In a July 30th blog post on the Times of Israel, Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden argued that Orthodox rabbis, en masse, should “condemn” my August 8th debate with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, offering 8 reasons to support his position. In reality, both Jewish and Christian leaders should get behind this debate, as it focuses on the all-important question, “Is the New Testament anti-Semitic?”
Van Zuiden, for his part is concerned that: 1) the timing of the debate is bad (two days before Tisha B’Av); 2) he sees the debate as a lose-lose proposition; 3) Jews for Jesus are not real Christians and their leaders are insincere and dishonest (he oddly states that I present myself “as an expert on Judaism”; for my academic C. V., see here); 4) just by having the debate, my side gets good publicity; 5) “Such a debate must annoy bona fide Christians for no reason at all”; 6) so, again, it’s a lose-lose situation; 7) “Large debates with Christians always resulted in us being massacred, no matter who won the debate, even when not just before Av 9th.” 8) Rabbi Shmuley has done a lot of good, but he is misusing his good standing by doing the debate.
To be candid, some of these objections seem quite odd in the year 2019. Is Mr. van Zuiden not aware that, for many years now, there have been scores and scores of debates and dialogues between Jewish and Christian leaders, without the slightest hint of violence towards the Jewish participants?
As a Jewish follower of Jesus, I’ve been invited to participate in public debates and dialogues with rabbis and Jewish leaders for more than 35 years, with venues including a Conservative Jewish synagogue, a Reform Jewish educational center, a Southern Baptist church, various neutral sites, and university campuses from Phoenix to Oxford. In fact, Rabbi Shmuley and I have debated each other more than 20 times to date, including face to face debates, as well as debates on radio and TV.
The result of these debates has been increased respect, increased understanding, and increased commitment to be friends, not enemies, in the midst of our differences.
All that, however, is mere background to the real issue, namely, that this upcoming debate should be of tremendous importance to both Orthodox Jews and Messianic Jews, to both secular Jews and nominal Christians.
Allow me to explain.
We all know that, for more than 1,500 years, professing Christians have used the New Testament to demonize the Jewish people, calling them the synagogue of Satan, alleging that they are of their father the devil, branding them Christ killers, accusing them of deicide.
At the same time, other Christians have stood for the Jewish people through history — I refer to Christians who based their faith on the very same New Testament — and today, evangelical Christians worldwide are famous for their philosemitic attitudes. Yet, of all Christians on the planet, these evangelicals are known for taking the Bible literally.
Tragically, “Christian” anti-Semitism is raising its head again in our day, from the Catholic scholar E. Michael Jones (see here and here) to the online, evangelical network TruNews (see here; some of the comments responding to this video are frightening). More tragically still, the Poway synagogue shooter cited passages from the New Testament to justify his Jew-hatred, along with other anti-Semitic tropes.
I expect that Rabbi Shmuley will argue that Christians today should reject certain portions of the New Testament as uninspired and unworthy, majoring instead on true Christian love. We shall see what his exact approach will be.
For my part, I will argue that:
1) Professing Christians have misused and abused certain passages in the New Testament to justify their anti-Semitism, just as they have misused and abused certain passages in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to justify their hate.
2) The New Testament is a book about a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua, and it proclaims that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). This is why Nazi theologians had to excise key passages from the New Testament when they produced their own edition.
3) Courageous Christians like the Ten Boom family, who risked (or even lost) their lives during the Holocaust to shelter Jews in Holland, along with Israel-supporting Christians around the world, are philosemitic precisely because of their biblical heritage.
4) Tensions in the New Testament reflect similar, early Jewish writings, in which conflicting groups are sharply rebuked.
5) For generations, anti-Semites have quoted selections from the Talmud, accusing the rabbis of sanctioning every imaginable crime and perversity. Yet it is only by misunderstanding these texts that they can be used to fuel the fires of anti-Semitism. It is the same with the New Testament writings.
6) In light of the horrible history of “Christian” anti-Semitism, it is imperative that we support improved translations that will make it more difficult for “Christian” anti-Semites to misuse their sacred texts.
While I’m sure that Rabbi Shmuley and I will have our sharp differences (after all, he is an Orthodox rabbi and I am a Jewish believer in Jesus), I believe the audience (both in person and watching the live stream) will hear two Jewish leaders agreeing on this: A true Christian cannot be an anti-Semite, and it is fatally wrong to use the New Testament to justify hatred towards or, God forbid, violence against a Jew.
Let the debate be heard!