Question: Do Jews believe that Jesus did not perform the miracles the Bible claims He did? On the other hand, if Jews do believe Jesus performed miracles and healed hundreds of people, why don't they believe He is the Son of God? How could someone perform miracles and not be divine? — G., via email@example.com
Answer: I receive many versions of your question and they all focus on the same issues:
1. Jesus either did or did not perform miracles.
2. If he did perform miracles, Jews should become Christians.
3. If Jesus did not perform the miracles, Jesus is a liar.
4. Are you calling Jesus a liar?
The problem with this line of argument is that only the Christian Testament, and not the Hebrew Bible, makes such claims. Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others don't accept the Christian Testament as God's word. Therefore, all non-Christian religions do not accept Jesus' messianic claims.
Islam, you should know, accepts some of the Christian claims but not the essential Christian claim of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. It should be obvious that claims within one's religion are not convincing to those outside one's religion. You cannot quote your own scripture to refute the scripture of another faith.
There's one more point that makes the dialogue between Jews and Christians somewhat asymmetrical. Christians cannot understand themselves spiritually without understanding themselves as having come from Jews and Judaism. Jesus and all his early followers were Jews. However, conversely, Jews don't need to understand themselves in relation to Christianity because Christianity came later.
The way Father Tom and I worked this out in our friendship was that we agreed to disagree about Jesus, then proceeded to try to make the common ethical teachings of Judaism and Christianity real in our broken world. When people ask me if I believe Jesus was the Son of God, I try to say in a friendly but firm way, "I don't believe he was, but after we die we will all know for sure."
I will say that if Jesus was the Messiah, you may well hear the distant echo of my voice after my death calling out from another world, "Oy vey!"
Look, we can either be friends and co-workers in fixing the world, or we can be targets for conversion. We can't be both to each other. So I remain, in friendship, Rabbi Marc Gellman. I hope that's good enough for you until the end of your days.
Q: I'd like to wear the Star of David and the Cross together as necklaces. Would this be acceptable, or would both Jews and Christians find it offensive? — B., Harrisburg, Pa., via firstname.lastname@example.org
A: I'm not a fan of jewelry in general, but I am a big fan of religious jewelry. Wearing a necklace with a religious symbol on it is a clear sign of public pride in your faith and that's a good thing in my view. However, combining symbols from two different faiths is both confusing and inauthentic to both traditions.
The teachings of Judaism and Christianity are different in important respects. so what would you intend to say by wearing both symbols? Would you be saying that Jesus both is and is not the Messiah? How can that be? If you'd be trying to say that all faiths have a common ethical core and teach us to have hope that death is not the end of us, that's fine. The use of contradictory symbols only muddies the waters, though, and blunts the message that you have a clear religious identity and that this identity fills you with pride.
Flip a coin. Make a choice and leave one of your necklaces in the jewelry box.
Q: My grandmother was always in my life. We all assumed she was foreign-born, as she had a thick accent and some "old-timey" ways. However, she'd never tell us anything about her past and would get angry when asked about it.
Many years later, I found her marriage license to her first husband. From that I was able to go online to see a ship's manifest, where she was listed as a Russian Jew. Her children were not raised in any religion. My grandmother was an extraordinary woman. She was a tough old bird in the best sense, and we've all been proud to have part of her in us.
I'm sad to know nothing about her Jewish childhood and would like to be able to know about the rest of her life, if possible, to share with my children and grandchildren. Any thoughts? — S., via email@example.com
A: The death of a beloved grandmother brings great sadness. May God comfort you. Sadder still is the death of our personal histories. There may be ways to fill in the gaps of your grandmother's life by speaking with any living members of her generation.
I hope you don't mind me using your question to make an appeal to all readers to do everything possible to discover and record their family histories. If elderly relatives resist, perhaps they'd agree to be interviewed by someone outside the family. We need to know our roots for spiritual, historical and even medical reasons. Such stories must not be allowed to pass with the generations into dust.