A Primer: Why Jews Can’t Believe in Jesus

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Bruce H. James
© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2012 
Christian missionaries in every Jewish forum I’ve ever visited have asked that single question. Although there are many knowledgeable people who address the question accurately, very often the questions and the answers appear in the middle of threads and take some searching to find. So, below, I’m reprinting (with some new information) a piece I started in a Delphi.com forum.

I. The concept that there is a “New Covenant” that replaces the various Covenants between G-d and the Jewish people, is illegitimate.

A. The Torah as a Contract

The Torah (the Five books of Moses, i.e. Genesis through Deuteronomy), which constitutes the basis of Jewish Law and the prophecy of Moshe Rabeinu (Moses our teacher), tells us in several places that it is also an “Everlasting Covenant” between Israel and the All Mighty. In the 28th and 29th Chapters of Deuteronomy we see a summary of the terms (also described in Leviticus) of the contract. It instructs us that if we observe the mitzvot (commandments described throughout the Torah), we would receive manifold blessings, but if not there would be series of punishments, each increasingly worse. But at any time, the Torah says, we can “cure” (a legal term for resolving any breach of contract) our breach of contract by doing tshuva (repentence) and once again observing the mitzvot.

B. The Torah Cannot Be Replaced

In the Book of Deuteronomy G-d tells us that He has given us the complete Torah and that, “Lo bashamayim hee” (It shall not come from Heaven), there would be no further revelations related to the Law or amendments to the Contract. Deut. 30:12. See also Deut. 4:2 (“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your G-d which I command you.”)

C. There Have Been Many “New Covenants,” But None Has, or Can Replace the Torah

The Covenant at Mt. Sinai was not the first, nor the last covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. See, e.g. Gen. 8 (with Noah); Gen. 17 (with Abraham); Gen. 28:10-22 (with Jacob); Joshua 1 (with Jewish people who crossed into Israel). In every case, the prior covenant was not replaced, but merely reaffirmed, expanded or codified existing practice. Not one of those covenants is or has ever been “obsolete.” Yet, missionaries claim that the Torah ? G-d’s Covenant with the Jewish people as a whole — has been superceded by a “New Covenant” and replaced by a “New Testament.” Hebrews 8:13. In support of their position they refer to the Jeremiah 31:31-34 where the prophet predicted that there would be a “new covenant” in the Messianic Age. Indeed, Jeremiah did make such a prediction, but the verse implies no rejection of the Covenant of the Torah (aka “the Law”), but rather says that the Law shall be “inscribed in the hearts” of the Jewish people (i.e. they will not have to study the Law, as before, but all of its details will be known “by heart” and practiced by every Jew without question.

D. The “New Testament’s” Differing Views of the Torah

The main source for missionaries in their claim that G-d has supplanted Judaism with Christianity is the Christian Bible. Yet, it appears to be an unreliable source and the result of a tortured editing process between the followers of Paul, and those of James, the half-brother of Jesus. This is especially apparent with regard to their different views of Torah law. The Epistles of Paul say not only that the Torah was replaced by the “New Covenant,” but that is also something that was “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13), “kills” (2 Corin. 3:6) and a “curse” (Galatians 3:13). This is not only an insult to the Jewish people, but an insult to G-d! Missionaries who follow these teachings (nearly all of them as far as I can tell) suggest that G-d knew, when He gave the Torah to the Jewish people, that they would never be able to fulfill it. Put another way, G-d created doomed His Chosen people from the start and that He had no intention to fulfill all of the promises He made in His contract with them. This is absurd. Why would G-d do that? Was the Omniscient G-d only playing with us? This view of Paul that the Torah was impossible to follow is directly contradicted by the Torah itself. The Torah, it says, “is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.” Deut. 30:11. King David called the Torah Laws “perfect,” “sure, making wise the simple,” and “pure, enlightening the eyes.” Ps. 19:8-9. Compare Paul’s comments with those by Jesus and James. Jesus, himself accepted the Torah as obligatory, saying that not only was the Written Torah eternal, but accepted the understanding of the Pharisees (the rabbis whose teachings would be later recorded in the Mishna, which is part of the Talmud) that the Written Torah is supplemented by an Oral Torah which provides details about how to fulfill the commandments, and that these regulations were taught by Moses and passed down from generation to generation. In Matt. 23:2-3, Jesus says that the Pharisees “sit in the seat of Moses; therefore all they tell you, do and observe.” His brother James, too, required strict observance of the Torah Law in its entirety. James 2:10-11. These conflicting testimonies, along with numerous explicit contradictions between the Christian Bible and the Hebrew Scriptures, makes the Christian Bible suspect either as an accurate historical account or as the Word of G-d.

II. Judaism believes in One G-d.

A. G-d is One.

As every Jewish child learns, “Shema Yisroel, HaShem Elokeynu, HaShem Echad” (“Hear or Israel, the Lord is G-d, the Lord is One”). Deut. 6:4. This is a very simple and fundamental concept. G-d is One.

B. The Trinity.

Christians give lip service to the Shema, but their theology says that there is a Trinity — G-d, Jesus (the “son of G-d”) and the “Holy Ghost.” They will try to teach you that this Trinity of three entities is really just one, like a “bunch of grapes” is one. But the Torah is very precise in its language. Throughout the Torah if echad is to be applied to a bunch of something, the word “agudat,” or a form of the word, would be used. Christians cite to Gen. 1:5 (“v’ai yehi erev, v’ai yehi boker, yom echad” — “. . . and there was evening and there was morning one day”) to suggest that echad modifies morning and evening and puts them together into a “bunch.” Clearly, it only modifies the word “day.” Similarly, they quote Numbers 13:23 which describes how the Israeli spies cut down a branch with one (“echad”) cluster of grapes. But here, too, echad modifies the word “cluster” and not grapes. In the Shema, echad modifies the word “G-d” and means precisely what it says — “one.” Moreover, if the Torah wanted us to know that G-d was more than One it would have told us then about the Trinity instead of making a specific point that there was only One G-d.

III. The Requirements for the Messiah and Christian Contradictions.

A. Here is just a brief list of some of the requirements for the Messiah:

(1) He must be Jewish (see Deut. 17:15; Numb. 24:17);
(2) He must be descended from Judah (Gen. 49:10) and Solomon (numerous places, but see I Chron 22:9-10);
(3) With the coming of the Messiah will be the physical ingathering of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isa. 11:12, 27:12-13);
(4) Also with coming of the Messiah will be the reestablishment of the Holy Temple (Micah 4:1);
(5) In addition the Messianic age will be one of world-wide peace (Isa. 2:4, 11:6, Micah 4:3); and, finally,
(6) In the Messianic age the entire world will believe in G-d (Isa. 11:9, 40:5; Zephaniah 3:9).

B. Satisfying the Criteria — the Geneology Problem

Even if Christians could establish that (a) Jesus existed and (b) Jesus was Jewish, they would have trouble proving that (c) Jesus was descended from Judah and Solomon. Both of the detailed geneologies in Matthew and Luke trace Joseph’s lineage to King David, albeit differently since Matt. 1:16 says that a fellow named Jacob was Jospeph’s father, and Luke 3:23 tells us that Joseph was the son of Eli. (It seems that that family had a lot of problems determining fatherhood.) But these geneologies are bogus because Matthew tells us that Joseph wasn’t the father of Jesus, but Mary was still a virgin even after he was conceived through the “Holy Spirit”! Matt. 1:18. Since we know that geneology runs from the father (Numbers 1:18; 2:2), Jesus cannot claim descendency from Judah.

C. No Messianic Era.

Even still, Christians still have a problem because they still can’t establish points 3, 4, 5, or 6 in paragraph A, above. Saying that those events will happen in a Second coming is circular at best and contradicts Revelations 22:20 (“Yes, I am coming quickly.”). It is also illogical to believe that if Jesus can be given a “mulligan” (golf term for a second-chance), then every other messianic pretender in history should also have a second chance to accomplish what they could not in one lifetime. Maimonedes in Hilchot Melachim 11:5 states that the Messiah must bring about all of the components to a Messianic Era (including world peace and the ingathering of the Jewish exiles and rebuilding of the Temple) in his lifetime. Without proof of the Messianic Era, we cannot agree that the Messiah has arrived.

IV. Trial and Error

The story most central to the Christian Bible is the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. As noted above, the prophets anticipated only a general resurrection of the righteous, not one limited to the messiah, so I won’t address that further here. But the N.T.’s account of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus greatly conflicts with what the Torah and Talmud tell us about the Jewish system of legal juris prudence at the time of the Second Temple.

A. Background: the Jewish legal system during the Second Temple

As a starter, you should have some background into some relevant fundamentals of the Jewish legal system in effect during the Second Temple.

1. First: No trials of any kind were held on any day but Mondays and Thursdays, which were market days and ensured the highest chance that witnesses could be found and available. (In addition, it was believed that those are the days when G-d’s holy court was in session.) Furthermore, no trial could be held on a Jewish festival such as the first or last day of Passover. Source: Talmud tractate Moed Katan 16a.

2. Second: Jewish law requires (then and now) that a person accused of a capital crime be convicted only if (a) two valid witnesses come forward and testify that the accused was warned that doing X would result in the death penalty; and (b) two valid witnesses testified that after the warning, the accused violated the law anyway. A false witness was liable to the same punishment as would have been given to the accused — hence a strong deterrent against perjury. Moreover, a defendant could not be convicted on his own testimony. These are fundamental principles you’ll find in the Torah itself. E.g. Deut. 16:6

3. Third: When one stands accused of a capital crime, a towncryer was to go out through the community and announce that so-and-so was accused of such and such and is being tried at such and such time. In addition, the towncryer was to also announce that any witnesses favorable to the defendant should step forward to the Sanhedrin. This was not a short process and could not be done in a single day. Source: Talmud tractate Sanhedrin.

4. Fourth: Execution was only permitted by four methods under Torah law: stoning, burning, beheading and strangulation. These are the words used in the translation, but the Talmud explains that “burning” required that the convicted felon drink a liquid metal that would kill him immediately, and that beheading did not mean literally to remove the head, but merely severage of the windpipe and the artery to the brain, resulting in immediate death also. The Talmud taught that these methods were all designed to limit disfigurement of the body and result in rapid death with limited pain. Source Talmud tractate Sanhedrin, among other places. In tractate Yevamos 120b there is discussion of crucifixion as a strictly Roman practice. Furthermore, it was taught that if a person testified (on behalf of a widow seeking proof of her husband’s death) that so and so was crucified, but he did not actually see the body after death, then there is no proof of death as people had been known to survive cruicifixion.

5. Fifth: The Torah strictly prohibits a body of an executed criminal from being hung out for view past nightfall. Deut. 21:22-24. Furthermore, it would be prohibited to transport a body through a public area to a private area (such as a cave) on the Sabbath. Talmud Tractate Shabbos.

6. And sixth: The death penalty was carried out rarely in Israel. According to Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, if an execution occurred more than once in seventy years, that court would be considered “murderous tribunal.” Mishna Makkos 1:10. Besides the issue of a stigma on the court, executions were rare because of the high standards of evidence required for a conviction. To put this in context, Texas, this year alone, executed 40 prisoners.

B. With these six principles in mind, lets examine the trial and execution of Jesus.

1. First, the NT says that the trial was on a Friday, and that on the night before, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. Accordingly, that would mean that his trial was on the first day of Passover. Here is a violation of two legal principles — his trial was not on a Thursday or Monday as required, and it was on a holiday when no trials whatsoever could be held.

2. Second, there were no witnesses of a warning to Jesus and no witnesses of his actual crime. The NT account of his trial shows that he was convicted on his own testimony. This is a severe violation of the Torah.

3. Third, there is no account in the NT of any call for defense witnesses.

4. Fourth, the choice of execution methods violates Torah completely. If convicted for Sabbath violation or false prophecy, the appropriate punishment was stoning. Why use a Roman torture method that took days to kill the felon, if it did at all, and resulted in a mutilated corpse?

5. Fifth, if the trial and execution were indeed held on Friday, there are several problems, including limited time for a trial, and limited time for the execution. A crucifixion on a Friday afternoon was certain to run over through Shabbat and then later. Assuming that the 120 judges of the Sanhedrin would have permitted a crucifixion (which is unlikely), one would doubt that they would have risked having Jesus die on the cross after the Sabbath began Friday night. Because of the Sabbath laws, they would have been unable to carry the corpse to a burial site, and leaving the corpse on the cross overnight would be a Torah violation.

6. Finally, sixth, there is no record teaching that the court of that era was known to be reckless with the use of the death penalty. Yet, not only was Jesus crucified, but so were two petty criminals, according to the NT, and their crimes did not even justify the death penalty under Jewish law.

C. G-d needed to experience pain?

One more note: With the rushed trial and execution, Jesus could not have been put on the cross until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. And then he’s taken down before sundown. That means, at most, he spent just four or five hours on the cross. If G-d wanted to understand the suffering of man, and did so by living the life of Jesus, you would think he would have hung there and taken the pain a little longer. Of course, G-d did not need a field trip to understand our pain. Indeed G-d told Moses of the Jewish people, “I know their pains.” Exodus 3:7.

Taken together, these discrepencies between the Jewish legal system and the depiction of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus raise grave questions regarding the credibility of the account.

V. Abuse and Misquotes of the Hebrew Bible

A. Isaiah 53. Who Was the “Suffering Servant”?

Missionaries commonly Isaiah 53 as a proof text that the Messiah will suffer for the people’s sins. E.g.:

“(3)He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with sickness; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not:
(4)Surely he has borne our sicknesses, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, struck by God, and afflicted:
(5)But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was bruised because of our iniquities; his sufferings were that we might have peace; and by his injury we are healed:
(6)All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all:
(7)He was oppressed, but he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; he was brought like a lamb to the slaughter, and like a sheep, that is dumb before its shearers, he did not open his mouth:
(8)By oppression and false judgment was he taken away; and of his generation who considered? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people:
(9)And they made his grave among the wicked, and his tomb among the rich; although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth:”

On its face it sounds convincing in retrospect knowing what we know about Jesus from the NT only. But, who is the “he” referred to in the verses? Let’s trace it back a few lines to the previous chapter (52), where the discussion of what “he” will do begins. At 52:13 it appears to begin with “Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.”

OK, so now we know that “he” is G-d’s “servant.” But who is G-d’s “servant”? Let’s trace our steps a little further. In Isaiah 41:8 the question is answered: “But Israel is my servant.” The next line, Isaiah 41:9, adds some more: “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you away.” Just so we shouldn’t miss the point, Isaiah quotes G-d saying: “Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.” (Is 44:2); “Remember these, O Jacob and Israel, for you are my servant. I have formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you shall not be forgotten by Me.” (Is 44:21); “For the sake of My servant Jacob, Israel My chosen one.” (Is. 45:4); and “You are My servant, Israel in whom I glory.” (Is 49:3). Get it? Israel — not a person — is the servant whose suffering is predicted in Isaiah 53. Certainly we Jews have suffered through our years on this earth. G-d also promises that we will do well: See Isaiah 52:12-15 (“For you shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight; for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.”)

In Chapters 52 and 53, Isaiah’s prophecy gives Jews today a good look at their history over the last 2500 years or so. We’ve had both good times and suffered like no one else. But we are still around, and it is the Jewish Torah and the other Hebrew Scriptures that three of the four major religions on earth are based upon. Isaiah would not have been surprised, except to hear that his prophecy has been misused by missionaries to apply to Jesus.

Another perspective regarding these chapters is that the Messiah will indeed suffer as do all righteous men and women in their generations. Why do they suffer? One view brought down in the Talmud (Brachot 5a) is that some people in the world live lives of relative sin for which their punishments in this world would be great. But G-d understands that many people would not react to Divine punishment with greater faith in G-d; they might even lose faith. Accordingly, the rabbis believed that G-d lightened such people’s punishments but put them instead upon righteous Jews. These are called “afflictions of love” and are given to the righteous because it is assumed that they will understand that receiving punishment from G-d is an act of love, just as a punishment given by a father to a child is given with love so that the child will learn and grow. Righteous Jews in every generation have suffered greatly, either from external causes such as the Holocaust, or from grave and painful illnesses, lack of children, and more. The view along this line says that the Messiah would naturally suffer like any other righteous Jew. So even if we take this position that the Messiah will be a “suffering servant” by and of itself, suffering is no proof that one is the Messiah.

B. Isaiah 7:14 — Virgin or Not?

A center point of Christian belief is in that Mary conceived Jesus without sex. Matthew 1:22-23 states: “Now all this took place that what has spoken by the L-ord through the prophet might be fulfilled saying: ‘Behold the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel, which translated means, ‘G-d with us.'”

In the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, the translation of Isaiah 7:14 seems to be the prophecy Matthew spoke of: “Therefore the L-rd himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call his name Immanuel” (KJV).

But wait! The Hebrew text (of which a 1900 year-old version is on display in the Israel Museum) doesn’t mention anything about a “virgin.” The Hebrew word for virgin is “betulah” but it appears nowhere in this text. The word used is “almah” which refers to a young woman, but not a virgin! Isaiah only uses the word once. But he knew how to use the word “betulah” — he uses it five times.

Another problem with the text is that it is not a prophecy with respect to the coming of the Messiah. If one reads the entire chapter, one sees that flaw immediately. The birth of the child, Immanuel, was to be a sign from G-d to King Ahaz, who lived at least 500 years before Jesus. The sign is meant to convince Ahaz that he shouldn’t worry about the two invading armies. A simple analogy is in old spy movies where the spy meets someone secretly and recognizes him because he is standing in a pre-arranged spot, wears clothing and ornaments that are relatively unique, and says something that would not seem remarkable except for the spy expecting to hear it. Clearly, the sign for Ahaz is something that would seem unremarkable to most people — a young woman has given birth to a boy whom she happens to name Immanuel, which was perhaps not the most popular name in those days. But to Ahaz it is a special sign that had meaning 500 years before Jesus, and apparently occurred.

Christian missionaries, nevertheless, will tell you that this sign also was meant to predict who the Messiah was. Moreover, they will say that an “almah” can be a virgin. Well, I doubt the first argument. It is absurd to think that G-d would give him a sign Ahaz needs right away that will not occur for another 500 years. The second issue is also absurd. Can you imagine poor Ahaz going to each household asking new mothers if they were virgins or not? Poor Ahaz would have thought to be totally screwy and would have been overthrown.

A final problem with the text is that it predicts that the child would be called “Immanuel.” Jesus was not called “Immanuel,” he was called “Jesus.”

Why did the Christians manufacture a prophecy about a virgin birth — something that is not required of the Messiah? The answer is clear. When the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah (because the many preconditions for the Messianic era had not been fulfilled), the Church faced the real threat that non-Jews would reject him too. So Paul did two things: He issued an order that said that a Christian no longer had to observe Jewish laws (Acts 15), and he introduced a few pagan myths into the new Christian religion so that it would appeal to the pagan gentiles. One such myth concerned the god Attis, who was worshiped in Western Asia (where Paul actively preached). According to The Golden Bough, by Frazier, Attis was born from a virgin. He later was mutilated and bled to death. The worship of Attis involved an effigy of him that was hung. Afterwards it would be buried in a cave, and when the tomb was reopened, the god Attis would rise from the dead and softly whisper glad tidings of salvation. In the Roman worship of Attis, an animal’s blood, symbolic of the blood of Attis, would be poured on worshipers. They believed that his blood would wash away the worshipers sins. (Like Early Christians, worshipers of Attis also practiced celibacy). The two religions are so close that it cannot be a coincidence. Rather, Paul introduced these ideas into the worship of Jesus. Hence, he had to manufacture in Tanach a prophecy that the Messiah would be immaculately conceived.

C. Psalm 22: Crucifixion Foretold???

In an old Jews for Jesus brochure I saved from my college days, there is a section that quotes several Biblical verses which they say foretell the life of Christ. One of these is Psalms 22:16, which they translate as “They pierced my hands and feet.” This supposedly foretells the crucifixion of Jesus where his hands and feet were pierced by the nails that hung him to the cross. One problem, it doesn’t work in Hebrew.

The Psalm describes the angst of the psalmist (I think David) who is surrounded by enemies and asks why G-d has forsaken him. Psalms 22:16, which in Hebrew says “k’ari b’yadai v’raglai” (“Like a lion (the enemies) are at my hands and feet”). The disputed word here is “k’ari” which is spelled kaph – aleph – resh – yud. Most graduates of a Hebrew school education know that an ari is a lion, and that the use of the letter “kaph” before a word means “like” or “as.” The Christians appear to have invented a new Hebrew word which they pronounce “koari” yet no such word exists in Hebrew with the same spelling. There is a similar sounding word to koari that is used to mean to dig, or perhaps bore (as in a hole), although there are better words for that. But the spelling is much different. In “koari” there is no letter aleph as there is in the word k’ari and no grammatical reason for dropping it.

D. Psalm 110 — One Lord or Two?

In Matthew 22:41-44, there is a reported conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees concerning the genealogy of the Messiah. The Pharisees said that the Messiah will be the son of David, and Jesus reportedly counted: “‘How then does David in the spirit call him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool”? If David then called him Lord, how is he his son?’ And no one was able to answer him a word, neither did any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.” This conversation could not have happened! Matthew is referring to Psalm 110:1, and is based on a clear mistranslation. The first “Lord” in the sentence is properly capitalized because it uses the four-letter Hebrew name for G-d, the Yud kay vav kay. We would pronounce that in prayer as “Adonai,” which means Lord and only applies to G-d. The second “Lord” is improperly capitalized because the Hebrew word used at that point is “adoni” which means “my lord” and only refers to a human. So Psalms 110:1 should read: “The Lord said unto my lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” So who is the second and lower-cased “lord”? King David. This psalm begins “LeDavid Mizmor” (A song to David as opposed to by David). Accordingly, the song is written for David and makes him the subject of the first sentence. With that knowledge, the rest of the psalm makes perfect sense, G-d is giving much needed comfort to the King of Israel. Alternatively, it can be understood as a psalm written by David to be sung by the Levite choir praising him after his death.

Certainly any Pharisee would have known the meaning of Psalm 110 and would not have been confused by “Adonai” versus “adoni”. It is not so clear that a Greek-educated story teller with little or no Jewish training, and a Christian axe to grind, would have been so knowledgeable. The story in Matthew then must be made up and judged self-serving.

Yet despite the obvious mistranslation, Psalms 110:1, continues to be misused by missionaries to prove that the Messiah sits at G-d’s right hand and is like G-d. Judaism, however, believes that the Messiah is a human being, not a god.

These are the basics.