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From the Archive: Rabbis for Jesus?

The New York Times noted what it called “a surprising finding” from the Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews: 34 percent of respondents said that a person could still be Jewish if he or she believes that Jesus is the Messiah. Jewish leaders though have also at times expressed views about Jesus that caused surprise — and even outrage — among their co-religionists.

In 1925, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, founder of the Free Synagogue in New York, faced a global maelstrom after allegedly suggesting that “Jews must accept the teachings of Jesus” and “the teachings of Jesus are an unparalleled code of ethics.” The alleged remarks garnered attention from as far as Poland, and the incident led to calls to him for quit his role as the head of the United Palestine Appeal. Wise denied making the remarks that had been attributed to him in newspaper reports and disavowed them.

A decade later, in 1936, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath of Toronto made waves with his own statement about Jesus. JTA reported:

Jewish circles were discussing today the statement of Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath in the Holy Blossom Synagogue yesterday in which he declared that it was high time the Jews of the world accepted Jesus as a prophet. Calling upon Jew and Christian to unite in the cause of a common humanity, he described Christ “as the towering figure that will lead them gently into this comradeship and fellowship with those multitudes that find in this gentle Jew the profoundest object of their reverence and esteem.”

Eisendrath went on to lead the Reform Jewish movement in America for 30 years, from 1943 until his death in 1973. In 1963, he elaborated upon his views about Jesus:

“Needless to say, Jews never can and never will accept Jesus as the Messiah or as the Son of God,” he stated. “But, despite this constant reality, there is room for improved understanding and openness to change in interpreting Jesus as a positive and prophetic spirit in the stream of the Jewish tradition.” He urged Jewish scholars to examine “our own statements, our own facts, our own interpretations of the significance of the life of Jesus, the Jew.”

Here is a blog post about a 1929 sermon by Eisendrath that touches on his approach to Jesus and Christianity.

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