Q. What is the Jewish view of Jesus?A. Jesus was a Jew. He was born of a Jewish mother, lived in a Jewish milieu, prayed Jewish prayers, observed Jewish practices, and would feel more at home in a synagogue than a church. He was not a Christian; Christianity is the religion about him that developed later.
Was he a rabbi? The Gospels address him as such, but the term did not become common until later: the sages of the time are known by their personal names – Hillel, Shammai – without a rabbinic title. It is not certain whether he was a Torah scholar, and his attitude to Torah is sometimes negative.
Was he a prophet? By this stage Biblical prophecy was over. Being a preacher does not in itself make him a prophet. Nor is it relevant to find him foretelling events: Biblical prophets were not necessarily foretellers but forthtellers.
It is not certain whether he personally considered himself to be Messiah. Judaism does not see that he fulfilled the messianic prophecies.
Was he an Essene? A Pharisee? A Sadducee? Though one might not think so in the light of the New Testament, but his teaching and preaching are closer to the Pharisees than any other group.
So how could he have criticised the Jews of the time? The fact is that there are no non-Jews in the story. The Jews he criticized were his Jews. It is only later that the portrayal changes from critical insider to critical outsider.
So what kind of Jew was he? Geza Vermes, in his “Jesus and the World of Judaism”, pinpoints an interesting distinction – between Galilean Jew and Jerusalem Jew.
Jesus represents the Galilean Jew, regarded in Jerusalem as unsophisticated. In Galilee, leadership was not so much by reason of Torah learning as personal magnetism. In this mould, Jesus was a teacher, preacher and healer: not a healer in a professional sense but because he believed that sickness, demons and sin were interconnected.
The simple religiosity of Galilee contrasted with the emphasis on learning and correct practice in Jerusalem. It is the age-old dilemma – spontaneous piety or structured religion? But it should be noted that Jesus’ criticism of establishment attitudes parallels the sages’ own criticism of religious behaviourism.
Christianity centres not so much on the Jesus of his time but the Jesus of later theology. With that theology, with its differing views of the nature of God and man, the status and divinity of Jesus, the way to salvation and atonement, faith as against works, personal authority as against the authority of the Torah, and the role of Judaism in history, Jewish thinking must decisively part company.
Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book discusses some 98 themes in the New Testament and Christianity and shows how Jesus and the early Christians can only be understood against a Jewish background. Rabbi Apple never resiles from his own faith and commitment, but sees the book as a contribution to dialogue.