Christianity diverged from Judaism in the first century AD: for this reason, the Jewish view of Jesus is important for a historical understanding of Christianity's initial reception. The first Christians were Jews, and, as far as is known, subscribed to Jewish beliefs and practices common at the time. Among these was a belief that a messiah—a descendant of King David—would restore the monarchy and Jewish independence.
Main articles: Messiah and Jewish Messiah
(Note that the Jewish and Christian concepts of "Messiah" differ substantially; readers who have not understood the Jewish concept often assume it to signify meanings which were in fact not a part of nor present within the Jewish understanding)
According to mainstream Jewish beliefs, the failure of Jesus to restore the Kingdom, his crucifixion by Romans, and his failure to meet the tests of a prophet outlined in Jewish Scripture, negated claims that he was the Messiah (see the Jewish eschatology and Jewish Messiah for a more detailed discussion of the Jewish understanding of the Messiah). Nevertheless, some of Jesus's followers redefined the concept of messiah to encompass the idea of a resurrection, the promise of a second coming, and the notion of messiah as God. In addition to this alternative understanding of the Messiah, early Christians brought from Judaism its scriptures, fundamental doctrines such as monotheism, and other beliefs and practices.
Judaism teaches that it is heretical for any man to claim to be a part of God; Jews view Jesus as just one in a long list of failed Jewish claimants to be the messiah. The article on the concept of the messiah contains a list of many other people who claimed to be the messiah, son of God, or both.
Jewish views on Christianity
Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) writes why Jews believe that Jesus was wrong to create Christianity (and why they believe that Muhammad was wrong to create Islam;) he laments the pains that Jews felt as a result of these new faiths that attempted to supplant Judaism. However, Maimonides then goes on to say that both faiths help God redeem the world:
- Jesus was instrumental in changing the Torah and causing the world to err and serve another beside God. But it is beyond the human mind to fathom the designs of our Creator, for our ways are not God's ways, neither are our thoughts His. All these matters relating to Jesus of Nazareth, and the Ishmaelite (Muhammad) who came after him, only served to clear the way for the King Moshiach [Jewish Messiah] to prepare the whole world to worship God with one accord, as it is written 'For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they all call upon the name of the Lord to serve Him with one consent.' (Zephaniah 3:9). Thus the messianic hope, and the Torah, and the commandments have become familiar topics of conversation among those even on far isles, and among many people, uncircumcized of flesh and heart. (Mishneh Torah, Maimonides, XI.4. This paragraph used to be censored from many printed versions of the Mishneh Torah because it contained verses explicitly critical of Jesus.)
Some Jews doubt the historical existence of Jesus, but most believe that he was a real person.
Following the lead of many modern historians, some Jews believe that Jesus was a preacher with an apocalyptic message, that Jesus never claimed to be God or part of a trinity, and that he was a liberal reformer, in many ways more similar to the Pharisees than to Jews of the other movements at the time. In this view, Christianity as we know it today had nothing to do with Jesus' actual teachings, but rather was the outgrowth of the beliefs of Jesus' later non-Jewish converts, and the preaching of Paul of Tarsus.
To most Jews, Jesus is simply irrelevant, a non-important figure in a different religion (much as Muhammad might seem to many Christians), known due to their being immersed in a Christian-oriented society rather than through religious significance.
Jews also do not believe anyone can "die" as a "repentance" for anyone else, nor that God would have a "son", nor has the concept of "original sin" ever been part of Judaic belief or philosophy. As a religion, Judaism is far more focussed on the practicalities of understanding how one may live a sacred life in this world according to God's will, rather than hope of spiritual salvation in a future one. Jews do not believe in the Christian concept of Hell, nor that only those following one specific faith can be "saved". Jews as a whole do not evangelise, and view their divine purpose as being ideally a "role model to the nations" and a "holy people" (ie, a people who live their lives fully in accordance with Divine will), rather than "the one path to God".
Jews do not celebrate Christmas or any other Christian festivals per se as these have no religious significance to their beliefs.
Views of Christianity as an oppressor
Over the centuries some Jews have converted to Christianity in order to avoid persecution or discrimination, particularly in historically strongly Catholic countries such as Spain, France and Italy; some were also forcibly converted at threat of death or torture. In the last few decades these conversions have often taken place via the Messianic Judaism movement.
Last updated: 05-15-2005 22:18:01