This is the season when Christians in every corner of the world begin to prepare for the celebration of the birth of their savior, Yeshua ben Yosef. Many scholars disagree with the alleged time of his birth suggesting an August date instead. December 25th was chosen by the early Church fathers to compete with the Roman pagan winter solstice on that date and with the Jewish festival of Chanukah on the 25th of Kislev.
Historically, it is known that Joseph was not the father of Jesus. He had been engaged to marry a young Jewish girl, Miriam, who at the age of twelve was raped by a Roman soldier named Pantera. When her pregnancy became obvious, Joseph sought to end the betrothal but was quieted by the angel Gabriel who told him to marry Miriam and to name the child, if a son, Yeshua (he who saves).
The child Jesus, born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth of Galilee, joined his father as an apprentice carpenter. He attended religious services in the synagogue of Capernaum (Kfar Nahum) and had deep spiritual feelings.
Purification by men was common in the biblical and post-biblical eras. Today, most Orthodox men immerse themselves in the waters of a mikveh but in Jesus’ lifetime, baptism, or total immersion, was usually performed in the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. And it was there that his cousin, John (Yochanan), baptized the young Jesus.
On the three pilgrimage festivals on the Jewish calendar it was expected that Jews would make their way to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, if possible, to bring the required sacrifices. Pilgrimages were considered a religious obligation, similar to the annual Muslim haj to Mecca.
When Jesus arrived at the Temple he mingled with the throngs of worshippers. Many were amazed at his knowledge of Torah. He spoke in parables but almost all of his words were taken directly from Jewish religious teachings.
In those days the existence of rabbis as we know them did not exist. Priests and Levites served in the Jerusalem Temple. In order to buy a dove or a lamb to offer as a sacrifice, Jews who travelled from other countries (Greece, Cyprus and Egypt) had to exchange their money for Judean shekels. Money-changers were seated around the entrance to the Temple to make currency exchanges for the pilgrims.
Seeing this for the first time infuriated young Yeshua. In anger, he over-turned their tables and scales and shouted “in my Father’s House there is no market-place”. This hasty act earned him the anger of the priests who drove him away from the Holy Temple.
Returning to Galilee, he sought out people who would listen to him, people who resented the role of the priests. He, with them, wanted to reform Judaism from its commercialism and restore the fervent spiritualism of the Judaism which he cherished. His followers (disciples) like him were unmarried men. This was unusual at a time when Jews married at an earlier age. At the time of his death, Jesus was 33 years old and never married.
Hailed by the common folk of Galilee as the “chosen one”, the “anointed one”, ergo the messiah, he traveled from village to village preaching his gospel (message) and performing alleged miracles such as healing the lame, opening the eyes of the blind, turning water into wine and feeding hundreds from one loaf of bread and a few fishes. Healing the sick on the Sabbath day, a violation of Jewish law, brought him into conflict with the religious authorities.
Although he himself did not claim to be the messiah, his followers did. This only further provoked the priests. (Similarly, today most Chabad rabbis and adherents proclaim the late Lubavitcher Rebbe as the messiah, declaring “yechi melech ha moshiach” (long live King Messiah). Rabbi Schneerson himself never considered himself to be messiah and disapproved of his followers’ messianic visions).
Jesus’ activities ultimately brought him to the attention of Caiphas, the High Priest, who turned him over to the Romans. And the rest, as known, is tragic history.
Judging Jesus, we see in him a righteous teacher, a true believer in God’s holiness and a faithful Jew. He was not the messiah, not a rabbi, only a humble man who wanted to serve God in his own way. Every word which he spoke was taken directly from the Torah. And regrettably and shamefully, for almost two thousand years the Church persecuted and executed Jews in the name of the Jewish Jesus.
The religion which bears his name was created by a Jew from Tarsus, Syria, Saul (Paul, in Greek) almost a century after the death of Jesus Paul’s writings and preaching to the Gentiles of a Jesus whom he never met enabled the pagan world to accept a Judaism without Jewish laws and customs.
Ritual circumcision was abolished. So too were the dietary laws (“it is not so important what goes into the stomach as it is what comes from the heart”) and the Jewish Sabbath day was changed to Sunday to distinguish the new Christians from the Jews.
So as Christians gather to celebrate, let them remember that their beloved savior was born and died a Jew. And if he were resurrected, he would not celebrate Christmas. Instead, he would ask the way to the nearest synagogue. An Orthodox synagogue, of course.