Jewish Bookstore Pt 2


California mission

I left off in the Jewish bookstore part 1, frustrated because Avi believed the reason Jews rejected Jesus as the messiah was because he was a pagan, therefore they chose fidelity to God, rather than allowing Jesus to lead them into paganism. Oy!

To be clear, I didn’t go to the Jewish bookstore to talk about Jesus. I’m comfortable with who I am (Christian),with who Jesus is (messiah), and I’ve done the searching and studying long ago. I don’t walk up to strangers and just start a conversation, especially about something as personal as religion; in other words, I wasn’t there to impose my beliefs on Avi.

If I could summarize the spiritual focus and intent of my adult life in a single word, it would be congruency: learning to live what I claim to believe. I’m rebellious, so it hasn’t always been the easiest task. The quote commonly attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi comes to mind as my goal:

“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

So, I responded to Avi that “No, Jesus was not pagan”, but I also told him that I understood why he would think he was.

My friend James challenged my remark to Avi in part 1, saying that he couldn’t understand how anyone would think that Jesus was a pagan, since there’s literally nothing in the historical record  that would support that conclusion and he is, of course, correct. James pointed out that it’s one thing for Avi to reject Jesus as the messiah, and another thing entirely to claim he was a pagan!

(James and I share some things in common: we’re both non-Jews married to Jewish spouses, we’re fiercely protective of them and the Jewish people, and we love Jesus who we believe is the Jewish messiah. There are inherent conflicts that come with the territory of straddling these two worlds; we don’t fit neatly in to any one group without some friction. Disliked or discounted in some places, merely tolerated in others, and hated elsewhere, it can be uncomfortable at times.)

Back to the bookstore.

Why Would Anyone Think Jesus Is A Pagan?

To explain my answer, let me turn the situation around: If you’re a Christian, can you list the differences between Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Judaism? Most Christians cannot, but the difference is significant.


A client texted me as we toured this CA mission. I looked above the alter & saw Mary’s black dress and the severe displeasure on her face and got scared…

Turning it around, is it unreasonable to think religious Jews wouldn’t necessarily differentiate between the branches of Christianity, especially regarding Catholics and Protestants?

Then consider something like iconography. Is it not explicitly forbidden to Jews, by God Himself? And, is our world not permeated with representations of Jesus hanging on a cross, statues of saints, and the “holy Mary mother of God” crying in Brazil and Bangladesh, etc. and undereducated Christians practicing witchcraft in some parts of the world? For Evangelicals with short memories (or zero church history) isn’t Catholicism, who has employed icons, not 1500 years older than Protestantism? Of course, this is only part of the problem, there’s also the issue of Jesus’ divinity.

But, newsflash, his divinity is not truly an issue anymore, if looked at through a historic, first century, Second Temple Jewish lens. Yep, you read that right. Constantine did not, I repeat, did not decree divinity upon Jesus at the Council of Nicaea. Let’s put that fabrication to rest.

After my bookstore confession, (that I could never give up Jesus), Avi and I got deeper into discussion. His biggest assumption was that a Jew, my hubby, wouldn’t keep Shabbat, or keep Kosher, if he was married to Gentile me. (We talked about other implications too, but I won’t here.)

One trait common to religious Jews, and something I love, is that they’re not afraid to disagree and “argue” about religious issues; neither am I. Questioning has never been a problem for me and if this were the only criteria, I’d be an honorary Jew, cum laude. :-)

snowbaby1_edited-1So, I disagreed with Avi and told him my husbands identity is something I cherished and zealously guarded, therefore, I don’t undermine it (anymore) and do everything I can to support him. And, my identity is God-given too. Properly negotiated, our relationship models, generally, what I believe God intended in the first place, which is mutual blessing; for He is the God of all people. (My daughter becoming fluent in Hebrew was a factor, direct interaction with the original language had major implications for our family).

I explained to Avi that some of the most compelling arguments that rehabilitate Jesus from the blond-haired, blue-eyed, anything but a Jew, “pagan” that he’s been depicted as, into the reality of the Torah-keeping pious Jew he truly was[is], are coming from religious Jewish scholars such as: Daniel Boyarin, Mark Nanos, Amy Jill-Levine, Paula Fredrickson, Shaye Cohen, Michael Wyschogrod, and Pamela Eisenbaum, to name a few. This is not to say I agree with all of their conclusions, for I do not, but their contribution to the scholarship on Jesus (and Paul) is nothing short of amazing.

(The Christian world has their scholars too, whose work helps create a clearer picture of Jesus and Judaism in a proper historic context without the thick layers of anti-Semetic muck laid down by Church Fathers: R. Kendall Soulen, Richard Bauckham, Darell Bock, Markus Bockmuehl, Magnus Zetterholm, Oskar Skarsaune, Craig Keener, Craig Blaising and so on, and popular books from Lois Tverberg.[sadly, apparently it takes a long time to filter down to the seminaries and ‘masses’] Then there’s the Messianic Jewish scholars who are blazing trails as we speak. Brilliant minds like Dr. Mark Kinzer, David Rudolph and Carl Kinbar, but this is going far afield of my conversation with Avi).

us_edited-1I can see Avi’s perplexed. Like I said, I don’t fit into any box. The phone rings for the third time, and for the third time he leaves to answer it. This time I figure I’ve seen the last of him, and to be honest, I’m relieved. I really don’t want to offend him. I’m also a mamma bear and very protective of my marriage (of over 20 years), and my Lord, who has literally saved my life. I’m feeling conflicted…but  perhaps now I can freely peruse the commentaries.

Avi hangs up the phone and the next thing I know, he is standing next to me.

“So, what’s your story? Why would you need to keep believing in Jesus anyway, what’s the big deal?”

Honestly, it’s not everyday someone asks me why I believe in Jesus. In fact, I’ve only been asked that question a handful of times. I’ve been a mom and career woman since my early 20’s so I’ve spent my adult life learning to understand God in life’s trenches, so to speak. Mostly I’ve been ridiculed for being “dumb” enough to believe in him, so I’ve worked out more of a defensive response.

I tried to explain, but my story isn’t a dramatic sound bite. Although I “believed” in God and Jesus as a very little girl, my story has unfolded over time and isn’t easy to articulate. The first thing I could think of was being a youngster and reading John 3:16, which I assumed he wouldn’t know.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” KJV

After almost an hour in the bookstore it was time to leave. I thanked Avi for the great—and, in spite what you may think, friendly—conversation. Then I wrapped two scarves around my neck and ducked out onto the snowy sidewalk. But Avi’s question has stuck with me ever since: why can’t I give up Jesus?

The answer to that will be coming soon…

Up next: My thoughts on the Son Of God Movie

24 thoughts on “Jewish Bookstore Pt 2

  1. Avi is so fortunate to have run into such a believing person as yourself, Ruth. You left thinking and left him thinking, most likely, as well. It increasingly occurs to me that it is the question marks we plant in a person’s mind that matter, not our profound recitation of the “answers” replete with multiple explanation points!!!!!!! (Grammatical pun intended :)).

    Helen Levinson, a dear and beloved acquaintance of mine and survivor of the Lublin ghetto and Majdanek concentration camp, was speaking before a group of Christian homeschoolers I did a series of workshops with and was asked by a very bright, blonde haired, blue-eyed goy (read also: “guy”): “So what do you think of Christianity now?” We’d been discussing the role of bystanders. Without batting an eyelash, Helen said something I never expected nor forgot. She said [paraphrased], “I’m a Jew and so was Jesus. They crucified millions of Jews, and Jesus was one of them. If he’d have lived in Poland they’d have gassed him along with the rest of us. And, by the way, when they crucified him, Jesus didn’t know that he was a Christian.” I nearly fell out of my chair. It was the oddest way I’d ever heard such a profound statement expressed. Think about it.

    “When they crucified him, Jesus didn’t know he was a Christian.”

    Oy vey. Doesn’t that just somehow cut to the marrow of things? Again, oy vey.

    So there are some Jewish folks who’ve survived the Christian attempt to de-Judaize Jesus. But I understand Avi’s view of Yeshua, as you do. How could you not think that Jesus was an extremely handsome, “ripped” Christian who spoke with a British accent?

    Avi is like Joseph’s brothers. And, I imagine the “Jesus” of “Son of God” fame will likely promote the notion that Jesus is a Hollywood rock star dude with, of course, a British accent. But then, my cynicism is showing. I look forward to your take on it… Keep up the good work… I appreciate the sharing of your thoughts very much.

    Signed, The Messianic (and, to many, Enigmatic) Irishman


    • Dan, you do break the mold, now don’t you. Instead of carousing, drinking up the paycheck and getting into fisticuffs at the local pub, you go defending Jews? You know I love ya! :-)

      Helen is amazing, and 100% correct. I love that, thanks for sharing it. I’ll give a hearty Oy Vey too!

      And yes, I’ll have some things to share about hot, hunky, Jesus!


      • As for breakin’ the mold, lassie, I try, dear heart, I do indeed try. :) Sure’n it’s true the Lord has a special place in His heart for the maverick…

        Yes, the fisticuffs period of life was good training for the defending-the-Jews period (and that’s no blarney, either!) When the Irish come a-calin’ with their shillelagh in -hand (and I have a small collection of them) those that would come against our spiritual brethren best fun for cover! :)


  2. Who’s to say that your meeting with Avi that day wasn’t arranged by God? I’m not saying it was or wasn’t, but Avi could have done a lot of things like ignored you or kicked you out of the story. Why continue to bug you? Sure, the most likely explanation is that he wanted to convince you that he was right and you were wrong. He also may have been put out that a Christian would be married to a Jew and wanted to get in a few digs. But you persisted and discussed Jesus with him reasonably and he may ponder that for awhile. He may not, but that’s his choice. God can arrange the meeting, but He won’t override free will.

    “When they crucified him, Jesus didn’t know he was a Christian.”

    That’s funny and tragic all at the same time, Dan. The reality in the statement is that Jesus wasn’t a Christian and never would be. He was a Jew and he is a Jew.

    I’ve always wished it were possible to make a “Messianic Jewish” version of a film about Yeshua. Pick an actor who obviously looks Jewish/Middle Eastern. Make him average looking, maybe kind of short, and definitely not ripped (Jesus didn’t have a membership to Gold’s Gym). Give the part to an actor who has absolutely nothing going for him in the looks department, but make him a terrific public speaker with lots of internal charisma.

    Then you’ll have Yeshua ben Yosef.


  3. I’m guessing that the first picture above is supposed to be based on Rev 12: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars, Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.”


    • I couldn’t say. There was so much to choose from and I don’t understand it all myself. Especially angry Mary in a black lace dress high in the center of the church. It was creepy but at the same time, this is for very primitive people.


  4. Been reading your blog for a while, I think this is my first comment. I appreciate this story (both parts). Your chutzpah is amazing. I live in San Francisico and everyone here including our very small Jewish population are so appathetic to what others believe or do a interaction like this is rare, unlike NY where you can walk down the diamond district and possibly spend all day in conversations about faith.

    I work on a testimony series called Journeys of Faith in which Jews share their stories of how they came to believe in Yeshua as Messiah and almost every story involves a willing sometimes reluctant Gentile first telling them that Jesus is a Jew. Amazing.

    I hope you can continue developing a relationship with Avi and someday he has a two part story to tell of Gentile who first told him Jesus is a Jew.

    Be blessed

    Sean Trank


    • Hi Sean, and thank you for commenting.
      I’m pretty conflicted about the subject since the “great divorce” of Christianity and Judaism has, by and large, required Jews who acknowledge Jesus as messiah to be absorbed into the church, and all that it entails. Of course this generally means the loss of Jewish identity very quickly… I’m so sick of suppersessionism and the unsustainable theology of the annulled covenant that I just cringe at the thought of Jews becoming Christians. Yet, I want to redeem Jesus’ reputation as well. It’s not an easy road, nevertheless, I’m on it and trying to find my way.
      Blessings to you!


  5. I attend a small prayer study at a local synagogue. It’s Reform. The conversations are very enlightening and many times I come home knowing I’ve been in the Presence of Hashem. We’ve talked about Jesus several times and the consensus is that yes, He walked the face of Israel, yes He was a Jew, and yes they all would loved to have met him because He seemed to have it all together. Dang that he got tangled up with the political types who snuffed out his life. And the clincher is, if He did come back today, where would he go? With a chuckle, all say, a synagogue of course. Not a church, that’s for sure.


    • Anisavta,
      Thank you for sharing this. I agree, His presence is felt, and I wish more Christians understood what they’ve cut themselves off from. While I agree that what happens in a synagogue would be far more familiar to him than church, I also believe he would go and help get some things sorted out. There will be plenty of sifting and sorting to do when Messiah comes!


  6. Ruth, as for that first picture, I grew up Catholic: altar boy/choir boy, 12 years of Catholic school which was then primarily nuns and priests. One parish priest nicknamed me “the Pope” because I knew the liturgy of the Mass backwards and forwards and was the only kid who LIKED serving 7AM Mass on schooldays. I used to read Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s “Life of Christ” to my neighborhood friends around my kitchen table. They really appreciated that. Sheen was my hero. He had his own TV show – a story-telling Irishman who told jokes and wore a flowing cape – all at the same time. Bishop Sheen, Johnny Unitas and Carl Yasztremski were my heroes. I was even approached by a Catholic priest in a sexually predatory way in a situation that I was able to bring to a close without anything occurring. He was ultimately defrocked. My only regret was that I never had the nerve to report him and he did attempt to molest one other classmate, so I later discovered. My Catholic experience was, I suppose you could say, exhaustive.

    The statue of Mary is tragically hilarious, as James rightly remarks about Helen’s statement, as it represents to so many Jewish people the strange and bizarre doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, which they think of as “Christianity-in general.” What normal person would not think such things were strange, hilarious? Only those born into the Catholic faith really have the wherewithal to embrace such things seriously. I was absolutely captivated and enthralled by the mystery and drama of the Catholic faith.

    On the other hand, 15 years ago I moved back from LA to the childhood community in upstate NY that I grew up in and see my parent’s Catholic friends all the time. I love them all. Each and every one of them. They are GOOD people who fought for the country in the wars and who have done all that they could to raise a family the best they knew how according to the religion they were born into. They supported the American Legion and Knights of Columbus. They upheld good, biblical morals. And, they believe in Jesus as God, if from a distance.These people are the salt of the earth to me and represent to me all that is good and wholesome and right in this world. God has a place for them, I truly believe He does.

    Mary needs a total and complete makeover, for sure. :)


    • “My Catholic experience was, I suppose you could say, exhaustive.”
      Oh, Dan, you’re not kidding, I’m so sorry!

      Seriously, my intention is not to throw Catholics under the bus, I am a wannabe, as my cousin reminds me! :-) And this is a CA mission, the icons are so much better-looking in Italy! Anyway, the illiterate people need images, and my real point is that coming from a Jewish perspective, this is highly pagan, so it isn’t such a stretch as to why they would come to the conclusion that Jesus, or Christianity in general is pagan.

      As far as a Mary makeover, omg, that’s hilarious!


  7. Ruth, you are so right, the wood and stone images of Jesus and saints are enough to scare the daylights out of most people. I think one of Chaim Potok’s [Jewish] characters talks about walking by the Catholic church in his neighborhood in Brooklyn and crossing the street, I think, being spooked-out by the statue of Mary in the church yard. And the appearance of these images wasn’t the most disturbing aspect of them; they represented the antisemitism that embodied the organization behind the images.

    @James: The idea of a Messianic Jewish produced movie about Jesus is a good tone. It reminds me of the time when Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” came out and I was invited by the local synagogue, along with other representatives of the various Christian communities in the city, to view the movie together then meet at the synagogue (Reform) for a little nosh and discussion. I was looking forward to a fantastic conversation with a host of real clergy types. It was a great idea, but then the cantor of the synagogue and the Orthodox priest got hooked on the subject of the impact of the schism of 1054 while the rest of us listened. However, the refreshments were above average. :)


    • I was attending our little Conservative/Reform synagogue during that time period. On the Shabbat before the film was released, everyone there was scared to death about the impact of this movie. After every passion play, there’s a pogrom. We didn’t see huge anti-Semitism in the U.S., but anti-Jewish sentiments spiked in some European communities, and I understand Arafat liked Gibson’s “Passion” very much.


      • It was my experience that no matter how thorough you were in explaining to Christians the intrinsic problems with Gibson’s movie, most defended it to the hilt and all but accused critics of blasphemy. The problem, of course? An EPIC ignorance of the history of the violence triggered by the European passion plays and the history of Christian antisemitism in general.

        It was quite easy, once back at the synagogue, for Cantor Rosenfield and Father Michael, et al, to evade direct discussion of the issue, as the doorknob to Christian awareness concerning its dark anti-Jewish past obviously has a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from it. Something that needs attention despite the documented indifference of the Church. We must not just refrain from participating with darkness, but also expose it, as Paul writes to the Ephesians.

        Yes, Arafat’s review of the movie would have been an interesting piece to read. Jews abusing another Jew with extreme, lethal injustice. A whole-hearted, enthusiastic endorsement from the Nobel Peace Prize winner, I’m sure. May his legacy as a manifestation of Amalek forever live on throughout time and space. And his popcorn forever remain un-popped.


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