Jesus gets Smicha and a Hechsher from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Many Jews are left scratching their heads with regards to what can possibly be wrong with Jews attending CUFI events and basking in the glory of unremitting Christian love and support.

Apart from hobnobbing with missionaries and those advancing a messianic agenda in Israel, it appears that certain rabbis and activists are so deeply impressed by evangelical overtures and offerings that they reciprocate by using CUFI as a springboard for hurdling over Torah fences.


A wee bit too much eggnog

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and others came back utterly intoxicated by the recent CUFI  Summit and, after drinking their fill of Evangelical spirits, seemed to wobble off the derech, knock down a fence post or two, and stagger into alien territory.

While recapping what it was like to be "surrounded" by  "five thousand Christian lovers of Israel" at the recent CUFI Summit, Rabbi Boteach took the opportunity to introduce his upcoming book, "Kosher Jesus":

"In December of this year I will G-d willing be publishing my book, “Kosher Jesus,” through Gefen Publishers in Israel. It has been a project of more than six years research and writing. The book seeks to offer to Jews and Christians the real story of Jesus, a wholly observant, Pharisaic Rabbi who fought Roman paganism and oppression and was killed for it."


Jews fumble

This book bombshell should come as no surprise to those who have been following Rabbi Boteach's theological  exploits.  Like Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who has expressed a "profound interest in the persona of Jesus" and bestowed upon him the title of "rabbi" (which spiked a controversy), Boteach has for years been preparing the Jewish world for such a time as this:

"…I have written many articles arguing that it is time for the world Jewish community to reclaim the Jewish Jesus by understanding his original mission and his great love for his people…” ---Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (Jerusalem Post,  December 7, 2005).

Like Rabbi Riskin, who feels that Jews dropped the ball 2000 years ago, Rabbi Shmuley feels that "Judaism has failed" and he perceives non-Jews as the saviors of Judaism:

The following is an excerpt  from Boteach's Jerusalem Post column of November 16, 2010:

"The real failure is Jewish insularity and isolation. Judaism for Jews is too narrow, too particular to really inspire. The vast majority of the world’s Jews want to live mainstream and fully integrated lives. But every form of Jewish outreach – from Reform to Orthodox – is designed to bring them back to the Jewish community. News alert. They left 200 years ago during the great emancipation and they aren’t coming back.There is, therefore, only one solution: Judaism for non- Jews. A global movement to disseminate Jewish values and spirituality to all Earth’s inhabitants, making no distinction between Jew and gentile."


"America's Rabbi"

Rabbi Boteach, who holds the simultaneous titles of "Preacher of the Year" and "the Most Famous Rabbi in America", is a passionate and articulate defender of Israel and of Jewish causes. In addition, he often very effectively presents a solid Jewish perspective on the ethical and moral issues and challenges plaguing modern American culture and Western civilization.

Rabbi Boteach, affectionately referred to as "Rabbi Shmuley", has made it quite clear that Jesus is neither his lord nor his savior. He doesn't defend Christian missionaries, but he does befriend them and frequently engages them in very public theological debate - and this may be his Achilles heel, as we will see in this report.


A way too narrow bridge

Rabbi Boteach and other Torah observant Jewish personalities are walking a way too narrow bridge in their attempts to show Christians the light. While desperately seeking theological commonality, some of our most talented rabbis have left their own people [the Jews] behind and in the dark. 

Some Orthodox Rabbinic leaders and activists who originally allied themselves with evangelical Christians in a well-intentioned attempt to bolster Israel on the political humanitarian and economic front, have upped the ante and are now wooing evangelicals with hopes of "de-paganizing" the church and demystifying (de-deifying?) jesus.  

Perhaps having finally recognized the evangelizing tendencies of evangelicals, have these rabbis decided to fight fire with fire? Or maybe, this is their way of trying to come to terms with the rapidly disappearing line between evangelical, messianic and Hebraic roots sects which are not only claiming to be grafted into the Jewish root through jesus, but are increasingly declaring themselves to be equal heirs in the commonwealth of Israel.

 [Note: Mormons, who consider themselves members of the House of Israel, have also jumped on the lost tribes bandwagon]

Wouldn't it be a bit more honest and sensible for these rabbinic and Jewish community leaders to extract themselves for this faith-based entanglement, and take time-out to think and draw some clear red lines - ala Rav Soloveitchik - before resuming any interfaith friendship?

You can be sure that these christ-centered Hebraic roots sects, claiming a birthright to Israel, frequently cite Orthodox rabbinic sources to back up their beliefs and you can find Rabbi Boteach at the top of the list:

"Christians often associate parables exclusively with Jesus and believe that he invented a new method of teaching.  But anyone familiar with the Talmud will recognize Jesus' parables as the common form of rabbinic expression in the Second Temple period.  Jesus was a trained rabbi who thought like a rabbi, taught like a rabbi, and spoke like a rabbi."

-          Jesus was Jewish, by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach


Treading on unknown and dangerous territory

Rabbis like Boteach may think they will rescue lost Jewish souls by boldly going where no Jew has tread, but they had better think again and turn to those in the know. A rabbi who has enjoyed a secure grounding in the monotheistic foundations of Judaism may have no idea just how grueling it is for others to wrench free of a belief in a god of flesh.

Putting a friendly rabbinic face on Jesus plays into messianic missionary hands where Rabbi Boteach's words and name is used to strengthen Christian missionary endeavors:

"Our Isaiah 53 Campaign is one example of our using new methods to communicate the unchanging message of the Gospel. This campaign is designed to introduce Jewish people to Jesus by familiarizing our people with this great prophecy written 700 years before His birth! Hundreds of Jewish seekers in New York City came to watch a debate between Orthodox rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Michael Brown on Isaiah 53. The campaign is slowly being unleashed through secular media - ads, web-based outreach, new evangelistic literature, and much more."

"Founded in 1894, Chosen People Ministries is an international organization of Messianic Jews and Christians based in New York City that seeks to bring the message of Jesus to the Jewish people. In addition to many of their media campaigns and outreach programs, they frequently sponsor debates around the country between "America's Rabbi" Shmuly Boteach and Messianic Jewish apologist, Dr. Michael Brown. For more information…"


Every time Rabbi Boteach debates Michael Brown or similar Christian apologists, counter-missionaries (among them former Christians) scramble and shift into "damage-control" mode. It seems many Jews attend those debates, and it's been reported by counter-missionary experts that Brown has the upper hand (emotionally and psychologically), leaving young, unlearned and unobservant Jews with a lot of questions.

Rabbi Boteach has a close affinity with Chabad, but he nevertheless does not seem to adhere to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's instructions regarding interfaith debate with missionaries.


An affront to Christians and Jews

One thing Jews and Christians have in common is that members of both faith communities find  Boteach's "authoritative" approach to Christianity and his pushing the "Rabbi Jesus" line to be provocative if not downright insulting. 

Mark Parades, the Mormon blogger for the Jewish Journal, has this to say about Rabbi Boteach's upcoming book ("Kosher Jesus"):

"…Rabbi Shmuley’s assertion that Jesus was a “Pharisee” who resisted any attempt to deify Him flatly contradicts the New Testament. It is one thing for a rabbi to say that he does not accept the New Testament Gospels as scripture; it is quite another to suggest that Christians do not understand their message…I will gladly read anything Rabbi Shmuley writes on Jewish themes in the New Testament and/or Jewish religious practices at the time of Jesus. However, it is not clear to me why Christians should turn to him for a greater understanding of the “authentic historical Jesus.” The New Testament clearly and repeatedly states that Jesus was the Messiah and that He was (and is) divine. Christians believe this; Jews do not. However well-written Rabbi Shmuley’s upcoming book may be, it is unlikely to add to Christians’ understanding of the identity of their Savior. "

Jewish counter missionaries regularly voice concern about Boteach's debates, articles and overall approach to interfaith matters After reading about "Kosher Jesus" in Rabbi Boteach's CUFI report, Jewish Israel turned to Akiva (Mark) Powers, US Director of the counter-missionary organization Magen, for his take on Rabbi Boteach's ordination (christening?) of "Rabbi Jesus":

"Rabbi Stuart Federow once made a great statement, and with his permission, I'd like to paraphrase what he said:  "Rabbi" does not mean "teacher".  It is a title given to someone by an institution or individual who has the authority to grant such status.  If Shmuely Boteach wishes to call Jesus, "rabbi", then it is incumbent upon him to also provide the information as to where or from whom Jesus received his ordination.  Failure to do so cheapens the title "Rabbi", and does injustice to those who truly have earned and deserve the title.

Moreover, his attempt to make Jesus more palatable to Jews and Judaism is an affront to those Jews throughout the centuries who sacrificed their lives, rather than accept Christianity in any form.  In a society where many Jews have been brought up inundated with Christianity, to further blur the lines of distinction between the two, as Boteach has, and continues to do, is not just dangerous, but irresponsible and inexcusable. It is also a clear and present danger to Jews today who are not knowledgeable of Judaism or Jewish teachings or who have been estranged from Judaism, as the Russian and Ethiopian Jews have been."


Thou shalt love thy missionary?

Rabbi Boteach's stance on evangelical missionary activity is ambiguous. On the one hand he fiercely opposes the targeting of Jews for conversion.  On the other hand he takes a rather loving and tolerant "Christian" approach towards those who missionize Jews.  Not only does he lend his name and voice to missionary campaigns (via public debates and television appearances sponsored by missionary organizations), but he also treats missionary leaders with the utmost understanding and respect.

While admitting that tens of thousands of Jews have converted to Christianity, Boteach refers to missionary leader Michael Brown as "my friend"

Boteach wrote brilliantly on the Jewish concept of redemption and on the misguided attempts of  Reverend Albert Mohler to evangelize fallen Congressman Anthony Weiner. So it is disturbing to read Boteach thanking "my friend Rev. Mohler most cordially for offering Jesus…"  He describes Mohler as "a warm and unassuming man… a lover and supporter of the State of Israel."

And therein lays the problem…

If  Rabbi Boteach personally benefits from these debates with Brown and Mohler, which are often sponsored by missionary organizations, then perhaps there is a conflict of interest.

If the Jewish state, Jewish organizations and Jewish leadership continue to reap the benefits of evangelical support, while embracing evangelists as friends and turning a blind eye to the missionary activity directed at those sectors of the Jewish people who are most vulnerable, then something has gone terribly wrong.  It is a betrayal of everything we stand for – take it from Rabbi Amnon, a friend of the Bishop of Mainz.

One can surely thank non-Jews who have taken a moral stand with the State of Israel and who contribute generously to Jewish humanitarian causes, without befriending and thanking those whose designs would destroy us spiritually. 

If Jewish leaders are incapable of holding the line and presenting a firm and dignified Jewish face to evangelical Christians, then perhaps a moratorium should be called on interfaith mega-gatherings.  At the very least, it's time for the Torah observant community to review and reaffirm the halacha on interfaith dialogue presented by Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z"l.


Related Post:

"Kosher Jesus:" Judging a Book by its Cover

Related Video:

Inspired by Christian love, Boteach promotes "Kosher Jesus" 

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Comment by Moshe Verschleisser on January 11, 2012 at 6:59pm

JI - all of you :)

My point is that Boteach needs to acknowledge why he does what he does. As long as money from CPM and other missionary organizations is finding their way to his pocket, he takes a financial hit for saying no to his "friend", Michael Brown. (CPM is frequently a sponsor of Brown/Boteach debates) And they'd only sponsor if they had the confidence that Brown can use him as a welcome mat. (again) 

If it's about exposure - if losing these debates is about exposure - than Boteach comes out okay. He wins; we lose. Brown isn't a chavrusah that Shmuley's trying to set straight on a sugya in gemarah; he's a missionary intent on the conversion of Jews. And I don't think Shmuley sees the difference.

Comment by Jewish Israel on August 15, 2011 at 11:37am

response to JI staff reaction 2:

I think the point Moshe is making is whether taking money for these missionary sponsored debates, while at the same time claiming to oppose missionary endeavors, would present a conflict on interest.  At this point we simply don't know what arrangement Rabbi Boteach has with these organizations.

For example what if the benefit is strictly PR exposure?  Would that still present a conflict of interest?

(the JI comments are coming from various staff members)

Comment by Jewish Israel on August 15, 2011 at 9:41am

Moshe, it's not clear to me whether Boteach's taking money for the debate is relevant, nor whether his response indicates one thing or another.

(JI staff member reaction 2)
Comment by Jewish Israel on August 15, 2011 at 9:20am

Yehoshua, for the purposes of this post, we're interested in Mark Paredes' opinion as a Mormon-Christian.  In what capacity he worked for the State Department while in Israel is not directly related - unless he was compiling their reports on "religious freedoms" abuses in the holy land.

Comment by Jewish Israel on August 15, 2011 at 9:14am

Hi Moshe,

You asked an important question, but his reaction doesn't exactly give us an answer. What about his televised debates with Brown on Sid Roth's show or on these other evangelical shows?

 (JI staff member reaction 1)
Comment by Yehoshua Friedman on August 15, 2011 at 7:59am
I was doing some work for Yad L'Achim at the big Messianic conference on Shavuot in '88 and I heard Michael Brown. He is poisonous. I don't know how I avoided getting sick from the experience. Actually I think I did afterwards. There are ways of reaching the lost souls, but IMHO they are not the ways of people like Shmuley, with all due respect to his good intentions. I should also point out that we should be very careful about Mark Paredes. I spoke to him once on the phone as a result of seeing his column online. He told me he knew Israel very well, having worked for the State Dept. here for a few years. And maybe it was really the CIA? He has spook written all over him.
Comment by Moshe Verschleisser on August 14, 2011 at 4:53pm
A few years ago I attended a debate and Shmuley was asked about how much he was paid for it, and completely blew his stack. It was a telling response to an important question.

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