Yesterday, Christians around the world celebrated Easter. In most places in Israel you do not notice Easter, although there are usually many Christian tourists and a procession to the Mount of Olives Just like with Christmas, if you don’t visit the Old City or Bethlehem,or neighborhoods in Haifa with non-Jewish Russian immigrants, the holiday doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, it is a fitting time to review how Jewish Law views Christianity and its holidays and customs.
First we will mention a few general concepts, then cite some specific laws, then take a look at what Rabbi Kook has to say on the subject.
As far as truth is concerned, is the “New Testament” or the “Gospels” as fictitious as Greek and Roman mythology, or is it tales woven around actual historical events?
Did Jesus exist? The Talmud mentions a talented student of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachiya of that name who was expelled from his yeshiva for remarking on the appearance of a woman (Sanhedrin 107B).
Many Talmudic commentators maintain that this refers to the person who was later dubbed Jesus in Christian texts. The timing is off, but then so is the accepted date for Jesus’ birth.
If Jesus did exist, did the Jews really kill him as Christian children have been taught since time immemorial?
The best answer is that the Jews never used crucifixion as a means of carrying out a death penalty. That was a Roman sport.
- Whether Jesus existed or not, because of the great falsehood surrounding the origins of Christianity, and because of its classification as idol worship, Jewish Law decrees that if a copy of the New Testament comes into the hands of a Jew it must be discarded or destroyed – even if it is printed attached to the Five Books of Moses.
Let’s explore why:
The Torah states that we are not to go astray after our hearts and our eyes (Numbers, 15:39).
Our Sages teach that this includes the prohibition not to read books of idol worship (see the Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Prohibition 47). Our Sages warn that the acquaintance with idol worship can lead to its practice and further lead to the prohibition “not to make molten gods” (see “Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 213).
The Rambam writes: “The worshipers of false gods have composed many texts concerning their service, [describing] what is the essence of their service, what practices are involved, and what are its statutes. The Holy One, blessed be He, has commanded us not to read those books at all, nor to think about them or any matters involved with them, (Rambam, Laws of Idol Worship, Ch.2:3).
- Regarding Christianity he writes: “Know that this Christian nation, who are making the claim of a messiah, with all their many different sects, are all idol worshippers and all their holidays are forbidden, and we deal with them regarding religious issues as we would pagans” (Commentary on the Mishna, Idol Worship, 1:3).
In addition, he states: “Can there be a greater stumbling block than Christianity? All the prophets spoke of Mashiach as the redeemer of Israel and their savior who would gather their dispersed and strengthen their observance of the Torah’s commandments. In contrast, the Christian messiah caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnants to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered, and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the Lord” (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 11:4)
The 14th century Sage Hameiri, said that Christianity is a defined religion and in that respect differs from pagan worship.
In his writings, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, israel’s first Chief Rabbi and founder of Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, generally terms Christianity as “Minut.” He views its teachings and its influence on mankind in a very negative light. For instance, in his book “Orot” he describes how the doctrines of Christianity led to the terrible slaughter and destruction of World War One.
- “The moral repression found in the profane culture which exerted vast dominion over the nations, brought oppression to their hearts, and caused evil traits, diseases, and anger to multiply and be pent up in the depths of their souls. And now these are erupting their fetters through the horrendously bloody and awesomely cruel battles which are more in keeping with their still unrefined natures,” “Orot, Chapter 2 on War).
Rabbi Kook sought to explain how an enlightened, industrialized, and cultured Europe could unleash such destructive barbaric forces that brought the world to a cataclysmic and death-filled war.
Some 20,000,000 people were killed and another 21,000,000 wounded. What went wrong?
Rabbi Kook explains that the “profane culture” which grew to dominate Western civilization is the outgrowth of Christianity whose doctrines of repression burst through Christianity’s outer guise of gentility and brotherhood into a monstrous storm of violence and hatred.
Rabbi Kook postulates that in denying the Torah and its commandments, Christianity separated mankind from Hashem.
- Unlike the constant self-correction and moral improvement demanded by the Torah, through the diligent work of perfecting character traits, like in the present period of Sefirat HaOmer, Christianity’s false show of morals proved impotent in uplifting man’s baser traits.
Only the Torah, Rabbi Kook explains, has the unique power to refine man’s nature.
All other disciplines, whether religious, secular, philosophical, or scientific, can add to man’s quantitative knowledge, but they cannot effect any lasting inner change.
- According to Rabbi Kook’s Torah worldview, Christianity left man simmering in secular and pseudo-religious darkness in a cauldron of unrefined passions and lusts which finally exploded in the devastating world war.
It is important to note that while Rabbi Kook sees Christianity in a very negative light, he does not advocate that we should wage war against it. In one of his letters he writes:
- “As to alien religions, my opinion is that Israel’s goal is not to uproot or decimate them, just as we do not aspire toward the overall destruction of the world and all of its nations, but rather for their perfection and uplifting, for the removal of their impurities, that they will connect to the source of Israel and be nourished by its light, as the verse says: ‘And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his detestable things from between his teeth, and he too shall remain for our G-d,” (Zechariah, 9:7).
Source: Tzvi Fishman – Arutz Sheva