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Jews and Jesus

Why don't Jews believe in Jesus?

The reason why Jews and Christians disagree about Jesus being the messiah is because these two religions hold entirely different understandings of the concept of messiah. However, few people in either faith seem to realize this root cause of their differences.

The Jewish concept of Messiah developed around the time of the Babylonian exile as a hope for return to their Holy Land, restoration of their Temple and restoration of Jewish self-rule in the Promised Land. The expectation was relatively immediate and, when they did return after a mere fifty years, for a short time they may have heralded the Persian King Cyrus as their messiah since he enabled them to return. But Jewish self-rule was not restored and over the course of the next 600 years or so, under rule of various foreign powers (culminating with the Romans) the Jews continued to look for their King who would rebuild the Hebrew monarchy to what it had once been in the time of David and Solomon. Until the modern state of Israel this was not to happen. Yet, even with today's Jewish self rule in the Holy Land, their Temple has not yet been rebuilt and peace certainly does not reign. So, still, all the expectations have not yet been met. There were other expectations as well.

Why don't Jews believe in Jesus? Moses Maimonides listed seven messianic responsibilities that were neither completely fulfilled nor fully actualized during the life of Jesus:

  1. be a descendent of King David (New Testament claim which may or may not be accurate)
  2. gain sovereignty over the land of Israel (no - the Romans remained in power)
  3. gather the Jews from the four corners of the earth and restore Jewish political sovereignty (no - in that day and to this day, the Jews remain dispersed [in Diaspora] throughout the world)
  4. restore the Jews to the full observance of Torah law through his own example (a possible journey in progress, granted, but problematic especially regarding the question of Jesus' self-affirmed authority. Jesus actually preached love over law and chastised the Pharisees for their over concern for the "letter of the law")
  5. bring peace to the whole world (no - obviously, wars are ever raging),
  6. vanquish Israel's enemies (no, including the Romans, i.e. "fight the Lord's wars," not spiritual but physical and military)
  7. restore a destroyed Temple (not applicable during his life, as the second temple was still standing until the Romans destroyed in the year 70 CE and it has yet to be rebuilt to this day)

Why don't Jews believe in Jesus? A past student asked this question of the Jew he was talking with and got a list of sixteen reasons as follows [unedited]:

  1. Jesus did not fulfill messianic prophecies - he did not re-build the Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28)

  2. Did not gather Jews back to the Land of Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6)

  3. Usher in an era of world peace and end all hatred, oppression, suffering and disease (Isaiah 2:4 "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore.")

  4. Spread universal knowledge of the G-d of Israel - uniting the entire human race as one (Zechariah 14:9 "God will be King over all the world - on that day, G-d will be One and His Name will be One.")

  5. Christianity contradicts Jewish Theology - G-d is a Unity, not a Trinity, which is idolatry in Judaism.

  6. A man cannot be G-d (Numbers 23:19 "G-d is not a mortal")

  7. Unlike Christianity, which states that "No man cometh unto the Father but by me" as Jesus supposedly said, the Torah says "G-d is near to all who call unto Him" (Psalms 145:18) and the Ten Commandments says "You shall have no other gods before me." 

  8. Christianity treats the physical world as an evil to be avoided, Mary the holiest Christian woman is portrayed as a virgin, priests and nuns are required to be celibate. Paul constantly harangues against sex, even in marital relations. Jews believe that G-d created the physical world not to frustrate us but for our pleasure. Sex in its proper context is one of the holiest acts we humans can perform. Indeed, one of the mitzvot of the Sabbath is that husbands and wives re-consummate their marriage on this holy day. Further, the Talmud warns us that if a person has the opportunity to enjoy a pleasure without perverting it and refuses to do so, s/he will have to account for that in the World to Come.

  9. Jesus was not a prophet - prophecy can only exist in Israel when the land is inhabited by a majority of world Jewry.

  10. He is not a descendant of David - as the Messiah is descended on his father's side from King David (Genesis 49:10 and Isaiah 11:1) and Christians allege that he was of virgin birth, without a father, he could not have fulfilled this requirement.

  11. The Messiah will lead the Jewish people to full Torah observance - anyone coming to change the Torah is immediately identified as a false prophet (Deut. 13:1-4)

  12. The mother of the Messiah is an "alma", a young woman, not a sexual virgin, which is a pagan notion.

  13. Psalms 22:17 reads "Like a lion, they are at my hands and feet" - gouged, not pierced. 

  14. Isaiah 53 must be taken into the context of Isaiah 52, describing the exile and redemption of the Jewish people - written in the singular form because the Jews are regarded as one unit. The Torah is filled with examples of the Jewish nation referred to with a singular pronoun - emphasizing the unity of the Jews.

  15. Judaism does not rely on claims of miracles as a basis for establishing a religion - we are clearly warned in Deut. 13:4 that charlatans can perform "miracles" to test our loyalty to the Torah.

  16. Judaism doesn't demand that everyone convert to the religion. King Solomon asks G-d to heed the prayers of non-Jews who come to the Holy Temple, too (Kings I 8:41-43)

Another past student has observed: "A great religious leader would need to be a great political leader." 

True, if we look at religion as an aspect of social life in this world. But, if we look at what the essence of religion might be - spiritual life - then that need not involve worldly politics. In this context of "religion" a "great religious leader" need not be a "great political leader" (and perhaps should not be).

This observation may be related to the difference between Jewish and Christian concepts of messiah. Christians can see Jesus as the messiah because they see him as a spiritual leader apart from anything political and worldly. Jesus clearly was not a political leader. That's why the old Jewish understanding of messiah does not apply to Jesus. But the Christians obviously have a different, more spiritual, understanding of the concept in order to apply it to Jesus.


So what DO Jews think of Jesus?:

The answer is: Not much. 

Jesus is simply a non-issue for most Jews*. Judaism developed well before Jesus came on the scene and continued uninfluenced by Jesus' teachings and/or person (that which was influenced by him ultimately became the new religion of Christianity). There are passages in the Talmud that are said to be discussing Jesus (though do not mention him by name). These passages suggest that he was the bastard son of a Roman soldier who had impregnated (perhaps by rape) his mother. These passages also attribute his miracles to sorcery or the power of the devil (as do the Jewish authorities in the Gospels). Orthodox Jews who may thus learn about Jesus sometimes refer to him rather disdainfully as "That Man" (never daring to even use his name).

To this day, I have known Jews who do not even know who Jesus was outside of hearing Christians use his name. One older Jewish woman I knew actually made a comment about Christian belief with reference to "that Mr. Christ - I forget his first name" (of course I would hope Christians know that "Christ" is a title, meaning "messiah" or "king," not a "last name").

Jews are not taught, and do not teach, anything about Jesus. Individual Jews who come to learn something about him (perhaps through a class such as this) might come to think of him as a teacher or prophet but hardly as the Messiah, savior or son-of-God (if they did come to think this then they would have become Christian). A Jew would think of Jesus as no more than a man who lived and died (but did not resurrect) some 2000 years ago. They would perhaps know that Jesus had been Jewish and might even consider him to have been a wise and good man (I have heard a rabbi suggest that Jesus could be considered the first reform Jew) - but no more than a mortal man. However, none of this is an official Jewish position. There is no official Jewish position on Jesus as a prophet or otherwise.

Simply put: the Jewish concept of the Messiah has him being a mortal human being, an Earthly King, not a son of God or God incarnate. The Hebrew term "messiah" (meshiach) simply means "king" (one "anointed" to be King of a people), King of the Jews - just like the kings they had in ancient times. For Jews this has no divine connotation. As noted above, there are certain things the Jew expects the messiah to accomplish and Jesus clearly did not accomplish those things. Thus, by Jewish understanding, Jesus was not the messiah and, even if he had been, that would not have meant he was divine.

The Jew would be well put to turn the question around and ask the Christian: why do you believe in Jesus?


* the exception would be the "Messianic Jews" but it is debatable as to whether they may legitimately be considered Jews - in terms of faith and theology they are very much typical of fundamentalist Christians. It is only their practice that bears resemblance to Judaism. 

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Created by Laura Ellen Shulman 


Last updated: February 2003