Jacob Neusner, an American historian and theologian, died on Saturday 8 October 2016. He was one of the world’s foremost scholars on Judaism and the author of numerous books. The 84-year-old rabbi died in Rhinebeck, New York, where he lived. Nine years ago, Benedict XVI had quoted him profusely in the fourth chapter of the first volume of his “Jesus of Nazareth” trilogy. Discussing the Sermon on the Mount, Ratzinger dedicated 15-odd pages to him and his book “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus” (1993).Ratzinger was struck by Neusner’s unconventional way of reflecting on Jesus’ words, joining the disciples on the “mountain” of Galilee. He had listened to the Nazarene and somehow conversed with Him, feeling moved by the power and purity of His words and yet perturbed by the ultimate irreconcilability found at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. He had accompanied Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem but in the end decided not to follow him and not to become his disciple, remaining faithful to what he refers to as the eternal Israel. What prevented Neusner from becoming Jesus’ disciple was the fact that He revealed Himself as God. The fact that He attributed the words in the Scriptures that present Him as the Son of God, to Himself.It was this intellectual honesty that struck Ratzinger: Neusner accompanied Jesus for part of the journey, exchanging views with Him before admitting he was unable to follow Him. Benedict XVI wrote in his book that the imaginary conversation between the Jewish rabbi and Jesus, lets all the tough differences show through but it does so in a spirit of great love; the rabbi accepts the otherness of Jesus’ message and bids Him farewell with a hate-free detachment which despite the stark truth, never loses sight of the conciliatory power of love.

Source: Farewell to the rabbi who dialogued with Benedict XVI – La Stampa