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  • Writer's picturePhil

Rabbi Jesus

The Sculptor, Jacob Epstein, was commissioned in 1957 to create a statue of St. Michael the Archangel for the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral. Some members of the Cathedral reconstruction committee objected, with one complaining But Epstein is a Jew!”, to which the architect Basil Spence replied “So was Jesus Christ!”

Rabbi Evan Moffic, an American, Reform rabbi, says: “Jesus was Jewish –in this time of rising anti-Semitism, it’s important to do everything we can to build closer ties between Jews and Christians.”

The Reform arm of Judaism has the least problems with Jesus, and many are content to accept Him as a Rabbi, a great teacher in the Jewish tradition. Rabbi Moffic continuesUnderstanding the Jewishness of Jesus is the secret to knowing him better and understanding his message in the twenty-first century.”

Moffic and others liken Jesus’s teaching style and content to the almost-contemporary Rabbi Hillel, who was prominent during the latter part of the first century BC and into the early years of the first century AD. He was just a few years in front of Jesus, and Jesus would have been aware of him. Hillel was optimistic, believing that Jewish life could still flourish under Roman rule. Hillel abhorred violence, and encouraged a stance of forgiveness.

His golden rule was something that Jesus Himself would have said:

“That which is hateful to you do not do to another;

that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.”

Hillel considered "love of our fellow human" to be the kernel of Jewish teaching.

In Luke chapter 10: an expert in Jewish Law asks Jesus:

"Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" replies Jesus. "How do you read it?"

He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart

and with all your soul and with all your strength

and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied.

The Words the expert quoted were those words prayed daily by Jews worldwide,

the “Shema Ysrael”, and the answer Jesus gave would have done Hillel proud.

In Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, we see Jesus acting and talking

in a similar way to Hillel, very rabbinically. In it, Jesus uses the phrase

“You have learnt how it was said.

which was pure “rabbi-talk” for

others have interpreted God’s word to mean one thing, but I say this to you”,

meaning, “I interpret it differently, in the following way.”

Many sayings in this style emerge from Jesus's teaching - For instance, ‘“You have learnt how it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’

but I say this to you, if anyone slaps you on the right cheek,

turn the other cheek also; and If anyone forces you to go one mile,

go with them two miles.”

Similarly…..“You have learnt how it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.”

You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court;

(it’s as good as murder!) ….be reconciled with your brother first.

“You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery.

But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully,

he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“You have learnt how it was said….Anyone who divorces his wife

must give her a writ of dismissal.

But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife,

except for the case of her adultery, makes her an adulteress;

and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery”.

Divorce was easy for men, impossible for women;

but Jesus makes a case, not against divorce,

but against the ease with which a man could dismiss his wife.


In John’s Gospel chapter 3, we read….Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God…”

Also in John chapter 1, “Nathanael answered Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”;

and at the end of John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalen, on her recognition of Jesus, calls Him “Rabboni!” "My Great Master”, a title ascribed to a teacher who had inspired a further generation of disciples.

Last Sunday, in our Gospel reading, we witnessed Jesus being very radical….. engaging with a Samaritan, and talking theology with a woman! (man’s business). Reaching beyond the margins on two counts! Jesus was radical in His teaching, even more radical than Hillel. The Jewishness of Jesus is something of which Christians should be proud; something we should appreciate. Jesus is better understood when He is viewed in His proper context. It helps us understand who He is.

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