When it comes to contemporary rabbis, Shlomo Riskin is nothing short of remarkable. Aside from being a spellbinding orator, Rabbi Riskin changed the landscape of Jewish Manhattan. Fifty-two years ago, a fledgling Conservative synagogue went begging for a rabbi, but to no avail. Unable to attract any graduate from the Conservative movement, the lay leadership of that congregation turned to a 23 year old Orthodox rabbi. Just one sermon (after Shabbat services had concluded) was all it took. And thus, Lincoln Square Synagogue was born. Twenty years later, Rabbi Riskin made Aliyah and currently serves as the Chief Rabbi of Efrat, a city less than 10 miles south of Jerusalem, founded at the same time Rabbi Riskin moved to Israel.
Remarkable has turned to unbelievable, when less than a week ago, I watched a 5 minute video where Rabbi Riskin extolled the commonality between Judaism and Christianity, with regard to the messiah.
One does not have to be an expert in theology or a rabbinic scholar to see that Rabbi Riskin’s message is not only misleading and confusing, but does a disservice to both religions!
Christianity, certainly Catholicism is a Messiah based religion. Acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah (in this context, Savior and Messiah are interchangeable) is a sine qua non of the Roman Catholic Church. Accept Jesus as the Messiah and you are guaranteed a place in heaven; reject Jesus as the Messiah and you will go to hell. Belief in the Messiah is not nor has it ever been the sine qua non for Judaism. Belief in the coming of the Messiah is one of 13 articles of faith, according to Maimonides. Yet, no rabbinic authority has ever been known to proclaim that one who does not believe in the messiah will be subjected to eternal damnation. Unlike Christianity, at least Catholicism, Judaism rises and falls on the performance of mitzvos, not the acceptance of Jesus or any other figure for that matter as the Messiah.
To the Jews, Jesus, at least as portrayed by the Catholic Church is a most confusing figure. Trinity aside, Jews find it most difficult, if not impossible to understand how one individual can die for the sins of the rest of mankind. Judaism is predicated on individual responsibility where each one of us has to answer for his or her own sins. It is utterly confusing for Jews to understand how the messiah can be a “kapporeh” (take the hit for us) when the messiah will come (at least according to a prevalent view in Judaism) when everybody finally “gets his act together”. Put differently, once we shape up, the Messiah will arrive. This is a vastly different notion than the Messiah dying for our sins.
From a Christian point of view, the arrival of the Messiah is a second coming. Christians believe because of His immense love for mankind, the Almighty sent His son, His only son to earth to live among us and to preach to us how to live good and noble lives. For this Jesus paid dearly. He died upon a cross. The day will come however, says Christianity when Jesus will return. This is known as the Second Coming. The Second Coming is predicated on all mankind accepting and believing in Jesus as the Savior.
The Messiah from a mainstream Jewish point of view has yet to come. Moreover the Messiah can be anyone of us (hence the belief among some Lubavitch that the “Rebbe”, Menachem Mendel Schneerson was, or is the Messiah). But the Messiah according to normative Judaism will usher in universal peace to a deserving generation. Sadly, mankind has not known world peace or a deserving generation since the inception of mankind.
Moreover, Jewish history has placed Jesus in an unfair as well as unenviable position. Whether it be the Spanish Inquisition where our people were given the choice of “believe or leave” viz. Convert to Christianity and accept Jesus into your life or get out of Spain, the Crusades where entire Jewish communities in central Europe were annihilated out of “Christian love” as true believers (sic) set out to wrest the Holy Land from the Infidel or the Pogroms where Jews could have spared themselves from the most unthinkable and violent deaths simply by bowing down to a statue of Jesus and professing belief in him, countless Jewish lives have been snuffed out over the centuries, all in the name of Jesus. As Tzvi (Harry) Mylnarski, my fifth grade Jewish Day School teacher so aptly put it: If Jesus could see what was done in his name over the centuries, forget about a second coming, there would be a second dying because Jesus would have dropped dead again from the unbearable hurt that Jesus would be suffering because of whar was done in his name.
Before drawing such conclusions about the commonality between Judaism and Christianity, Rabbi Riskin would have benefited greatly had he been privy to the following comparison between felines and frauleins:
The mouse fears both the housewife and the cat. The housewife however is no cat, nor is the cat a housewife. The housewife wants the mouse to disappear. The housewife would be ecstatic if she never saw another mouse. The cat on the other hand, wants the mouse for dinner.