Kosher Jesus, written by the influential and well-known Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, has turned off both Jews and Gentiles who find the author's attempt to reveal the "real Jesus" not only incredible but dangerous.
In Kosher Jesus, Boteach purports that Jesus was a Torah-observing Jew who has been misrepresented in the Gospel accounts and never claimed during his time on Earth to be divine. At its core, Boteach insists, Kosher Jesus really aims to help reconcile Jews and Christians to each other, as well as to the historical Jesus, who he insists was "a wholly observant, Pharisaic Rabbi who fought Roman paganism."
In an interview with Publisher's Weekly, the rabbi, often seen in celebrity circles said the one thing he wants readers to get from Kosher Jesus was the understanding that: "Judaism was the light by which Jesus lived. It's what he taught, preached, and died for. And that Christians can rediscover the Jewish Jesus and bring universal Jewish values into their lives even as they practice their Christian faith."
"I'm a great believer that Christians have to learn from Jews about the Jewishness of Jesus, and I believe that will be beneficial all around, even as we understand Jesus in completely different ways. It's important for Christians to understand from Jewish sources why we reject the divinity and messiah-ship of Jesus. And Judaism deserves to claim a little bit of credit for the light that Christianity has brought to the world," he added.
Boteach has incensed at least two other high-profile Jewish religious leaders who insist the rabbi's book, released Feb. 1, is both dangerous and evangelistic. In addition, scholars have called Boteach's understanding of the Gospel "superficial and narrow."
Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, described as an "anti-missionary activist" by Jewish newspaper the Algemeiner, sent a letter to the publicatiion, condemning Boteach's book, which he refers to as Kosher J, and insists is "heretical."
In his Jan. 18 letter, Schochet, who read an advanced copy of Kosher Jesus, writes:
While it is not normally my style to write letters of condemnation, having read the book, I feel it poses a tremendous risk to the Jewish community and therefore imperative to state my halachic (Jewish legal) opinion that it is forbidden for anyone to buy or read this book, or give its author a platform in any way shape or form to discuss this topic. ...
However, in the 40 years I have spent combating missionaries across the globe, I have never read a book, let alone one authored by a purported frum (religious) Jew, that does more to enhance the evangelical missionary message and agenda than the aforementioned book. The grossly distorted message of the book violates basic premises of original and authentic Jewish tradition, thus unavoidably must be rejected for being heretical.
Another noted Jewish theologian, Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf, has called for Boteach to be excommunicated, writing that although he has not read Kosher Jesus, "must a Jew read the New Testament to reject Christianity?"
Wolf insists that Boteach has embraced Jesus, whom he refers to as "J," and is evangelizing other Jews to accept Jesus as well. In referencing other books Boteach has written in his Kosher series, Wolf notes that if the celebrity rabbi is insisting that Jesus is "acceptable," as kosher implies, then Kosher Jesus is a "good old fashioned Christian attempt to proselytize Jews with new wrappings."
Boteach has hit back at critics, calling Wolf "irresponsible" for judging Kosher Jesus without ever having read the book.
Confessing that although he admires Rabbi Wolf's writing and lectures and "twice had the pleasure of hosting him at the University of Oxford where he spoke to my students," Boteach insisted that his demand that Kosher Jesus be banned is without merit.
"America is not Iran and rabbis in the American Jewish community are not the Revolutionary Guard," Boteach wrote in a Jan. 19 article on The Huffington Post. "We are different than the Khomeinis of the world who ban books and declare interdicts against their authors. We Jews are the people of the book, not the people who ban books."
He adds later in his article: "No matter the pressure, I will not submit to a Judaism that is about censure, anti-intellectualism, close-mindedness or contempt for scholarship. ... And why shouldn't Judaism get the credit it deserves for the values it has disseminated to the world through Christianity. ... We gave the world G-d. Today his name is Jesus Christ. We gave the world the Sabbath. Today it's called Sunday. We gave the world the Ten Commandments. Today it is called morality. And we gave the world the biblical insistence that all humans are created equally in the image of G-d. Today it's called democracy."
Instead of being feared and rejected as prostlytizers, Boteach insists that Christians should be embraced. "Christians are today the State of Israel's best friends. They visit Israel and support it arguably even more consistently than the Jewish community," he writes on The Huffington Post.
There are others within the Jewish religious community who say Boteach's attempts to present a fresh perspective at Jesus' Jewish roots are commendable, but fall short nonetheless and may even further any perceived divide betweens Jews and Christians.
"Despite Boteach's good intentions," writes Rabbi Eli Cohen of Jews for Judaism Australia, "this book is a poor stab at presenting a scholarly view on Jesus. Boteach's recommendations are an affront to Jews and Christians and will only appeal to those who are uninformed in matters of religion and history."
In agreement with Cohen's assessment is David Parsons, media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
Kosher Jesus "is essentially the Orthodox Jewish side of a classic medieval Disputation on the Messianic credentials of Jesus of the sort usually thrust upon Jews but this time initiated by a rabbi. The resulting book is both over-confident in tone and underwhelming in its marshalling of credible scholarship to back the author's positions," Parsons in his review on ICEJ's website.
Parsons, a Christian, continues, "But the fact is that both Jews and Christians have been building bridges towards each other and exploring the Jewishness of Jesus for several decades now, long before Boteach saw the need to set us all straight.
"In all frankness, Boteach's book is not a very positive contribution to these worthwhile efforts. He does provide some good examples of Jesus as an archetypal Pharisaic rabbi, but these are mainly borrowed from much better and far less contaminated sources to be found elsewhere."
Boteach, often touted as "America's Rabbi," has published several bestsellers, among them Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy, The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life, and Kosher Adultery: Seduce and Sin with Your Spouse. Kosher Jesus will be the first book he has released in Israel.