RBL catches up with bestselling author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (Kosher Sex) as he releases the newest installment in his Kosher series: Kosher Jesus. The noted lecturer and TV and radio host tells why this controversial new book that reevaluates the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth will promote religious goodwill even as it has stimulated intense debate across religious lines.
RBL: You say throughout your book that it aims to give both Jews and Christians a new look at Jesus, one that essentially claims that Jesus is not who millennia of believers and non-believers thought. How will Jews and Christians benefit from this new perspective on Jesus?
Boteach: 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.
RBL: Kosher Jesus has generated a host of emotions across the religious spectrum. Did you expect this sort of reaction?
Boteach: There’s never been a book like this. I’m tracing the teachings of Jesus to their original sources: the Torah, the Talmud and rabbinic literature. This book is also based on the New Testament and early Christian Scripture. Christians are certainly going to dispute some of my conclusions, but they want to know the Jewish Jesus. This book upends the story of Jesus the way that Christians have been taught and will put the nail in the coffin to the most insidious lie in world history--that the Jews killed Jesus. Missionaries aren’t going to like my book because it is a very scholarly response to their claims of the divinity and messiah-ship of Jesus, and yet they still appreciate the deep scholarship, the deep investigation. There is a single irresponsible rabbi who admits that he never even saw the book who is calling for me to be excommunicated. This is antithetical to all the principles of Judaism, because we are a scholarly and fair faith. But he has incited a rabble of hate-mongers that unfortunately are part of the modern religious experience.
RBL: What first propelled you to begin researching Jesus?
Boteach: It started when I was a young student rabbi on campus giving out Purim presents to students when this 30-year-old guy came over smiling, and drew a crowd as he made a scene about his joy for Purim. Then he subtly took out his New Testament and Hebrew Bible and confronted me about why I didn’t believe in Jesus. He was a Christian missionary, and in front of all these students he told me I would burn in hell without Jesus. I was gob smacked at my inability to respond. From that day I started reading the New Testament and memorizing large portions of it as well as of the Hebrew Bible.
RBL: If there is one thing you’d like readers to take from your book, what would it be?
Boteach: 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.