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April 26, 2013 3:12 pm

To Experience Jesus, Visit a Synagogue

avatar by Bernard Starr

Email a copy of "To Experience Jesus, Visit a Synagogue" to a friend

Max Liebermann's 'The 12-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple with the Scholars'.

When I began gathering material for my recently published book, “Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew,” I described the project to an orthodox rabbi I know. I was prepared for an indifferent response, or perhaps a negative one, since I have found that Jews do not readily warm up to the name Jesus. Much to my surprise, though, the rabbi smiled and responded with a personal anecdote.

He lectures a great deal all over the world, he told me, and sometimes he is in an airport waiting room during morning prayer time. Undaunted by the public setting, he goes to the most private area he can find and proceeds to wrap himself in a prayer shawl and put on his phylacteries (teffilin — two leather boxes that are fastened with straps to the forehead and arm). The tefillin contain parchments of verses from the Torah: Exodus 13:1-10 and 13: 11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.

Occasionally, curious Christians ask the rabbi about this “strange” ritual.

“I always give the same answer,” he said. “This is what Jesus did every morning.”

The rabbi was no doubt correct, as my research confirmed. Jesus, like most Galilean Jews at the time, was a Pharisee. And the Pharisees engaged in standard Jewish practices. Prayer shawls were traditional for prayer services. And the phylacteries date back to ancient times. The Torah scriptures were added to the leather boxes during the Second Temple Period beginning in 515 B.C.E. In Matthew 23:5 (New Testament) Jesus makes reference to tefillin, as well as the tassels (tzitzit) that observant Jews wear.

A traveler passing through Nazareth or a neighboring town who wanted to meet the charismatic Rabbi Jesus (as his followers called him) might easily find him at the local synagogue — especially on the Sabbath. Jesus routinely attended Sabbath services at a synagogue, where he read the weekly portion (parsha) of the Torah: “And he went to Nazareth where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up for to read.” (Luke 4:16)

So the next time you see an observant Jew with prayer shawl, tefillin and tzitzit, look at him and see Jesus. That’s how Jesus appeared every morning. Or, for a more complete Jesus experience, visit a synagogue. That’s where Jesus went every Sabbath.

Given the ample evidence that Jesus was a devoted, practicing Jew, isn’t it ironic that his spiritual home, the synagogue, has historically been the target of desecration and destruction by anti-Semites?

Bernard Starr, PhD is a psychologist, journalist, and professor emeritus at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College. He is the author of ‘Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew.’

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  • Yehudah

    Sorry to ask again. Please remove my comment.
    It needs more work. Thank you.

  • jerry hersch

    “Given the ample evidence that Jesus was a devoted, practicing Jew, isn’t it ironic that his spiritual home, the synagogue, has historically been the target of desecration and destruction by anti-Semites?”

    This seem to imply that so-called “Christian” anti-Semites are really Christian…in actuality I find few know much about the Christian faith.Many were raised in families that enforced prejudices and attended PSEUDO-Christian independent churches-often run by mesmerizing quacks.

  • Fred

    Mazel tov! Wonderful simply nifla article. Moshiach is olam shamayim. We are from dust. Moshiach knows all we do and say. l know its about time we frum stop lashon hara against each other quickly. Yiras Shamayim is the awe and Greatness of Yahshua Hamashiac Elohim. Yeshayahu 9. Shalom.

  • Sara bas Yehudis

    Mary got impregnated by a Roman soldier. Jesus was illegitimate. The story of his mother being impregnated by G-d was a story that came from when Peter brought xtianity to Greece. Greeks had Zeus and mythology. Zeus was always fooling around and impregnating mortal women. That
    s how that story got into early xtianity. The xtians were trying to convert the pageans to their new religion so they took on some of their customs. The same thing with the xmas tree and the Easter bunny and egg symbolism. Germanic people used to go out into the forest in the winter to decorate the trees as worship to their gods. The early xtians incorporated this into their tradition. Easter eggs and bunnys come from the Bablyonian goddess Ishtar ( pronounced Easter ) who had the egg and bunny as her symbols

    • Sara, you have missed the point. Despite what Gentile Christians did later (and many things were awful) the Church began as a group made up entirely of Jews. These brave men and women chose to die for their faith rather than deny that Jesus is the Messiah for all peoples.

      Similarly the New Testament has just one non-Jewish author (Luke, who wrote both Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles).

      The fore-shadowing of the Messiah is written in the Tenach (Old Testament). For example well-known scriptures in Isaiah 53 are missed out of the weekly sidras – perhaps you can explain why? Similarly, as a Jewish person, you may never have read Proverbs 30 verse 4. I found the question at the end of that verse one that I could find only one answer to.

      It may not surprise you that I am Jewish by birth and trust in Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) as the Messiah. The change in my life that sprang from this belief led my mother to adopt the same faith half a dozen years after me. Given the number of relatives that we lost in the Shoah (Holocaust) these decisions were not taken lightly but the choice was to hold to man’s traditions (where modern rabbinic judaism currently sits) or to follow the LORD. We chose the latter and I pray that one day you will too. Amen.

    • Gladies Goodman

      The Catholic Church in pagan Rome does not speak for all Christians.

  • Sonja Olavson

    I have found Bernard Starr’s book extremely worthwhile and believe it should be required reading for all Christians.

    I do take issue with the fact it is only Christians who have missed an important historical and spiritual point. While Christianity has lost its way in respect to its roots in Judaism, I would like to respectfully point out the Judaism missed the point regarding Jesus as Messiah.

    Starr uses biblical information to prove his point regarding Jesus’ being a devoted Jew. He seems to have skipped over the “historical fact” that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead and was seen after his death in Jerusalem as proof of this resurrection. As Ron Friedman (in comment section) purports – either Jesus was a fake or he was exactly who the biblical facts prove him to be.

    We all need to learn something and seek the truth.

  • Armando

    I suggest reading Geza Vermès’ books on Jesus. Vermès was born into a Hungarian Jewish family that converted to Catholicism when Vermès was a child. His parents perished during the Holocaust, Vermès became a Catholic priest, rediscovered Judaism while doing reserch on the Dead Sea Scrolls, left the Catholic Church and joined a Reform synagogue in London. He led a brilliant academic career at Oxford in Jewish studies.
    Vermès places Jesus in a strongly Jewish context.
    Skeptical scholars have suggested that Jesus as presented in the New Testament was a composite of different types that existed in the Jewish world of the 1st century: rebels, charismatic preachers, magicians.

  • Janice Jenks

    Enjoyed your article very much. I will be looking for a copy of your book. As a Christian, I am so thankful to have a Bible teacher who always considers context or the world behind the text. To be a good reader of the New Testament one must understand that the context in which it is written is first century Judaism. Christians have done themselves a disservice by denying or choosing to ignore the Jewish Jesus.

    I have also been fortunate to have studied with a great Jewish teacher. The love of G-d has never seemed so real to me as when he described it as being constantly held in G-d’s lap. I have worshipped with joy in both orthodox and reform synagogues. I love knowing that Jesus read from the Torah and probably sang the benediction , “The Lord bless you and keep you, The Lord make his face shine upon you….” In Hebrew just like the rabbi and cantor that I have been blessed to hear. I hope to go again and again.

  • Bernard Starr

    Jesus was not the first or the last of Jewish Messiah claimants (although there is some controversy about whether Jesus actually declared himself Messiah). There have been more than 50 false Jewish Messiahs. Some of them, although rejected as false Messiahs (they did not deliver before they died),are still respected as teachers and scholars—and their teachings are revered and taught today, while Jesus has been totally rejected for the presumed Messiah claim. I wrote about many of the false Messiahs in a chapter of my book–the chapter titled, “Winking and blinking at Messiahs.”

  • John Sanocki

    Queen Deleona asks a good question. Most of the Christians do not see Jesus as an observant Jew because they would have to admit that they have departed from his teachings. The fact that Jews see Jesus through the eyes of Sunday keeping Christians and not through what the new Testament teaches about him, prevents Jews from teaching Christians that they Have departed from the teaching of Jesus.

  • Queen Deleona

    The real question is why is it so hard for christians, as a general rule, to see Jesus as a devout Jew that kept his culture and religion. They seem to be under the impression that he was from somewhere else, was something else, and did something else???

    • Bernard Starr

      For a thousand years Christians were denied direct access to their bible. It was considered blasphemy to own or read the New Testament on one’s own. And translating the bible into a native language would get you burned at the stake—as was William Tyndale’s fate as late as the sixteenth century. I think that one of the chief reasons for the Church keeping the New Testament out of the hands of Christians was to prevent them for seeing that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Then Christian art totally vaporized the Jewish Jesus and converted him and his family into latter-day Christians—it’s a subject that is covered in great detail in my book. Now that some Jews are getting over the Jesus phobia and getting on the case, Jesus the authentic Jew, is emerging—as Jew, not necessarily Messiah.

  • Ron Friedman

    This is just the teaspoon of broth. Let’s get to the meat of this provocative conversation and discuss whether this “charismatic Rabbi Jesus” was more than just an observant Jew.

    If he was, and by “more” I mean moshiach more, then as observant Jews ourselves, we ought to worship Him as Lord. If he was only a charismatic rabbi, meh. We’ve had plenty of those littering the road of false hope and lies. Liars don’t deserve our respect; they earn our opprobrium. Either this Jesus was the Son of the Most High (as he claimed) or he was a fraud.

    THAT is the soup, nuts, meat and potatoes of a discussion worthy of this publication.

    • Sonia Willats

      I agree with all of you : the Rabbi, Deleona, Bernard and Ron Friedman. MOST Christians have little idea or interest in who their JEWISH Jesus really was, which is astonishing. And, Ron, YES-Jews need to check out Jesus too, historically and against scriptures like Daniel 7 (Son of Man), Isiah 53 etc. etc. I can only see Jesus as thoroughly Jewish, but I also see him as Messiah. (Very controversial, very personal.) But this is a truth worth checking out.

      Of course the persecution of Jews by Christians has contributed hugely to making Jesus unrecognizable as Messiah. Also Christians’willfull blindness to who Jesus really was. If you live in Judaism you see just how Jewish Jesus was. (And he insisted he came ONLY TO THE JEWS.)

    • Rosario Osorio

      @Ron Friedman: What do YOU think and most observant Jews about Jesus? Was he the Son of the Most High? Was he a fraud? Someone else commented that Christians think that he came from somewhere else. I often see pictures, statues, paintings,etc. which portrayed him as very European. When I question this they tell me they don’t care if Jesus had blue or gray eyes. I point out he was born in Bethlehem (or so we’ve being told) in Judea; therefore he was a Jew and a Semite. People become upset and I don’t understand the reason. Do observant Jews allow Gentiles in their synagogues? Just curious…

    • Ilbert Phillips

      Often both Jews and Christians have issue with Jesus the Jew. As you can see, Ron Friedman wants to pick a fight. He says it is not possible to look at the question of Jesus as a Jews separate and distinct from the issue of whether he is the “messiah” (moshiach). Friedman does not prove his point, he merely gives a dressed up argument screaming, “I am right.” I have meet Christians who have taken a position that should warm the cockles of Mr. Friedman’s heart. These Christians say: “Jesus was not a Jew.” However, there is a large number of serious evangelicals who accept the fact that Jesus was a Jew and the the Jews are G_d’s people.