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Rabbi’s Sermon Saturday 30th December 2023


You probably have heard the old joke. Was Jesus Jewish? Of course, he was, his mother believed he was the Messiah. And he founded the biggest corporation in human history. And he entered his father's business. Or: that guy thought that his mother was a virgin: he was so Jewish that he needed therapy!

My favorite: Jesus founded a revolutionary movement that, after a catastrophe that no one could foresee and after a patient work of propaganda, managed to become establishment whilst, at the same time, keeping the consensus from the outcasts. Not only was Jesus Jewish, but he was also a member of Likud!

Perhaps the Jewish jokes about Jesus reveals - as my friend Rabbi Joe Schwartz would say - our anxieties – that is, our desire to belong to the majority culture, which is by definition impossible in Christian societies, as we Jews are a non-Christian minority.

Over the last weeks, these jokes crossed my mind (pun intended) as I witnessed the growth of the popularity, online and offline, of an anti-Jewish trend. The "Jesus was a Palestinian" motif.

Those who display the "Jesus was Palestinian" meme in front of our eyes clearly intend to offend us Jews, and that should be enough. What's more anti-Semitic than the intention to offend the Jews while pretending to be fair and equal?

But allow me to explain why the motif "Jesus was a Palestinian" is anti-Semitic.

To begin with, it implies that Jews do not belong to that part of the world, that in a region called "Palestine", Jews are always foreigners, or colonizers. That is, despite the historically proven fact that thousands of Jews have always lived in cities like Hebron or Tiberias, not to mention in the region of Galil.

And many more would have loved to settle in those lands had not the Ottoman authorities imposed quotas on Jewish - and only Jewish - immigration. Not every Jew had resources to grease the wheel of Turkish authorities - which could be costly and unpredictable - but the will and the desire of European, Yemenite, and North African Jews to move to the Land of Israel during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era, up until the 18th century, is a proven and indisputable fact.

And those who managed to immigrate, and stay were subsidized by the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. They called themselves "members of the Jewish nation" (nation, not faith). I would hardly consider them members of the Palestinian nation. They were Jews.

Stating that Jesus was a Palestinian is equivalent to denying that Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel, and this is a gross offence to centuries of Jewish history.

But there's worse. The "Palestinian Jesus" trope evokes a bizarre inversion. In the frame of the contemporary Progressive ideology, Jesus was a kind of barefoot revolutionary, then murdered by the occupying power.

Now, who was the occupying power at that time? The Roman Empire. And who is the occupying power today? Israel, of course. The Romans murdered Jesus - says the woke ideologist today – just like Palestinians are murdered today by Israel.

And here you go, with a twisted play, the whole history of Jewish persecution at the hands of the Romans suddenly disappears. There must be a requirement to join the Palestinian Jesus fan club: having skipped one or two classes in Ancient History when the subject was the Jewish-Roman wars. You know, just seventy years of history and 1,400,000 casualties.

There is another anti-Semitic implication in this "Palestinian Jesus" trope. The everlasting accusation to us Jews of being Christ-killers. It is another historical reality overlooked by the Palestinian Jesus fan club.

For centuries, thousands of pogroms and assaults on synagogues and Jewish quarters took place, usually during Easter week. The time of the year when the accusation of being the murderers of Jesus and the insinuation of killing babies was agitated from the pulpits in Christian churches.

It is pretty striking the extent to which militants who pretend to be secular, or even atheists, regurgitate anti-Semitic stereotypes from the Christian medieval repertoire.

They, for example, believe that it is a catastrophe when Jews are left free to rule themselves -like in Israel - without the beneficial influence of Liberal Western values. This is the modern updated version of the Catholic legislation that forbade Jewish self-determination. To these haters, Israel is a deranged society ruled by fanatics who are about to erase the mosques in Jerusalem and speedily rebuild the Temple where it once stood and to resume the sacrifices.

As secular as they pretend to be, they do not hesitate to fish from the pond of prophetic literature: they love the invectives against religious hypocrisy and attention to minutiae to masquerade abuses and injustice.

Particularly popular among the most obtuse seem to be Malachi 1:15. "You have brought as offering that which was taken by violence". But Amos and Isaiah are often quoted as well.

The point is, a large part of Jesus' preaching falls into this category. Jesus most likely shared the agenda of the Pharisees, the Jewish religious movement - like the Rabbis in the Talmud - that called for greater consistency. The polemic between Jesus and the Pharisees tastes the same as many intense Talmudic debates. People argue so much amongst themselves because they have so many things in common.

Religious hypocrisy, using religious norms and rules to enforce oppression and exploitation, is a constant danger to every faith.

And so is the self-righteousness of those who pretend to be humble whilst actually flaunting their external devotion as if it were a sign of superiority. Sanctimonious behavior can be found across the religious board among people of every faith.

But only Judaism has produced such a massive body of poetic literature vibrant with indignation towards this common fault. Those passages of Jeremiah that describe the Divine rejection of sacrifices are a perennial call to consistency, humility and justice to men and women of every faith.

But the anti-Semites of the “Palestinian Jesus” kind love to address those words only against the Jews. As if - amongst all the religions - only the Jews -who actually produced this literature - are guilty of religious hypocrisy.

How good must they feel when they can point their fingers at the Jews rather than looking at the inconsistencies and the moral failures of their own camp (which is what the prophets exhort).

I would like to show another example of anti-Semitic twisting. Like all the minorities, we Jews have a preference for marrying "inside the tribe." It's not at all rare, and I believe it is pretty natural (Italian immigrants in America or Argentina do the same; Chinese in the Diaspora do the same; Indians, Travelers, etc.). It is a widespread expectation. After all, you don’t want your children to add to their marriage the pains and the problems deriving from cultural clashes.

But only we Jews are accused of being ‘racist’, ‘patriarchal’ - or any bad words that the Palestinian Jesus fan club loves to entertain. They track the origin of this phantomatic: "Jewish racism" or "Jewish suprematism" to the last chapters of the Book of Ezra. These chapters describe the expulsion of foreign women and their offspring from the city of Jerusalem following the return of the exiled after the Edict of Cyrus in 539.

Now, Ezra chapters 9 and 10 are not among the most famous parts of the Tanach. We never read them in synagogue; no parts are included in the Siddur, nor are they Haftarah for anything.

Yet, the Palestinian Jesus Fan Club believe that separating interfaith couples is a fundamental imperative of the neurotic Jewish religion, a demand of our unforgiving God. It would be interesting to see how they react if a daughter of their own background starts dating an Israeli of military age...

The motif of "marrying a foreign woman" in the Early Modern Era was - in Kabbalistic circles - a way to describe religious experiences. Kabbalists spoke of those Jews who had been forced to convert to other faiths in these terms as if they had married a foreign woman. The various schools of Kabbalah had their own ideas about how to rescue those souls, but this will be a matter for my next shiurim.

Here, I want to call your attention to the way these terms are used in the Book of Ezra:

For the anti-Semite, ‘marrying foreign women’ symbolizes the cause of all the conflicts in the Middle East (Jewish racism, Jewish refusal to assimilate, and blah blah blah).

But for the Kabbalists and for us Jews, it describes the religious experience as it is experienced now, in the 21st century.

Look around. We all are here, in a synagogue, on a cold morning in December, not because of the rational part of our brains - because we are intellectually sure that God exists and supports the Jews when they behave well. No, we are here because of emotions: feelings, memories, sense of belonging... all irrational stuff, similar indeed to love and to physical attraction.

In the contemporary world, religious behavior is driven by emotions. The Kabbalists were the first religious movement to understand this element of the human psyche - I was about to say this impulse. This is why Kabbalah is more popular today than Maimonides or Ovadiah Sforno.

The anti-Semites have turned the Prophetic literature into a repertoire of insults against the Jewish people and against Israel. In fact, it is one of the most precious gifts Jews have granted to men and women of every faith.

The anti-Semites read a couple of chapters from the Book of Ezra and pretend to have discovered the origin of Jewish neurosis (that God so demands, and its law etched in stone) and overlook the extraordinary treasure of intuition of the Kabbalista about human psychology.

And speaking of psychology, those anti-Semites of the Palestinian Jesus fan club are not only very ignorant about Jews and Judaism. They also lead a miserable life, full of anger and resentment against Israel and the Jews, with the hope that a Palestinian Jesus will one day resuscitate to guide them towards a revolution.

This won't happen because, in case you didn't notice, Jesus was Jewish.



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