A prominent rabbi in Israel has landed in hot water with his Orthodox colleagues for referring to the historical Jesus, admiringly, as a "model rabbi."
This is not the first time that the American-born Shlomo Riskin, a long-time supporter of enhancing women's roles in Orthodoxy, has shown himself willing to push the religious envelope. Though he quickly qualified his reported remarks, this latest contretemps highlights not only internal debates within the rabbinic fraternity but also, more intriguingly, the changing shape of Jesus in the mind and imagination of contemporary Jews.
On both sides, indeed, the dramatic diminishment over recent decades in official Christian anti-Semitism—notwithstanding the current Pope's move to canonize his wartime predecessor Pius XII—has allowed for greater freedom to discuss the complex history of Jews' relationship to the Church and to Jesus. Two years ago, the Christian scholar Peter Schafer published a provocative study of the place of Jesus in the Talmud—a charged and sensitive subject; in the same year, the young Jewish scholar Matthew Hoffman brought out a volume on the appeal of Jesus to Eastern European Jews like the artist Marc Chagall and the Yiddish poet Jacob Glatstein.
American Jewish theologians, too, have found Jesus "good to think with" as they struggle to render their tradition and commitments meaningful to today's Jews.
Yet whether Jesus will ever be welcomed home one day as the ultimate Prodigal Son is, in the apt talmudic phrase, a matter for the messiah to decide.
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