Book Review: The Rabbi on the Mount: How Jesus’ Judaism Clarifies the Sermon on the Mount by Phil Weingart

Anyone who has read the Sermon on the Mount knows there is much to learn. It can be overwhelming. Over the years I have collected several commentaries on one of the most important messages ever preached.  However, one thing that has been missing is a strong emphasis on the Jewish background and cultural context of this important topic. My friend Phil Weingart has done a wonderful job of filling a gap in this area. Weingart is a Jewish believer in Jesus. He opens the book with a story and his own journey about through his own study and personal experience, he realized how Jewish our faith really is. This is important because many Jews who come to faith in Jesus have to wrestle with this own identity. It isn’t easy it can take a while before they realize being Jewish and following Jesus is just a continuation of the first-century Messianic community. Obviously, much of Christianity today is de- Judaized.

But  Peter, Paul, and the disciples were Jewish. Anyone who is Jewish and comes to faith in Jesus becomes part of the remnant of Israel. Anyway, this book reads like a first-rate discipleship manual.  One of the main strengths of this book is that Weingart is able to show the importance of the Tanakh (i.e. The Old Testament) and how both Testaments are related to each other. For example, Weingart rightly empathizes “the Law” is not the Old Testament (pg. 48).  Believe it or not, “law” is just a translation of the word “Torah” which means “teaching or “instruction” and it can also mean the first five books of the Bible. Jesus was a Torah teacher and there was no New Testament at the time He did His public ministry. Given I have been involved in Messianic ministry for a while, Weingart notes what I have seen as well. Many Christians can be dismissive of the Old Testament because they assume the Old Testament= “law” and the New Testament= “grace.”

This is a massive oversimplification and as Weingart notes in the rest of the book, it is impossible to even understand the Sermon on the Mount without a good understanding of the Tanakh. These issues are expounded upon in greater detail in Chapter 3 (“What Will Never Pass Away”)  when Weingart gives the reader a lesson on Jewish history and the Second Temple Period. If you aren’t familiar with this period, this is the time period where Jesus did his public ministry. So yes, it is important! The reader also gets a lesson on the Jewish rabbinical literature.

Weingart does an excellent job of expounding on the kingdom of heaven and how Jesus as the ultimate rabbi had the authority to connect the Sermon on the Mount to the Tanakh. As Weingart notes, Halakha is God’s law for the Jews which encompasses both the Torah and Oral Law. Granted, most Christians don’t hold to the authority of the Oral Torah. But the point that Weingart makes is that Jesus was able to take the Sermon on the Mount and adjust  Halakah (see Chapter 6).  After all, Jesus took the Torah and brought it to its fullest understanding. “Fulfillment” doesn’t mean termination. When it comes to the applicability of the Sermon on the Mount, some commentators have written that it is something reserved for the millennial kingdom. I agree with Weingart that it can be applied today. Applying the principles of the Sermon on the Mount isn’t easy. But Weingart has supplied people with a wonderful resource that can help talmidim (i.e., disciples) of Jesus get started on such an exciting and challenging task. I highly recommend this book.