Efrat Rabbi Retracts Praise for 'Rabbi Jesus' Over Orthodox Ire

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin says poorly edited online video reference to Jesus as 'model rabbi' mauled his message.

Raphael Ahren
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Raphael Ahren

Defending himself from scathing criticism for a video in which he refers to Jesus as "a model rabbi," a well-respected Anglo rabbi said this week that while his terminology was "inappropriate," the poorly edited video mauled his message. The current incident is the second time this year that Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the New York-born Orthodox rabbi of Efrat, had to clarify a controversial statement regarding Jewish-Christian relations.

In the video, Riskin says he has been "truly fascinated by the personality of Jesus, whom certainly to myself I have always referred to as Rabbi Jesus" ever since taking a university course about the gospels. "Because I think he is indeed a model rabbi in many counts and he lived the life of a Jewish rabbi in Israel in a very critical time in our history. And I have constantly come back to the study of his personality and his teachings, which are very strongly rooted in Talmudic teachings."

Several Orthodox Jewish Web sites reported about the 5-minute video. Calling it "shocking," the U.S.-based Yeshiva World News wrote that, while "according to a growing number of followers Rabbi Riskin has adopted a controversial position on Christianity - this latest video will prove to be the 'straw that broke the camel's back' according to many, and time will dictate the ramifications of this highly irregular documented statement of this highly respected rabbi's views on 'J[esus].'" Some readers commented online that Riskin's statements do not contradict Jewish theology and are in line with a revisionist view of Jesus. Others accused him of "heresy" and "demanded he be "be stripped of his clergy status at once, and banned from his community."

Back in June, Riskin was criticized for a video circulated by the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, in which he is heard saying that "it is critical that we resurrect God in this generation." After some Web sites suggested the video espoused heretical views, Riskin "immediately retracted the word 'resurrect,'" according to the Israel National News Web site. The rabbi admitted "it was definitely the wrong choice of words," the site reported. "I do recall, however, explaining afterwards - and this part was not shown on the video - that we have to rescue G-d."

In response to the current outrage, Riskin issued a statement Wednesday saying the video was "edited carelessly and posted on YouTube by an organization that omitted a significant part of my message." He explained, "The fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity, which I always emphasize in my talks with Christian groups, were completely absent from the edited version."

Riskin says that a segment was edited out of the film during which he "made specific reference to the fact that Jews can never accept Jesus as the Messiah" and that he "regret[s]" putting himself in a position where his words could be manipulated.

His "Rabbi Jesus" comment referred to the historical Jesus - who was not a "Christian" but a committed Jew, Riskin added, apparently alluding to the theory that Jesus' legacy was later falsified by the Apostle Paul. He referred to the historical personage as a "Rabbi Jesus" to illustrate that point, he said. "While I refer to Jesus poetically as 'Rabbi' Jesus, he was not a rabbi in the classical sense of the term. It was used only to explain to a Christian audience the Jewish Jesus, and in hindsight, the term was an inappropriate one to use."