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Among some Jewish scholars, the taboo on Jesus is fading.

Earlier this year, Israeli authorities ruled that even observant Jews and arden Zionists who consider Jesus the Messiah are not eligible for citizenship.

American Jewish novelist Philip Roth writes in his latest book, Operation Shylock: "Jews loathe Jesus... Jews don't want to hear about Jesus. And can you blame them?"

Catholics aware of the appalling anti-Semitism of the church's past could not blame them. (It was only 34 years ago that Pope John XXIII deleted the word-perfidious from a reference to the Jews in the Good Friday liturgy.)

Yet Roth may not be correct. Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide analyzed 10 Israeli history books used in Israel in 1946-71. He found that:

1. Jesus is never burdened with the later Christian guilt of hatred toward the Jews.

2. The Jewishness of Jesus is taken for granted by all the texts, and there is an unambiguous, more or less emphatic, identification with the Nazarene whenthe subject is his death as martyr on the cross of the Romans.

3. Although some of the texts speak of Jesus' "deviation" from the normative Judaism of his time, they are far outweighed by the references to his "faithfulness to the Torah," his ties to the Bible and his Jewish ethos.

In sum: "contemporary school-books in Israel without any doubt comprise the most sympathetic image of Jesus offered to any generation of Jewish children." (See Josef Imbach's Three Faces and Jesus.)

Just this year, Geza Vermes, who formerly held the chair of Jewish studies at Oxford, published the final book of his trilogy on Jesus: The Religion of Jesus the Jew.

The Jewish scholar concludes: "It would seem that muted sounds are audible in Jewish scholarly circles suggesting that the antique taboo on Jesus, mistakenly held responsible for Christian anti-Semitism, is beginning to fade and that hesistant steps are being made to reinstate him among the ancient Hasidim in fulfillment of Martin Buber's prophecy: "A great place belongs to him in Israel's history of faith."

Born in 1878, Martin Buber, famous for his "I-Thou" theory of ideal relationships, was a Jewish scholar who saw Jesus as belonging to a mystical tradition of the Hasidic Jews. He called Jesus "my great brother."

That positive attitude is not all that new. The supreme Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) saw Jesus as paving the way for the messianic age expected by the Jews.

Rabbi Jakob Emden (1696-1776) taught that Jesus" consolidated Moses' Torah with all his strength, for none of our wise men has emphasized and confirmed with greater stress the eternal binding force of God's teaching."

Rabbi H.G. Enelow (1877-1943) wrote, "Amongst all that is good and great that humanity has produced, nothing comes so near the universal as the claims and authority of Jesus. He has become the most charismatic figure in world history ... the Jew cannot avoid being proud of what Jesus means for the world."

In 1922, Joseph Klausner of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem declared of Jesus: "His moral teaching is sublime, more defined and original in its form than any other Hebrew ethical system." (He thinks, though, that Jesus set far too high a standard, one that demands too much of humanity.)

In his 1967 book, Brother Jesus: The Nazarene from a Jewish View, Shalom Ben-Chorin presents Jesus as an exemplary human being.

Scholar Lapide (born in 1922) finds that Jesus' spirit is Jewish in at least six ways: his hope, his view of the end of history (eschatology), his ethods (ideals of motive and behavior), his blind trust in God, his messianic impatience and his suffering.

Many modern Jews, nonpracticing but very socially concerned, would agree with Professor Vermes: "The magnetic appeal of the teaching and example of Jesus holds out hope and guidance to those outside the fold of organized religion, the stray sheep of mankind who yearn for a world of mercy, justice and peace lived as children of God."

Now when Catholic ventures in ecumenism are stumbling in all directions, this Jewish perspective is sweet music. It calls for reciprocity, not only at Easter but for all time.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 9, 1993
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