Rabbi Jacob Emden (Yaakov ben Tzevi) from the Jewish Virtual Library
Rabbi Jacob Emden meets Jesus the Nazarene (Yahshua haNotzri)
Seder Olam Rabbah Vezuta (1757)
Letter to the Council of Four Lands in Poland in 1757
Letter Written During the Shabbatai Zevi Messianic Heresy about
Jesus the Nazarene, a Torah Halakhic Observant Rabbi defending the Rabbinic School of Hillel
Letter Written by Rabbi Jacob Emden (YaBeTz or Yaakov ben Tzevi)
Letter Translated by Rabbi Harvey Falk
Rabbi Jacob Emden(1697--1776) was one of the leading Torah authorities of the past several centuries. Historians of the rabbinate have often compared him to Maimonides, both having written on all branches of Jewish knowledge, and both having shared a pragmatic and even innovative approach. Even those who disagreed with him sought his opinion, and he is read with interest to this day. Thus, Moses Mendelssohn, founder of the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement, wrote to him as "your disciple, who thirsts for your words."
Although Emden did not approve of the Hasidic movement--which had its beginnings in his time--his books are highly regarded amongst Hasidim. R. M. Sofer referred to him as a "prophet" (Halam Sofer 6:59). Thirty-one works were published during his lifetime, ten posthumously while others remain in manuscript. In his time, he was a fearless champion of Orthodox Judaism. (Reprinted from the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 19:1, Winter 1982)
Seder Olam Rabbah Vezuta (1757)
*Biblical Texts written in Full and not a Part of the Original Letter
For it is recognized that also the Nazarene and his disciples, especially Paul warned concerning the Torah of the Israelites, to which all the circumcised are tied. And if they are truly Christians, they will observe their faith with truth, and not allow within their boundary this new unfit Messiah Shabbatai Zevi who came to destroy the earth.
Jesus the Nazarene teaching Torah in the Synagogue by Simon Dewey
But truly even according to the writers of the Gospels, a Jew is not permitted to leave his Torah, for Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians.
Galatians 5:3 - “I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, the Messiah will do you no good at all. You can take it from me that every man who receives circumcision is under obligation to keep the entire Torah.” (Translated by Rabbi Jacob Emden)
Again because of this he admonished in a letter to the Corinthians that the circumcised should not remove the marks of circumcision, nor should the uncircumcised themselves.
**1 Corinthians 7:17-19 – “But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised?
Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.”
Many have asked that Paul appears to contradict himself here. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16), it is mentioned that Paul circumcised his disciple Timothy.
**Acts 16:1 – “And he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek…Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.”
And they found this very puzzling, for this act seems to contradict the other text which seems to indicate that he considered circumcision a temporary commandment until the Messiah’s arrival; but this took place after the time of the Nazarene! Therefore you must realize – and accept the truth from him who speaks it – that we see clearly here that the Nazarene and his Apostles did not wish to destroy the Torah from Israel, God forbid; for it is written so in Matthew, the Nazarene having said,
The Samaritan Woman at the Well by Brian Jekel
**Matthew 5:17-19 - “Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Torah, I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill, I tell you this: So long as heaven and earth endure, not a letter (yud), not a stroke, will disappear from the Torah until it is achieved. If any man therefore sets aside even the least of the Torah demands, and teaches others to do the same, he will have the lowest place in the Kingdom of Heaven, whereas any one who keeps the Torah, and teaches others so, will stand high in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Translated by Rabbi Jacob Emden) For I tell you that unless your righteousness is far greater than that of the Torah-teachers or the P’rushim, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Translated by Rabbi David Stern in the Jewish New Testament)
This is also recorded in Luke (Luke 16), It is therefore exceedingly clear that the Nazarene never dreamed of destroying the Torah.
**Luke 16:16-17 – “Up to the time of Yochanan (John the Baptist) there were the Torah and the Prophets. Since then the Good News of the Kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is pushing to get in. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the Torah to become void (‘one tittle of the law to fail’).” (Translated by Rabbi David Stern in the Jewish New Testament)
We similarly find Paul, his disciple, in a letter to the Corinthians, accusing them of fornication, and condemning one who had lived with his father’s wife.
**1 Corinthians 5:1 – “It is actually being reported that there is sexual sin among you, and it is sexual sin of a kind that is condemned even by pagans – a man is living with his stepmother (‘father’s wife’ in the NKJV)!” (Translated by Rabbi David Stern in the Jewish New Testament)
You may therefore understand that Paul doesn’t contradict himself because of his circumcision of Timothy, for the latter was the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father (Acts 16), and Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, well-versed in the laws of the Torah. He knew that the child of a Jewish mother is considered a full Jew, even if the father should be a Gentile, as is written in the Talmud and Codes. He therefore acted entirely in accordance with the Halakha by circumcising Timothy. This would be in line with his position that all should remain within their own faith (I Corinthians 7). Timothy, born of a Jewish mother, and the law of a Jews, and had to be circumcised, just as he was enjoined to observe all commandments of the Torah (Paul’s condemnation of the man who lived with his stepmother is similarly understandable, as such an act is also forbidden to Noahides), for all who are circumcised are bound by all the commandments. This provides a satisfactory reply to the question.
The Apostle Paul (1657) by Rembrandt van Rijn in the National Gallery of Art
This will also solve the apparent contradictions in the Nazarene’s own statements. Christian scholars have assumed from certain passages in the Gospels that he wished to give a new Torah to take the place of the Torah of Moses. How could he then have said explicitly that he came only to fulfill it? But it is as I have said earlier – that the writers of the Gospel never meant to say that the Nazarene came to abolish Judaism, but only that he came to establish a religion for the Gentiles from that time onward. Nor was it new, but actually ancient; they being the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah, which were forgotten. The Apostles of the Nazarene then established them anew. However, those born as Jews, or circumcised as converts to Judaism; one law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the strangers are obligated to observe all commandments of the Torah without exception.
Exodus 12:48-49 – “If a foreigner staying with you wants to observe Adonai’s Pesach (Lord’s Passover), all his males must be circumcised. Then he may take part and observe it; he will be like a citizen of the land. But no uncircumcised person is to eat it. The same teaching is to apply equally to the citizen and to the foreigner living among you.”
But for the Gentile he reserved the Seven Commandments which they have always been obligated to fulfill. It is for that reason that they were forbidden pollutions of idols, fornication, blood, and things strangled.
**Acts 15:19, 28 – “Therefore, my opinion is that we should not put obstacles in the way of the Goyim (Gentiles) who are turning to God. Instead, we should write them a letter… For it seemed good to the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and to us not to lay any heavier burden on you than the following requirements: to abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will be doing the right thing.” (Translated by Rabbi David Stern in the Jewish New Testament)
They also forbade them circumcision and the Sabbath. All of this was in accord with the law and custom of our Torah, as expounded by our Sages, the true transmitters from Moses at Sinai. It was they who sat upon his seat (as the Nazarene himself attested).
Matthew 23:1-5 – “Then Yeshua (Jesus) addressed the crowds and his talmidim (disciples): ‘The Torah-teachers (scribes) and the P’rushim (Pharisees),’ he said, ‘sit in the seat of Moshe (Moses). So whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don’t do what they do, because they talk but don’t act! They tie heavy loads onto people’s shoulders but won’t lift a finger to help carry them.
Yahshua giving the Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch
Everything they do is done to be seen by others; for they make their t’fillin (phylacteries) broad and their tzitziyot (tassels on their prayer shawls and garments) long, they love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and they love being greeted deferentially in the marketplaces and being called ‘Rabbi’.” (Translated by Rabbi David Stern in the Jewish New Testament)
It was they (the Sages of Pharisees) who said that it is forbidden to circumcise a Gentile who does not accept upon himself the yoke of (all) the commandments. The Sages likewise said that the gentile is enjoined not (fully) to observe the Sabbath. The Apostles of the Nazarenes therefore chose for those Gentiles who do not enter the Jewish faith that instead of circumcision they should practice immersion (for truly immersion is also a condition of full conversion), and a commemoration of the Sabbath was made for them on Sunday.
But the Nazarene and his Apostles observed the Sabbath and circumcision as mentioned earlier, for they were born as Jews. They observed the Torah fully, until after a period of time a few of them decided to give up the Torah among themselves completely. They said that its observance was too difficult for them and agreed to remove its yoke from their neck (Acts 15).
But even here they did correctly as far as the Gentiles were concerned, for they were not commanded to observe it. Nor is it proper to make it difficult for them, since they did not receive (accept?) the Torah and are not enjoined to observe the 613 commandments. However, it is completely different as far as the Jews are concerned, for they became obligated to fulfill the Torah because God delivered from the iron furnace (Egypt) to be the people of his possession! Therefore they and their children became subjects to it forever. This, their covenant, will not be forgotten from their mouths, nor be discontinued, from their children. For if they have given their lives throughout the generations, as the Psalmist has recorded: All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten Thee, neither have we been false to Thy covenant.
**Psalms 44:18 – “Though all this came on us, we did not forget you; we have not been false to your covenant; our hearts have not turned back and our steps did not turn away from your path.
The Apostle Paul by El Greco (1608-1614) in the Museo del Greco in Toledo, Spain
Certainly, therefore, there is no doubt that one who seeks truth will agree with our thesis, that the Nazarene and his Apostles never meant to abolish the Torah of Moses from one who was born a Jew. Likewise did Paul write in his letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians) that each should adhere to the faith in which each was called? They therefore acted in accordance with the Torah by forbidding circumcision to gentiles, according to the Halakha, as it is forbidden to one who does not accept the yoke of the commandments. They knew that it would be too difficult for the Gentiles to observe the Torah of Moses. They therefore forbade them to circumcise, and it would suffice that they observe the Seven Noahide Commandments, as commanded upon them through the Halakha from Moses at Sinai.
It is therefore a habitual saying of mine (not as a hypocritical flatterer, God forbid, for I am of the faithful believers of Israel, and I know well that the remnant of Israel will not speak falsehood, nor will their mouths contain a deceitful tongue) that the Nazarene brought about a double kindness in the world. On the one hand, he strengthened the Torah of Moses majestically, as mentioned earlier, and not one of our Sages spoke out more emphatically concerning the immutability of the Torah. And on the other hand, he did much good for the Gentiles (providing they do not turn about his intent as they please, as some foolish ones have done because they did not fully understand the intent of the authors of the Gospels.)
I have recently seen someone publish a book, and he had no idea about what he was writing. For if he had understood the subject, he would have kept his silence and not wasted the paper and ink. There are also found among us foolish scholars who know not their right from their left in the Written and Oral Torah and cause the people to err with their pompous pronouncements. But there are true scholars among the Christians, just as there are the chosen few among Torah scholars; and there are few of the truly great by doing away with idolatry and removing the images from their midst.
He obligated them with the Seven Commandments so that they should not be as the beasts of the field. He also bestowed upon them ethical ways, and in this respect he was much more stringent with them than the Torah of Moses, as is well-known. This in itself was most proper, as it is the correct way to acquire ethical practices, as the philosopher (Maimonides) mentions. We have written similarly in our Siddur. However, it is not necessary to impose upon Jews such extreme ethical practices, since they have been obligated to the yoke of Torah, which weakens the strength of the (evil) inclination without it. They have taken the oath of Sinai and are already trained in proper practice and nature. These are clear words that will not be rejected by a clear-thinking person.
Healing at the Pool of Bethesda by Carl Bloch
If certain Christians who consider themselves scholars would understand these secrets, who believe that they are commanded to abolish the Torah of Moses from the seed of Israel, they would not engage in such foolishness. The people listen to their self-conceived words, something which was never intended by the writers of the Gospels. Quite the opposite, they have written clearly that they intended the contrary.
Because of these errant scholars, hatred has increased towards the Jews who are blameless of any guilt and proceed innocently to observe their Torah with all their hearts, imbued with the fear of God. They should instead bring their people to love the ancient Children of Israel who remain loyal to their God, as indeed commanded to Christians by their original teachers.
They even said to love one’s enemies. How much more so to us! In the name of heaven, we are your brothers! One God has created us all. Why should they abuse us because we are joined to the commandments of God, to which we are tied with the ropes of His love? We do this not to enjoy the pleasures of the (evil) inclination and emptiness of a passing world. For truly (Psalms 44) we have become a byword among the nations, and with all this (ibid.). In God have we gloried all the day, and we will give thanks unto Thy name for ever. We pray for the good of the entire world, and especially for the benefit of these lands, in which we reside, protecting us and our observance of the Torah…
You, members of the Christian faith, how good and pleasant I might be if you will observe that which was commanded to you by your first teachers; how wonderful is your share if you will assist the Jews in the observance of their Torah. You will truly receive reward as if you had fulfilled it yourselves – for the one who helps others to observe is greater than one who observes but does not help others to do so – even though you only observe the Seven Commandments. I have written similarly in my pleasant work Torar Ha-Kena’ot that the Jew who observes the Torah, but doesn’t support it, is considered among the cursed, and the Gentile who does not observe the 613 commandments, but supports it, is considered among the blessed.”
Taken from “Jesus the Pharisee – a New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus” by Rabbi Harvey Falk, Paulist Press, 997 Macarthur Boulevard, Mahwah, N.J.,07430, 1985, pages 17-23.
Rabbi Jacob Emden by Wikipedia
Rabbi Jacob Emden by Virtual Jewish Library
Rabbi Jacob Emden by Answers.com
Rabbi Jacob Emden by the Chabad Organization
Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschütz by Encyclopedia Britannica
Genealogy of Rabbi Jacob Emden by Loebtree
Rabbi Zevi Ashkenazi (Chacham Zvi), father of Rabbi Jacob Emden by Chabad Organization
The Myth of the Pure Sephardi: Sephardi Tahor on Sephardi Tahor
Rebbi Jacob Falk the Baal Shem of London by Yakov Lieb HaKohain
The Seven Laws of Moses by Auburn University
Library of Rabbi Emden at Columbia University
Virtual Jewish Tour of Frankfurt by Virtual Jewish Library
Rabbi Emden’s Critique of the Zohar by Ephraim Rubin
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