In an earlier post on the top 10 misunderstandings about Judaism — I called them “lies,” though admittedly that was intended as a bit of a provocation — I mentioned that the chief Jewish objection to Christianity shouldn’t be, as you often hear, that Jews always and everywhere viewed with abhorrence the idea that God could take on bodily form. Now, attributing a body to God is anathema to Jewish tradition. However, to say that all Jews have always seen things this way, and that’s why they rejected the Christian teaching about Jesus, seems not to be true. Judaism and what Jews believe are not the same thing, as I often have cause to point out on this blog.
The evidence is as mainstream as any standard edition of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. Maimonides himself writes of 5 classes of heretics (minim
) who have no share in the World to Come. One class is that of the heretic who says “There is one Lord [God] but that he possess a body and physical image” (Laws of Repentance 3:7). Right there in the margin
is printed Maimonides’ traditional critic and contemporary, the 12th-century Provencal sage Rabbeinu Abraham ben David (called Raavad
, as Maimonides is called Rambam). To Rambam’s statement, the Raavad objects, “Why does he call such a person a heretic when many greater and more virtuous [individuals] than himself have followed this view according to what they saw in the Scriptures and even more what they saw in the words of [certain] rabbinic teachings that confuse the mind?”
What Ravad meant is not that God has a body but that from the Hebrew Bible and midrashic teachings, you could easily come away with the opinion that God takes on a physical form. What’s amazing is that Ravad attributes this view not to heretics but to otherwise exemplary Jews who followed the surface meaning of the holy texts, not a group of people to be condemned.
What, then, is the main Jewish objection to Jesus? That the Messiah can’t be someone who died and came back later to finish his job? Nope, not that either. But that’s another post.