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”.