Wednesday, February 5, 2014
My Most Un-Orthodox Rabbi
So here I am in a 12’ by 14’ shrine to the Brooklyn Dodgers, sitting directly across from a wooden seat from Ebbets Field, surrounded by every conceivable photo of Jackie Robinson stealing home, listening to a rabbi—my rabbi—talk passionately about his love for Jesus.
I wasn’t surprised by the content of the conversation. For years I’ve taken Rabbi David Zaslow’s classes and heard his talks on the subject of the historical Jesus and the Jewish roots of Christianity—and as much as I have loved him for that healing work—the impact of his distilled thoughts on me and the passion of his purpose feels as breathtaking as the mid-fall foliage.
Why? What’s different now? During those years, Reb David’s goal was to inspire Jews to reclaim Jesus as a teacher while lovingly correcting—and putting into context—the theological arguments used by Christian missionaries dedicated to the conversion of Jews and the salvation of their souls.
Responding from a well of personal pain and the pain of his people—our people—caused by these conversion attempts—his mission here and beyond has been one of peacemaker.
Before becoming a rabbi, when David was a high profile poet in the schools, he found himself routinely invited by local Christian congregations to speak, as an academic, about the poetry in the Bible. “I realized that I was on top of the prayer lists for people wanting me to accept Jesus,” he says. “I knew they were well-meaning people and that their caring was authentic. “‘It’s great that you love the theological Jesus who died for your sins,’” he would say to Christians. “‘And, at the same time, for the Jewish people, the historical Jesus will and can never be the son of God who is going to bring salvation for the Jewish people. “The historical Jesus was a man who would be seen as part of what would later be called ‘the rabbinic tradition,’” he says. “The wisdom he shared was drawn from existing Jewish texts and oral teachings.”
Originality wasn’t the point. “His great skill was to convey those teachings in original ways.” The miracles too, he adds, can be seen to have Old Testament antecedents. “I’m not telling Christians that they’re wrong; in fact, what I’m saying is that they are 100 percent right. It doesn’t have to be, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ I don’t approach it that way.”
In fact, Reb David imagines that if he had lived at the time of Jesus, he would himself have “been in the fields” listening to Jesus.
His work is “to bring Jews and Christians closer together, to show people how much more we have in common and to celebrate a new paradigm where diversity is celebrated. I want Jews who have ignored his teachings to reclaim Jesus as a native son of Judea, and I want Christians to appreciate that what is enough for us as Jews is never going to be enough for them. And that it doesn’t have to be enough.”
It is a paradox that Reb David holds both gently and lovingly. He relates it to the historic Brooklyn Dodgers of his youth. “When the Dodgers left Brooklyn, the saddest people in New York were the Yankee fans,” he tells me—as he’s frequently told the congregation— “It was an amazing rivalry.”
While Reb David is dropping into his baseball reverie, I can’t help but notice that among the hundreds of pieces of Brooklyn Dodger memorabilia are only a couple of small token photographs of Yankee players. (It’s time to admit that I too grew up in Brooklyn, in Flatbush, but as a die-hard Yankee fan.) When I call that to his attention, he acknowledges that Christians and Jews may be more likely to find true peace and understanding before his generation of New York Dodgers fans and New York Yankees fans.
at 7:07 AM