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How Jewish is your Jesus?

Last week a flight from New York to Louisville was diverted to Philadelphia when the flight crew saw a 17-year-old Orthodox Jew wearing a pair of tefillin (phylacteries) while praying. The flight attendant asked for, and received an explanation. Nonetheless, fearing a terrorist attack, police, officials from the FBI, and Transportation Security Administration stormed the plane, at gunpoint ordered everyone to put their hands up, and handcuffed the lad.

Jesus, it seems had tassels on the four corners of his outer robe (Mt. 9:20; 14:36; Mk. 6:56; Lk. 8:44), Jesus most probably wore tefillin (phylacteries) while praying, and almost certainly the Pharisees who disputed with him would have worn them all the time. Is this your image of Jesus? And if not, why not? Do we make Jesus into our own image, forgetting that he would feel pretty much at home in contemporary Jewish or Eastern Orthodox worship, and might feel a bit out of place in the “non-liturgical” worship that maybe most of those on the plane are used to?

It fascinates me, that as I was looking on the web for an image of Jesus wearing tefillin to add to this post: I could not find a single one {other than this one by (the Jewish) Chagall}. I asked my 46,000 followers on twitter. Not one of them could find an image of Jesus wearing tefillin either. Reinforcing the point of my above paragraph.

And if (as Christians) we don’t recognise the tefillin (phylacteries) from our interest in Jesus (and at least our reading of Matthew’s Gospel), what about our knowledge, respect, and understanding of other great World Faiths, not least the Jewish religion? Jews regularly wear tefillin (phylacteries) on planes flying into New York from Israel. New York is well known for its large, significant Jewish population. Surely knowing about Jewish prayer practice is an essential part of well-educated general knowledge?

In this video, Shmuly Tennenhaus demonstrates how one might pray using tefillin on an aeroplane without frightening ignorant passengers and crew.  As always, beneath good humour is a serious point. Enjoy.

Kippah/zuchetto/yarmulke tip to Seven whole days

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13 thoughts on “How Jewish is your Jesus?”

  1. Thank You. It was very interesting material. I never have seen how tous tefillin before. You are right, so often we “make Jesus into our own image”.

  2. I wish I thought this was funny. On a recent trip from LA to Texas the man ahead of me in the security line was questioned at great length about the items in his suitcase, which included tefillin and prayer shawl as well as books in Hebrew. It was obvious to me that he was an Orthodox Jew – there’s something about the black suit, hat, yamulke and full beard that is pretty unmistakable. And I’m not Jewish. But the TSA decided he was a suspicious character and took him aside for a full search of luggage and person. Maybe airport security personnel should be provided with pictures of some of the more common religious attire, accoutrement and practices to save time and aggravation – and egg-on-the-face when they divert a plane because a teenager is praying.

  3. I have just returned from a trip to Israel and Palestine where I gained an understanding of the geography in which Jesus lived. It takes more than an hour to drive from Jerusalem to Nazareth on a good highway. How long would that walk have taken? And the terrain is all hills!
    We need to understand both the culture and geography to fully appreciate the teachings of our Lord.

    1. I totally agree, Ian. And between Galilee and Judea lay Samaria. We have had centuries of confusion, for example, by translating “Judeans” as “Jews” – missing the geographic context. Jesus and his followers were clearly distinctive as Galileans.

      1. A similar comment provoked me once (as a Yorkshireman by birth and part-Jewish by ancestry) to have a go at translating “Judeans” as “Southerners.” It may not be accurate (OK, it’s NOT accurate) but it certainly gave me something to think about.

  4. >>forgetting that he would feel pretty much at home in contemporary Jewish or Eastern Orthodox worship, and might feel a bit out of place in the “non-liturgical” worship that maybe most of those on the plane are used to<<

    Forgive my ignorance, but how much do we know about the liturgy/ritual used in the Temple and synagogues and how do we know it? Obviously there were sacrifices in the Temple and the scriptures were read aloud and commented on in synagogues, but beyond that what evidence is there? Are there contemporary descriptions of worship or is it a matter of reading back from contemporary or medieval practice and expanding from the rules in the Pentateuch?

    1. Robert, there is a vast and increasing amount of knowledge and scholarly work on first century CE Jewish worship and the context in which Jesus lived. There are, of course, some areas that are debated – eg., off the top of my head, did the synagogue follow a 1 year or a 3 year lectionary? A search on first century Judaism, or time spent in a good (theological) library should get you started on this fascinating area. It can transform our understanding significantly.

  5. Thanks for this. I have been thinking a lot about how Jewish Jesus was, and how little of that understanding of him can be found in modern evangelical circles. To be quite honest, it feels that I am being put at odds with my own home church with this and other thoughts.

  6. This is an very interesting question! I am just completing the writing of a new book, “Advent of Messiah”. One of the things the book does is show how Jesus fulfilled the many prophecies of the Jewish prophets in the Tanakh, (Hebrew Bible or Old Testament). Jesus is the Messiah promised to the Jewish people!

    Isaiah wrote;

    6 For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

    7 Of the increase of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
    establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the LORD Almighty
    will accomplish this.

    Isaiah 9:6 NIV

    Since Christ is the English word translated from the Greek word Christos that is translated from the Hebrew word Messias (meaning anointed) translated in English now as Messiah. So as a Christian we are a Messiahian, that is a believer and follower of Jesus the Messiah.

    Chris Tomlin sings “Jesus Messiah” http://tinyurl.com/yf3x4z8

  7. Yeshua ha Messhiach is his name for most Jewish Christians.
    I am one and people find this really confusing. I don’t think anyone who wrote on this page would have problems with this.

    Raised the kdis in Episcopal church and they are still very Jewish in their personal faith and their friends get it. Even the Chabad rabbi my daughter is friends with understands her “mixed” faith.

    I would love to know more about 1st century liturgy, but Catholic and Episcopal liturgy is very like synogogue I grew up in, singing, bread and wine, psalms, bible reading, liturgical year. I read most Jews who follow Jesus go to Catholic or Episcopal church.

    As for airlines and orthodox Jews, shame on them.

  8. There is a three volume vhs video on the life of Yeshua/Jesus by Readers Digest. In the second video there is section where it shows him praying with talit and tefillin. This I found cool and in my studies of the lifestyle of Yeshua finding him to be a observant orthodox Jew it is one of the reasons that I engage in the practice of laying tefillin yours in Yeshua’s love Steven

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