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January 15, 2012 11:13 am

An Open Letter on the ‘Kosher Jesus’ Tussle

avatar by Eliyahu Federman

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Group photo of Chabad emmisaries from around the world.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and his new book ‘Kosher Jesus‘ recently came under attack by Chicago Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf. Rabbi Wolf called for Rabbi Boteach’s ecclesiastical excommunication (‘Cherem’), accusing him of attempting to proselytize Jews to Christianity. Rabbi Boteach retorted that if Rabbi Wolf read his book he would see that in it he explicitly condemns Jesus’s divinity and claims of messiahship, and rather embraces the Jesus that was Torah observant.

My point is not to discuss the merits or lack thereof of the book itself. I want to clearly reiterate by unequivocally stating that I’m not qualified to comment on the legitimacy or lack thereof of Rabbi Boteach’s book ‘Kosher Jesus.’ I’ll leave that debate to qualified Rabbis, New Testament scholars and theologians with more knowledge than myself. This letter is about claims of Chabad’s closed-mindedness.

It is surprising that Rabbi Boteach viewed Rabbi Wolf’s remarks as reflecting the Chabad movements position on this issue, especially considering that Rabbi Wolf himself admits in his initial attack on Shmuley that he is “no spokesman for Orthodox Jewry or for Chabad.” He is speaking for himself as a “lone Wolf.”

I think most sensible people would be incensed by the incendiary and mean-spirited comments against Rabbi Boteach. When I advocated for gender equality in voting rights at my local government-funded Jewish community council elections, I was also attacked for representing a different viewpoint. I understand Rabbi Boteach’s anger and hurt.

With that said, it is unfair for Rabbi Boteach to label those in the Chabad movement who reject “Kosher Jesus” as a bunch of “knee-jerk reactionaries,” “anti-intellectuals” who “celebrate ignorance” when the movement has not even responded to his book.

Rabbi Boteach should not be painting Chabad with such a broad brush. What is more representative of closed-minded, prejudiced non-thinking? Someone who condemns an author of a book he has not read or someone who condemns a whole group of people based on the statement of one of its members?

Unless the Chabad movement formally excommunicates Rabbi Boteach or renounces his book, which they have done neither, Rabbi Wolf’s comments carry no weight and neither do the reams of “sickening, stomach-turning comments” that Rabbi Boteach refers to. Rabbi Wolf is a Rabbi speaking for himself, not the Chabad movement.

There are those in the Chabad community who strongly agree with Rabbi Wolf’s sentiment but also those that disagree. This is to be expected and reflects the diversity of opinion within the Chabad community but just like Rabbi Boteach is one Rabbi with an opinion, albeit a counter-intuitive and provocative opinion about the Jewish Jesus, so too is Rabbi Wolf.

Lastly, given the premium I place on the First Amendment’s right to freedom of expression and the press as well as Judaism’s rich culture of debate, I recoil at the notion of the Chabad websites censoring any viewpoint but at the same time I recognize that insular communities have a right to maintain their insularity.

Just my thoughts.

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