KELLNER: Did a prominent rabbi find Jesus — and does it matter?

The 2006 funeral of Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, and a Kabbalist who studied and taught Jewish mysticism, drew a crowd estimated at 200,000 by Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Eight years after his death, Kaduri’s life and, especially, a “last teaching” contained in a note allegedly sealed until a year after his death, are stirring some interest in decidedly non-Jewish quarters.

For a little under $42, WorldNetDaily.com, an online news publication and parent to a book-and-video producing company, will sell you a book and a DVD each titled, “The Rabbi Who Found Messiah.” Both are the work of Carl Gallups, a Baptist pastor whose earlier book, “The Magic Man in the Sky,” was a defense of faith against the arguments of atheists and skeptics.

Mr. Gallups sent both the book and the DVD to me last fall. Both are fascinating, but both also raise some serious questions.

As Mr. Gallups notes in narrating the video, the idea of Jewish believers accepting Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Jewish messiah is a concept that’s difficult for many Jews to grasp, and with good reason. Two millennia of anti-Jewish persecution, often in the “name” of Christianity, however misapplied, did little to promote the concept. And if it’s difficult for an “average” Jewish person to embrace Jesus as messiah, how much more difficult would it be, Mr. Gallups asks, for a rabbi, or teacher, to do so?

The self-evident answer is that it would be — and is — very difficult for a devout Jew to do. The conversion of Israel Zolli, Rome’s chief rabbi, to Roman Catholicism after the World War II was, and remains, a highly controversial and contentious subject between Orthodox Jews and Catholics. Other Jews who have embraced Christian faith have also found great difficulty in life after such a conversion.

Mr. Gallups is not asserting that Kaduri converted, but rather that the late rabbi, known for his mystical beliefs, experiences and pronouncements, had a vision of who the Jewish messiah was, and wrote a coded note in which that messiah was named. The note was to be opened a year after Kaduri’s death, the book and the video state.

When opened, the note’s Hebrew writing suggested that, if the first letter of each word were arranged, it would spell “Yehoshua,” a Hebrew name that can be interpreted as Joshua or, in Greek, Jesus. This revelation caused an uproar, the video reports, and Kaduri’s son, David, also a rabbi, is shown in the documentary as denying that his father had ever written such a note, let alone sealed it with the instruction that it be opened 12 months after his father’s passing.

Mr. Gallups suggests that it is highly possible that the elder Kaduri did have a vision of the messiah and that it was of the man Christians know as Jesus of Nazareth. Without the elder Kaduri around to interview, however, the claim remains just that.

What is helpful in both the book and the documentary is the amount of time and detail Mr. Gallups invests in explaining some of the many elements of Jewish belief, and of the controversial nature of Jesus Christ among observant Jews. Also featured in the documentary is a “Messianic Rabbi,” Jonathan Cahn, whose book “The Harbinger” has also gained a lot of popularity in evangelical circles. Mr. Cahn offers his own explanations of many points, and, overall, those explanations seem to be sound.

But I was troubled by the “reconstructed” scenes and conversations from the elder Kaduri’s early life as imagined by Mr. Gallups in the book, featuring descriptions and dialogue that supposedly happened a century or more ago. In an email, Mr. Gallups said serious readers can find “footnote comments” in the book stating some scenes were recreated. He said those readers “will discover that even though the episodes are fictionalized, they are based primarily upon documented facts. I have conducted numerous interviews about this book, both TV and radio; I have yet to have anyone raise this question or express any concern with this particular style of story-relating.”

The other question, frankly, is whether or not any vision Yitzhak Kaduri may have had is all that important. Yes, Kaduri apparently had tens of thousands of followers in Israel and elsewhere, but the alleged Kaduri note hasn’t triggered any mass movement by those followers toward a belief in Jesus.

“The Rabbi Who Found Messiah” is an interesting story — the documentary video being somewhat more concise than the book — but for this reporter, it remains inconclusive. As Mr. Gallups himself wrote in an email, “I do not insist the story is absolutely true nor do I demand that the reader accept that Kaduri became a New Testament-believing ‘Christian.’”

Mark A. Kellner can be reached via email at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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