SUNDAY REVELATIONS: On Yom Kippur, Can Christians learn Teshuvah?

תשובה is a central difference between Judaism and Christianity.

Teshuvah, תשובה, is the center of Judaism’s most holy day, Yom Kippur.  Yom Kippur also offers an important message for all Americans. 

This Wednesday, we Jews will spend hours beating our chests and confessing .. to ourselves for our sins.  The ritual is called viddui, but the keyword is “to ourselves.” We have no priests, no ministers with power to resolve our guilt.  Instead, we have Teshuvah, תשובה.

Teshuvah, תשובה, translates as repair or restoration.  During the confession, Jews are told to decide how we can repair the damage we have done.  This is not done for the favor of God, but to follow the law itself.  Especially, as an atheist Jew, I can spend three hours of more in synagogue trying to consider how to repair the damage I have done to others.  

Christians argue that Jesus died for all of our sins. Perhaps the easiest way to see why this is repugnant to Jews is to remember what happened 300 years after Jesus’s death.  In 325 Roman Emperor  Constantine erased the guilt of the Roman state for deicide.  Constantine did this by canonizing the Christian bible with its effort to blame the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus.

How convenient for Rome!  Maybe I am unfair, after all not all Christians are Romans, but for almost two millennia the Roman bible has defined Christianity.  So if Rome was responsible for killing their God, aren’t the descendants of Rome also responsible for repairing that tragedy?  That would be an onerous burden. 

The target of Christian hate in their bible is the Pharisees. Who were these evil ones?  History tells us that the scribes, the Jewish scholars of that time, were called Pharisees.  The Pharisees taught passive resistance to the Romans.  The Pharisees taught Jews to remain true to our Torah our own laws, while not provoking the Romans.

The Pharisees were opposed by a priesthood appointed by Herod to serve in the Temple. Like collaborators under any evil occupying power, the priests supported the Romans by collecting  taxes and demanding that the Jewish people accept Caesar.  And, of course, the priests oppressed the Pharisees. Before Jesus’ birth, the Pharisees had to flee to Egypt to escape death threats from the priesthood. Presumably, this is the basis for the Christian story about the flight of Mary and Joseph to Egypt.

As best we can tell today, Jesus was a lay follower of the Pharisees.  His teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount, are very much like the teachings of their great Pharisee, Hillel.  Give under Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’S, a pretty good summary of the way the Pharisees resisted Roman rule.

But, of course, the Christian story also has Jesus claiming to be a divine ruler. That was also the claim of Caesar.   Roman emperors were Gods.  Under Roman law, claiming to be a divine king, was sedition.  If Jesus or his followers did claim the tile of Moshiach, Jesus committed sedition.  “Moshiach” does not mean messiah. משיח is Hebrew for an anointed King.  All the kings of Israel, from David to Hezekiah, were called מלך, or king.  None were also Gods.  

Jesus, apparently was killed by the Romans for the crime of claiming to be a divine king .. a Caesar.

Blaming the priests was not in Constantine’s interests since he also appointed himself as the high priest of Christianity. However, the Emperor had an easy scapegoat.  As described in 75 AD by the historian Josephus, in 70 AD the Jews tried vainly to overthrow the Roman occupation.  Josephus himself describes the Pharisees as advocates of passive resistance.  Nonetheless. 40 years after the crucifixion, these scribes led the Jewish people to revolt against the Romans. The Romans destroyed the Temple and expelled all Jews form Jerusalem.

Since then, millions of Jews have died as Christians sought revenge for our arrogance in rejecting Jesus and Rome as God.

Today Christians say this revenge was not Christian. They say the same thing about atrocities done during the crusades, the wars instigated by Luther, missionaries’ wars against “paganism,” and so on and so on.  No modern Christian church accepts responsibility for this history.

Repentance may be Christian, but responsibility for repair is not. 

This self forgiveness is especially true in the current era where America suffers from  a peculiar brand of Christianity, Trump worship,  Actually, as an American and a Jew, I believe , wherever our own families came from, Americans should  all share both pride in what “we” have done but also responsibility for the atrocities committed by our predecessors .. genocide of the indigenous peoples, slavery, the Mexican war, the subjugation of the Philippines …

To be clear … responsibility is not blame.  What good is blame if all it does is provoke guilt?  Accepting responsibility should be as good thing. Repairing the damage done by in the name of your beliefs is a good and Jewish thing.


2 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    The irony of it all is that the Jesus of the bible may not have existed at all. There are three historical Jesus who seem to have parts of their lives in the Jesus of the bible.

    There are problems in the story of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The story is a bit different in each of the gospels, but each of those gospels were written for a different audience. The Romans were very good about making and keeping records. It does seem that the records on an itinerate priest or Messiah would have survived any regular destruction of records, and some sort of mention of it in some sort of dispatch. It does seem if the Roman governor truly washed his hands of the matter he would have turned Jesus over to the Jews who were perfectly capable of doing the traditional execution of stoning. Jesus escaped that plight at least twice if the story is at all true. It comes down to if you believe all, some or none of the story is true.

    Judaism and Christianity are religions or belief systems that thus far have escaped the usual fate of religion: oblivion. Parts of much older religion persist in Judaism and also in Christianity. Both have managed to renew with the times at least well enough to survive when god died in the renaissance. God has been dying for some time now, or as Twain said God’s death has been greatly exaggerated. If god really dies it probably has both good and bad consequences. Still it would mean we humans would have to accept that it was us all along.

  2. theaveeditor #

    “There are three historical Jesus ” three? Pantera for sure. Hillel maybe. Who else?

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