What Would Jesus Do, If He Were Israeli?

Letter to the Editor

Published April 13, 2011, issue of April 22, 2011.

I am writing to elaborate on a point I made in the article the Forward recently published about me, and my book “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” (“A Catholic Thinker Touched by Jerusalem and Its Mystical and Earthly Power,” April 1).

In emphasizing the important problem that Christians find it difficult to think of Jesus as a Jew, I said “If Jesus were in Jerusalem today, it wouldn’t be as one of the monks, which is hard for Christians to imagine. He’s still the prince of peace, so I’m not sure how to say this. But it’s possible he would be in the Israel Defense Forces. He would certainly be a member of the Jewish people.”

I was thinking of the ease with which some Christians regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a replay of the conflict of “the Jews” against Jesus, a signal of how deeply into the Christian imagination this old polarity goes. The permanent Jewishness of Jesus belies that perception. In imagining a young Jesus as possibly in the IDF, I was thinking of the way such service is a near-universal rite of passage for Israeli Jews, and therefore a marker of identity.

The identity was my point. I was not thinking of any particular judgment (by Jesus or by me) of IDF actions. In fact, while always defending Israel’s security, I have often expressed objections to certain Israeli government policies, including, for example, those having to do with the settlements, the occupation and the inflicting of casualties on Palestinian civilians. It is, of course, possible to make such criticism while being a good Jew, a loyal Israeli, a supporter of Israel — and, for that matter, a dissenting member of the IDF.

Boston, Mass.

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