistic. According to Judaic beliefs, the Torah rules out a trinitarian God in Deuteronomy (6:4): “Hear Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

Judaism teaches that it is heretical for any man to claim to be God, part of God, or the literal son of God. The Jerusalem Talmud (Ta’anit 2:1) states explicitly: “if a man claims to be God, he is a liar.”

In his book A History of the Jews, Paul Johnson describes the schism between Jews and Christians caused by a divergence from this principle:

To the question, Was Jesus God or man?, the Christians therefore answered: both. After 70 AD, their answer was unanimous and increasingly emphatic. This made a complete breach with Judaism inevitable.

In the 12th century, the preeminent Jewish scholar Maimonides codified core principles of Modern Judaism, writing “[God], the Cause of all, is one. This does not mean one as in one of a pair, nor one like a species (which encompasses many individuals), nor one as in an object that is made up of many elements, nor as a single simple object that is infinitely divisible. Rather, God is a unity unlike any other possible unity.”

Some Orthodox Jewish scholars note that the common poetic Jewish expression, “Our Father in Heaven”, was used literally by Jesus to refer to God as “his Father in Heaven” (cf. Lord’s Prayer).

God is not corporeal

Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith include the concept that God has no body and that physical concepts do not apply to Him. In the “Yigdal” prayer, found towards the beginning of the Jewish prayer books used in synagogues around the world, states “He has no semblance of a body nor is He corporeal”. It is a central tenet of Judaism that God does not have any physical characteristics; that God’s essence cannot be fathomed.

Jesus as the Jewish Messiah

Main articles: Messiah and Messiah in Judaism

Judaism’s idea of the messiah differs substantially from the Christian idea of the Messiah. In Orthodox Judaism, the messiah’s task is to bring in the Messianic Age, a one-time event, and a presumed messiah who is killed before completing the task (i.e. compelling all of Israel to walk in the way of Torah, repairing the breaches in observance, fighting the wars of God, building the Temple in its place, gathering in the dispersed exiles of Israel) is not the messiah. Maimonides states,

But if he did not succeed in all this or was killed, he is definitely not the Moshiach promised in the Torah… and God only appointed him in order to test the masses.

Jews believe that the Messiah will fulfill the messianic prophecies of the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel. According to Isaiah, the messiah will be a paternal descendant of King David. He is expected to return the Jews to their homeland and rebuild the Temple, reign as King, and usher in an era of peace and understanding where “the knowledge of God” fills the earth, leading the nations to “end up recognizing the wrongs they did Israel”. Ezekiel states the messiah will redeem the Jews.

The Jewish view of Jesus is influenced by the fact that Jesus lived while the Second Temple was standing, and not while the Jews were exiled. He never reigned as King, and there was no subsequent era of peace or great knowledge. Jesus died without completing or even accomplishing part of any of the messianic tasks, instead promising a Second Coming. Rather than being redeemed, the Jews were subsequently exiled from Israel, and the temple was destroyed years later not rebuilt. These discrepancies were noted by Jewish scholars who were contemporaries of Jesus, as later pointed out by Nahmanides, who in 1263 observed that Jesus was rejected as the messiah by the rabbis of his time.

Moreover, Judaism sees Christian claims that Jesus is the textual Messiah of the Hebrew Bible as being based on mistranslations, with the idea that Jesus did not fulfill any of the Jewish Messiah qualifications.

As for the synoptic Jesus’ relationship with Jewish law, E.P. Sanders argues that “The Synoptic Jesus lived as a law-abiding Jew” and that “What he wanted, what he said, and what he did, finally led to his execution, but to think of the conflict being determined by differences over various points of the law is to misconceive it.”

Prophecy and Jesus

Main articles: Prophet and False prophet

Woodcut carved by Johann von Armssheim (1483). Portrays a disputation between Christian and Jewish scholars

Woodcut carved by Johann von Armssheim (1483). Portrays a disputation between Christian and Jewish scholars

According to the Torah (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:18-22), the criteria for a person to be considered a prophet or speak for God in Judaism are that he must follow the God of Israel (and no other god); he must not describe God differently from how he is known to be from Scripture; he must not advocate change to God’s word or state that God has changed his mind and wishes things that contradict his already-stated eternal word. There is no concept of the Messiah “fulfilling the law” to free the Israelites from their duty to maintain the mitzvot in Judaism, as is understood in much of Christianity or Messianic Judaism.

There are two types of “false prophet” recognized in the Hebrew Bible: the one who claims to be a prophet in the name of idolatry, and the one who claims to be a prophet in the name of the God of Israel, but declares that any word or commandment (mitzvah) which God has said no longer applies, or makes false statements in the name of God. As traditional Judaism believes that God’s word is true eternally, one who claims to speak in God’s name but diverges in any way from what God himself has said, logically cannot be inspired by divine authority. Deuteronomy 13:1 states simply, “Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you; neither add to it nor take away from it.”

Even if someone who appears to be a prophet can perform supernatural acts or signs, no prophet or dreamer can contradict the laws already stated in the Bible. Thus, any divergence espoused by Jesus from the tenets of biblical Judaism would disqualify him from being considered a prophet in Judaism. This was the view adopted by Jesus’ contemporaries, as according to rabbinical tradition as stated in the Talmud (Sotah 48b) “when Malachi died the Prophecy departed from Israel.” As Malachi lived centuries before Jesus it is clear that the rabbis of Talmudic times did not view Jesus as a divinely inspired prophet. Furthermore, the Bible itself includes an example of a prophet who could speak directly with God and could work miracles but was “evil”, in the form of Balaam.

Jesus and salvation

See also: Salvation

Judaism does not share the Christian concept of salvation, as it does not believe people are born in a “state of sin”. Judaism holds instead that a person who sins can repent of that sin and, in most cases, have it be forgiven.

Jesus in the rabbinical literature

The Talmud

See also: Jesus in the Talmud and Yeshu

Various works of classical Jewish rabbinic literature are thought to contain references to Jesus, including some uncensored manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud and the classical midrash literature written between 250 CE and 700 CE. There is a spectrum of scholarly views on how many of these references are actually to Jesus.

Christian authorities in Europe were largely unaware of possible references to Jesus in the Talmud until 1236, when a convert from Judaism, Nicholas Donin, laid thirty-five formal charges against the Talmud before Pope Gregory IX, and these charges were brought upon rabbi Yechiel of Paris to defend at the Disputation of Paris in 1240. Yehiel’s primary defence was that the Yeshu in rabbinic literature was a disciple of Joshua ben Perachiah, and not to be confused with Jesus (Vikkuah Rabbenu Yehiel mi-Paris). At the later Disputation of Barcelona (1263) Nahmanides made the same point. Jacob ben Meir,Jehiel ben Solomon Heilprin (17th century) and Jacob Emden (18th century) support this view.

Not all rabbis took this view. The Kuzari by Yehuda Halevi (c.1075-1141), understood these references in Talmud as referring to Jesus of Nazareth and based on argumentable evidences that assure Jesus of Nazareth lived 130 years prior to the date that Christians believe he lived, account regarding the chronology of Jesus. Profiat Duran’s anti-Christian polemic Kelimmat ha-Goyim (“Shame of the Gentiles”, 1397) makes it evident that Duran gave no credence to Yehiel of Paris’ theory of two Jesuses.

Modern scholarship on the Talmud has a spectrum of views from Joseph Klausner, R. Travers Herford and Peter Schäfer who see some traces of a historical Jesus in the Talmud, to the views of Johann Maier, and Jacob Neusner who consider that there are little or no historical traces and texts have been applied to Jesus in later editing, and others such as Daniel Boyarin (1999) who argue that Jesus in the Talmud is a literary device used by Pharisaic rabbis to comment on their relationship to and with early Messianic Jews.

The primary references to a Yeshu are found only in uncensored texts of the Babylonian Talmud and the Tosefta. The Vatican’s papal bull issued in 1554 censored the Talmud and other Jewish texts, resulting in the removal of references to a Yeshu. No known manuscript of the Jerusalem Talmud makes mention of the name, although one translation (Herford) has added it to Avodah Zarah2:2 to align it with similar text of Chullin 2:22 in the Tosefta. All later usages of the term Yeshu are derived from these primary references. In the Munich (1342 CE), Paris, and Jewish Theological Seminary of America manuscripts of the Talmud, the appellation Ha-Notzri is added to the last mention of a Yeshu in Sanhedrin 107b and Sotah 47a as well as to the occurrences in Sanhedrin 43aSanhedrin 103aBerachot 17b, and Avodah Zarah 16b-17a. Student, Zindler and McKinsey Ha-Notzri is not found in other early pre-censorship partial manuscripts (the Florence, Hamburg and Karlsruhe) where these cover the passages in question.

Although Notzri does not appear in the Tosefta, by the time the Babylonian Talmud was produced, Notzri had become the standard Hebrew word for Christian and the Yeshu Ha-Notzri found in the Talmud has become the controversial rendition of “Jesus the Nazarene” in Hebrew. For example, by 1180 CE the term Yeshu Ha-Notzri can be found in the Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Melachim 11:4, uncensored version).

In Sanhedrin 107b; Sotah 47a states that Jesus was sexually immoral and worshiped idols.

Toledot Yeshu

In the Toledot Yeshu the name of Yeshu is taken to mean yimakh shemo. In all cases of its use, the references are to Yeshu are associated with acts or behaviour that are seen as leading Jews away from Judaism to minuth (a term usually translated as “heresy” or “apostasy”). Historically, the portrayals of a Jesus in the Talmud and Jewish literature were used as an excuse for anti-Jewish sentiments.


Maimonides lamented the pains that Jews felt as a result of new faiths that attempted to supplant Judaism, specifically Christianity and Islam. Referring to Jesus, he wrote:

Even Jesus the Nazarene who imagined that he would be Messiah and was killed by the court, was interpreted as prophesied by Daniel. So that it was said, “And the members of the outlaws of your nation would be carried to make a (prophetic) vision stand. And they stumbled” (Daniel 11.14). Because, is there a greater stumbling-block than this one? So that all of the prophets spoke that the Messiah redeems Israel, and saves them, and gathers their banished ones, and strengthens their commandments. And this one caused (nations) to destroy Israel by sword, and to scatter their remnant, and to humiliate them, and to exchange the Torah, and to make the majority of the world err to serve a divinity besides God.

Nonetheless, Maimonides continued, developing a thought earlier expressed in Judah Halevi’s Kuzari,

But the human mind has no power to reach the thoughts of the Creator, for his thoughts and ways are unlike ours. And all these things of Jesus the Nazarene, and of (Muhammad) the Ishmaelite who stood after him – there is no (purpose) but to straighten out the way for the King Messiah, and to restore all the world to serve God together. So that it is said, “Because then I will turn toward the nations (giving them) a clear lip, to call all of them in the name of God and to serve God (shoulder to shoulder as) one shoulder.” (Zephaniah 3:9). How is this? The entire world had become filled with the issues of the anointed one and of the Torah and the Laws, and these issues had spread out unto faraway islands and among many nations uncircumcised in the heart, and they discuss these issues and the Torah’s laws. These say: These Laws were true but are already defunct in these days, and do not rule for the following generations; whereas the other ones say: There are secret layers in them and they are not to be treated literally, and (the Messiah had come and revealed their secret meanings). But when the anointed king will truly rise and succeed and will be raised and uplifted, they all immediately turn about and know that their fathers inherited falsehood, and their prophets and ancestors led them astray. (Hilkhot Melakhim 11:10–12.)

Epistle to Yemen

Jesus is mentioned in Maimonides’ Epistle to Yemen, written about 1172 to Rabbi Jacob ben Netan’el al-Fayyumi, head of the Yemen Jewish community

Ever since the time of Revelation, every despot or slave that has attained to power, be he violent or ignoble, has made it his first aim and his final purpose to destroy our law, and to vitiate our religion, by means of the sword, by violence, or by brute force, such as Amalek, Sisera, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Titus, Hadrian, may their bones be ground to dust, and others like them. This is one of the two classes which attempt to foil the Divine will.

The second class consists of the most intelligent and educated among the nations, such as the Syrians, Persians, and Greeks. These also endeavor to demolish our law and to vitiate it by means of arguments which they invent, and by means of controversies which they institute….

After that there arose a new sect which combined the two methods, namely, conquest and controversy, into one, because it believed that this procedure would be more effective in wiping out every trace of the Jewish nation and religion. It, therefore, resolved to lay claim to prophecy and to found a new faith, contrary to our Divine religion, and to contend that it was equally God-given. Thereby it hoped to raise doubts and to create confusion, since one is opposed to the other and both supposedly emanate from a Divine source, which would lead to the destruction of both religions. For such is the remarkable plan contrived by a man who is envious and querulous. He will strive to kill his enemy and to save his own life, but when he finds it impossible to attain his objective, he will devise a scheme whereby they both will be slain.

The first one to have adopted this plan was Jesus the Nazarene, may his bones be ground to dust. He was a Jew because his mother was a Jewess although his father was a Gentile. For in accordance with the principles of our law, a child born of a Jewess and a Gentile, or of a Jewess and a slave, is legitimate. (Yebamot 45a). Jesus is only figuratively termed an illegitimate child. He impelled people to believe that he was a prophet sent by God to clarify perplexities in the Torah, and that he was the Messiah that was predicted by each and every seer. He interpreted the Torah and its precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment, to the abolition of all its commandments and to the violation of its prohibitions. The sages, of blessed memory, having become aware of his plans before his reputation spread among our people, meted out fitting punishment to him.

Daniel had already alluded to him when he presaged the downfall of a wicked one and a heretic among the Jews who would endeavor to destroy the Law, claim prophecy for himself, make pretenses to miracles, and allege that he is the Messiah, as it is written, “Also the children of the impudent among thy people shall make bold to claim prophecy, but they shall fall.” (Daniel 11:14).

In the context of refuting the claims of a contemporary in Yemen purporting to be the Messiah, Maimonides mentions Jesus again:

You know that the Christians falsely ascribe marvelous powers to Jesus the Nazarene, may his bones be ground to dust, such as the resurrection of the dead and other miracles. Even if we would grant them for the sake of argument, we should not be convinced by their reasoning that Jesus is the Messiah. For we can bring a thousand proofs or so from the Scripture that it is not so even from their point of view. Indeed, will anyone arrogate this rank to himself unless he wishes to make himself a laughing stock?

As a Nazarene

Further information: Nazarene (sect) and Nazarene (title)

Among some Israeli synagogues in the Mizrahi (original Middle Eastern Jews) communities, such as those at Ra’anana, Jesus is seen as a Natzer, a Nazarene, a follower of a religious ascetic movement within Judaism, although their followers are not recognized as Orthodox Jews, despite their own claims to the contrary.

In addition to being a place-name, Nazarenes were Jews who committed to certain extreme observances of religious practice, such as shaving their heads and abstaining from various activities, foods, or practices, spending time in contemplation in the desert and so on.

According to their website, they continue being recognized as Jews, and Jesus lived around 130 or 140 CE and was conflated with Neoplatonic beliefs into what became the New Testament. To them, Jesus is a teacher, in the tradition of other Jewish teachers, and was not God or God’s son.

Positive historical reevaluations

Considering the historical Jesus, some modern Jewish thinkers have come to hold a more positive view of Jesus, arguing that he himself did not abandon Judaism and/or that he benefited non-Jews. Among historic Orthodox rabbis holding these views are Jacob Emden, Eliyahu Soloveitchik, and Elijah Benamozegh.

Moses Mendelssohn, as well as some other religious thinkers of the Jewish Enlightenment, also held more positive views. Austrian-born philosopher Martin Buber also had Jesus in a great regard. A positive view of Jesus is fairly represented among modern Jews in the currents of Reform (Emil G. Hirsch and Kaufmann Kohler), Conservative (Milton Steinberg and Byron Sherwin), and Jewish Renewal (Zalman Schachter-Shalomi).

Some Orthodox rabbis today, like Irving Greenberg and Jonathan Sacks, also hold positive views. Shmuley Boteach takes this even farther, following the research of Hyam Maccoby. These views have been challenged by the majority of the wider Orthodox community.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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