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Why Was Jesus Born Jewish?

Read what happened when a Jew asked fellow Jews this simple question.

Myra Adams


June 1, 2014 - 9:00 am
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Jesus was Jewish and that is a fact – NOT my opinion.

About a decade ago at a friend’s party I began chatting with another guest who, in the course of our conversation, informed me that he was an Orthodox Jew.

This information gave me an opening to ask my favorite question, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”

His answer was memorable, “Jesus wasn’t Jewish,” he replied.

My jaw dropped and I was almost speechless. Initially I thought he was kidding until realizing he was not.

Then, after a short conversation volley he said, “Well, that’s your opinion.”

Years later I have never forgotten that incident because the fact (not opinion) that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew is one of the few universally accepted Biblical “facts.”

As one who was born and raised a Jew — but since 1975 has believed that Jesus was and is the Messiah — I have made a hobby out of asking traditional Jews, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?” The reason I continue asking this question is because the answers or I should say non-answers are always so intriguing.

Here are three examples (but you will have to read to the end for the most recent and intriguing example of all.)

A fews months ago, I posed “the question” to an old friend who is a secular Jew, not religious, but very proud of his heritage. His replied, “I don’t know. I guess Jesus had to be born of some religion so it just happened to be Judaism.”

My husband loves to tell this true story he calls, “How Myra Accosted a Rabbi at a Bar Mitzvah.”  A few years back we attended a Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son. Afterwards at the reception, using my sweet, inquisitive voice I asked the Rabbi, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”  My husband describes the Rabbi’s face as looking like he had just encountered Satan. After gaining his composure the Rabbi answered, “No one has ever asked me that question,” as he quickly excused himself and dashed to the opposite side of the room.

Then there was the time I was having a heated argument with my non-religious Jewish father (now deceased) about Jesus and my conversion to Christianity. My father had great disdain for ALL religion because he strongly believed that religion was the root cause of every war in human history. During the course of our discussion I asked him, “What was the religion of Jesus?” He replied confidently,  “Jesus was Catholic.”

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Top Rated Comments   
Sorry, Myra, but Benyamin Cohen (whose book I also enjoyed hugely) is right about this. From a Jewish perspective, the question "Why was Jesus born a Jew?" is as meaningless as "Why was Mohammed born an Arab?" to a non-Muslim. (I understand that the answer to the second question, for a Muslim, is that the Arabs are the noblest and worthiest of nations, therefore the Seal of the Prophets HAD to be one of them. Right.) For Christians, of course, it's a meaningful issue, Christianity being an offshoot of something older. But there is no more need to fit Jesus into a Jewish religious framework than there is to understand the deeper religious meaning of Shabtai Zvi. Consider the oddity of asking, "Why was the Prophet Joseph Smith born an evangelical Protestant?" Well, if he hadn't been, his religious movement would have been really, really different...
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (16)
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I suggest you contact Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein at the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in Chicago. For over 30 years he has been the leading Jewish bridge builder between the Jewish community and the evangelical community. Since he has written several "Ask the Rabbi" style books he should be more than willing to take a whack at this question.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jesus was born Jewish to convey God's message to the whole world. One, the Jews were very intelligent & super communicator's who could quickly & accurately spread the word! Secondly, Israel was the Cross Roads of the known world. Transportation routes ran north-south from Europe to Egypt & west-east western Mediterranean to Mesopatamia/India/China. Jesus started that evangelical process & the disciples/apostles continued it!

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13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Part of the message of the Gospels seems to be that nobody completely understood the prophecies that described the Messiah. One of the things Jesus did following the Resurrection was to interpret all the scriptural references that pointed to Him (cf. Lk 24:13-35), so I'm not sure the objections based on the two Messianic requirements make any sense to Christian thought. Arguably His nature had to be misunderstood in order to bring about His rejection by the people and ultimately the Passion, so I don't think it can really be seriously considered to be anybody's fault. Even the Apostles didn't seem to know what to make of all this until Pentecost.

I also have to object to the notion of picking and choosing bits of Jesus to like. All the extant records of Jesus's teachings include him either identifying himself as God or as someone with authority over the Torah. (Unlike the prophets he does not say "Thus says the Lord," he says "You have heard it said [in Scripture], but I say...") These records are also the source of the teachings that non-Christians like, so it's not like we can separate the nice Jesus (Beatitudes, Golden Rule, 'Judge not') from the terrifying Jesus ('I have come to set a fire on the earth,' 'Before Abraham was, I AM,' "I have come to cast fire upon the earth'). These books are just part of the greater genre that attempts to domesticate Jesus.

So at the end, I have to say that the question doesn't make any sense unless you are a Christian. Jesus was born Jewish because "salvation is from the Jews" (cf. Jn 4:22). If He is not who He said, then who cares? No religion or ethnicity is free of crackpots or bad people, which is all Jesus could have been if you accept the Gospels as records but deny their message. If you reject them as records then Jesus - if He was anyone remarkable at all - was just a heterodox teacher, which is hardly uncommon either.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
I see that I repeated one of my "terrifying" quotes. Sorry. There are plenty more. Let's just say that the chief priest was pretty much justified in tearing his garments if - and this is the big if - Jesus wasn't right.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Slight correction: of course, we do have an opinion as to some matters, but only those equally true of anybody.

For instance: whether he was "another god before Me" (not) or able to modify G-d's laws (not) or the Mosiach.

(It is a matter of record that he did not bring about the messianic age, and if he does so on a return trip, he will have to be a reincarnation rather than an ordinary man, hence not.)

(That last one is not excluded of the true Mosiach, who is here now or to come.)
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
You obviously haven't figured out why the replies dodge the question, and suspect intellectual cowardice. You are wrong. Let me explain.

To Jews, Jesus is a figure from a figure from another religion, like Rama to a Christian or Mohammed to a Buddhist.

Therefore, while we might (frivolously) as individuals, as Jews we have no opinion about him, comprehensively: on whether he existed; on who he was, if he did exist; on whether, if he existed, he was Jewish, or left-handed, or was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. No opinion, comprehensively.

Now, we know a good deal about Christians, from experience. And about Christian mercy, which makes us very, very nervous (not my own line). But that is practical wisdom, not religious insight. We don't know about this Jesus fellow. Ask somebody else.

13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's roughly what I thought: that Jews are by no means convinced the events of the virgin birth and the passion occurred. My understanding, which could be faulty, is that the Gospels are the only written accounts, that Roman and Jewish histories of the period do not contain records of these events.
So asking a rabbi to fit Jesus into Jewish context is like asking her for a recipe for barbecued pork.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
1) As mentioned below, your question is meaningless from the Jewish point of view. Or, to answer it directly, since there was no Jesus (or at least, no man called Jesus of any significance), the question has no point.
Yes, from a Christian perspective, Jesus had to be a Jew, so that Christianity could claim to fulfill Jewish prophecies, but why are you posing this question to Jews? Only to make them uncomfortable and somehow justify your own leaving Judaism?

2) Are you serious in quoting Christian texts in an argument with Jews? You might as well try it with atheists, it would carry the same weight. Would a particularly striking Surah serve as an argument for you when discussing Christian doctrine? Didn't think so. Why would you think a Christian text would be considered proof for people who find the cornerstone idea of Christianity a form of paganism, and its texts a work of fiction?

3) You as a Christian, ambushing rabbies at bar mitzvahs with questions that only have sense in the context of Christianity... Why? Does it make you feel better to spoil somebody's celebration?
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Speaking as someone who is neither Jewish nor Christian [not anti-either, and I greatly appreciate living in a culture that at least was based on the Judeo-Christian tradition as explained below. I am not a person of faith, which may well be a fault in how I am "wired".] the answer is obvious.

Islam literally is "submission", that's how the word translates. Allah does as he bloody well pleases to anyone, and TS if you don't like it. Hinduism, and its offshoot Buddhism are not concerned with this life, but rather how to get out of life altogether. As a Chinese, I know that Confucianism [and its attached folk religions] are really ways to get a whole lot of people in a limited space able to live together without killing each other.

As far as larger religions [the First Reformed Voodoo Church of What's Happening Now" does not have a major effect on humanity] that leaves Judaism and its offshoot Christianity in all their various flavors. What differentiates them from the others? It is the concept of a Covenant, going back to Abraham and Isaac. Short form, G-d and Man made a deal, and uniquely G-D can be held to his side of the bargain if Man holds to his.

A Messiah is cutting that same sort of deal. Belief and conduct in return for salvation. And the inbuilt assumption that it will hold. A definition of faith if you will.

Thus, it makes every bit of sense that if Jesus is the Messiah, he come from not only the line of Abraham and David, but also the faith of both.

Of course, I'm just a heathen Chinaman; so what do I know?

Subotai Bahadur
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's 2.3 billion Christians, not 3.2 billion.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are correct. I transposed the numbers. Thanks for catching that. Well just wait a few years and the way Christianity is growing in China and Africa alone
my mistake will not be a mistake.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wonderful piece.

I believe that Jesus was born Jewish because G-d chose the Jewish people for his own. They were the apple of his eye and selected for G-d's reasons to be special in many ways.

So therefore Jesus had to be Jewish, to come from this selected group.

That's why there is so much anti-semitism. And the Christian church has tried to make Jesus less Jewish over time.

That's why the Jews embracing Jesus as "kosher" is intriguing. I believe that if Jews draw closer to G-d, they will meet the rest of his family before long.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's funny but many of the Jews I know are better Christians than many of the proclaiming Christians that I know in the "Son, go work in my vineyard" sense. Maybe it's because they study the law more and get that following it is more important the professing it.

Just the same, it is good to mess with their heads and point out that Christianity is the older, not younger, brother as it is the Talmud that saves them from Old Testament ritualistic slavery. The Talmud, of course, was written two centuries after the birth of Jesus.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
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