Kicking Against The Goads

It’s one thing to behave kindly towards people of other religions, especially for a Jew living in galut (exile). It’s quite another to befriend them and engage in “healthy” dialogues in an apologetical way either in public or private debates and conversations.  To do this is perhaps a modesty issue; private matters such as one’s devotion to G-d or how one personally relates to Him within a larger religious group should remain within the social confines of that group. Is it really a Christian’s business what Jews think of Jesus? Rav Soloveitchik wrote the following in a letter to the Rabbinical Council of America in November 1964:

…We are, therefore, opposed to any public debate, dialogue or symposium concerning the doctrinal, dogmatic or ritual aspects of our faith vis a vis “similar” aspects of another faith community. We believe in and are committed to our Maker in a specific manner and we will not question, defend, offer apologies, analyze or rationalize our faith in dialogues centered about these “private” topics which express our personal relationship to the G-d of Israel. We assume that members of other faith communities will feel similarly about their individual religious commitment.

One of the topics Rav Soloveitchik mentioned specifically in his book Community, Covenant and Commitment was the Jewish attitude on Jesus.

Yet “America’s Rabbi” Shmuley Boteach recently wrote a book in which he not only deems Jesus “kosher” but also gives him a s’micha (ordination) as a Rabbi! Rabbi Boteach said that the purpose of his book was to, “offer to Jews and Christians the real story of Jesus, a wholly observant, Pharisaic Rabbi who fought Roman paganism and oppression and was killed for it.” He’s offering but who’s asking? I’m sure Christians feel that they already have the “real story” of Jesus and most of them would be offended to hear a Jewish Rabbi calling Jesus a Pharisee (mostly because they misunderstand their own scriptures). And what Orthodox Jew can honestly call Jesus observant or a fighter against paganism?


Here’s an interesting piece of information: When the dead Jesus appeared to Paul on the Damascus road he asks Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” And then he says these puzzling words, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Do you know where that phrase comes from? Apparently the only words the dead Jesus can think of to say to Paul, a man who is persecuting Christians in Jerusalem for worshipping Jesus, is to quote the words of Dionysus (the man-god of wine) in Euripides’ The Bacchae which debuted in the Greek theaters 400 years before Jesus lived. What is the context of the words there? Dionysus is trying to persuade Pentheus to quit persecuting Dionysus’ followers in Thebes who want to worship him! Dionysus says to Pentheus that it would be better for him to sacrifice to the god than to use his anger to kick against the goads. Maybe Rabbi Shmuley should research more thoroughly for there are numerous parallels to Jesus and the pagan gods before him.

Books and debates like these blur the lines for the untrained eye. I think what Rabbi Boteach is doing is more dangerous than good and I wish that he would spend his time, money, and talents sticking with educating vulnerable Jews about Christian/Messianic missionaries and their tactics.

He should stop rubbing elbows with Israel’s enemies such as Michael Brown, Christians United For Israel and others and join the ranks of the counter-missionaries who are calling a spade a spade. It may be harder to kick against the goads but anything less could appear like foreign worship.

  1. Excellent citation! And I also agree that Rabbi Boteach is off the mark. Honestly, I do believe that what he is doing vis-a-vis Jesus comes from a place of good intentions. He wants to show the Michael Browns of the world that the Jesus they love so much would most likely reject them – or possibly put them to the sword – if they ever actually met. However, while trying to give a kosher interpretation of the historical Jesus, at the end of the day he is only giving a hechsher to Christianity. I do find it ironic, however, that Messianics will accept a hechsher on their savior from a “rabbi” who is most famously know for being friends with Oprah and writing books on illicit sex which advocate visiting pornographic bookstores and fantasizing about one’s wife being a prostitute (or worse).

    Forget about kicking against the goads…I wish I had a goad so I could poke Rabbi Boteach a little. Perhaps he would wake up and realize the futility of his life’s work and return to a life of humility and true Torah instruction. May the Creator remove the shame of his special nation and reveal the true Mashiach soon and in our days.

    Keep up the good writing,


    • Thank you Yehudah for reading and for the feedback. Not only ironic is the Messianic/Christian excitement over this book, it is pathetic. I would think their devotion to Jesus would cause them to desire approbations from scholars of daas Torah. But then again, even dogs take the crumbs.

  2. Thomas said:

    Hi Jeisyn,

    On the wrong thread here, but you asked earlier about what kind of ‘life story’ you should mention.

    I think pertinent details would include:

    – Your upbringing
    – Your Christian faith
    – Your educational background/university
    – State of your faith (strong? Wavering?)
    – Doubts
    – Why Judaism? Why not agnosticism, etc?

    As a sidenote to both you and Yehudah, perhaps somebody or a group of people should collect the ‘testimonies’ of ex-Christians/ex-messianic Jews. I think specifically naming the major factors in your ‘switch’ would be valuable for many people, especially people who were previously in your past situation.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I’m considering how to use your suggestions in my videos.

      As for a collection of stories, how do you see that as being helpful to people? I’m not arguing with the idea, I’m trying to understand what purpose you think such a repository would serve.

      Thanks for reading and keep coming back.


      • Thomas said:


        Thanks for the reply. In my own experience (and working in marketing), testimonials are powerful tools to show people they are in good company. Testimonials are valuable for people who are struggling; it’s not going to convince die-hard Christians, but that’s not the goal. It will help, I think, struggling messianics or Jews who have doubts. When they read stories like yours, like Yehudah’s, and so many others, it will at the very least neutralize the nonsense about ‘thousands of hidden’ rabbis believing in Jesus, and will remind them how many learned, pious, sophisticated Christians are making the same decision you are.

  3. Thomas said:

    RE: the ‘state of your faith,’ I’m referring to your entire experience as a believing Christian. Were you always ‘doubting’ Christianity, or mostly confident, but only later doubting, etc.

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