In the past few years there have emerged some very new and trailblazing studies on Jesus and his relationship to Judaism. Pope Bendict in his newly published book, “Jesus of Nazareth”, spent 18 pages addressing Jewish scholar Jacob Nuesner’s opposition to Jesus’ teachings and his interpretation of the Jewish tradition. The Pope’s words, like Neusner’s are written in the most respectful and thoughtful manner. Rabbi Waxman in his post goes further than Neusner arguing why Jews don’t need Jesus. The problem however, with Rabbi Waxman’s post is that he forgets just how much Jews in the first century did need Jesus. Yes, Neusner is correct that Jesus’ answer was wrong, but the rabbinic critique of Temple-based Judaism and Jesus’ critique of Judaism are both very similar and show how Judaism did, in some ways, need Jesus.
Both Christianity and rabbinic Judaism are outgrowths of a biblical world view that had ceased to make sense. Rabbinic Jews “heard” Jesus’ critique when they made interpersonal relationships the central aspect of religious life. There is a striking similarity between the way the Talmud argues that “Sinat Chinam” (gratuitous hatred) was the cause for the destruction of the Second Temple and the charges made by Jesus against Jewish leaders. Rabbinic Judaism moved away from the Bible’s theocentricism to a more anthropocenrtic worldview in turn mirroring much of Jesus’ challenge.
Judaism and Christianity are two very different systems of meaning. However, in order to understand one, the other is most certainly needed. Both emanate from the same roots.