For some reason there is a common occurrence found among people who enter into a debate or discussion. You will often find that at some point the conversation shifts from discussing the actual topic, to discussing people. This usually occurs when someone feels flustered or frustrated and “loses their cool”. They then begin to lash out at the individual who says something, instead of at what they actually said. Usually little children, and sadly politicians, will resort to this method of debate. But I have found that it has also snuck its way into our discussions about religion.
I enjoy having theological discussions with people, and I find that religious Jews often react in the aforementioned way. If you bring up Christianity and Jesus to them, they will tell you that he was an illegitimate child. And if you have the audacity to go so far as to mention Islam and Mohammed, they will let you know that he was an insane and delusional madman. Now it goes without saying that these are, of course, ridiculous claims to bring up in a debate about religion. Mainly because Christians believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and was not illegitimate. And as far as Mohammed is concerned, well, I’ve never met a Muslim who thinks that he was insane. So it’s really just your word against theirs. But I didn’t come here to teach you how to debate. Nor did I come to explain to you that truth lies in the message, not in the messenger. I came to bring your attention to a different problem. I’m sure you’re all aware that when, in our frustration, we lash out at someone, we tend to say things that we don’t mean. We tend to say things that we ourselves don’t even believe. And when you’re having a discussion about religion this can be catastrophic.
You see, if you deny Christianity based on the “preposterous idea” of Jesus having been a virgin birth, you are saying two things. First, that there is no such thing as a girl becoming pregnant without a man in the picture Second, illegitimate children are incapable of being messengers for God. Both of these statements, according to Jewish tradition, are false. In fact, there is a Jewish tradition that the prophet Jeremiah had a grandson named Ben Sirah who was born of a “virgin birth”. Now let me be clear, this does not mean that he did not have a biological father. It merely means that his mother did not become pregnant from being with a man. The tradition says that his mother became pregnant from sperm that had been left in a bathtub, which she subsequently bathed in. Even if this was not the case with Mary’s pregnancy, and Jesus was indeed born from illegitimate relations, it is not a reason to negate him or his message. In fact, at the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah, Rashi writes that the prophet Jeremiah himself came מרחב זונה, from the womb of a harlot. Now I am not advocating for Jesus or Christianity. I am merely saying that we must be careful that in our efforts to keep out the beliefs of others, we don’t end up losing the beliefs of our ancestors.
Of course, if you are a religious Jew, you need not believe that God spoke to Jesus or Mohammed. If you are a religious Jew, you need not believe that Mohammed went up to heaven. However, if you are a religious Jew, you should most certainly believe that both are possible. Not just believe that they are theoretically possible but that they are actually possible. That similar events have occurred before, and according to some traditions, will happen again before the coming of Mashiach. To accept that these phenomena are real and have actually transpired may bother some people. In actuality, even to accept the possibility that they have happened to people from other religions, is no need for concern. You are not lending credence to the religion in question, rather, you merely recognize the fact that such an interaction is possible in this world.
To conclude, if you are confronted by someone who asks you how you explain the miracles of Jesus, or of any other religious leader, your response should never be “Why that’s impossible”. For if Moses could turn all the water in Egypt into blood I don’t see why turning a bit of water into wine should be impossible.
Instead, I prefer to respond:
“Moses already said in the Book of Deuteronomy that people will come with signs and with miracles trying to persuade us to serve other Gods, but to be honest, I always imagined that you’d be better looking”.
“In fact, there is a Jewish tradition that the prophet Jeremiah had a grandson named Ben Sirah who was born of a “virgin birth”.
Can you direct me towards the earliest source of this?
Also, the birth of Jesus cannot be compared to Ben-Sira or Jeremiah. This from Luke, ” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. “”
There is no similar such thing in Judaism.
As for you main point about not scoffing at Christian miracles, because Judaism itself has miracles–that is spot on. But in that too Judaism has the high ground. Christianity must accept the veracity of the Jewish miracles (such as Moses receiving the Torah). Judaism can, and in my opinion does, deny the veracity of Christian miracles.
Thanks for the comment!
As far as sources for Ben Sirah:
אוצר מדרשים writes that he was one of three such births (in the beginning of אלפא ביתא אחרת לבן סירא)
The משנה למלך mentions it in the name of the ליקוטי מהרי”ל (in הלכות אישות פרק טו at the beginning of אות ד) and there is a חלקת מחוקק who also discusses it sourced therein
The concept is also mentioned by רש”י in חגיגה דף טו. ד”ה באמבטי
As far as your mention of Luke and his version of the birth of Jesus, I am really not looking to get into Christian Theology at all. I’m sure you are aware that there are many different scholars who understand it in different ways. I was therefore not focusing on the claims of the Christians. Nor was I concerning the article about the veracity of any of it. In fact I know some scholars who are of the opinion that Jesus never even existed. I was merely coming to address the remarks and the refutations that I often hear from people in opposition of Christianity. Many of which I find to not always be in concurrence with Jewish beliefs and ideals. As I already wrote:
“I am merely saying that we must be careful that in our efforts to keep out the beliefs of others, we don’t end up losing the beliefs of our ancestors.”
And I completely agree with you that Judaism indeed has the high ground!!!
I am of the opinion, however, that denying other miracles won’t make Judaism’s ground any higher, it will only create a risk of it becoming lower.
I would like to commend you on your courage to write this article.
Every religion has its claims to miracles, revelations and G-d choosing them over the others. That is religion, accept and believe in your fate and theology, while ridicule and reject the others. Technically speaking, their is no good answer as to why so and so religion is correct and the others are not. It is simply a matter of a “Leap of Faith”. If any religion could prove their religion, there would only be one religion in the world ( and there would be no need for communism)
In the 15 century Spain, during the great debates among the Jewish and Christian scholars, where Jews had the time to look at, understand and contemplate the arguments due to the long drawn out time frame, over 60% of the Jews converted to Christianity on their own free will.
I want to argue, it was not the acceptance of Christianity over Judaism, but the DOUBT that crept in the minds of the Yidden. At that point, the decision was made – it was easier just to convert and not have to suffer anymore.
The way we answer these days is the right way….”we are right, you are wrong and it is clear as daylight, end of argument, you lost”. It is better not to get into an argument, as it can only lead to where you don’t want to go.
You wrote your article in an articulate, thoughtful way, just something that will not be understood nor accepted in our community. Please keep ’em coming.
Thank You for bringing this up!
I completely agree with you that ”we are right, you are wrong and it is clear as daylight, end of argument, you lost” is a much simpler and perhaps more affective way of dealing with other religions. However, people often feel the need to substantiate that claim with all different forms of logic. And like I said, I often find that their logic is not in accordance with Jewish beliefs and ideals. We must be careful to stay true to our own religion and not let it become the mere antithesis of other religions.
Also, there are “thinking yidden” for whom “we are right, you are wrong” is not a satisfactory answer. And it is mainly for those open minded, free thinking individuals, that I wrote this article. In general keeping things simple works fairly well. But if you say that things are simple “end of argument, you lost”, then if/when an individual realizes that things are not simple at all, they are likely to look elsewhere for answers and lose their way, heaven forbid.