Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Conversations with an Atheist Jew (Part II)


*This is part II of an undetermined number in this series.

I’ve asked Harvey to assist me in creating a few posts. He is a Jew by birth and is familiar with Jewish tradition.  Having asked him to guest post he asked that I add a disclaimer:

Please note that although I was and remain a Jew, I have been a total non-believer in the Abrahamic or any other God since my early twenties. I am a Jew only by accident of birth and ethnic tradition. I believe that I understand traditional Jewish attitudes towards their God and ethical issues, but only in the academic sense. I can still read Biblical Hebrew and some Aramaic, but I am by no means a Rabbi. I have read the new testament perhaps 4 or 5 times over the years (since my wife of 30 years is Lutheran) and the Koran twice (in English, of course).

I’ve really become quite interested in the traditional Jewish perspective on God and the differences between Judaism and Christianity.  Even if I come out of this agnostic and/or atheist I think this interest will continue.  Christianity is supposed to be an outflow and moreover a fulfillment of traditional Judaism.  The more I dig and the more I learn the more I’ve come to recognize that Christianity, at least modern Christianity, is so far from that idea that it’s hardly recognizable as even relating to Judaism.  In that vein I asked Harvey more questions.  

Me:  What is the Orthodox Jewish idea of Messiah?  Why doesn’t Jesus fit this idea?


Jesus fails to meet the Biblical requirements generally accepted by traditional Jews as the promised Messiah.
1) The Messiah predicted/promised in the Torah will be an Earthly King or leader, who will gather together all of the forces of good to fight a final battle with the forces of evil at Meggido (“Armegeddon”). Once the forces of good have triumphed, God will establish his kingdom on the Earth. Jesus never did any of these promised things.
2) The promised Messiah will be descended from the “House of David”. This implies direct descent from King David. Joseph, the husband of Mary was so descended, but, if we are to accept the accounts in The New Testament, Joseph WAS NOT Jesus’ father. Moreover, in Biblical times lineal descent for the purposes of inheritance was calculated through the Mother’s lineage, not the Father’s. We have no record to suggest that Mary was of the House of David.
3) No mention of execution, resurrection, or “return” appears in the Torah accounts that Christians choose to accept as evidence for the Messiahship  of Jesus.
In short, orthodox Judaism simply does not see the Jesus of Christianity as meeting the criteria set down.

Me:  Is there a basis for a suffering servant Messiah in traditional Judaism?  What is the traditional Jewish Interpretation of Isaiah 53?


Jewish scholars do not put the same interpretation or importance on Isaiah that Christian apologists seem to do. Since they do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth meets most of the criteria of Messiahship, I am not aware (remember, I am by no means either a Rabbi, nor am I currently studying Tanakh) that Jewish scholars spend much time on this particular statement in Isaiah.

Me: What is the traditional Jewish view of the afterlife?  Heaven and hell?


The definition of Heaven most widely accepted by Orthodox/traditional Jews is “being in the presence of God” after death. In fact, the “reward” for having lived a righteous  life (obeying God’s commandments) is simply having lived such a life. Heaven is not a place or locale. In fact, the concept of Heavenly “reward” is largely a Christian concept, which makes sense if one believes that the acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice for forgiveness of sins is the main requirement for entry into Heaven, rather than “good works”,  The Jewish concept of Hell, on the other hand, is simply “separation from the Lord”.  Jewish tradition places much greater emphasis upon one’s relationships with one’s fellow men in this life than upon what may or may not come in the hereafter. I have always felt that it is worthy of note that the majority of the Ten Commandments deal with human relationships, rather than with our relationship with God.

I’m finding Harvey’s answers to my questions particularly interesting. The Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah should give pause to Christians.  Yet because of a few scriptures in the New Testament this rejection has been accepted by Christians as necessary to the gentiles being grafted into God’s family.  I still ponder why this would be so.  The traditional Jewish understanding of the afterlife speaks neither to exclusivism, inclusivism, or universalism.  It makes much more sense to me that the emphasis for any system of theology would be placed on treatment of fellow man and creation than on some ridiculous hand washing, animal sacrificing, human sacrificing appeasement of a deity.   What say ye?


14 thoughts on “Conversations with an Atheist Jew (Part II)

  1. D'Ma:You seem to have misplaced my original answer to your question about Isaiah;Jewish scholars do not put the same interpretation or importance on Isaiah that Christian apologists seem to do. Since they do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth meets most of the criteria of Messiahship, I am not aware (remember, I am by no means either a Rabbi, nor am I currently studying Tanakh) that Jewish scholars spend much time on this particular statement in Isaiah.


  2. My apologies. I've corrected this now. My mouse, computer and I were having a battle of wills. I lost evidently 😦


  3. Fascinating! These arguments suggest that Christianity's links to Judaism are tenuous at best, since they've neglected key parts of Judaism's predictions for the Messiah.


  4. "What is the Orthodox Jewish idea of Messiah? Why doesn't Jesus fit this idea?"A few more reasons why Jesus doesn't fit. (Note at the outset that what we call the Old Testament varies a fair amount from the Jewish version.)1) There was already provision for the Gentile to be saved in OT writings.2) The messiah was to be a normal man, making sin offerings for his own sins.3) The bloodline of Jesus (son of God but bloodline of Joseph is neat comedy, that is some randy deity, and BTW how do you go about verifying Mary's virginity?) as recorded in NT shows him descended from a bastard, and from foreign ancestry, neither of which is even permitted to enter the temple according to Jewish law,4)The messiah was not to abolish the law, but in the time of the messiah the law would be perfectly obeyed because it would be written on the heart. The law is God's ETERNAL statutes.5)The consumption of blood is forever an abomination. The Eucharist is thus unacceptable. 6) The Jews didn't seem to notice Jesus. The first Christians, the Ebionites, were a law compliant Jewish sect, not taken much notice of by the remaining Jews. Any Jewish writing about Jesus occurs 2 or 3 hundred years after his supposed life, mainly in response to the Christian writings.I am sorry for waxing prolix. However, you asked:-)


  5. No need for apologies, Ex. Thanks for your insights. Some of these reasons I had seen before and half expected to see them in Harvey's answer to the question. This is the purpose of this series, to generate discussion and gain insights. 🙂


  6. Definitely. Christianity doesn't look anything like what I'd expect it to given that it should tie in so closely with Judaism.


  7. Hi DMA. What an interesting perspective! Thank you, Harvey, for the guest post. May I ask Harvey, about something I have been suspecting for the last few years. One of the Christian apologetic books that I read that helped kick me out of the Christian Faith was Herbert Lockyer’s, All The Messianic Prophecies of the Bible. The stuff that Lockyer came up with in that book was so contrived, so implausible, so cockamaymee crazy that I wondered then, even as a Christian, if there was really any such thing as a Jewish notion of Messianic Prophecy at all! I wondered then, and still do, if the Jewish Faith, somewhere along the line, adopted the idea either from Christianity or from the same place the Christianity did (perhaps during the Maccabbean period). I suspect it more, after reading through the entire Old Testament again about two years ago, and looking for anything that I would traditionally call a Messianic Prophecy. I found nothing.So, with that said may I ask Harvey a few questions – maybe if I am lucky he can include them in a future article here!Harvey sez: The Messiah predicted/promised in the Torah will be an Earthly King or leader, who will gather together all of the forces of good to fight a final battle with the forces of evil at MeggidoHarvey, where is this promise located in the Torah? I can find no reference to Megiddo in the Old Testament, much less the Torah, as a place for a final battle. Of course, there is a final battle at “Armageddon” located in the Christian scriptures (Rev 16:16). Is this what you are referring to? Also Harvey, could you cite what, in the Torah or anywhere in the Old Testament, you or the Jewish tradition that you come from considers to be a genuine prophecy or prediction of a future Messiah? I thank you, and I really appreciate it.DMA asks: Is there a basis for a suffering servant Messiah in traditional Judaism? What is the traditional Jewish Interpretation of Isaiah 53? This is an outstanding question DMA, and one I would have asked Harvey as well. But unfortunately he does not answer it. Harvey says that Judaism does not consider Jesus to have fulfilled this passage, but neither does he explain what that traditional Jewish interpretation is! Could you ask him again, please?? I would really like to know!!Thanks again, DMA and Harvey!!


  8. exrelayman sez: The consumption of blood is forever an abomination. The Eucharist is thus unacceptable.That is a great point, and one I never noticed as a Christian. I was taught to believe that the sacrifices of the Torah pointed to the Person of Jesus, but how come I never noticed the Torah’s abhorrence of consuming blood? e.g. Lev 2:17, “[It shall be] a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.”or Lev 17:10-12, which is even more explicit:“And whatsoever man [there be] of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.For the life of the flesh [is] in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it [is] the blood [that] maketh an atonement for the soul.Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.”This stuff, which I never noticed until I critically read Leviticus in its entirety, in my mind rules out any notion of blood atonement. If God explicitly says that he will set his face against the soul that eats blood, that is a funny way of pointing to the Person of Jesus, who requires us to consume his blood (e.g. Matt 26:27-28)!Funny, the stuff they never read from the pulpit…


  9. I'm not Jewish, but in my study of the OT, it seems that Isaiah's suffering servant may either be one of the prophets, perhaps even Isaiah, or a representation of a group of people, kind of like elsewhere in Scripture where the Israelites are referred to figuratively as a virgin. I favor the group of people interpretation.Either way, it appears that this servant was keeping God's laws despite living in the sinful nation of Judah. When God could take no more sin, and had to punish the nation of Judah, this servant figure was caught up in God's wrath, which included exile.The servant figure continued to worship God and obey His laws to the extent possible while in exile. Thus, the other Hebrew diaspora who survived the exile process, and the Gentile nations which took them in, would be exposed to God.As part of the prophesy, God was going to bring all of the exiled Hebrews back to the land of Judah and the land of Israel. When this miracle occurred, it would refresh the faith of the lukewarm or divergent Hebrews as well as illuminate the power of God to the Gentiles. (After all, who could predict a dispersed and exiled nation of people would one day return to their land? It had to be God at work, right?) So this suffering servant would be a light to the Gentiles, showing them that devout worship of the one true God was actually beneficial, unlike worshiping idols.


  10. This passage from Isaiah is much more important to Christians than it is to Jews. If one is looking for corroboration of the belief that the Messiah has come and fits the "prophecy", passages like this can be very useful if they canj be "interpreted" to support such a belief.If not, we can easily understand the interpretations that you have put forward as likely, given the historical times when they were written.


  11. Please note my disclaimer. My studies of Torah and Tanakh were undertaken more than fifty years ago, and I have not been observant or concerned with much of this since. I have responded that the "suffering servant" does not elicit the same interest or notice from Jews that it apparently does to Christian Biblical scholars It seems to me that one's concern with this is directly proportional to how much one wants to "find" support for the ideas that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah predicted or foretold in Hebrew Scripture.


  12. Megiddo is mention several times in Torah, but, as I have now reviewed some of this after many years away from it, none of them refers to "the final battle". Although I remember discussions that touched on this subject when I studied Torah and Talmud in my youth, in which the outlines of the "Jewish" views of a Messiah were discussed, I am not certain that they derived from Torah or from apocryphal writings, perhaps even from Christian sopurces. discussed


  13. Yes, I'll pose the question a different way, maybe. I appreciate Harvey's insights, though he has been honest that while he understands the traditional Jewish view of God and the afterlife, he isn't a Rabbi and may not be able to adequately answer all of our questions. I have some other resources I'm working on as well. However, I think it very interesting and beneficial to be able to interact with someone who has practiced Judaism and now is ultimately atheist.


  14. Thanks for the reply, Harvey! I really appreciate reading a bit from your perspective.


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