Expression of the spirit
Jewish Family Education
Jew in the Christian world by Candace R. Kwiatek, The Dayton Jewish Observer
Especially popular during the Christmas season, Handel’s Messiah celebrates the mystery of Jesus, the messiah or redeemer in Christian tradition.
The oratorio’s scriptural text traces Christian thought about God’s promises of redemption from the prophets through Jesus’ birth to final ascension to heaven.
Central to Christian theology are the doctrines of sin and personal salvation. As representatives of all humans, Adam and Eve introduced sin to all future humanity according to Christianity.
In this narrative, every newborn is marked by sin, both by heritage and by personal choices throughout life.
Because of their sinful nature, Christianity teaches, humans are unable to fulfill the perfect standards of biblical Law.
In other words, salvation is attained by a personal relationship with Jesus and belief in his role as messiah — the divine redeemer from sin through his perfect sacrifice — the “Good News” of Christianity.
For 2,000 years, Jews have been asked why we don’t accept Jesus as the messiah. Many Jews are at a loss to explain, knowing only that Jesus is for Christians and not for Jews.
Part of the answer is that personal salvation is not central to Jewish life, which is primarily focused on repairing and bringing holiness into this world.
A more accurate response, however, is that any single answer is incomplete, only part of an interlocking web of theological concepts.
However, at the risk of undue brevity, the following are at the core of the Jewish response.
God. The most fundamental Jewish prayer, the Shema, proclaims the singularity of God: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone/is one (Deut. 6:4),” meaning “there is no other (Deut. 4:39).”
God is also described as supernatural: “…not a man…nor a son of man (Num. 23:19).”
Consequently, Judaism cannot embrace the ideas of a trinity or “God made into man” as in Christian traditions.
Revelation. One doctrine has remained constant throughout 3,300 years of Jewish history: the revelation at Sinai. Among the thousands of religions in the world, only Judaism is founded upon a national revelation, asserting that the entire Jewish people heard the message at Sinai.
The sheer number of witnesses, the historical constancy of the narrative, and the faithful commitment to its covenantal message attest to the authenticity of revelation.
The public nature, historical longevity, and far-reaching impact of Sinai’s revelation are powerful bases for Jewish intransigence.
Covenant. According to the Jewish Bible, the covenant between God and the Jewish people is forever: “He has commanded his covenant for eternity (Ps. 111:9).”
More specifically, the commandments of the Torah are eternally binding upon the Jewish people. They cannot be replaced, but are described as an “eternal covenant (Ex. 31:16),” an obligation for “always (Deut 11:1)” and “forever (Deut 28:46),” to be kept “throughout their generations (Gen. 17:10).”
Furthermore, nothing can be added to or subtracted from the covenant (Deut 13:1). In God’s own words, the Divine covenant with the Jewish people is sacrosanct.
Salvation. There is no concept in Judaism or in any verse of the Torah or prophets that belief in a messiah leads to salvation, personal or otherwise.
Rather, eternal life with God in the world to come requires of Jews only that they love and fearfully revere God and keep God’s commandments (Deut. 30:15-19; Ecc. 12:13-14).
Not limited to Jews, however, salvation for all other people depends only upon their individual ethical behavior, according to Jewish tradition.
Messiah. The biblical moshiach (Gr. christos, Lat. messias) at first referred to individuals anointed with oil for a divine office, such as king or priest, symbolically endowing them with God’s spirit.
As historical and social conditions deteriorated, the prophets began to speak of national redemption in a perfect future era, an end of days ushered in by a divinely-inspired king.
Later still, the Jewish doctrine of moshiach and the messianic age was clarified and refined by the rabbis of the Talmud.
Based on Jewish biblical texts, the rabbis of the Talmud described a future age in which a virtuous and fully human anointed king (moshiach), a genealogical descendant of the ancient King David, will gather the Jews to Israel from the four corners of the earth. He will restore Torah law; establish universal justice, righteousness, and peace; and bring knowledge of God to the world, ushering in the world to come.
Because Jesus did not fulfill these messianic criteria, the Jewish people still wait for the prophesied redeemer.
Despite widely differing convictions about his nature and purpose — the divine personal savior who came as Jesus and will return again, or the anticipated national redeemer and harbinger of the world-to-come — the messiah is the supreme expression of the spirits of both Christianity and Judaism.
Literature to share
The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal. This dramatic frame narrative traces the events that take place throughout the day of the medical dissection immortalized in Rembrandt’s famous masterpiece The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Tales of a thief, a pregnant woman, a curio collector, an art restorer, and Descartes intersect within the frame to create a masterful drama of European culture, history and intrigue.
Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue by Heidi Smith Hyde. Set in 18th century New England, this adventure tale is also a well-received addition to historical fiction for early elementary ages. It is a story that begs to go beyond the pages into discussions about bravery, freedom, and the promise of America.
For additional reading about Jewish views of Jesus, you may find the following of interest:
Modern Jews Engage the New Testament by Rabbi Michael Cook
Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus by Asher Norman
Why the Jews Rejected Jesus by David Klinghoffer