To many Jews, there’s nothing kosher about Jesus, so a book linking the two was bound to provoke. And it has--stoking passionate cries of heresy within the Chabad-Lubavitch sect and online in The Huffington Post.
The book, Kosher Jesus (Gefen, Feb.) by celebrity rabbi Shmuley Boteach (Q&A in this issue), builds on existing scholarship to suggest Jesus lived the life of a devoted Jew. His rebellion was not against Jewish law, but mostly against Roman brutality, Boteach writes.
Advance copies of the book have occasioned vitriolic responses from at least two Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis who attacked it earlier this month, calling it heretical. Last week, a “lunch and learn” event featuring Boteach at a Chabad House in Miami was cancelled.
Although most of the opposition has been confined to blog posts and tweets within the Jewish Orthodox milieu of Chabad-Lubavitch, Boteach has used the controversy to defend himself in at least three columns in the The Huffington Post.
“People in positions of authority seem to have allowed a lunatic fringe to take over the movement’s response to a book that hasn’t been published yet,” Boteach said. “It’s a particularly vicious campaign.” Chabad officials declined to comment on the controversy.
In a sign that other faith groups may also be reacting, Boteach’s publicist, Judy Lee at Rubenstein Public Relations, said an ad for the book in Catholic New York, an archdiocesan newspaper, was rejected.
To understand the source of the controversy, it helps to know that Boteach, bestselling author of Kosher Sex and onetime spiritual advisor to the late Michael Jackson, was long associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He ran Chabad’s Oxford, England, L’Chaim Society for 11 years until 1999. He no longer works for the group but is educating his nine children within its circles.
A panel discussion launching the book will take place at 6:30 p.m. on February 8 at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York. The event will feature Boteach, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman, and Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens.
There is no Jewish consensus about Jesus, but because of Christianity’s long and troubled history of attacks on Judaism and its values, the 1st-century leader is mostly shunned. Christian attempts to proselytize Jews have also contributed to a de-facto banishment of Jesus from Jewish discourse.
Among Orthodox Jews, Boteach’s book is offensive for even raising the subject. So radioactive is Jesus’ name, one of the Chabad rabbis criticizing the book didn’t spell out the name and instead used the letter “J.”
That kind of defensiveness is what Boteach says he is trying to address. “I know the book will be vindicated once it’s published,” said Boteach. “It will defend itself.”