Among many Jews, belief in Yeshua–Jesus the Messiah–is incompatible with Judaism. While they would concede that Jesus was a first Century Jew, they find his qualifications as a rabbi spurious and his lifestyle incompatible with the Jewish faith. He was unclean. For a Jew to trust in Jesus as the divine Son of God would be nonsensical. It would be like believing in a ‘Kosher Pig’: the clean unclean. This simply cannot be.
This was the faith that Rabbi Itzhak Shapira was raised in. Born into a traditional Sephardic Jewish home in Israel, Shapira found the Messiah after searching the Hebrew Scriptures. He argues that that Jewish rejection of Jesus and the weight that mainstream Judaism gives to secondary literature is the result of an interpretive decision. Because Judaism, in general, has rejected Jesus as the Messiah, they give greater weight to secondary Jewish Sources (i.e. the Talmud, the Mishna, etc). Shapira has a great deal of respect for Jewish literature, but focuses his argument on where Jesus is revealed as the Messiah within the Hebrew Scripture itself.
Jewish exegesis follows a four-fold reading of the Hebrew Bible, summarized under the acronym: Padres. P’shat is the simple, literary meaning of the text. Remez are ‘clues’ within the Hebrew text. Drash or Midrash are allegorical commentaries on the text. Sod denotes ‘the secrets’ of Torah. There is also a fifth level of interpretation called the Remez HaRamezim which the Messiah himself will reveal. In the pages of the Return of the Kosher Pig, Shapira examines where the Hebrew Scriptures point to Jesus, by making use of P’shat and Ramez, quotes and refers to the Midrashim and attempts to uncover the Messianic secret (Sod) of the text.
There are five parts to this book (named after the first five letters of the Hebrew AlephBet (see what I did there). Part one (Alef) provides a overview of the historical framework, the sources and methedology for revealing the ‘Kosher pig). Part two (Bet) explores the Traditional Jewish framework for understanding the Messianic passages and his identity. Part three (Gimel) provides the heart of the book. Here Shapira explores five passages in the Hebrew Bible which point to Christ. Part four (Daled) looks at secondary evidence for Jesus’ messianic claims. Final part five (Hey) draws his argument to a close, exhorting his fellow Jews towards excepting Yeshua as their Messiah.
When I was in seminary my M.Div emphasis was Old Testament. I love the Hebrew Scriptures; however Jewish exegesis is at best ancillary to many Christian interpretations. The Mishnah and Midrash were interesting, sometimes illuminating, but the general theological understandings between Christian and Jewish interpretations was divergent. So I followed Rabbi Shapira’s argument with interest, but as a bit of an outsider. As a believer in the Messiah, I am inclined to believe his claims; as an outsider to Jewish interpretation, recourse to commentaries or biblical numerology is not compelling to me. Yet, this is an apologetic book geared toward his fellow Jew. The value of this book is how well Shapira is able to show how the Jewish story is part of the gospel story–where Jesus is revealed for who he is. From my perspective, he does this well, but a quick web search reveals that he has also raised the ire of traditional Jewish interpreters. This is to be expected. For traditional Jews to accept Jesus means turning their back on much of what their tradition has taught them and to side with a religion responsible for their persecution through out the centuries (Christians aren’t alone in this, but they are sadly over-represented). What Shapira does, is reveal how Jesus himself is not contarary to Jewish tradition but revealed by it.
I recommend it for Jewish readers or Christians wanting to engage the Jewish worldview. This is a technical book which would be inaccessible to many general readers without background in Jewish interpretation. For its intended audience, it is a goldmine. I give this book four stars.
Thank you to Crossfocused Reviews and Lederer Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.