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Rabbi Harvey Falk's "Jesus the Pharisee"

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  • Rabbi Harvey Falk's "Jesus the Pharisee"

    Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus
    by Rabbi Harvey Falk

    I don't agree with the conclusions of Rabbi Falk's book, because it more or less writes Yeshua off as "something for the Gentiles," rather than focusing on his Repentance Movement, which was directed toward his own people. Many Jewish authors have written about the historical Yeshua and sadly more than a few have done so in order to marginalize him or to turn his movement into a cabal of conspirators. Still, there are many things that Rabbi Falk says about the historical Yeshua that are absolutely right on target and his work does shed important light on the wrangling between Hillel and Shammai and the nature of this Plebeian vs. Patrician strife.

    In this book, "Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus," Rabbi Falk covers in detail the history behind the intrigue that set the Patrician School of Shammai against the Plebeian School of Hillel.

    Rabbi Falk explains that the seemingly anti-Semitic remarks found in the "New Testament" are simply comments made by plebeian (Galilean) Hillelites venting against patrician (Judean) Shammaites, which have parallels in the rabbinic literature! Further, Rabbi Falk clearly shows that it was the anti-Gentile attitude of the Shammaites and their Zealot associates that laid the groundwork for the destruction of the Temple by Rome in 70 C.E.

    In no small part, the Zealot Shammaites anti-Gentile attitude had been influenced by their disdain for the Hellenized Zadokites (Sadducees) and the mafia-like family of Annas ben Seth, the High Priest, with whom they had to contend. It should be noted here that "annas" became a byword for "a cruel official of the Gentiles," because of the role Annas ben Seth played in cowtowing to Rome in as much as his family had to keep the Pax Romana and pay a hefty sum in order to maintain their cushy position.

    Also, Rabbi Falk explains why these two schools that opposed each other so strongly during Yeshua's time eventually buried the hatchet and, after the First Jewish Revolt, started working together to preserve proto-rabbinic Separatism as a belief system, which evolved into Normative Rabbinic Judaism.

    Where Rabbi Falk misses the mark, IMO, is that he sees Yeshua's movement as something geared to create a new religion for the Gentiles, rather than seeing it for what it realy was - a Repentance Movement geared to build a grassroots base of support for the Hillelites to draw upon and thereby strengthen the position of the Plebeian Cause against patrician oppression and the misguided anti-Gentile/Zealot agenda to purge the Holy Land of Hellenistic influences and Roman domination by force of arms.

    Still.... It's a good read and well worth the $23 price tag.
    Last edited by smadewell; 08-27-2006, 04:50 AM.
    "What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours."

  • #2
    What Sort of Jew Was Jesus?
    A rabbi offers a provocative theory on Christianity's origins

    By RICHARD N. OSTLING - Posted Tuesday, Apr. 12, 2005

    Many Jews and Christians trace 2,000 years of anti-Jewish persecution directly back to certain pronouncements of Jesus. In Matthew 23:37, for example, Jesus exclaims, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you . . . Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate." While dialogue aiming at better understanding has taken place between the two religions, some Jews and Christians have felt frustrated that New Testament passages have been used to support anti-Semitism.

    Orthodox Rabbi Harvey Falk of Brooklyn believes that much interreligious tension need never have existed at all. His current book, Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus, just issued by a Roman Catholic publisher (Paulist Press; 175 pages; $8.95), contends that Jews and Christians alike fail to grasp Jesus' ties to the competing Jewish factions of his time. Christians, says Falk, have misunderstood some of the teachings of Jesus, while Jews have been needlessly hostile toward "Yeshua ha Notzri" (Jesus of Nazareth). Falk's book offers a provocative and controversial theory on Christian origins.

    Falk examines two factions of the Pharisees, a group of pious Jews who believed in the resurrection of the dead, rewards and punishments for this life in the next and rabbinic authority to interpret Jewish law. These two parties, the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai, clashed shortly before Jesus' birth. Jewish tradition records that the rigid Shammaites held religious control throughout Jesus' life and during the founding decades of the Christian Church. But by A.D. 70 the more flexible Hillel school had become pre-eminent and the predecessor of today's traditional Judaism. In Falk's theory, Jesus was a Pharisee of the Hillel school, so that his denunciations ("Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!") were aimed at the Shammai school, not Jews in general, and not even at all Pharisees.

    Falk holds that a central issue between the schools was Jewish-Gentile relations. The School of Shammai taught that non-Jews had no hope of eternal life. One of the faction's first acts upon gaining power in the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews, was to pass a series of sweeping measures that limited contacts with Gentiles. The School of Hillel, however, taught that righteous Gentiles merited a share in the world to come if they observed the seven so-called Noahide commandments, basic moral directives addressed to Adam and Noah in the Bible and binding all humanity. The usual Noahide list includes the obligation to help establish a system of justice, plus prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, theft, murder, sexual sins and cruelty to animals. According to Falk, the authoritative compendium of Jewish oral law and commentary, the Talmud, says that Moses called upon Israelites to spread knowledge of the Noahide commandments to all people. The Jews never undertook such a mission, says Falk, but Jesus and Paul the Apostle did, motivated "by love of God and fellow man."

    To support his thesis of Jesus as a follower of Hillel, Falk draws conclusions from familiar New Testament passages. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus criticizes the "eye for an eye" view of justice emphasized by a leader of the Shammai school. Shammaite criticism of Jesus for socializing with Gentile sinners or healing on the Sabbath reflected specific debates between the schools. When Jesus attacked the money changers in the Temple, he declared that it was a "house of prayer for all the nations," but had become a "den of robbers." The author suggests that the money changers were corrupt Shammaites who were pocketing donations from Gentile converts to Judaism. Falk even proposes that the Golden Rule of Jesus is just a positive rephrasing of statement by Rabbi Hillel, who once told a pagan inquirer, "What is hateful unto thee, do not do unto thy neighbor. This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary."

    Although Orthodox Judaism shuns doctrinal discussions with Christianity, Falk points out that the great medieval sage Maimonides declared that Christians "will not find in their Torah [the New Testament] anything that conflicts with our Torah." Falk also refers to the commentary of the renowned Polish sage Rabbi Jacob Emden. In a 1757 letter to Polish rabbis, Emden discussed Jesus and Paul as Torah-true missionaries to the Gentiles. Falk, 53, who had studied at the Academy for Higher Learning and Research in Monsey, N.Y., was intrigued when he came across this document in 1974, and it led to his decade of research on Jesus. It is Falk's belief that Orthodox Jews will slowly enter interreligious discussions, in part because the "Christian world is asking us."

    Jesus the Pharisee has significant omissions: it does not touch on such salient matters as the Resurrection, the messiahship of Jesus, or the belief that his death atoned for the sins of all humanity. Lawrence Schiffman, a critic of the book who is a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, says that Falk "has bought a stereotype of the School of Shammai, who in reality were good Jews and good Pharisees." Schiffman believes that there will not be a scholarly acceptance of the book's thesis. He maintains that anti-Judaism in early Christian writings is "really there. It had a tremendously pernicious influence over the centuries. There's something dangerous about believing that it's not there, because then you don't have to deal with the problem. It's a much better solution to admit that it is there and then come to terms with it." But Falk hopes, "If my thesis is adopted, Jews will be better Jews and Christians will be better Christians." -- By Richard N. Ostling. Reported by Michael P. Harris/New York

    With reporting by Reported by Michael P. Harris/New York
    Copyright 2006 Time Inc. All rights reserved.
    "What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours."