Author Archives: Martin I. Lockshin

Martin I. Lockshin

About Martin I. Lockshin

Martin I. Lockshin, Ph.D., is a professor at the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University in Toronto. He received rabbinic ordination after studying at the yeshiva founded by Rav Kook in Jerusalem.

What Jews Can Learn from the New Testament

It is daunting to think of the number of books a Jew “must” read in order to achieve Jewish literacy. With trepidation I suggest yet another volume to add to that list: the New Testament (NT).

Anyone who lives in a country with a Christian majority (such as the United States or Canada) should acquire basic knowledge of the foundational literature of the dominant faith. Students of the arts need to know stories like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44), and the “passion” of Jesus (i.e. his trial, suffering, and death) or they will be at a disadvantage when studying many works of literature, art, and music. But there are also reasons why Jews, specifically, would gain from study of the New Testament. It is a rich source for a better understanding of Jewish history, Jewish thought, Jewish law, and the history of anti-Semitism.
jews and the new testament
Almost all of the books of the NT were written by Jews, many of them during one of the most eventful periods of Jewish history: just before and just after the destruction of the Second Temple (in 70 C.E.). Very few Jewish writings from that century survive, and none by the rabbis, the representatives of what soon became normative Judaism, since the rabbis of that period felt that their teachings had to remain oral (a position they eventually abandoned). So really the only surviving religious books written by Jews in the first and second centuries are a few of the later Dead Sea Scrolls and the NT.

Ancient Jewish Sects

Any rabbinic text describing the factions and sects of Jews in Israel in the first century were written much later–only after groups like the Sadducees and the Essenes no longer existed.  And while biblical critics teach us that most of the NT authors never actually saw Jesus–and so their descriptions of his words and actions are at best second-hand reports–these authors definitely did record their first-hand knowledge and experience of what it was like for a Jew to live in the Land of Israel in the first century, under the oppressive Roman occupation.  They often described the old Jewish sects and the tensions between them in very realistic ways.

Who Killed Jesus?

In 1965, as part of the Vatican II council, the Catholic Church published a long-anticipated declaration entitled Nostra Aetate, offering a new approach to the question of Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus. The document argued that modern-day Jews could not be held accountable for Jesus’ crucifixion and that not all Jews alive at the time of the crucifixion were guilty of the crime. This was a remarkable step forward in the history of Christian attitudes toward Jews.

Nevertheless, many Jews were disappointed. They had hoped that the Church might say that the Jews had in fact played no role in Jesus’ death.
who killed jesus
Indeed, according to most historians, it would be more logical to blame the Romans for Jesus’ death. Crucifixion was a customary punishment among Romans, not Jews. At the time of Jesus’ death, the Romans were imposing a harsh and brutal occupation on the Land of Israel, and the Jews were occasionally unruly. The Romans would have had reason to want to silence Jesus, who had been called by some of his followers “King of the Jews,” and was known as a Jewish upstart miracle-worker.

Jews, on the other hand, lacked a motive for killing Jesus. The different factions of the Jewish community at the time–Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and others–had many disagreements with each other, but that did not lead any of the groups to arrange the execution of the other allegedly heretical groups’ leaders. It is therefore unlikely they would have targeted Jesus.

But the belief that Jews killed Jesus has been found in Christian foundational literature from the earliest days of the Jesus movement, and would not be easily abandoned just because of historians’ arguments.

The New Testament Account

In the letters of Paul, which are regarded by historians to be the oldest works of the New Testament (written 10 to 20 years after Jesus’ death), Paul mentions, almost in passing, “the Jews who killed the Lord, Jesus” (I Thessalonians 2:14-15). While probably not central to Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ life and death, the idea that the Jews bear primary responsibility for the death of Jesus figures more prominently in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which have slightly different accounts of Jesus’ life.
jesus on a crucifix

Chabad Messianism

The original version of this article appeared in the
Canadian Jewish News
on January 17, 2002.

Our long-awaited messiah and redeemer arrived! Most Jews failed to recognize that he was the messiah, but we, his disciples, did. Tragically, he died before completing the redemptive process. But he will soon be resurrected and will continue and complete his messianic tasks.

Until just twelve years ago, this profession of faith was easily recognizable. It was the distinctive formulation of the Christian credo. In an amazing development, a significant number of pious, Sabbath-observant, religious Jews–ostensibly “Orthodox” Jews–have now adopted this worldview and attempted to declare it kosher.

Death of the Rebbe

The death of one of the greatest rabbis of the 20th century, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, (pictured) the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, left the Lubavitch movement without any central, recognized authority. Rabbi Schneersohn had been an inspired and inspiring leader, who made Lubavitch, which used to be a small hassidic group, into a major player in the Jewish world. In the last years of his life, and especially after he suffered a stroke, many of his followers insisted that he was the long-awaited messiah, and that all Jews were obligated to recognize him in that role.

The rebbe groomed no successor. After his death in 1993, Jews all over the world, both friendly to Lubavitch and otherwise, wondered how the movement would cope. The movement has not had one unified reaction. No one in Lubavitch is openly looking for a new rebbe. “The rebbe”–Rabbi Schneersohn–is still the rebbe.

Judaism has known of movements centered around a dead rebbe. The Bratslever hassidic movement found no replacement for Rabbi Nachman after his death in the 19th century. That movement still flourishes (and its adherents are often called the toyte [dead] hassidim). Messianic fervor about a living hassidic rebbe also has a few precedents in the last three centuries. But there is absolutely no precedent for Jews to continue to consider a person the messiah after his death. Before 1993, no Jew, other than a Jew for Jesus, affirmed that a specific individual who had initiated a messianic mission and then died in an unredeemed world was actually the messiah.

Rav Kook Was Not a Vegetarian!

While Professor Richard Schwartz does not make the claim that Rav Kook in fact practiced vegetarianism, many others have implied or stated as much. Even Professor Schwartz’s characterization of Rav Kook’s position as providing "the strongest support for vegetarianism as a positive ideal anywhere in Torah literature" might be misunderstood. The present article, an except from a longer essay refuting six claims about Rav Kook, is reprinted with permission from The Canadian Jewish News, August 24, 1995.

Sixty years after his death, Rav Kook’s name can still be heard quoted lovingly by a variety of Jewish groups, all of whom see Rabbi Kook as "one of them." It might be worthwhile now to take a careful look at some of the more common claims made today about Rabbi Kook.

Claim 5: "Rabbi Kook was a vegetarian."

At least a few times a year one can read articles in the Jewish press praising vegetarianism and listing famous Jewish vegetarians. Rabbi Kook’s name almost invariably appears.

In fact, Rabbi Kook wrote a fascinating pamphlet entitled The Vision of Vegetarianism and of Peace. There he had some positive theoretical things to say about vegetarianism.

But in that same pamphlet, Rabbi Kook has some sharp words for people who promote vegetarianism these days, in our imperfect world. Such an ideology is clearly a sign of pretentiousness, he says. Rabbi Kook sarcastically writes that the vegetarian today "has already made everything better in this world, has already removed the kingdom of wickedness and of lies, national hatred, racial prejudice…. It is as if all these no longer exist in the world," and all that remains to be fixed in this world is the relationship of human beings and animals, says Rabbi Kook.

As one might easily deduce from his writings, Rabbi Kook was not a vegetarian.