Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Sholem Asch’s Statement on Jesus Stirs Jewish Press; Clarification Demanded

February 11, 1944
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Sharp criticism of Sholem Asch, noted Jewish writer, is voiced in all leading Jewish newspapers for the opinions on religion he expressed in an interview given to the Christian Herald, during which he was asked why a man of his background should write on Jesus and Paul and why he didn’t choose to tell of Moses or Abraham.

An editorial in today’s issue of The Day, a Jewish daily, discloses that Asch was invited by the paper to state whether he repudiated the contenes of the interview to which the other Jewish papers had taken objection. Asch’s reply by telegram was: “I take responsibility for my written works only.” The editorial entitled “Whither Sholem Asch” expresses dissatisfaction with the writer’s evasive reply and declares that “Jewish public opinion will be compelled to issue a verdict that Sholem Asch, through his own words and behavior, has put himself outside the Jewish camp.” Similar sentiments are expressed in articles in the Jewish Morning Journal and in the Jewish Daily Forward.

“I couldn’t help writing on Jesus,” Mr. Asch is quoted in the interview as telling Frank S. Mead, editor of the Christian Herald. “Since I first met Him, He has held my mind and heart. I grew up, you know, on the border of Poland and Russia, which wasn’t exactly the finest place in the world for a Jew to sit down and write a life of Jesus Christ. Yet even through those years, the hope of doing just that fascinated me. I floundered a bit, at first; I was seeking that something for which so many of us search-that surety, that faith, that spiritual content in my living which would bring me peace and through which I might help bring some peace to others. I found it in The Nazarene.

“For Jesus Christ, to me, is the outstanding personality of all time, all history, both as Son of God and as Son of Man. Everything He ever said or did has value for us today, and that is something you can say of no other man, alive or dead. No other teacher-Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Mohammedan-is still a teacher whose teaching is such a guidepost for the world we live in. Yes, it is true that Buddha influenced millions, but it is also true that only about-shall we say-five percent of Buddha’s teaching has basic value for the Twentieth Century. One or another of these teachers may have something basic for an Oriental, or an Arab, or an Occidental, depending upon where his teaching is best preserved; but every act and word of Jesus has value for all of us, wherever we are. He became the Light of the World. Why shouldn’t I, a Jew, be proud of that?

“No other religious leader, either, has ever become so personal a part of people as The Nazarene. When you understand Jesus, you understand that he came to save you, to come into your personality. It isn’t just a case of a misty, uncertain relationship between a worshipper and an unseen God; that is abstract; Jesus is personal:”


Explaining that it took him 35 years to write the books “The Nazarene” and “The Apostle,” Mr. Asch is quoted in the Christian Herald as declaring:

“I suppose the final inspiration to write, the insistence that I write, came to me in Palestine. I saw that I could never write about Jesus until I went to his homeland, So I went, in 1907. Then the story really came alive. The whole landscape of the Holy Land held His footprints; every bush and tree and stone was afire with Christ. I made more pilgrimages to Palestine, later, but if you want a date, it was in 1908 that the real writing began.

“The beginning was tedious and hard. No man can write swiftly and easily of Jesus Christ, for no man can generalize about Him. There is no easy middle-ground to stroll upon. You either accept Jew as Christ, or you reject Him. You don’t ‘analyze’ Him. You can analyze Mohammed and Muhammadanism, Buddha and Buddhism, but don’t try it with Christ or Christianity. You can’t be impartial about either; you accept or you reject.


Asked whether he plans to write on Peter or James, Mr. Asch replied: “No, I have written what was in me to write. I have made my contribution, and I think I shall write no more,” He added that if he did choose to write again, he would write further on Jesus and Paul.

“I think it is time that we Jews and Christians found a closer kinship with each other,” he is quoted at stating. “Jews should know more, much more, about Christianity, and Christians need know more, much more, about Judaism. It is one of the most hopeful signs of times that both progressive Jews and Christians seem to be moving toward understanding. Who knows – maybe, some day, we shall be worshipping under one roof.”

Recommended from JTA