When I began gathering material for my recently published book, "Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew," I described the project to an orthodox rabbi I know. I was prepared for an indifferent response, or perhaps a negative one, since I have found that Jews do not readily warm up to the name Jesus. Much to my surprise, though, the rabbi smiled and responded with a personal anecdote.
He lectures a great deal all over the world, he told me, and sometimes he is in an airport waiting room during morning prayer time. Undaunted by the public setting, he goes to the most private area he can find and proceeds to wrap himself in a prayer shawl and put on his phylacteries (teffilin -- two leather boxes that are fastened with straps to the forehead and arm). The tefillin contain parchments of verses from the Torah: Exodus 13:1-10 and 13: 11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.
Occasionally, curious Christians ask the rabbi about this "strange" ritual.
"I always give the same answer," he said. "This is what Jesus did every morning."
The rabbi was no doubt correct, as my research confirmed. Jesus, like most Galilean Jews at the time, was a Pharisee. And the Pharisees engaged in standard Jewish practices. Prayer shawls were traditional for prayer services. And the phylacteries date back to ancient times. The Torah scriptures were added to the leather boxes during the Second Temple Period beginning in 515 B.C.E. In Matthew 23:5 (New Testament) Jesus makes reference to tefillin, as well as the tassels (tzitzit) that observant Jews wear.
A traveler passing through Nazareth or a neighboring town who wanted to meet the charismatic Rabbi Jesus (as his followers called him) might easily find him at the local synagogue -- especially on the Sabbath. Jesus routinely attended Sabbath services at a synagogue, where he read the weekly portion (parsha) of the Torah: "And he went to Nazareth where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up for to read." (Luke 4:16)
So the next time you see an observant Jew with prayer shawl, tefillin and tzitzit, look at him and see Jesus. That's how Jesus appeared every morning. Or, for a more complete Jesus experience, visit a synagogue. That's where Jesus went every Sabbath.
Given the ample evidence that Jesus was a devoted, practicing Jew, isn't it ironic that his spiritual home, the synagogue, has historically been the target of desecration and destruction by anti-Semites?
Bernard Starr, PhD is a psychologist, journalist, and professor emeritus at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College. He is the author of 'Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew.'