Jews for Jesus

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How can you believe in the New Testament? Isn't it full of anti-Semitism and lies?

The New Testament--which simply means New Covenant--needs to be accepted for what it is, a Jewish book written almost entirely by Jewish people. Most of the concepts in the New Testament cannot be understood apart from their background in the Hebrew Bible. It was fashionable a few years ago to claim that the New Testament contained a large proportion of ideas which were not Jewish but Greek. More recently, though, archaeology has vindicated the Jewish origins of practically everything within the New Testament.

A glance at even a few verses from the New Testament shows the Jewish background involved:

A record of the genealogy of Messiah Jesus the son of David, the son of Abraham."

Matthew 1:1

"On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child..."

Luke 1:59

"Then came Hanukkah at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade."

John 10:22-23

"Then Paul said, 'I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.'"

Acts 22:2-3

"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus the Messiah, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings."

James 1:1

That the New Testament is a Jewish book which stands alongside the Hebrew Scriptures is becoming increasingly recognized, even in Israel. The Israeli scholar Pinchas Lapide has reported an analysis of ten textbooks used in primary and secondary schools in Israel. He says that "six of the books quote a total of eighteen New Testament passages....Three books give detailed explanations of the historical, literary, and religious meaning of the four Gospels....In two books quotations from the Old Testament are juxtaposed with quotations from the New so as to point out similarities and affinities."1

As far as allegations of anti-Semitism go, remember that in the early days of Christianity, there were no Gentile believers. The whole question of whether Jesus was the Messiah was a family affair to be settled by the family of Jewish people. It is in this context that the tone of many passages depicting criticism of this or that segment of the Jewish people must be seen. The "harsh" passages in the New Testament resemble far more the moral exhortations of the prophets than they do the intolerant rhetoric of medieval sermons. Take this passage, for instance, referring to the Jewish people:

"Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption. They have forsaken the Lord, they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him."

Did you think this passage came from the New Testament? Perhaps you didn't recognize it as a quotation from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.2 These kinds of words, recalling our people from sin, have always been a part of the prophetic tradition. The New Testament continues this tradition, alongside the tradition of elaborating on the positive side of Israel's relationship with God.

The real question to be dealt with is not, "Is the New Testament Jewish?" but rather, "Is it true?" When the same tests of historicity and validity are applied to the New Testament as to the Hebrew Scriptures, both will be seen to be equally true.

End Notes

  1. Lapide, Pinchas. Israelis, Jews and Jesus (Doubleday & Co., 1979,p. 49.)
  2. Isaiah 1:4
Articles tagged

The New Testament: Contradictory Or Consistent?

Who's Your Source Of Information?

Jewish scholars conversant with the New Testament may differ on many points, but most if not all agree on one: the essential Jewishness of Jesus. Writers such as Claude Montefiore (1858-1938) and Joseph Klausner (1874-1958), have helped many to understand the New Testament within its Jewish milieu.1 More recently, Reform rabbi Michael J. Cook, Professor of Intertestamental and Early Christian Literature at Hebrew Union College, has gone so far as to call for all Jews to become acquainted with the New Testament.2

These scholars have read the Gospels (the narrative accounts of the life of Jesus), if not the whole of the New Testament, with an eye for the historical and Jewish context. While they are not prepared to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, much less divine, their treatment of him is far more sympathetic than their treatment of Paul, who brought the message about Jesus to the non-Jewish world.

Nevertheless, the average Jewish college student is not so likely to learn about the New Testament from scholarly sources like Montefiore, Klausner or Cook. They are far more apt to be exposed to the perspectives of someone like Rabbi Tovia Singer, head of Outreach Judaism, an organization devoted to refuting the message of groups like Jews for Jesus. Additionally, most synagogue-goers are likely to be more familiar with the work of a Beth Moshe, author of Judaism's Truth Answers the Missionaries.3 The approach of these writers is not designed to encourage understanding of the New Testament (whether or not you agree with it), but simply to discredit it. For example, Beth Moshe writes:

This chapter is organized to display the contradictions within the New Testament. The conflicting verses selected are representative of the many which can be found. We will offer no comments about the verses, because the confusion and disarray are self-evident. . . . Can Christianity's Scripture, so lacking in harmony and coherence, so flawed in contrary statements, be considered other than unreliable as the word of God to the non-Christian? If anything, the New Testament's contradictions make Judaism's authentic interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures even more certain for us. Let's now read these astonishingly opposing verses.4

Or from Tovia Singer:

The stories told in the New Testament, and the passion narratives in particular, are so inconsistent, that the resurrection story collapses under careful scrutiny. The conflicting testimonies of the evangelists are so unreliable, they would not stand up to critical cross-examination in any court of law. In fact, there is virtually not one detail of the crucifixion and resurrection narratives upon which all four Gospel authors agree.5

Several times, in fact, Singer describes the differences between the “conflicting testimonies” as “stunning.” Serious Jewish scholars generally do not take such a tone. But it is typical of writers like Singer or Beth Moshe, whose comments are “louder,” easier to understand and frankly more accessible than the scholarly observations that would better serve those who seriously desire to know something about the literature in question. So it is no wonder if many Jewish people carry around the idea that the New Testament—and maybe even the “Old”—are full of irreconcilable problems and impossible contradictions.

At this point, I would like to offer two notes.

First, in this article, I refer to the "Old Testament" as well as the "New Testament." Some find the term "Old Testament" to be offensive and prefer "Hebrew Bible." I am offering no value judgment in referring to the "Old Testament." It is, indeed, chronologically older than the New Testament. As I was growing up, our Reform Jewish family always referred to the "Old Testament." And so it is in this article.

Second, I make no pretense when I refer to "apparent" contradictions or discrepancies in the Bible. The reader will easily see that my position is that difficulties in the Bible can ultimately be resolved, though not necessarily in any simplistic way.

So then, this article focuses on the issue of Bible "problems" in the Old and the New Testaments. Some may wonder, why should Jews even care about such things, especially when it comes to the New Testament?

One good reason to care is that the allegation of "contradictions" and "problems" in the Bible has been used as a weapon against Jews. Imagine if the tone taken by Singer and Beth Moshe regarding the New Testament had been taken by Gentiles regarding the Old Testament. Now that you've imagined it, let me tell you that it's real. Anti- Semites have treated the Old Testament much as anti- missionaries have treated the New (more on this below). There is a lesson here for those who fail to read a document of faith objectively, whether or not they agree with it.

There is another reason why Jews should care whether or not the New Testament is full of contradictions. Logically, if it is not filled with contradictions, then the New Testament might just be valid. And if that is true, its teachings on the Messiah and on the future of Israel are extremely relevant to Jews.

Is The Glass Half Empty Or Half Full?

Some people are natural skeptics, especially when it comes to faith documents like the Bible. Natural skeptics assume that faith is completely subjective, and that documents that concern matters of faith are unreliable. The burden of proof is on the "believer" to demonstrate otherwise. But skepticism dismisses far more than documents of faith. Many skeptics are dubious about our ability to be certain of any historical record. In the postmodern era it is common to view all such documents as the result of a power play, or the "spin" of dominant groups who repress the alternative stories of others.

Trendy as that may be, and as much as it may appeal to our sense of justice for "the underdog," the truth of such a notion is another matter. Jewish scholar Michael Fishbane6 in his recently published volume, Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking, offers what reviewer James West calls an interpretive "principle of charity." That is, "a method of reading that begins with the assumption that every text makes or conveys sense and that one should therefore construe it in the best possible light, taking account of all its factors."7

Fishbane might or might not agree with attempts to resolve a given discrepancy in the Bible, but his principle invites us to assume the best and not the worst about a text.

Or in other words, he suggests that we begin with the glass half-full rather than half-empty.

"It Was A Horse! It Was A Mule!" Or, What Judaism Does About Contradictions

In Ecclesiastes 1:9, King Solomon observes, "There is nothing new under the sun." Among other things, this applies to the observable fact of apparent contradictions in the New Testament. Though some contemporary writers may give the impression that they are the Jewish Christopher Columbuses of New Testament studies, in fact skeptics and believers alike have been well aware of the apparent discrepancies for centuries, and have responded to them.

Moreover, before examining the New Testament it's important to recognize that Jewish scholars have known for thousands of years that "problem passages" crop up in the Old Testament. In fact, from the second century come the "Thirteen Rules of Rabbi Ishmael" to guide rabbinic discussions on the proper interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.8

The importance of the Thirteen Rules is evident in that their recitation is included in the siddur, the daily prayer book.9 Their inclusion underscores the fact that God's word can be understood and carried out, if we interpret it rightly. It also means that during every single daily service in the synagogue, every Orthodox Jew affirms that the Scripture contains apparent contradictions that can properly be resolved!

The last of the Thirteen Rules is:

If two passages contradict each other, this contradiction must be reconciled by comparison with a third passage.10

Other Jewish voices agreed: Rabad,11 a 12th-century authority on the Talmud, wrote concerning the above rule, "This teaches us that we must clarify and reconcile each of two verses that seem to contradict each other, and that we should not reject either of them. We should not presume that there is an error in the Torah."

The Talmud tells a colorful story about Hananiah ben Hezekiah ben Garon, a first-century rabbi who worked on resolving Bible contradictions:

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: In truth, that man, Hananiah son of Hezekiah by name, is to be remembered for blessing: but for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been hidden, for its words contradicted the Torah. What did he do? Three hundred barrels of oil were taken up to him and he sat in an upper chamber and reconciled them.12

With no electricity, we are to understand that Hananiah literally "burned the midnight oil" for who knows how many long nights until he succeeded in working through the problems he found in the book of Ezekiel.

Apparent contradictions within the rabbinic writings themselves were treated similarly. The Gemara (the later part of the Talmud) commented upon the earlier part of the Talmud known as the Mishna. In the Gemara, harmonizing these rabbinic contradictions is common practice.

Line by line, word by word, the rabbis of the Gemara (known as Amoraim) examined the Mishna and explained its intentions. They never dismissed or belittled the rabbis of the Mishna over their apparent contradictions with one another. Rather, the goal of an Amorah was to explain, to clarify and often to resolve contradictions between one Mishna and another in order to come to the correct ruling - the Halacha [Jewish law].13

Elijah, The Problem Solver

Most Jews know Elijah as the prophet for whom we put out "Elijah's Cup" and open the door at Passover, hoping that he will arrive to announce the Messiah's coming. Less well known is that in Jewish tradition, Elijah is a kind of super Sudoku-solver. In the Talmud, when a particular problem of halacha can't be resolved, it is declared teyku: "stalemated," "unresolved." It is the same word that modern Hebrew uses for a "tie" in a game.

Tradition gives another explanation of teyku: that it is an acronym for tishbi yetaretz kushios u 'boyos "Elijah the Tishbite will resolve all contradictions and unresolved questions."14 Elijah, the great problem solver!

And so Judaism also recognizes that within the Old Testament there are problems to be resolved: whether now or at the coming of Elijah.

Incidentally, the New Testament contains a similar idea. When Jesus met a woman of Samaria, she told him that15 "when Messiah comes, he will explain everything." Apparently, the Samaritans people of the first century who were only partly Jewish by descent believed that the great explainer would not be the forerunner of Messiah, but the Messiah himself.

How Anti-Semites Used Problems In The Bible To Trash The Old Testament

We stated earlier how the tone of unscholarly critics of the New Testament sounds ironically like reverse anti-Semitism. This becomes apparent by substituting the words "Old" Testament for "New," and "Judaism" or "Jew" for "Christian" or "Christianity," etc. Can you imagine if the passage from Beth Moshe, quoted earlier, read this way:

This chapter is organized to display the contradictions within the Old Testament. The conflicting verses selected are representative of the many of which can be found. We will offer no comments about the verses, because the confusion and disarray are self-evident. . . . Can Judaism's Scripture, so lacking in harmony and coherence, so flawed in contrary statements, be considered other than unreliable as the word of God to the non-Jew? . . . If anything, the Old Testament's contradictions make atheism's authentic understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures even more certain for us. Let's now read these astonishingly opposing verses.

Or if Singer's quote read this way:

The stories told in the Old Testament, and the historical narratives in particular, are so inconsistent, that the story of Israel collapses under careful scrutiny. The conflicting testimonies of the redactors are so unreliable, they would not stand up to critical cross- examination in any court of law. In fact, there is virtually not one detail of the Exodus and Conquest narratives upon which all Old Testament authors agree.

As Jews we would be justified in asking whether the writers had a major anti-Jewish chip on their shoulder from the get-go. We might conclude that due to their extreme bias, their ability and inclination to make objective, much less scholarly, remarks about the Old Testament would be virtually nil.

And in fact many skeptics and even anti-Semites have written much in efforts to discredit both the Old and New Testaments.

In 19th-century Germany, among other places, anti-Semitism was on the rise. This anti-Semitism often fed off a type of modern biblical criticism, sometimes known as "the historical-critical method" or "higher criticism." Modern biblical criticism approached the Bible as a historical document and tried to interpret it apart from any particular faith tradition. (The term "critical" as used here does not mean judgmental, but as opposed to reading the Bible "uncritically," that is, naively, without reflection.)

In practice, this often meant approaching the Bible rationalistically (not to be confused with "rationally"), assuming for instance that supernatural events and miracles are not historical and real, but only constructs of "faith." This rationalistic denial of the supernatural is no longer a prerequisite for modern study of the Scriptures. For a long time, however, "higher criticism" was used to produce a picture of the Bible at extreme variance with the traditional picture that revealed a personal God who orchestrated supernatural events.

Enter Solomon Schechter, founder and president of Jewish Theological Seminary and the shaper of Conservative Judaism. In a well-known paper entitled "Higher Criticism Higher Anti-Semitism," Schechter "argued that at the root of German Biblical scholarship was a rabid and unexamined anti-Semitism."16 Though some disagreed with him,17 more recent scholarly voices have also suggested that "the issue of anti-Semitic influences on modern Biblical scholarship is far more complex and directly linked to political goals than most scholars imagine."18

Jewish Bible scholar Marc Zvi Brettler pointed out the merits of Schechter's position:

Schechter actually offered a fair critique of Higher Criticism as it was practiced in Germany in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Like nearly all Christians of the time, its [higher criticism's] proponents believed in the moral superiority of Christianity to Judaism, and they used their scholarly works to illustrate this. Wellhausen, for example, likened Judaism in late antiquity to a dead tree. He applied that image vigorously, describing the late biblical book of Chronicles thus: "Like ivy it overspreads the dead trunk with extraneous life, blending old and new in a strange combination . . . [I]n the process it is twisted and perverted." As painful as such sentiments are for Jews, they neither diminish the brilliance of much of his Prolegomena, nor negate the correctness of its basic methodology.19

Brettler goes on to point out that this modern method of Bible study is not inherently anti-Semitic, and in fact many Jewish Bible scholars have since utilized it. Still, it is sobering to realize that there was more than a little anti- Semitism involved in some aspects of its development.

Much has been written about anti-Semitism and biblical20 studies.Amazingly, some scholars advocated removing the Old Testament from the Bible, either because of its allegedly "lower" level of ethics, or because they denied the Jewishness of the New Testament. One of the more notorious among such scholars was Friedrich Delitzsch not to be confused with his father, Franz, who translated the New Testament into Hebrew. The son wrote:

. . . the Old Testament is full of all kinds of deceptions: a veritable hodge-podge of erroneous, incredible, undependable figures, including those of Biblical chronology; a veritable maze of false portrayals, misleading reworkings, revisions and transpositions, together with anachronisms; a never-ending jumble of contradictory details and entire narratives, unhistorical inventions, legends and folktales, in short a book full of intentional and unintentional deceptions, in part self-deceptions, a very dangerous book, in the use of which the greatest care is necessary.21

Friedrich Delitzsch was an extremist among extremists. And his quote about the Old Testament is similar in tone to the rhetoric employed by Beth Moshe and Rabbi Singer regarding the New Testament.

A Better Way To Look At The Old Testament And The New Testament

Recall Michael Fishbane's principle that "every text makes or conveys sense and that one should therefore construe it in the best possible light, taking account of all its factors." This is standard operating procedure in the fields of history and law. A Guide to Historical Method One is a standard textbook by Gilbert J. Garraghan.22 In a section entitled "Conflicting Testimony,"23 Garraghan writes, "The historian frequently finds in his sources statements that disagree with one another, or are even flatly contradictory. The difficulty of reconciling them must be met." He then enumerates various principles for reconciling such statements, including the reliability of witnesses, probability, and so forth. His eighth principle is:

In certain cases the contradiction may be only apparent, not real. The witnesses may not be referring to precisely the same thing; they may tell of different situations, or report the same occurrence from different points of view, different angles of observation. Criticism along these lines sometimes succeeds in reducing apparently conflicting statements to agreement, at least substantial. Where reconciliation is impossible, the only course is to suspend judgment, and await possible new evidence toward a secure conclusion.24

Garraghan concludes: "Almost any critical history that discusses the evidence for important statements will furnish examples of discrepant or contradictory accounts and the attempts which are made to reconcile them."25

Similarly, in the field of biblical studies, V. Philips Long, Professor of Old Testament at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, writes:

The real question for those who are perplexed by differences between accounts of the same event(s) is: do these constitute irreconcilable differences that is contradictions that force us to question the writers' competence, motives, knowledge of the subject matter, or the like. It would be obscurantist to deny that the Bible presents vexing difficulties. I maintain that (1) a properly nuanced understanding of the nature and purpose of biblical literature greatly lessens the number of perceived difficulties and (2) the remainder of stubborn cases should be held in abeyance or, preferably, made the object of special study by those whose technical training and theological orientation might place them in a position to find . . . true solutions.26

Some efforts to resolve various difficulties the Bible presents have been simplistic, naive, sometimes even seemingly desperate. But a Bible reader does not need to be simplistic or desperate when wrestling with apparent textual problems. Reasonable solutions exist. We find them when we approach the Bible as one approaches any document of history. The following examples show how we can resolve issues if we begin with the assumption that the text probably makes sense but that we, who are far removed from the culture and time in which it was written, may be misunderstanding it.

An Example From The Old Testament

The books of Chronicles parallel the books of Samuel and Kings (much as three of the four Gospels the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life parallel one another). Though Chronicles and Samuel-Kings recount the same history, Chronicles omits much that is found in Samuel-Kings, and also adds a great many things. Individual events are also recounted differently. Philip Long gives us the example of 2 Samuel 7:1-17, compared with 1 Chronicles 17:1-15. While some might claim that the differences are "hopeless contradictions," Long offers a fairer, more nuanced picture and suggests that many differences between the parallel accounts can be explained as paraphrasing, as stylistic differences, as quoting from a different version of the same text, or as based on the differing purposes of each writer. [see chart below]


2 Samuel 7:5 "Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?" 1 Chronicles 17:4 "You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in." "Some [differences] may simply reflect the Chronicler's freedom to paraphrase or generalize as he does often in his composition."
Samuel-Kings prefers to use the long form of the Hebrew word for "I" anochi. Chroniclers prefers to use the shorter form of "I" ani. "Other differences seem to result from stylistic or lexical preferences."
2 Samuel 7:7 "Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, 'Why have you not build me a house of cedar?'" 1 Chronicles 17:6 "Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their leaders whom I commanded to shepherd my people, 'Why have you not built me a house of cedar?'" "In still other instances, the Chronicler may simply be repeating what he finds in ... the text of Samuel with which he was familiar." [In other words, there were texts of Samuel with variations, and the author had one of those variations in front of him.]
2 Samuel 7:14, warning of potential divine punishment on David's descendants should they sin "I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men." Omitted in Chronicles "The Chronicler could feel free, ... without pang of historical conscience, to omit the warning of 2 Samuel 7:14 as of little interest to his particular purpose for writing. After all, those who had experienced the Babylonian captivity [the audience for which Chronicles was written, later than the time of Samuel-Kings] and could look back on the checkered history of the divided monarchy, did not need reminding that wrongdoing leads to 'floggings inflicted by men.'" 27

An Example From The New Testament

In Matthew we learn that "[Jesus] went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene'" (Matthew 2:23). But search high and low, there is no verse in the Old Testament stating that anyone "will be called a Nazarene."

Blatant contradiction or fabrication? We may opt to think so, or we may choose to step back and see if there is a better way to look at it. New Testament professor Donald Carson points out that though Matthew often cites the Old Testament, this is the only place where the plural "prophets" is used. Furthermore, Matthew uses a different grammatical construction here than in other places where he quotes the Old Testament, so that a better translation would be, "in order to fulfill what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene." In other words, says Carson, "this suggests that Matthew had no specific OT [Old Testament] quotation in mind."28

Rather, says Carson,

Nazareth was a despised place (John 7:42, 52), even to other Galileans (cf. John 1:46). Here Jesus grew up, not as "Jesus the Bethlehemite," with its Davidic overtones, but as "Jesus the Nazarene," with all the opprobrium of the sneer. When Christians were referred to in Acts as the "Nazarene sect" (24:5), the expression was meant to hurt. First-century Christian readers of Matthew, who had tasted their share of scorn, would have quickly caught Matthew's point. He is not saying that a particular OT prophet foretold that the Messiah would live in Nazareth; he is saying that the OT prophets foretold that the Messiah would be despised.29

The study of the Bible can be invigorating, both in terms of what it clearly says, and in grappling with its more challenging passages. One can regard the Bible as (to quote Beth Moshe) "lacking in harmony and coherence . . . flawed in contrary statements . . . unreliable" or one can approach it with the kind of humility that comes from realizing that we are far removed from the time, place and culture of its authors. Frankly, it is the first approach that is na've or simplistic, not the second.

Many who have taken the time and trouble to read the Bible, study it, and yes, even question its problem passages have discovered that while the original messengers may be distant, the message is "stunningly" contemporary close to us as our minds and hearts.

Singer and Beth Moshe may have their own motives for attempting to discredit the New Testament. But what if the Bible is not filled with contradictions? What if it is reliable history, and more than just history, the story of what God has done for us? Wouldn't we want to know?

Further Resources

Starred titles (*) are recommended "starter" books on the subject; others are more academic.

  • * Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament Reliable? 2nd ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
  • Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987.
  • * Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
  • * Geisler, Norman; Howe, Thomas A. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992.
  • * Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
  •  Kitchen, K. A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 2003.
  • * Miller, Glenn. "Good Question: Do the Resurrection Accounts Hopelessly Contradict One Another?"
  • Wenham, John. Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict? 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.


  1. Donald Hagner, The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus: An Analysis and Critique of Modern Jewish Study of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, Academie Books, 1984).
  2. "Rabbi: Jews Should Know New Testament," April 9, 2006, online at,7340,L3237779,00.html and other web sites. Cook is "possibly the only rabbi in the U.S. with a professorial Chair in New Testament" according to Hebrew Union's web site.
  3. Beth Moshe, Judaism's Truth Answers the Missionaries (New York: Bloch, 1987). Reviewer Laura Barron (publications/other/moshe ) suggests that "Beth Moshe means 'House of Moses' and is probably a pseudonym for the group of rabbis who compiled this volume; the plural pronoun 'we' is employed throughout the book."
  4. Ibid., p. 241-242.
  6. Fishbane is Nathan Cummings Professor of Jewish Studies in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago.
  7. Michael Fishbane, Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking (New York: Oxford, 2005), p. 18. Cited in a review by James West, RBL 05/2006 (Society of Biblical Literature).
  8. Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), s.v. "Talmud Hermeneutics"; also Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. "Hermeneutics," 8:370; H. L. Strack. and Günter Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), p. 21.
  9. Joseph H. Hertz, Authorised Daily Prayer Book, rev. ed. (New York: Bloch, 1961), "Morning Service," pp. 42-43. See also Stephen R. Schach, The Structure of the Siddur (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996), p. 231.
  10. See sources in endnote 8.
  11. An acronym of his name Rabbi Abraham Ben David of Posquieres.
  12. Shabbat 13b.
  14. See for instance, . He is called the "Tishbite" because he was from the town of Tishbi.
  15. John chapter 4.
  16. Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, "Tom Paine's Age of Reason and Modern Unbelief," Global Journal of Classical Theology 4:2 (June 2004), pp. 20-21. Available at The address may be found in Solomon Schechter's Seminary Addresses and Other Papers (New York: Burning Book Press, 1959), pp. 35-39.
  17. See Hexham and Poewe, p. 21, for a dissenting quote by Leo H. Silberman and Hexham's and Poewe's own response.
  18. Hexham and Poewe, referring to Henning Graf Reventlow, ed., Biblical Studies and the Shifting of Paradigms, 1850-1914 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995). Hexham and Poewe, a husband-and-wife team, trace what they believe to be the anti-Semitic origins of modern biblical criticism back to Tom Paine. Hexham is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary in Canada; Poewe is Professor of Anthropology at the same institution.
  19. Marc Zvi Brettler, How to Read the Bible (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006), p. 4.
  20. Some resources: Robert P. Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emanuel Hirsch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985); Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel, eds., Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999); for earlier periods, the relevant sections of John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967); Emil G. Kraeling, The Old Testament Since the Reformation (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955).
  21. Cited in John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967), p. 66.
  22. New York: Fordham University Press, 1957.
  23. Ibid., pp. 311-314.
  24. Ibid., pp. 312-313.
  25. Ibid., p. 314.
  26. Long, V. Philips, "The Art of Biblical History," Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 76-77, note 46.
  27. Quotes from ibid., pp. 79-82.
  28. D. A. Carson, "Matthew" in vol. 8 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), p. 97.
  29. Ibid.

A Jew for the 'Real' Jesus

David Winner. The Jersualem Report [August 17, 1998], pp. 49-50.

Geza Vermes is a leading authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls. As a Jewish scholar specializing in early Judaism and the origins of Christianity he has given many Christians a fresh understanding of the Jewishness of early Christianity. His groundbreaking book Jesus the Jew [1973] portrayed Jesus as a miracle-working Galilean hasid, firmly acknowledging the Jewishness of Jesus but denying his Messiahship.

David Winner spotlights Vermes' new autobiography, Providential Accidents [SCM Press, 1998]. In it, Vermes tells how his family adopterd Roman Catholicism in Hungary when he was six years old, in the year 1930. At eighteen he decided to become a priest. He was hidden from the Nazis by a bishop, but the rest of his family perished. Vermes left the priesthood in 1957, and in the 1960s he joined the Liberal Synagogue [the equivalent of Reform Judaism in America].

Vermes' life has been lived on the margins of the two faiths. While sympathetic to both, he has been reluctant to commit wholly to either. Only when you know Y'shua as Messiah and Lord can you truly know what it is to be Jewish.

Articles tagged

Who Are God's People in the Middle East?

Gary M. Burge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993. 207 pages. $9.99, paper.

Reviewed by Jim Eriksen, San Francisco, CA.

Gary Burge wrote this book while on sabbatical from his teaching position as associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. The strength of his presentation lies in his historical overview of what he calls Israel/Palestine," a term he uses to "be fair" to all parties. Except for the mid-to-latter part of the twentieth century (see comments below), Burge's synopsis is very helpful. Burge also raises the general issue of human rights violations in the occupied territories. He gives a good analysis of the Old Testament passages addressing the "alien" or "stranger." He attempts to grapple, in a very abbreviated form, with how the Church should view Israel, both Israel the "People of God" and Israel the political entity. Burge rejects replacement theology and opts for a "middle position." This position acknowledges what he calls "Paul's double commitment": "Israel has fallen and has been utterly disobedient. Christians have been grafted into their place" and, "fallen Israel in its unbelief remains unique, honored, and beloved because of God's commitment to Israel's ancestors" (p. 143). Burge argues that this position has implications for the Israeli endeavor to acquire land and forge a nation (for example, modern Israel does not have the same mandate as those Joshua led into the land and is therefore subject to human rights standards, p. 144).

However, it is precisely at this point that Burge's "People of God" approach to Israel takes him to some rather difficult conclusions. Burge continually gives the reader personal examples, derived from his trips to Israel, of alleged Israeli abuses in the occupied territories. In addition, he attempts to cite human rights studies and international norms that may be applicable to Israel. In doing so, he exposes the weaknesses of his analysis. For example, although Israel is a signatory of various international human rights documents, it has signed with reservations; namely, it has reserved the right to derogate certain rights in times where national security is threatened. This derogation of rights by reservation is not unique to Israel; most nations make a similar reservation to preserve national sovereignty during times of unrest or war. No mention of this is made by Burge, and the reader is left to believe that Israel has refused to abide by agreements it signed.

Burge also gives a rather skewed view of the wars following the creation of the nation/state of Israel in 1948. For example, he describes the "Intifada" as "civilians" using "civil disobedience" to "thwart Israeli control and inspire international sympathy." No mention is made of the more radical groups, such as Hamas, that entertain the destruction of Israel.

In addition to the historical analysis, Burge makes an impassioned appeal to the reader to recognize that a Christian community exists among the Palestinians. Although it is important to understand that the Palestinian community is not comprised solely of Shiite Muslims but includes Christians as well, Burge overstates the case. In the Middle East, the term "Christian" is used to identify a sociological community. Being a member of the "Christian community" does not necessarily mean one is a Christian. Burge seems to overlook this and accepts everyone who is a member of the "Christian community" as a Christian.

This leads to another glaring problem, namely, the failure to mention the existence of Jewish believers in Israel. In the tenth chapter, "Evangelicals in the Land," not a word is mentioned about the Jewish followers of Jesus. Although one might argue that this is not a primary concern of the book, it shows how the generalizations made by Burge overlook areas which should be included to give the reader an understanding of the complexity of the issues.

At the end of the work, one wonders whether the author has really made enough trips and had enough "personal experiences" to convey an accurate picture of what is an extremely complex issue. However, in spite of this weakness, the book does provide some excellent analysis and acts as a counter to some other works, such as Peace or Armageddon? by Dan O'Neill and Don Wagner, that have a much weaker theological framework.

Postscript: Between the time I read Who Are God's People in the Middle East? and the writing of this review, significant events occurred in Israel. With the signing of the Peace Accord between Israel and the PLO, autonomy was granted to the Gaza Strip and Jericho. The events that unfolded both at the signing in Cairo and subsequently underscore the complexity of the issues facing Israel. Only a week after the signing, Arafat announced to his constituents that the jihad (holy war) has not ended with the signing of the accords. This prompted immediate international demands for a retraction. Arafat, who claims he was not using the term in its literal sense (as a holy war to remove all infidels from Pan-Arabia) but in a metaphorical one, demonstrates the difficulties he faces in bringing together the moderate and radical members of his organization. Burge clearly did not anticipate these events in his work, and they partly render some of his conclusions moot. But other important issues that he raises, including how modern Israel should be viewed, merit ongoing consideration in the Christian community.

Jim Eriksen has served as general counsel for Jews for Jesus.

Our Felt Needs and How to Meet Them Through the Bible

1. The Scriptures teach that God created man and woman in his image. From the very beginning, there was community: community between man and woman, between man/woman and God, and for that matter, community within the very fabric" of God himself. (See "Jewishness and the Trinity," ISSUES Vol.1:8.) Presumably there was also a warm personal experience of God's presence and reality. There was a structure in things too, such as the regularity of the heavenly bodies (Genesis 1:14-19) and Adam's naming of the animals (Genesis 2:19-20).

2. But sin entered the world. Humankind's community and experience were shattered. The structures of life dissolved such as when Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8).

3. Beginning with Abraham, God called into existence a new community, the Jewish people (Genesis 12:2). He gave them an authoritative, structured guide to living, the Torah (Exodus 19:7-8, Deuteronomy 27:1), with the promise of knowing him if they would follow Torah (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 28:1-14). In fact, the Jewish community itself was promised existence through God himself (Jeremiah 31:35-37).

4. But as God expressed it to Abraham, the Torah and Jewish community were not meant to exist in a mutual isolation. The Jewish people were to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 2:2-4).

5. This promise included the coming of a Messiah to liberate us from sin and to bring peace to the world (Isaiah 53; Isaiah 11:1-9) and the giving of a new covenant to the Jewish people (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

6. Jesus of Nazareth (Y'shua in Hebrew) said he was this Messiah (Matthew 16:15-17; John 4:25,26). Through his life, teaching, miracles, fulfillment of prophecy and resurrection, he demonstrated it to be so. Millions of his followers, Jewish and gentile, attest to the fact that through his atoning death and bodily resurrection, a new relationship with God has been established.

It is only on the basis of this personal relationship with God that true community, authority, structure and tradition can be achieved.

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Messianic Jewish Classics, by various authors

Various titles. David Baron, Adolph Saphir, A. Bernstein. Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1999-2000.

Jewish believers in Jesus share a common history and destiny. It's easy to find books that address that destiny in the context of God's future plans for Israel and the Church. But until now, not much has been available concerning our shared messianic past. It's therefore a great joy to take note of the recent books coming off the presses of Keren Ahvah Meshihit in Israel. Long-forgotten classics of Jewish evangelism and inspiring stories of messianic Jews of past generations are now springing back to life in print form. Y'shua's followers in the third millennium will be grateful for the encouragement and edification they provide.

Four re-issued titles by David Baron -- Hebrew-Christian statesman and co-founder of the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel -- are back in print (published in conjunction with The Messianic Testimony in the U.K.) They are: "Rays of Messiah's Glory," "The Ancient Scriptures for the Modern Jew," "Types, Psalms and Prophecies," and "The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah." Adolph Saphir's "Christ and Israel" has also been reprinted.

What I found most fascinating, however, was the reprint of A. Bernstein's "Some Jewish Witnesses for Christ," originally published in 1909. Arranged by chronological time period (and alphabetically within each period), Bernstein presents testimonies of hundreds of messianic Jews down through the ages. Some read like short notices one would find in a newspaper column:

"ROSENBOHM, a Jewish convert in Sweden, was tutor of Hebrew at the University of Upsala, in 1720. At the Coronation of King Friedrich, he delivered a rabbinic oration, and likewise at the conclusion of peace between the Kings of England, Denmark, and Prussia."

Other testimonies are more extensive and colorful, and remind us that the concerns of 21st-century Jewish believers in the 21st century are often not much different from those of their 19th-century counterparts. The story of Maurice Ruben is an example. Born in Prussia in 1856, he immigrated to the U.S. and became a believer in Jesus in 1895 at age 39.

"On a Sunday evening in August, subsequent to his conversion, he was awakened from his slumber by the ringing of the door-bell. Responding thereto he found himself face to face with two policemen. He was placed under arrest and taken to the police station without warrant of law.

"He was given no explanation as to the charge which had been preferred against him, and neither on Sunday nor Monday did a magistrate appear to give him a hearing. He was, however, visited twice by two physicians, who conversed with him in a mysterious manner. They introduced themselves as insanity experts. . . . He was visited on the second day by his wealthy brother, who kindly informed him that he had been crazed by religion and was to be sent for treatment to a sanatorium. He was taken that evening by officers of the law to an asylum for the insane."

The story did however have a happy ending. Ruben's release was secured by legal means, the judge declaring that "the alleged demented man was saner than those who had pronounced him insane." Ruben went on to found the New Covenant Mission in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America. Contemporary Jewish believers who have experienced family misunderstandings, meetings with the rabbi, or even attempts at deprogramming will find that Maurice Ruben's hundred-year-old story still resonates today.

Beautifully illustrated covers adorn all the volumes, and the printing is cleanly done, though the older plates are used rather than the book being re-set in modern type. Almost all titles are under $20 US including postage from Israel (contact Keren Ahvah Meshihit, P.O. Box 10382, 91103 Jerusalem, Israel. Alternately, here in the States many of these titles can be ordered from Jews for Jesus' Store.

While a few titles by Saphir and Baron have also been available here in the States, they appear now to be out of print. Only a few books by Alfred Edersheim continue in general circulation. Additionally, a few "messianic classics" can be found in the catalog of Good Books (2456 Devonshire Road, Springfield, IL 62703). Their Scholarly Reprints division provides the Bernstein title as well as Joseph Frey's "A Course of Lectures on the Messiahship of Christ" from 1844. However, their reprints are little more than photocopies bound between heavy black covers, at a price of $25-30. Reproduced two pages to a sheet, the Good Books reprints are oversized and not nearly as convenient to carry around as the Keren titles.

Jewish believers in Jesus have nearly two thousand years of often-neglected history behind us. We look forward to seeing many more treasures from the past unearthed through Keren's ongoing reprint program.

Apologetics to the Jews

Alister McGrath. Bibliotheca Sacra 155 [April-June 1998] pp. 131-138. [Article two in a four-part series, Biblical Models for Apologetics."]

How can Christians effectively share the Good News of the Messiah with Jewish people? For some, in the light of the Holocaust, the subject is a "no-go area," with the appropriate response being an apology rather than a serious attempt to engage in evangelism. For others, Jews are not real people living today, but some imagined throwback to the days of the Old Testament. Neither approach is satisfactory, and Alister McGrath, the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, gives a helpful overview of strategies and approaches in evangelism of Jewish people, with an evaluation of their significance for the Church's overall witness.

McGrath begins with an analysis of the speeches in the Book of Acts. He notes the importance of the appeal to fulfilled prophecy and the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus as key elements in the church's original Jewish evangelism. He further observes the fact that an Orthodox Jewish scholar such as Pinchas Lapide accepts some form of miraculous resurrection while denying the Messiahship of Jesus. McGrath then draws attention to the meaning of the event in the light of God's dealings with Israel, recognizing the limitations of reason and the necessity of faith. After considering the variety of Jewish views on Jesus and the Messiah, McGrath points to the recent rise of Messianic Jews as one of many reasons why Jewish evangelism "can no longer be viewed as of historical interest only; it is of major importance to the modern church."

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Mishpochah Matters: Speaking Frankly to God's People

David Brickner. San Francisco: Purple Pomegranate Productions, 1996. 159 pages. $6.95, paper.

Purchase this book online.

"Who am I?" "What am I?" "Where do I go from here?" These are questions common to new Christians who are seeking to understand the implications of their life of faith. For Jewish followers of Jesus, the questions are asked from a unique perspective.

In 1983, I was a Jewish person who had just come to believe in Jesus, or to use his Hebrew name, Y'shua. I found myself confronted with many problems. My family did not understand my new faith. I had been raised in a religious Jewish home, but now I began to question my relationship to the Law of Moses. I also wondered, "Where am I supposed to turn in order to grow spiritually?" David Brickner, Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, answers these questions and more in his new book, Mishpochah Matters: Speaking Frankly to God's Family. This anthology of essays, authored by Brickner over the past five years, will be valuable both to Jews who have come to faith in Y'shua and also to the Church at large.

With practical insight and lively anecdotes, Brickner tackles the hard questions that arise in the life of the Jewish follower of Jesus. He divides the book into three sections: "Walking with God," "Walking with God's Family," and "Walking through Tough Issues." In each section he addresses questions typically asked by Jewish Christians such as "How do I know God's will?" "How do I fit into the local Body of Messiah?" "Should I marry a Jewish person or not?" and "Should Jewish things still be important to me now that I am a believer?" Brickner also talks about the aging process, death, miracles, and the Messiah, all from the perspective of a Jewish believer.

Two major emphases permeate the entire book. First, Brickner emphasizes the lordship of Jesus. He continually reminds us that the reason why we do what we do is to be more like Jesus in attitude and action. Second, he focuses on the importance of the local body of believers, whether that body is a Messianic congregation or a mainstream church. He does a superb job of upholding the importance for the Jewish Christian of Jewish identity and culture while at the same time making it clear that what is most important is "Jesusness," not "Jewishness". Virtually every chapter ends with words of hope and encouragement which exhort the reader to keep his or her eyes fixed on the One who brought them to faith and holds them in that faith.

Brickner honestly examines the differences within the Messianic community yet holds fast to the fact that Jewish believers have more things in common than they have that separate us. At the end of his chapter, "Distinct or Divided," Brickner says on page 73, "Together we are enjoying a feast of righteousness at a table that was laid for us in the finished work of Y'shua. So when we hear a knock at the door, let's refuse to get up and move to another table. Instead, why not pull up a few more chairs? There truly is plenty of room for everyone."

The subtitle of the book, "Speaking Frankly to God's Family" indicates to the reader that several very tough issues are going to be addressed in a challenging and forthright manner. Though some people rely mostly on feelings when trying to figure out God's will, Brickner challenges the reader to look at his or her own life and circumstances. It is a book which truly encourages believers to think beyond simple, pat answers and to engage some of the more difficult issues facing the Jewish believer and Body of Messiah as a whole.

Mishpochah Matters will be an aid to those Jewish believers who find themselves struggling through a wide variety of issues. Both the person new in their faith as well as those who have walked with the Lord for many years will benefit from reading it. If you have any Jewish friends who have recently come to know the Lord, give them a copy of Mishpochah Matters.

It should be made clear that Mishpochah Matters has application and insight for non-Jewish believers as well. The Gentile Christian who has a love for the Jewish people or has Jewish friends to whom he or she would like to witness, will benefit greatly through following the discussion of the problems and prospects of the Messianic Jewish community. Non-Jewish Christians will learn much from hearing of the sorrows and joys that Jewish believers face.

Much in these chapters has application to the Church at large. Many congregations and worshipping communities, for instance, struggle with problems of divisiveness. In the chapter "Distinct or Divided," Brickner makes the statement on page 70, "It is fine for various Jewish missions or Messianic congregations to express their distinctiveness. But can't we do so without making negative insinuations or implications about the commitment and distinctiveness of others? We can if we are confident of our own identity and careful not to be drawn into someone else's agenda. None of us should presume to be a spokesperson for another except in those matters where we know that we are in agreement!" This statement is as relevant to those in any denomination or Christian organization as it is to those in the Messianic Jewish community.

Prior to becoming Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, David Brickner served for over five years as the organization's Minister-at-Large. His extensive experience with Jewish believers around the world gives credibility to his timely insights. Given the disunity that too often marks many churches and congregations, Brickner's desire for unity in the body is refreshing, challenging, and boldly presented. Mishpochah Matters is well documented, theologically on target, and biblically sound. When the author weaves his wife, congregation, and pastor into some of the essays, it also becomes a very personal statement.

I can't think of a better way to get to know the new Executive Director of Jews for Jesus than to read Mishpochah Matters! I highly recommend this volume for your library, your pastor, or a friend who is a Jewish believer in Jesus.

Murray Tilles is Director of Light of Messiah Ministries.

Moses on the Witness Stand

Solomon Ostrovsky. Toronto, Canada: published by the author, 1991. v, 169 pages. $5.00, paper.

Alongside daily devotionals (which provide a Scripture text, an illustration, and a thought to take with you for the day) and compilations of complete sermons on currently relevant topics, there exists a place for other types of spiritual material. Religious radio programming is one such type, capable of offering intellectually stimulating, theologically challenging and spiritually encouraging fare with short broadcasts from respected scholars and leaders. Moses on the Witness Stand is based upon radio broadcasts made by Solomon Ostrovsky, a Messianic Jew.

Ostrovsky's father, his eldest sister, his eight-year-old niece, and 49 others in his town were brutally murdered in a pogrom in Ukraine. He himself managed to escape and move to Israel prior to Independence and now resides in Toronto, Canada.

Ostrovsky was given ten to twelve minutes each week by Radio Monte Carlo to present a program on the weekly sedra (portion of the Torah). These comments were then broadcast to Israel weekly during the course of the year. His intent in this compilation was to show how the weekly sedra clearly points to the Coming One, the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God, Y'shua.

Readers of this written version will be challenged to see how the Torah and Prophets clearly speak of this One. Believers will be strengthened in their faith and given apologetic material for witnessing. There is much to be gained from careful meditation on the broadcasts set down in this volume.

What Happened When I Read a Forbidden Book

Stuart Dauermann at the piano

In the summer of 1962 I was playing piano in a band in New York's Catskill Mountain resort area—more commonly called "the Jewish Alps." Being a Jew and a college student, there was nothing unusual about that. But one day I found myself in the very unusual position of witnessing a heated argument between two fellow workers—an argument about Christian theology. Bart, who studied for the Catholic priesthood, and Jerry, who studied with the Jehovah's Witnesses, were disagreeing about something called "the hypostatic union." I prided myself on being a reader, but I was totally ignorant of the subject at hand. "Oh, well," I thought, "why do I need to know anything about their goyish (Gentile) book and their obscure theological hairsplitting anyway?"

"I had never read the New Testament before this point."

Within a month or two, I was back in Manhattan, immersed in my music studies. Then one day a soft-spoken friend invited me to participate in an informal discussion group she was chairing in the school cafeteria. While eating lunch together, a number of students would read the New Testament and share opinions as to its contents. I was flattered at her invitation and accepted it along with a New Testament she offered me. Actually I did not quite know how to graciously refuse it. I had never read the New Testament before this point.

Cautiously I turned its thin, fragile pages, expecting to find the strange, gaudy illustrations and rote prayers I'd seen nuns reading on the subway; foreign, alien to me as a Jew, somehow forbidden.

Instead a glance located familiar names and places: Jerusalem, the Temple, Passover. Not only was I interested, but soon I became captivated by the words and life of Jesus. I found that this New Testament was not a book of alien prayers, but of Jewish history, telling about an extraordinary Jew, of His claims, His teaching and His impact on those who knew and believed in Him. I was especially struck by His analysis of the human predicament: "Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man" (Matthew 15:11). So simple, yet so right.

I saw in these "forbidden" pages how those who so loved Jesus found a new beauty and strength of life and an intimacy with God; an intimacy that reminded me of Abraham, Isaac and the Prophets.

Soon I was no longer able to discount the New Testament as "someone else's religion," for it spoke directly to the dry and barren areas of need in my life. My animosity toward Jesus had been replaced with respect, then love, and finally faith.

Through a Jewish book, I had found Him of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews!

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