A Rabbi Comments on Luke
Rabbi Israel Chait
Although this series of articles is entitled “A Rabbi Comments on Luke” it could have just as well be entitled: “Why the Jews Have Never Accepted the New Testament”. My purpose in this series of articles is to demonstrate the difference between the principles upon which the Torah is founded and the principles of the New Testament. My last article dealt with the endowment of supernal qualities in a human being. I explained how endowing a human being with supernal qualities is a dilution of one’s belief and faith in God. It makes no difference whether this person is a righteous person, prophet, or Messiah. If one imbues that individual with faith and belief he has deviated from the Torah system. The prophet expresses it in the following manner. “Cursed be the man who places his faith in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5).” Similarly, before reading from the scroll in the Sabbath service we say, “Not in any man do I put my trust nor on any angel do I rely - only on the God of heaven.”
Belief in the person of messiah is a major tenet of the New Testament. The message or “good news” of the NT is very closely related to that belief. Part of the message or most essential communication of the NT is that the messiah has arrived in the person of a Jew called Jesus. Of course it is quite clear to anyone that if the messiah of the Old Testament as described by the prophets had arrived bringing peace and knowledge of God to mankind there would be no need for any message, it would be self-evident. From the NT it seems clear that Jesus himself agreed with this obvious notion when he said, “This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30).” Before he died, he saw that his vision would not be fulfilled, and admitted defeat. He cried out, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).”
Christianity refused to accept this defeat. In order to solve the dilemma they invented a new kind of messiah - one who brings salvation to man through his death, not his life. This was not the messiah of Isaiah who rules the world with justice, knowledge, and wisdom but one who saves mankind through his dying.
The idea of a dead messiah was a new concept, never before heard among the scholars or even lay people of Israel. What I would like to show is just how strange and impossible this idea sounded to the Pharisees and the vast majority of the Jewish people. In order to deal with the obvious questions and contradictions that emerge from this notion of a messiah Christianity has created an institution called theology in which the art of explaining things away reaches amazing heights. Support is brought for the Christian doctrine by means of text fragments, projections, and mistranslations. I am not about to rehash this kind of material.
This has been done amply in the past by others. I agree with Maimonides that no statement can be given which cannot be twisted to the very opposite of its true meaning by anyone who wishes to do so. As Maimonides states even God was unable to accomplish this. He stated clearly in His Torah God is one. It would seem nothing could be plainer and yet Christianity sought to derive from this very verse that God is three. Even the overt omission of a trinity from the texts of the Torah would seem sufficient to demonstrate to any reasonable man the Torah’s firm denial of such a doctrine. I therefore believe that dialogues and debates over textual matters of the Torah as pertains to Christianity is futile. In the series of articles I am presently writing I am approaching the topic from a different standpoint. My approach is thematic and conceptual. I wish to elucidate the system of Torah to show what the fundamentals are and how these fundamentals are in direct opposition to the NT and to Christian doctrine. I will deal the same way with the essential message of Christianity in the NT.
Allow me to give an example. Christians commonly bring support for their doctrine from Isaiah 7:14, “Behold the ‘almah’ will become pregnant and give birth to a son.” While there is no indication that this verse in Isaiah is referring to the messiah, they must assume it is in order to use this verse for support. Further they must translate the word “almah” as virgin while in Hebrew the word for virgin is “betulah”; “almah” means young girl as in Genesis 24:43. This is always pointed out by those who wish to refute the Christian “proof.”
My own approach, a conceptual one, is as follows: We have a Torah law that it is a major violation to strike one’s parent in a way that inflicts a wound. Under certain conditions this is punishable by death. The oral law takes up the question of determining who is one’s biological father. There is always the possibility of extramarital relationships. The Talmud explains that in Halacha we have a principle of determination by majority. Whenever a husband and wife relationship exists we always attribute the offspring to the one assumed to have performed the majority of sexual acts - the husband. All paternal lineages are determined by this principle. The Talmud makes it clear that without this principle there is no way to establish paternal lineage. Even if a man and woman were isolated together we could not assume that there was absolutely no extramarital intercourse. We have another Halachik principle, that “there is no guardian when it comes to sexual matters.” The Torah, based on sound principles of psychology, knows that man can implement the most devious tactics to obtain satisfaction when overcome by sexual passion.
Now let us return to Isaiah. Here we find the prophet being told that God will give him a sign. It is abundantly clear from the above that a virgin birth can never be a sign. There is no plausible way to determine through Halacha or even through common sense that a certain person was truly a virgin and had no intercourse with another human being. The idea of using a virgin birth as a sign is intrinsically absurd. You can now imagine how this Christian idea sounded to Jewish scholars replete with in-depth knowledge of Torah and its true principles of human psychology.
The idea of a virgin birth stems from the desire to identify with God, to become part of God, and to bridge the gap between man and God. In ancient Egypt their monarchs were thought to be begotten by the god Ammon who assumed the form of the reigning king and in that disguise had intercourse with the queen. The Baganda of central Africa provide their god with virgins. The offspring of these types of mystic unions among primitive tribes are considered to be children of God (see Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough Chapter XII). The Torah’s idea of monotheism is not merely to say God is one but to know that there is nothing in common between God and His created world. “To whom then would you liken me…says the Holy one (Isaiah 40:25).” To attempt to project onto God human traits or to imagine a relationship between God and man in a way that a child is produced through the union of God and a woman is idolatrous. This idea in any form, no matter how sophisticated, is an abomination. It stems from man’s desire to reach God through identification with him. In Torah the only way to reach God is through a knowledge of him, which causes man to realize how far removed he is from Him.
This same desire is what is responsible for messianics -- the preoccupation of man with God’s ultimate plans. This entertaining diversion from man’s true task is an attempt on the part of man to gain importance and augment his own self-worth by becoming part of God’s ultimate “triumph.” It is really man’s own triumph that he is seeking. All messianics has the germ of human egomania as its underlying basis. There is no difference in kind between the messianics of a David Koresh, A Sabbatai Zvi, or a Jesus of the New Testament. They are all attempts to make man the all-powerful center of the stage of human life. Although they disguise their true desires behind a religious veneer, their underlying motives are always apparent. For example, Jesus stated, “I am the way - the truth and the life.” Sabbatai Zvi signed his name with the ineffable Hebrew name of God as David Koresh did. They all betray the powerful instinctual egomania of man-God identification.
In all the commandments of the Torah there is none that teaches us to try to involve ourselves in God’s ultimate plans. All the commandments teach us to concern ourselves with one thing - perfecting ourselves. Our teacher Moses asks what does the Lord your God ask of you? He answers clearly, “to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes.” Similarly when the prophet asks what God wants of man he points to perfection: (Micah 6:8): “And what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
If we perfect ourselves through the ideas and ways of the torah we may play a role in God’s ultimate plan for man, but if we give in to the agitation of our hearts and pursue our desire to be part of God’s “grandiose apocalyptic scheme” we can be certain that we will not play any role in God’s ultimate plan for mankind. Let us Bnei Noach and Bnei Israel redouble our efforts to gain perfection from Torah and leave God’s plans to the only one who has knowledge of these plans - God himself.