Mosaic of Jesus Christ (13th century), found in the church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

Jesus’ Tallis

I want people to have meaningful lives because I believe that makes the world a better place.

Jake is an excellent regular participant in all our services, and he is also a committed member of a local Messianic Church.  He prays with deep intensity and passion.  He is an incredibly kind and gentle soul.  And he loves Jesus with all of his heart. A few weeks ago, he sent me an email:

A friend of mine is making a large tallit [prayer shawl] for our church and we are wanting to put a Messianic blessing, in Hebrew, on the atarah [the collar] We have made up a blessing that was adapted from [the book of] Joel …Would you be willing to proofread our Hebrew? If you don’t feel comfortable with doing that, that’s OK. Thanks!

I replied that it would be an honor to contribute to something so meaningful. I value all religions and each person’s spiritual journey. I want people to have meaningful lives, because I believe that makes the world a better place. If you get there through Adonai, Jesus, Buddha, or The New England Patriots, I don’t care, as long as you get there. So, I was genuinely happy to help.

Until I saw the text. Blessed are you Jesus the Messiah, Ruler of the Universe, who saves and delivers your remnant. Slow exhale. Reading that line was like stepping into an alternate universe for me. I was really uncomfortable with using a very Jewish blessing formula for something in a very not Jewish context. Referring to Jesus, not God, as the “Ruler of the Universe” was painful for me. It just wasn’t right.  But then again, I recognized that my theology doesn’t include Jesus and this blessing does not need to be right for me, but rather right for them.

But helping create the blessing did need to be comfortable for me so I emailed back to ask about changing from Jesus to God.  I wanted to understand more fully how the blessing worked in Jake’s context:

 Based on the [Book of] Joel text, it’s God, not Jesus who does the saving and you may want to switch from blessed are you Jesus to blessed are You, God. I’m curious about the theology here if the blessing comes from God or Jesus or both?

Jake replied:

I would like to keep the beginning part of the verse the same, using Jesus the Messiah rather than Adonai…I believe that Jesus is God…that He always existed in the Godhead… I believe that there is only One God and that God manifests as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…Therefore, it is Jesus who is King of the Universe and also Savior.  I know our theologies are different, so I appreciate your help in being able to convey ours on the tallit.

Translating a blessing into Hebrew for this man and his community was sacred work even if it was not for my sacred tradition. Conveying one’s theology on a small strip of fabric felt like a formidable and worthy challenge. I put aside my reservations and crafted a translation.  I called a rabbi friend who excels at Hebrew to look the translation over. His response was something along the lines of, Wait, you’re translating what? He began suggesting that I should look at responsa [Jewish legal opinions] on whether even doing the translation was kosher. I had already decided that it did not matter to me. I was doing this. I gave him the same out that Jake had given me.  If you don’t want to help, that’s OK. His reply spoke to the essence of the issue. Well, I believe in God and this is all in service to God. Who am I to decide which way is right or wrong? He decided to help with the text.

As a Jew, and especially as a rabbi, it is not my job to be a gatekeeper.  It is not my job to decide who does and does not get to use Judaism’s rich wisdom and riches. It is my job to be an open doorway encouraging people to access all the amazing beauty my beloved faith offers the world.

Even when that world is centered around a man named Jesus.

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