It is usually easy for a Jew to recognize a fellow Jew by his cultural ties, his religious convictions, or his national identity. In the case of Jesus his Jewishness comes through loud and clear in the Gospels notwithstanding much negations, confusion and contradictions. Despite the conflicting pictures of Jesus and Judaism, or perhaps, because of them, the essential and recurrent theme of Jesus' Jewish affiliation stands out in his actions and statements. Here are a few characteristic verses:
While the Gospel writers inserted certain non- or anti-Jewish notes in these and subsequent verses, the essential element of Jesus' presence in a Jewish house of prayer on Saturday cannot be disregarded. No doubt he went to synagogue where, along with his coreligionists, he chanted prayers, sang psalms, listened to the weekly Scriptural portion, and heard its elucidation. The evangelists always described Jesus' presence in the synagogue as teacher and preacher to his fellow Jews. During Jesus' life and for about five centuries thereafter, sermons consisted of expounding on the weekly Scriptural reading or explaining the laws and customs regarding an approaching festival or holiday. A person respected for his learning was invited to discuss an appropriate topic on the Sabbath. To the extent that Jesus qualified to elaborate on the text and was recognized as an authority, he would have been a guest speaker or teacher in the synagogues. But his talks would have had to be within the framework of contemporary Jewish custom and tradition. The Gentile evangelists' concept of Jesus lecturing on the religious dogma that they espoused, called "good news" or "gospel," is inconsistent with the kind of teaching done on the Sabbath in the synagogues of his day. But you would have to know Judaism to know this. In other words in the mouth of Jesus has been inserted Gentile theology by these Gentile writers of these Gospels and epistles and Jesus is made to look as if he both espoused and believed such religious dogmas when Biblical history and Biblical Judaism reveal otherwise.
Another time-honored tradition which Jesus observed was making pilgrimages to the Temple. His followers continued this practice as recorded in several passages in the Book of Acts (2:46, 3:1, 5:12, 21, 42). Jesus travelled to Jerusalem from all over the country to worship at the Temple and to offer sacrifices during festivals and other occasions. All the Gospels record Jesus' repeated visits to the Temple, especially at Passover.
The four Gospels also attribute numerous quotations from the Tanakh to him. Until this day it is customary for Jews who are familiar with their Bible to quote pithy phrases from it. This is a very Jewish thing to do and, of course, Jesus was not immune to the national habit. Many Christians observe this practice in emulation of Jesus and are unaware of its Jewish origin.
In both Matthew and Luke (Chapter 4 in both books) Jesus quoted verses from Deuteronomy in the story about his temptation by the devil:
In Mk. 10:18 Jesus repeated half a dozen of the commandments in the Decalogue which he instructed his followers to obey.
Mk. 12:29 and Lk. 10:27 quoted Jesus as reciting the watchword of Israel which is found in Dt. 6:4-5, as follows:
Hear 0 Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.
Both evangelists added to the above, their own phrase, "with all your mind," and Matthew and Luke omitted the first line. These verses in Deuteronomy are the introduction to the most well-known and oft-repeated prayer in Judaism. It is called the Shema after the first word in Hebrew which means "hear." It is an important part of the Jewish liturgy. The Shema is an affirmation of the unity of God. It has been on the lips of Jews on their death bed through the ages and in the mouths of Jewish martyrs as they went to their death, from Rabbi Akiva to the victims of the Holocaust. It is no coincidence that Jesus said the words in this prayer for it is a statement of belief close to the hearts of all believing and strongly identified Jews.
Jesus' last words were an Aramaic translation from Psalm 22:2 recorded in Mk. 15:34 and Mt. 27:46:
Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachtani? (My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?)
This poignant question has been asked repeatedly throughout their history by Jews in times of suffering and persecution when it seemed to them that God had abandoned them. The psalm could have been composed at the time of Haman and could certainly apply to the period of the Holocaust. it is not difficult to believe that this phrase was wrung from the lips of Jews like Jesus agonizing on Roman crosses.
Jn. 6:31 also cited Jesus (correctly and in context) in a verse from the Torah, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat" (Ex. 16:4). This is a reference to the manna supplied to the Hebrews in the wilderness.
Jesus' loyalty to the Torah is exemplified by his declaration in Mt. 5:17-19 as follows:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. Until heaven and earth disappear not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
This seems to be a clear and unambiguous statement of Jesus' determination to uphold the dictates and principles of the Hebrew Scriptures; it is yet another example of his loyalty to Judaism. Jesus cannot be used for an example of one starting a new religion nor rejecting his own.
Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount in Mt. 5:3-7:27 and Sermon on the Plain in Lk. 6:20-49, 11:2-4 include the Beatitudes, the "Golden Rule," and the "Lord's Prayer," all of which have strong Jewish components. All of these pronouncements by Jesus have their origins in the Tanakh and other Hebrew literature.
The Beatitudes or blessings express ideas found throughout the Hebrew Bible. Let us compare, for example, the thought in Mt. 5:8 with that in Psahn 11:7:
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God (Mt.) The upright shall behold His face (Psalms).
The Golden Rule of Judaism was first stated in Lev. 19:18 as, "Love your neighbor as yourself." The great sage, Hillel, paraphrased this rule into these words: "Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; this is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary." Hillel's active public life took place between 30 B.C.E. and 10 C.E., a generation before Jesus'. The scholar's famous saying has been familiar to Jews for two millennia. That it was well known to Jesus is attested by the similarity of his statement to Hillel's. In Mt. 7:12 Jesus said, "In everything do to others what you would have them do to you for this stuns up the Law and the Prophets." Luke's quotation (6:31) is akin to Matthew's citation. It is obvious that the Golden Rule has its origin in Hebrew literature, Biblical and post-Biblical, with which Jesus, as a Jew, was well acquainted.
Many verses in Jesus' prayer are also reminiscent of post-Biblical Jewish sources. Compare the first few lines of Jesus' supplication and the Kaddish or mourners' prayer which is written and recited in Aramaic.
Our father in heaven hallowed by your name; Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Mt. 6:9-10).
Exalted and hallowed is His great name...In the world that He created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom....speedily (from the Kaddish).
Another example of Jesus' acquaintance with post-Biblical literature was his use of expressions found in the Talmud. One of his sayings, "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27), resembles the Talmudic maxim, "The Sabbath was handed over to you and you were not handed over to the Sabbath" (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b). Many aphorisms such as the aforesaid were popular and quoted by Jews centuries before they were finally written down in the Talmud.
Jesus is famous for the use of his parables. These are short, simple stories usually of familiar occurrences from which a moral or religious lesson can be drawn. "It is a literary form which originated with the Pharisees." in their use of the genre, however, the Pharisees were explicit in conveying their message, for that was the purpose of using this method of teaching and writing. They wanted the people they addressed to understand. By contrast, the Synoptics, all of which attributed parables to Jesus, presented them as puzzles so that the listeners were perplexed. Again we see the artificial separation of Jesus from his religion and the people from him as portrayed by these Gentile writers.
The Gospel writers missed the point of the parables or wanted to show Jesus as antagonistic to Jews and unwilling for them to benefit from his teachings. By depicting him as speaking in parables, the evangelists unconsciously portrayed him as a quintessential Pharisaic Jew, for this practice was a creation and trademark of the Pharisees. As in their other characterizations of Jesus, the evangelists retained the Jewish form (attending synagogue, celebrating Passover) but distorted its Jewish content .
Besides his Jewish habit of using parables, Jesus also expressed the strongly held Pharisaic belief in the resurrection of the dead. This seems to have been a conviction which led to close alliances or deep rifts between groups. Jesus was definitely in the majority camp of his coreligionists.
There is one more episode that throws light on Jesus' Jewish association. When he sent his disciples to spread his ideas and cure sickness, he warned them not to enter any Gentile villages including those of the Samaritans. They were to go only among Jews (Mt. 10:5-6). This chauvinism sounds worthy of a zealot. Many among Jesus' disciples were zealots or revolutionaries. Whether Jesus himself was a rebel or xenophobic, is uncertain. But his admonition to his followers to confine themselves to Jews, firmly and unequivocally identifies him as a Jew.
Although Jesus' Judaism was often blunted and misrepresented by the Gospels, it shone through nevertheless. It permeated the Synoptics and, to a lesser extent, penetrated John's very Hellenistic Gospel. In his practices, beliefs, habits, and mode of speech, Jesus declared his Jewish affinity. All the aforesaid practices attributed to Jesus in the Gospels depict a typical, loyal, dedicated Jew: He attended synagogue on the Sabbath; he visited the Temple on various festivals and other occasions; he constantly quoted Hebrew Scriptures and acknowledged and accepted the important Pentateuchal laws; he was at home with the post- Biblical literature and culture of his day as seen in his citing phrases from Hillel and telling Pharisaic parables; and he also expressed the same belief in resurrection held by most Jews of his age. Jesus was a Jew and not a Christian.