Three Jews. Two Opinions

Dear Fellow-worker,

There is a saying that where there are two Jews there will be three opinions. On 12 and 13 May 2008 two Jews, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Messianic Jew Michael Brown, met to debate whether Jews could believe in Jesus. Both events were moderated by another Jew, Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok of the University of Wales in Lampeter.
Six hundred people, including Jews and Muslims, gathered in the main hall of Friends Meeting House in Euston Road, London to witness Brown and Boteach debate whether “Jesus and Jewishness” were compatible.

Michael Brown opened with an eighteen-minute presentation of the messianic credentials of Jesus based on the prophecies of the Old Testament. If Jesus was the Messiah then belief in him was not incompatible with being Jewish.

Rabbi Boteach responded by stating that Michael Brown’s proof texts were mistranslations and that Brown had misunderstood them. Jesus fulfilled none of the Messianic prophecies. Rather, declared the rabbi, Jesus was an orthodox Jew, a revolutionary would-be Messiah who hated the Romans and attempted to deliver his people from them by armed insurrection. Jesus was a great Jew but religious faith in him was a non-option for Jews because of Christianity’s insistence on the doctrines of original sin, the necessity of blood atonement and the deity of Jesus. The beauty of Judaism, said the rabbi, was its insistence that everyone was responsible for their own actions; no-one could blame an inherent sinful nature for their moral shortcomings. Though Michael Brown stressed the necessity of blood atonement, Rabbi Boteach argued that the Jewish Scriptures offered a number of alternative means of atonement, including the offering of flour on the altar. Anticipating the subject of the Oxford debate, Rabbi Boteach declared that the idea that a man could be God was anathema to Jews. “Case closed!” declared Rabbi Shmuley; belief in Jesus is not compatible with Judaism.

The next evening, some three hundred people attended the debate at Oxford Town Hall to hear Brown and Boteach address the issue of whether Jews could believe that Jesus is God. Having received intimation at the London debate of the line of reasoning Rabbi Boteach was going to pursue, Michael Brown opened the evening by stating what Christians do not believe about the deity of Jesus. Amongst other things, Christians do not believe Jesus became God, nor do they believe that when Jesus walked the earth people saw the full manifestation of the divine image, which no man can see and live. Brown then demonstrated that, historically, Jewish thinkers and sages have grappled with the apparent discrepancy that exists between those Scriptures that teach the unity of God and those which suggest that God is more than the “indivisible unity” proposed by later Jewish scholars. In order to solve the conundrum, Jewish thinkers developed the idea of the Memra – the “Word” – the messenger of God who takes the place of God himself.

Rabbi Boteach reiterated the traditional objections of Judaism to the deity of Christ, with a few of his own thrown in for good measure. For God to become man would be demeaning to women, he argued, and for him to become a Jewish man would be a snub to Gentiles! For Judaism, the indivisible unity of God and his incorporeality were non-negotiable items. Judaism, declared Rabbi Boteach, was given to save the world from paganism, whereas Christianity borrowed the idea of the virgin birth from the pagan myths.

Michael Brown’s approach in both debates was to examine and exegete biblical texts. Even though Brown gained his Ph.D in Semitic languages, Boteach dismissed his arguments by claiming they were based on inadequate translations and faulty exegesis. While Brown’s aim was to convince his audience from the Bible that Jesus was worthy of the faith of both Jews and Gentiles, it appeared that Rabbi Boteach’s agenda consisted of little more than trying to persuade Christians to respect the Jewish faith and call a halt to Jewish mission.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support for the events; your prayers were answered. I believe these debates were part of one of the most significant and important evangelistic projects we have ever undertaken, and if you would like to help us with the costs we would be very grateful. Now begins the task of following up the contacts made at the events. Please pray that those who are involved in this task will have the wisdom and grace to help the people they visit to see not only that Jesus and Jewishness are compatible but also that he is worthy of their trust and faith.

Yours for the salvation of Israel.

Mike Moore

This article first appeared in the Summer 2008 edition of the Herald

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