Although Jesus was Jewish and had great knowledge and deep respect for the traditions of his people, he did depart from those traditions from time to time, especially when he saw them as standing in the way of meeting people's needs. Jesus also rebuked the religious leaders of his day when he saw their behavior as hypocritical and not congruent with the very traditions they forced the people to uphold.
Jesus and the Torah
The Torah, the Jewish scriptures, provides laws for many aspects of daily life. It details rules for diet, purity or cleanliness, socializing, attendance at religious services in the synagogue, circumcision of newborn boys and tithing, the requirement that people give 10 percent of their income to religious leaders. Jesus grew up learning the Torah and was well-versed in its teachings. At age 12, his parents found him in the temple, "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers," according to Luke 2: 46-47. When Jesus became a man, the people called him "Rabbi," which means "teacher," showing that his knowledge of Jewish traditions was extensive.
A Different View on Women
According to Jewish tradition, women were considered second-class citizens during Jesus' time. Men seldom spoke to women in public and were cautious about touching them in order to avoid breaking stringent purity rules. Jesus broke tradition many times by engaging women in conversation, such as his encounter with the woman at the well in John 4: 1-27. Jesus challenged the Jewish custom of allowing men to divorce their wives for any reason, a tradition that endangered women's lives because they had no other means of support in the patriarchal culture. He also broke tradition by touching women during prayer for healing, or allowing them to touch him, as described in Mark 5: 25-34 when a woman reached out to him while he was teaching. The woman was suffering from a bleeding disorder and was therefore considered unclean, making his actions even more radical.
Friends in Low Places
Jesus frequently associated with people considered unclean according to Jewish tradition, including people with disabilities and certain medical conditions. These people often were viewed as having done something especially sinful that caused God to punish them with their condition. Jesus healed a leper by touching him, according to Matthew 8: 1-4, and a boy with epilepsy in Luke 9: 40-44. His choice of associates inspired the ire of religious leaders, who accused him of being "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners," in Luke 7: 34.
Finding Offense in Hypocricy
When the religious leaders criticized Jesus for breaking with tradition, he lashed back by pointing out their hypocrisy. He accused them of focusing on outward appearances while neglecting to carry out the spirit of the law, which Jewish tradition described as loving God and your neighbor with all your heart. Jesus rebuked them, saying, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also," as recorded in Matthew 23: 25-26.
- Bible History: Jesus and the Pharisees
- BBC: Jesus the Jew
- Bible Gateway: Luke: 41-52
- PBS: Jesus as Rabbi
- Bible Gateway: Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman
- Bible Gateway: Mark 5:25-34
- Call to Action: Women's Equality Witness
- Bible Gateway: Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy
- Bible Gateway: Jesus Heals an Epileptic Boy
- Christian Resource Institute: Tax Collectors and Sinners
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