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Looking for Jesus?

You won't find him here. This is a site about Judaism, and Jews don't believe in Jesus.

Jesus is simply not a part of Judaism. He is irrelevant to our religion. To ask a Jew, "why don't you believe in Jesus?" is like asking a Christian, "why don't you believe in Zeus?"

We don't teach anything about Jesus, because he's not part of our religion. In your religious institutions, you study your own religion; you don't study every other religion in the world and explain why they're wrong. We do the same. We don't study why we don't believe in Jesus, because he's simply not a part of our religion. When we discuss Jesus, it's usually in response to attempts to convert Jews, which are more common and more aggressive than most non-Jews realize.

OK, so why don't Jews believe in Jesus?

The first thing you need to understand is, we do not believe in the Christian "New Testament." It's not part of our Bible. Many Christians find this confusing: how can you accept one part of a book without accepting another part of the book. But the Bible is not one book; it's a collection of books. Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Mormons each have their own idea of what books belong in that collection. You wouldn't accept another religion's idea of what belongs in your Bible, so you shouldn't expect Jews to accept your idea of what belongs in our Bible.

But assuming for the sake of this discussion that the Christian scriptures have some basis in fact: Jews had a rather clearly-formed idea of the messiah and a messianic age long before Jesus came along, and Jesus just didn't live up to it. Jews expected the restoration of the Davidic monarchy and a just and peaceful society throughout the world, as foretold by the prophets during the age of the Babylonian Exile. The Jews of the Roman Empire desperately longed for that beautiful ideal as they suffered under Roman tyranny. They weren't looking for an incarnated god who would die and absolve them of their sins, because the sin and salvation aren't the core of Judaism, the way they are in many branches of Christianity.

From what three of the Christian gospels say, it appears that Jesus's own followers weren't expecting a suffering, self-sacrificing messiah. See, for example, Matthew 16: they knew that he was the messiah (v. 16), but Jesus had to teach them that he was going to suffer and die (v. 21), and even after he said this, Peter couldn't believe it (v. 22). It sounds to me like Jesus's closest followers were not aware of any Jewish teaching about the messiah suffering and dying, and they were not ready to believe it. The same pattern appears in Mark 8 (v. 28: they know he is messiah; v. 30: he teaches about suffering; v. 31: Peter doesn't believe it), and similarly in Luke 9 (v. 20: they know; v. 22: he teaches; the denial is not there); John never talks about this incident.

Jews don't believe that Jesus is the messiah because, quite simply, he never did any of the things that we expect the messiah to do, the things that the prophets proclaimed the messiah would do. See Mashiach: The Messiah. Christianity gets around this by saying that Jesus will come back to do all of those things. From a Jewish perspective, however, the messiah is identified by his tangible acts, and promises to finish the job in the future aren't going to convince us.

OK, so what do Jews believe?

To see what books are included in the Jewish Bible, see Written Torah.

To learn more about the Jewish idea of messiah and why Jesus doesn't meet the qualifications for the job, see Mashiach: The Messiah.

To learn more about the Jewish idea of sacrifice and why Jesus's sacrifice on the cross doesn't fit with it, see Qorbanot: Sacrifices and Offerings.

To learn how Jews interpret biblical passages that Christians think are prophecies of Jesus, see Jews for Judaism, a counter-missionary organization (not associated with this site).

Do Jewish sources say anything about Jesus?

Many liberal Jews and rabbis will routinely say something like, "he was a great teacher but not the messiah" when a Christian asks. My impression is that these people haven't given any serious thought to the question, haven't studied to Jesus's teachings, and are saying this only because they don't want to offend anyone rather than because of any deeply held conviction.

Some Jewish sources have suggested that Jesus and Christianity serve a positive purpose by bringing gentiles closer to G-d. For example, Rambam (1135-1204 C.E.) comments that the spread of Christianity is a good thing, because when the messiah comes:

the world will already be filled with the idea of mashiach, Torah, and commandments, even in far-flung islands and in closed-minded nations, where they engage in discussions on the Torah's commandments

But though Jesus and his religion may be part of G-d's plan for the world, the general consensus among the rabbis regarding Jesus is not favorable. On the same page where he made the remark above, Rambam commented that Daniel 11:14 (regarding people who try to establish the vision but stumble and fall) is a reference to Christianity, saying:

Is there a greater stumbling block than [Jesus]? All the prophets foretold that the messiah would redeem the Jews, help them, gather in the exiles and support their observance of the commandments. But he caused Jewry to be put to the sword, to be scattered and to be degraded; he tampered with the Torah and its laws; and he misled most of the world to serve something other than G-d.

What does the Talmud say about Jesus?

Does the Talmud say anything about Jesus? That is open to debate.

Nothing in the Talmud refers specifically to a supposed messiah who was crucified by the Romans in or around the year 30 C.E. The Jewish first century historian Josephus mentions such a person, but Josephus's works are not part of the Talmud. In fact, Josephus is viewed with some degree of disdain by Jewish scholars, because he was considered to be a traitor: during a war with the Romans, he surrendered and became a favorite of the Roman oppressors.

Rambam and many other prominent Jewish scholars believed that the stories of Jesus are based on Yeshu ben Pandeira, also known as Yeshu ha-Notzri ("Jesus the Branch," a reference to Isaiah 11:1, a passage about the messiah). Yeshu is discussed in parts of the Talmud that were censored by the Catholic Church, censored because the Church also believed they referred to Jesus and because they are not flattering references. The Talmud claims that this Yeshu was the son of a Jewish woman named Miriam (Mary) who was betrothed to a carpenter (more accurately, their marriage was in the stage of kiddushin, where she is legally his wife but not yet living with him or having sexual relations with him; see Marriage), so she would indeed have been a virgin. She was either raped or voluntarily slept with a Greek or Roman soldier known as Pandeira, and Yeshu was the product of that union. Because of the status of Miriam's marriage, Yeshu is considered to be a mamzer (usually mistranslated as "bastard", it means the product of an adulterous or incestuous relationship). Some say that he was also a ben-niddah (conceived through intercourse with a woman in a state of menstrual impurity, which is also said to leave a stain on the offspring). The Talmud describes Yeshu as a heretic who dabbled in sorcery and lead the people astray (into idolatry). He was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin for his crimes, and in accordance with the procedure for heretics, his dead body was hung in a tree until nightfall after his death.

Were Jesus and Yeshu the same person? Many Jewish sages believed so. One modern commentator recently went so far as to translate the name "Yeshu" as "Jesus of Nazareth," even though the word "Nazareth" does not appear in the original Hebrew (it appears in Rambam's commentary on the text). It's probably worth noting that this commentator is selling a book about early Jewish-Christian relations.

The main problem in identifying Yeshu with Jesus is timing: the Sanhedrin did not have the power to impose the death penalty at the time that Christians say Jesus died, at the time when Roman procurators like Pilate were running the show, so if Jesus was Yeshu, then he must have died much earlier. Historian Josephus seems to confirm that Jesus died during the time of Pilate, so the problem cannot be resolved by simply changing the date. For this reason, some Jews today believe that the Jesus mentioned in Josephus became confused with the story of Yeshu ha-Notzri (the name "Yeshu" was quite common in that time) and the melded story was the basis for Christianity.


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