Jews today and Jesus’s Jewish body

Jesus not only was a Jew, but according to Christian theology, Jesus is still a Jew.

An actor portraying Jesus Christ takes part in Passion Play as part of Good Friday celebrations at the Sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska near Krakow, Poland April 19, 2019. (photo credit: AGENCJA GAZETA/ADRIANNA BOCHENEK VIA REUTERS)
An actor portraying Jesus Christ takes part in Passion Play as part of Good Friday celebrations at the Sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska near Krakow, Poland April 19, 2019.
(photo credit: AGENCJA GAZETA/ADRIANNA BOCHENEK VIA REUTERS)
There are, without doubt, many challenging moments to motherhood. It’s a steep learning curve of sleepless nights, busy days, and learning as the years go on how to both hold on and let go. And for the Jewish mother, there are some distinctive joys and challenges that accompany parenting from this particular space.
Our eldest child is a boy. He was born sleepy and perfect. I counted all his toes and fingers, kept looking him over carefully, overwhelmed by this miracle.
So suffice it to say that eight days later, when – surrounded by friends and family in our living room no less – his tiny, precious body was approached by a knife, well, I was not very impressed. By which I mean that I had to be escorted gently from my son’s circumcision because apparently I had turned white and started to swoon as he was ushered into the covenant between our people and God. That day he received the name we had kept secret but we parents already knew.
I write this on January 1, eight days after December 25.
The Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus has been celebrated by Christians for centuries. It is still on the liturgical calendar of many denominations and churches. While sometimes this aspect of the day is subsumed under the octave of the nativity or the naming of Jesus, the event of Jesus’s circumcision is unforgettable for Christians rooted as it is firmly in the New Testament.
The gospel of Luke, 2:21 is utterly clear on this: “At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The theme is not an uncommon one in Christian art, and several churches historically asserted their possession of Jesus’s foreskin as a relic, sometimes several at the same time.
That Jesus was a Jew is a fact that most Christians are aware of, if you ask them.
But the implications of that fact of Jesus’s Jewishness are often more difficult to think through. Jesus was a Jew. That means his body was marked – like that of all our Jewish sons, fathers, husbands – in the generative organ with the sign of our people’s covenant with God.
JESUS NOT only was a Jew, in a historical sense, but even now, according to Christian belief seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, Jesus’s body is one that is still now marked as Jewish. Jesus not only was a Jew, but according to Christian theology, Jesus is a Jew.
This is significant for many reasons, and an important fact upon which for Christians to reflect. But today it is more than just significant, it is essential. Because Jewish bodies are again vulnerable bodies. Within living memory of the genocide of six million, we read ongoing, terrifying streams of reports of Jews being attacked, being threatened, being murdered. Rather than “never again” it seems in fact to be open season on Jewish bodies, all over again. And all this is happening in what is at least nominally, the Christian West.
Christians must take an active place in the fight against this dark, creeping hatred of Jews. A recognition that something acutely Jewish pulsates at the heart of Christianity will help to make antisemitism something truly foreign, unthinkable even, for Christians. Reflecting on Jesus’s Jewishness in a serious way, and on the connection between the circumcised body of Christ and the bodies of the Jews being humiliated, intimidated and slaughtered in homes, in synagogues and in the streets today is a powerful part of that.
The rejection of antisemitism must become a deep and organic reality for Christians, something more than just “the right thing to do.” When rejecting antisemitism also becomes also a matter of protecting of the actual heart, the core of Christianity – that is when truly it will be impossible, as Pope Francis has said, to be a Christian and an antisemite.
So I call on all Christians, on this and each January 1st, as you are sleeping off headaches or enjoying the last days of vacation, to also take the time to reflect deeply on the day, on the circumcision and naming of Jesus (did Mary feel faint and need to be supported by a friend?) on Jesus’s Jewishness, and on the safety and security of the Jews right in front of you, today.
The writer is the director for the Israel Center for Jewish-Christian Relations and a fellow at the Philos Project. She also holds a research fellowship at the Center for the Study of Religions at Tel Hai College and can be contacted at [email protected]