Jesus of Nazareth is the most famous Jew who ever lived, yet remains profoundly alienated from his own people.
From the very beginning, as Christianity branched away from Judaism to develop its own identity, Jesus was intentionally shorn of his Jewishness like Samson deprived of his strength. Christians obfuscated the idea of Jesus the Jew – preferring to see him as an innovator, who at once transcended Judaism and brought it to a conclusion. This deception deeply alienated Jesus from the Jewish people and led to considerable torment and distress. This is not to suggest that the chilly relationship between Christians and Jews was one-sided. Jews have long avoided any connection to Jesus. Over the centuries, as he was slowly turned into a deity and violence perpetrated in his name against the Jews increased, they came to see him as a source of unrelenting persecution, the supreme example of heresy. They wanted no association with the patron saint of zealots who demeaned, attacked, and murdered them, and taught sacrilege in his name. But times are changing. Christianity has opened its heart to the Jews.
The Catholic Church is today a great friend to the Jewish people. In May 2010, as a guest of the Vatican, I met Pope Benedict; his warmth and regard for me as a rabbi were immediately in evidence. Evangelical Christians are among the most stalwart supporters of the State of Israel. Not only that, of the 3.45 million tourists that visited the Jewish homeland in 2010, 69 percent were Christians. Christians are beginning to take a long-overdue look back on the common origins of our religious outlook with modern eyes and see how we got to where we are. Now, perhaps it’s time and equally imperative that Jews recognize a long-obscured and essential truth: Rabbi Jesus was a Jew and should be counted among our nation. This heroic Jewish patriot should not be severed from the people he loved and the people he died defending. The stage has been set for us to see Jesus for who he truly was: a wise and learned rabbi who defined himself and his Jewishness in much the same way as today’s Torah-observant Jews. He wore a Jewish head covering, ate only kosher food, prayed in the Hebrew language, and honored the Sabbath. He was also a political leader who despised the Romans for their cruelty to his Israelite brethren.