Archive for June, 2011

Jesus the Pharisee, Harvey Falk and the letter of Jacob Emden

June 20, 2011
This is a very exciting book. And I never read such a good explanation of Matthew 23. Harvey Falk, a rabbi who has written extensively on rabbinic Judaism, wrote his vision on the emerge of Christ and Christendom out of the Jewish tradition in his book Jesus the Pharisee, A new look at the Jewishness of Jesus, 1985.
He boldly leans upon the famous rabbi Jacob Emden’s work Seder Olam Rabbah Vezuta, 1757, which has an investigation of Christianity in it and a letter which “laid the groundwork of this book”, p.4. The thesis of rabbi Emden is that Jesus and Paul would establish a religion for the gentiles based on the 7 Noachide laws, strengthening the Torah of Moses (who commanded this) and removing idolatry from the gentiles.

This very important letter of Rabbi Jacob Emden came to existance because of some troubles in Poland regarding the false Messiah Shabbatai Zevi. A brief history was given on page 113. I’ll share it here:

The thesis I have proposed is based on the writings of the great Talmudist and anti-Shabbatean Rabbis Jacob Emden, a valiant champion of Orthodox Judaism during the eighteenth century. His adversaries at the time were the Shabbateans, or followers of the false seventeenth century messiah, Shabbatai Zevi. These Shabbateans – or Frankists as they were called in his day – desecreted Jewish law and openly practiced sexual immorality. When excummunicated by the polish rabbinate, they complained to certain Catolic bishops of being persecuted by the Jews because they believed in the Trinity. This eventually led to the burning of the Talmud in Poland and these Frankists even tried to revive the notorious blood-libel against the Jews. When the leading rabbis of Poland asked Rabbi Emden whether it would be permitted to explain the true nature of these immoral heretics to the Polish authorities, Rabbi Emden replied in the affirmative, and also advised them to ask the Christians for help against the Shabbateans. This led him into a thorough analysis ofthe origins of Christianity and the original intent of its founders. He concluded that Jesus and Paul had intended to create a religion for the Gentiles based upon the seven Noahide commandments. According to the Talmud and Toseita, those Gentiles who observe these Commandments are considered of the Hasidim (pious ones) of the Nations, and merit a share in the World to Come. (The basic seven Noahide Commandments consist of the prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy. stealing, murder, Sexual sins, eating the limb of a living animal [cruelty to
animals], and the imperative to establish courts ofjustice) He believed that Jesus of Nazareth acted entirely according to the Halakha, and “brought about a double kindness to the world.” R. Emden stressed that Jesus spoke out strongly on behalf of the Torah of Moses, which indeed grants salvation those Gentiles who practice the Noahide Commandments. R. Emden referred to Paul as “a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder.”
[end qoute]

Rabbi Harvey’s book took 8 years of preparation and he read the (Hebrew) letter of rabbi Emden only some years before the completion of his book. (His book is only a pocketbook, about 160 pages, easy to read when you are a bit familiar with Judaism.)

What he is arguing in his book is what Jesus says against the Pharisees and Scribes is not as much as said to the pharisees in general, but more specific to the pharisees of the school of Shammai. Those who cooperates with the Zealots and were against salvation for the gentiles. The school of Hillel was much more kind to the gentiles, but they disappeared a bit and went to the Essenes.

“I have expressed my opinion many times in this book that Christianity as a religion for the Gentiles was founded by the Hasidim – the Essenes and disciples of Hillel from whose midst Jesus of Nazareth emerged. I have also demonstrated that the Pharisees criticized by Jesus were the school of Shammai, who dominated Jewish life and thought in Jesus’ time, and therefore were the Pharisees in control of Caiaphas’ Sanhedrin as wel. Bet Shammai would have been opposed to Christianity on two grounds. First, they held salvation for the Gentiles to be impossible.” (p.132)

Some more qoutes:

“We have previously expressed our belief – based especially on the many similarities between the Christian bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls – that the Essenes helped found Christianity as a religion for the Gentiles, in accordance with the Noachide Commandments.” p.60

“Paul of Tarsus didn’t bother the Jews, and instead devoted all his energies to bringing Christian teachings to the gentiles. It would appear to me that the rabbis where only too happy to see those outside Judaism learn of God and the Bible. Paul said, “Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called” (1Corinthians 7:17-20).” p.78

He ended his book with this saying: “It is my fervent hope that these writings will make a contribution toward bringing bringing all men and woman who seek God and the brotherhood of humanity into a closer bond of fellowship. If we achieve this, we may hope to merit being considered among the disciples of the prophet Elijah, who, according to the Mishnah (Eduyyot 8:7), will appear before the coming of the Messiah to bring peace to mankind. For as Rabbi Jacob Emden wrote (Seder Olam 34a): “In the name of Heaven, we are your brothers; one God has created us all.”

I just had prepared this review, but now, today, I heard an interesting lecture of an orthodox rabbi and I want to share with you someting. (He didn’t want to have his name mentioned.) I spoke to him personally and asked him if he knows the book of rabbi Harvey Falk. And he did because of Jacob Emden. I asked him because he began to say that he was so exciting about Jacob Emden. He said Jacob Emden gives a very good and interesting view of Christianity. So that triggers my ears boldly and I realised that we have much in common. I saw that there is so much to be revealed to both Christianity and Judaism. He said this could be a very good base for Jew and Christian to build on. He also pointed out that rabbi Emden published his book on his own. Unfortunately he also said that there’s a little change that any of the orthodox Jewish scholars know about the letter of Jacob Emden. He told me he would like to re-translate and to write a scholarly version of this letter without the opinion of rabbi Falk of the beth Hillel/ beth Shammai matters. I hope he does! He was very exciting and told that among the many Christian theologians he spoke to, I was the first who presented the book, which he found very encouraging.

So, the bottomline: This letter of Rabbi Jacob Emden might going to be very important.

I also want to share a review of this book from a fellow blogger (Paula) here.