Re-Judaizing Jesus

It's time to end the millennia-old polarization of the "sister religions" of Judaism and Christianity by recognizing that the historical Jesus did not start Christianity but was rabbi and a Jew all his life — and virtually all his teachings and methods were boilerplate Judaism of his day.

That's the message of a new book, "Roots and Branches: a Sourcebook for Understanding the Jewish Roots of Christianity, Replacement Theology and Anti-Semitism," by Rabbi David Zaslow of Ashland's Havurah Shir Hadash.

In his book and five-week class, starting Nov. 16, Zaslow pursues the "re-Judaizing of Jesus," which Time Magazine called one of "The 10 Ideas Changing the World." It's an idea, he notes, that is strengthening both Christianity and Judaism, diminishing anti-Semitism and promoting respect and understanding between the faiths.

Although ancient history can be fuzzy, Zaslow says Jesus didn't think of himself as starting a new religion, but he would have made the Top 50 list of important leaders of his time in Judea — kind of like Martin Luther King or the Dalai Lama in our day — and would have been considered a main troublemaker by the occupying Romans, but just one of 50,000 Jews crucified to put down the rebellion.

After 20 years of research, Zaslow outlines how Yehoshua (Jesus' actual Jewish name) taught in the rabbinical tradition of storytelling, allegory and parable, with all teachings — miracles, "love thy neighbor," the Lord's Prayer, the Beattitudes ("Blessed are the meek...") and others traceable, verse for verse to the Old Testament or Talmud of the Jews.

Early Christianity was virtually indistinguishable from Judaism, says Zaslow, but was shaped into a new faith chiefly by Paul, a Jew and Roman citizen, because "he wanted to bring the one God to non-Jews, but no way were they going to convert to Judaisim, this minor, monotheistic cult on the fringe of the Roman Empire, so he created this mechanism for them to access God."

Zaslow says his book seeks to apply historic objectivity to Matthew 27, which became the source of much tragedy for Jews by stating that "all the people" (Jews) handed Jesus over to the Romans for execution and when Pilate washed his hands of the crime, they said, "his blood be on us and on our children." That makes it sound like all Jews said those words when it was likely a room full of people at most, he says, yet it has been used as the basis for centuries of pogroms against Jews — and greatly increased the de-Judaizing of Jesus that took place through Paul and the Roman Emperor Constantine, who converted the realm to Christianity in 325 A.D.

"It's about the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish roots of Christianity, these two sister religions that have endured 2,000 years of polarization," says Zaslow. "It's time for a reunion on equal footing ... I'm trying to reclaim Jesus for Jews."

Just as most Christians see Judaism as alien to their faith, Zaslow notes, so Jews will not allow any teachings of Jesus, a major and ancient Jewish voice, to be spoken in his or any synagogue, because "Jews have been the object of a lot of persecution in the name of Christianity over the millennia ... right up to the 20th century." In a synagogue, you will not hear, "Our Father, who art in heaven..." even though in Zaslow's book it shows the exact words coming from Talmud: Yoma 85b — hence his book's title, with Talmud as root, and Gospel as branch. Scores of other "roots" are cited.

Zaslow says he doesn't seek to question any Christian theology, such as the Trinity or Virgin Birth, but "to celebrate the historical Jesus who lived and died as a Jew. Paul never met Jesus, but was a great marketing genius and planted the seeds of what became Christianity.

"People think Jesus started a new religion and rejected his past, but no, he was an actively practicing Jew who went to synagogue regularly. He didn't die because he started a new religion, but rather he died at the hands of the Romans because he was a Jew — 50,000 Jews were crucified and he was one of them."

The book seeks to question other supposed religious differences, that the New Testament was created to replace the Old Testament, that either faith or works is needed to get into heaven (they are one way of life to Jews) and, he says, that the two faiths have divergent ideas about the Messiah, when both look to a Messiah's coming or return, with a time of world peace.

Zaslow's class is five Tuesday evenings starting Nov. 16 at Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 North Mountain Ave. Pre-register at or call 541-488-7716 for information. The fee of $50 plus $36 for the text. Scholarships are available.

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