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3 Stars Out Of 5
Great Resource, Disturbing Movement
May 25, 2014
This is one of the most difficult book reviews I have written thus far. Because of this is; I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with The Return of The Kosher Pig." Hate is probably too strong of a word, but I do find many aspects of this work troubling and potentially dangerous. At the same time, I think the book is an excellent resource for scholars and Historical theologians who would like to investigate Rabbinic thought more thoroughly. The benefits of this book are numerous. First off, It is very well researched. The shear scope of rabbinic material this work compiles makes it worth the price of the book. The first section of the book that deals with the historical and theological framework of Jewish thought was very helpful. However, the average reader will have a very difficult time following the writing style of this work. The non-scholar will most likely find this book hard to follow as well as very dry. Though I understand the logic of the title, it still sounds almost blasphemous. The author and publishers should have definitely considered a more appealing name for this work. I guess even in Messianic Jewish circles, controversy sales.
I do believe this book will be helpful for Christian and Jewish Theologians. I personally believe that this is a work that should be on the shelf of very theologian who delights in understanding not only various theological systems, but also who likes to study the Historical development of Judeo-Christian thought. I hold to this opinion not primarily because I agree with everything the book teaches (I certainly do not) but because I believe it provides helpful insight into the Jewish offshoot of Christianity known as Messianic Judaism. To be clear, I am sure there are many Messianic Jews who are faithful Followers of Jesus/Yeshua. However, Messianic Judaism has many dangers that I think are represented well in this work. The potential dangers of Messianic Judaism are where I find most of the weaknesses in this book. I believe there are a few exegetical issues as well, but my chief concern is the framework of Messianic Judaism itself. I am happy that Rabbi Shapira affirmed that there was a distinction between Messianic Judaism and Christianity early in the book. Many well-meaning Christians have assumed that Messianic Judaism are just simply Jews who are Christians. However, this is not the case at all. Messianic Judaism has very close ties to the Judaizers whom Paul rebuked in his day. Though not as radical they do share many of the same trends. If you Notice, Shapira rejects the idea of a "Pastor" and continues to refer to himself as a Rabbi. His congregation is not referred to as a church but as a synagogue. He still continues to practice Judaism as well as all of its festivals (presumably), he just also happens to believe in the messiah as well. There is nothing wrong with wanting to hold on to tradition, but many times within Messianic Judaism, there can also be a form of Jewish elitism that was also accustom in the first century church. Several times in this work, Shapira reemphasizes again and again that he does not consider himself Christian. Yet, first century Jews who followed Christ had no problem the title. It appears that Shapira believes he has more in common with unbelieving Jews than he does with Christian Gentiles. This is not only incorrect but it is a misunderstanding of the nature of the Gospel. In short, Messianic Jews can place much more authority in tradition and heritage than what the Bible calls for from Jewish converts. The greater glory of the New Covenant that is spoken of in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, Romans, and Hebrews can sometimes appear to be missed by Messianic Jewish brethren. You can see this specifically in this book by the simple reality that the author spends so much time giving commentary on older Rabbis and extra-biblical works that are not revelation. I definitely believe there is a place for this, but the book often left me pondering on how much the author invests in extra biblical writings. Even when engaging with Jews, is not the Gospel the power of God unto salvation? Is it not the Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged sword?
For the very reasons why I think this book is helpful for scholars, I think it is unhelpful for lay Christians. I would go as far as to say I think it could be a stumbling block for many gentile Christians. I think this book lacks faith in the sufficiency of Scripture Jewish evangelism. With that being said, I still think this book is a helpful contribution to academia as well as broader theological discussion.
I do want to be clear, I am addressing these things as potential dangers and I am not asserting that they are present within the hearts or minds of even most Messianic Jews. I do not believe Rabbi Shapira holds to any Jewish elitism. I do, however, believe that the methodology presented in this book has the potential danger. Due to that issue, this book is a mixed bag for any readers who are not scholars or who do not recognize the nuances between Messianic Judaism and Christianity.
In once sense I recommend this book. However, in another sense I would discourage many from reading it.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Reformation Heritage Books and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Here is a definitive volume on the "Divine Messiah in Jewish thought" by Rabbi Itzhak Shapira. The candor of this volume comes from the author as a Rabbi deciding to delve into who the Messiah truly is. Trained to despise Christianity and Jesus Christ, his journey took is profound. These pages show the depths to which he dug and the thoroughness of his work. He went through all the documents that make up Jewish thought since Bible times. There is nothing superficial as you would usually find in such writings. What would satisfy one already a Christian will not satisfy an Orthodox Jewish person. He even explains why that is so when he goes at the heart of what Jewish writings actually say.
He begins by explaining why Christianity is so offensive to Jewish people. It is our belief of God becoming a man that they find complete idolatry. This he calls for a Jewish person "the ultimate uncleanness." Hence, the pig, the ultimate unclean animal, is Christianity. He then sifts through, not only the Old Testament Scriptures, but the writings all through the centuries that define Jewish thought.
He finds extraordinary things in their writings. The pig (animal) will be kosher again when the Messiah comes.He finds that the midrash says the pig of Christianity will return when Messiah comes. You have to wade through a great deal of information, but you will be surprised on several occasions on what previous leaders and writings have said. It is clear-Jesus Christ fits perfectly into what their own writing say. It is not enough, as he says, to just quote Isaiah 53, but his findings, on the other hand, will give the most studious Jewish person pause. It may lead them to Christ as well.
This book is heavy and so is three stars to the uninitiated, but it is five stars plus for one immersed in Jewish thinking. I will then average it and give it four stars. It will make a fine reference tool as well.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.
This book represents the personal journey of the author in investigating the identity of the Messiah according to the Scriptures and traditions within Judaism. The author was born in Israel, raised in a Mesorati Jewish household, and lived in Israel most of his life. It is his position that it is possible to cut through fiction, bias and misconceptions mostly aimed in a reactionary manner toward Jesus of Nazareth rather than based on beliefs in the rabbinical teachings, reason, and the Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible. For that reason, all the material presented in this volume is the study of the Deity of the Messiah as seen through Jewish eyes.
"The entire book is structured like a legal case, with evidence, argument and counterargument. Unlike most discussions of this topic through history, this one doesn't seek to nullify traditional Judaism and its conclusions about the Messiah. Rather the author...repeatedly expresses his respect and appreciation for the Jewish sources and emphasizes the many points of agreement with them ('shared premises'). His argument about the Kosher Pig draws from these shared premises and from the rabbinic writings themselves, to build the case that the Jewish Messiah is portrayed as more than human. Readers unfamiliar with rabbinic writings will discover a whole new area of thought--an approach to Scripture, sometimes from a different perspective, that is well worth exploring." [Forward: Rabbi Russel Resnik]
"May this book help all of us put on 'Jewish glasses' as we look upon the Jewish Messiah." Itzhak Shapira
There are five parts to this book to allow the reader to weigh the evidence.
Part 1: The framework of Judaism. It includes an introduction to the parameters of Jewish apologetics and Jewish understanding of the Scriptures.
Part 2: Identification. What are the charges made against Yeshua of Natzeret (Jesus)? Are the charges valid?
Part 3: Evidence supporting the case of a Divine Messiah.
Part 4: Exploration of external resources related to the identity of the Messiah.
Part 5: Reconciliation. A proposal of reconciliation between traditional Judaism and a Divine Messiah.
What does this book mean by a Kosher Pig? The pig represents the symbol of uncleanness to the Jew. In their eyes, Christians and even Messianic Jews are unkosher in their faith. It is considered idolatry to believe that God would take the form of a man. So in the eyes of modern Jewish thought and Orthodoxy, the idea that a Divine Messiah would share honor with HaShem (God) and the authority to forgive sins cannot be tolerated. Challenging this view is what could make the "pig" kosher. The goal of this book is to bring the "pig" back to the people of Israel through reconciliation.
If you are like me and are unfamiliar with most Hebrew and Aramaic terminology, there are extensive footnotes and a glossary in the back that can be printed to aid in reading the book. In addition, expect a thorough treatment with plenty of examples of the belief systems and thought processes of the many writings available. It is not light reading. Be prepared for a worthwhile challenge.
I do not have theological training to do any analysis of the content on my own. However, I was impressed with the organization of the content, the clarity of thought and the reasonableness and logic behind the author's conclusions. I can see how this research would be a valuable resource for Christians and Jews alike. For those who would like to gain a broader perspective of Judaism's teachings about their Messiah, this is a must read.
Overall, this is a thought provoking work of research worth our attention. It has the potential to bridge many chasms, should the Lord God Almighty be willing to use this book for the purpose of reconciliation. My prayer is that it will help to open the eyes of its readers, provide more appreciation for God's Scriptures, and challenge our hearts to break out of our comfortable way of thinking to embrace God's work of reconciliation wherever He leads us.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC)on behalf of Lederer Books: A division of Messianic Jewish Publications. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."