Probably like most others who simply read the title of this book, I was a bit perplexed by it. I had to read it twice to make sure I read it correctly. But lo and behold, it was indeed titled, The Return of the Kosher Pig. Although I have had a fairly decent educational background to Judaism during the Old Testament period of time, the “Intertestamental period,” and the 1st century, virtually anything outside of these categories is rather foreign to me. I was very excited to get the opportunity to read Rabbi Shapira’s book on “The Divine Messiah in Jewish Thought.” While oftentimes I felt like a fish out of water, being totally new to many concepts and traditions of Judaism, overall, it was a very interesting and insightful read.
The author is very clear concerning his thesis: “Since every book has a goal in min, I would like to clearly state that my goal and my heart’s desire is to bring the ‘pig’ back to the people of Israel by a process of kiruv [Hebrew for “Regathering” or “bringing closer”] and reconciliation” (pg. 11). Could it be possible that more than just Jewish Christians have believed the Messiah figure of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, or as Christians call it, the Old Testament) to be divine? And if it is so, then how does Yeshua of Netzeret [Jesus of Nazareth] not fulfill the many prophecies spoken about the Messiah? Now, it should be mentioned very carefully the disclaimer by the author as well: “I do not claim that the views I present are the only views within normative Judaism, but I do present a view within normative Judaism that supports the claim of the Divine Messiah” (pg. 83). And honestly, I think Rabbi Shapira does an excellent job of being open and honest about the subjects at hand. Now, the important thing is, Did Rabbi Shapira make a persuading argument? I think so, and while I would note a few points of critique, I thought it was a very well produced book.
“Part One (Alef): Framework” set forth a tremendous foundation for the remainder of the work. I have, for a while, simply believed that if I could show Jewish men and women enough Scriptural references from the Tanakh, then they would be persuaded to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. However, as I’ve experienced and as Rabbi Shapira notes, there is a slight problem with this method: I assumed that Jews hold to a Sola-Scriptura-like view of the Tanakh, when their framework is more complex (see pg. 27 ff.). The fundamental issues, then, appear to be: (1) how to interpret the Tanakh? (2) what part do traditions and other “extra-biblical” sources play in that interpretation?
I was curious to see how Rabbi Shapira would argue throughout the remainder of the book. I wondered if he would be able to thoroughly demonstrate how both the Tanakh and other Hebrew sources argue for the Messiah being divine. Overall, I think his most powerful arguments were from his own exegeses of Scripture. Passages such as Daniel 7, Isaiah 9, and Micah 5 were, I thought, rather compelling. The problem is that, as the author himself admitted, the Jewish theological method is not Sola Scriptura – in that whatever is the most natural meaning of the passage is to be accepted. On page 41 Rabbi Shapira says, “Over the last 1400 years, the Talmud took center stage as the key Jewish source to study within Judaism (even ahead of the Bible itself).”
Apologetically thinking, the best way to persuade whom the author is arguing against would be to attack presuppositions. As I hoping to see from the beginning, the author brought forth a solid amount of evidence coming from within Judaism that argues for the Messiah being divine. There were a lot of Jewish voices who, though were not Christian writers, commented on the Scriptures in such a way that rather strongly argued for what Rabbi Shapira has been trying to express: that some within Judaism have believed the Messiah to be divine. The challenge here for me was that I was so unfamiliar with a lot of the authors he quoted that it was sometimes hard to tell when he was quoting non-Christian, Orthodox Jews or Messianic Jews. In the end, however, after looking over the arguments and researching the authorities quoted, I would have to say that Rabbi Shapira’s thesis was sufficiently defended.
If you are looking for a thorough, powerful, and engaging book to defend the view of the divine Messiah in Jewish thought, I can think of no greater book than The Return of the Kosher Pig. It was definitely not in my field of expertise, but it was a good exercise to expand my horizons and reconfirm that Jesus of Nazareth is the divine Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world!
Many thanks to Cross Focused Book Reviews for supplying me with a free review copy of the book. All opinions were my own.