Jewish Views on Christianity

Theological attitudes toward Christianity have changed over time in response to social and political developments.

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The church began censoring unflattering references to Christianity in Jewish texts in the mid-13th century. Thus uncensored versions of the Talmud influenced early medieval attitudes toward Christianity. In addition, mention should be made of the vehemently anti-Christian Toledot Yeshu (The Life of Jesus), a Jewish biographical narrative about Jesus, which probably appeared in its complete form around the 10th century. In it, Jesus is presented as the product of a rape--a disrespectful rebel who achieved supernatural powers by stealing a holy name from the Temple. In recent years, many Christian groups have reconsidered their traditionally hostile attitude toward Judaism, which has in turn, led many liberal Jewish theologians to soften their attitudes toward Christianity. Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

In its very earliest days, Christianity was seen by the Jewish teachers as a Jewish heresy; its adherents were Jews who believed in the divinity of Christ [and considered Christianity a Jewish sect]. But when Christianity spread and became a world religion, with numerous converts from the Gentile world, it became a rival religion to Judaism. Christians were then seen as Gentiles not because they were Christians but because, in the main, they were, in fact, Gentiles (i.e. not Jewish).

 

Rabbinic Attitudes

In the Talmud and midrash, the comparatively few references to Christianity (these only appear in uncensored versions) are to this religion as a heretical sect believing in a form of dualism, God the Father and God the Son.

jesus christ and jewsTypical is the comment of the late third‑century Palestinian teacher, Rabbi Abbahu, on the verse (Isaiah 44:6): "I am the first, and I am the last, and beside Me there is no God." As Rabbi Abbahu spells it out: "'I am the first,' for I have no father; 'and I am the last,' for I have no son, 'and beside Me there is no God,' for I have no brother." Since the doctrine of the Trinity did not emerge fully until a later period, there are no references to this doctrine in the Talmud or midrash, despite far‑fetched attempts to find hints of it in these sources.

It was not until the Middle Ages that the status of Christianity (and of Islam) as a rival religion was considered from the Jewish point of view.

Medieval Attitudes

Attacks on Christian dogma are found in medieval Jewish writings from the biblical commentaries of Rashi and [David] Kimhi, refuting the Christian claim that the Old Testament contains prophesies anticipating the coming of Jesus, through works of apologetics such as the Kuzari of Judah Halevi and the Faith Strengthened of [the Karaite] Isaac of Troki (d. 1593), to the records drawn up by Jews of the various disputations they had with Christians [perhaps the most famous being the disputation about the nature of the Messiah between the apostate Pablo Christiani and Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, Nahmanides, in 1263].

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.