Midrash Konen was a small allegorical publication, no earlier than the 11th century and possibly as late as the 16th century, which yet again missionaries take out of context, do not bother to explain to the reader that it is allegorical (and not literal).
Midrash Konen post dates Rashi who supposedly changed the subject of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to Israel (again, someone neglected to give this information to the author of Midrash Konen, which is also known as HaShem be-Ḥokhmah Yasad Areẓ).
This is a very stylized myth -- allegory -- not at all literal. In the midrash G-d takes a name out of the Torah and transforms it into drops of water, light and fire -- the elements He uses to create the world. Let's just read a bit of it, shall we? "The earth is stretched out upon the waters, and the waters on the pillars of hashmal (angels), and the pillars of hashmal (angels) on the Mountains of Hailstones, and the Mountain of Hailstones on the Storehouses of Snow, and the Storehouses of Snow on the Storehouses of Water and Fire, and the Storehouses of Water on the sea, and the sea on the deep, and the deep on chaos and chaos on the void and the void stands upon the sea, and the sea stands upon the sweet waters, and the sweet waters stand on the mountains, and the mountains stand upon the wind, and the wind upon the wings of the storm, and the storm is tied to the heavens, and the heavens are suspended from the arm of the Holy One, blessed be He."
Does that seem literal to you?
This is Jewish mythology, folks, which presents a discussion between a rabbi and angels. This is NOT literal and is not meant to be literal, yet the missionaries will claim that the midrash, referencing Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:5, tells us that Elijah says: "Bear thou the sufferings and wounds wherewith the Almighty doth chastise thee for Israels sin;" and so it is written, "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities" until the time when the end should come."
As we've seen before this missionary quote is from the 19th century Christian book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer which is discussed in this blog post.
The midrash discusses how all of Israel, including Moshiach ben Yosef, will suffer before the messiah reveals himself. Moshiach ben Yosef (messiah from the house of Joseph) is a soldier who may appear in the day of the messiah -- and he will die in battle. This is not "the" messiah (that is Moshiach ben David, the messiah from the line of King David).
In other words, the midrash states that there will be suffering in the days before the real messiah comes. This suffering will visit all Jewish people (per Midrash Konen). Since the Messiah will be alive at this time, and since the messiah is Jewish, he will also be one of those suffering at that time, (according to these Midrashim).
What does any of that have to do with Isaiah 53 talking about Jesus suffering? What does it have to do with Isaiah 53 being about the messiah suffering even though it isn't "the end of days" or the messianic era?
It has nothing to do with it. Yet again the missionaries have just lifted something out of context to give the erroneous conclusion
Midrash Konen is allegory and it dwells on the last days and speaks of the suffering of ALL of Israel, including moshiach ben Yosef who will be alive in those days. Again, out of context, distorted and totally misunderstood. Not to mention that it is midrash aggadah.
Another Jewish source missionaries will site claiming that "ancient Jewish sources" interpreted the servant in Isaiah 53 as "the" messiah (and not the Jewish nation) is יפת בן עלי הלוי / Yefet ben Ali (Yefet, son of Ali).
Jews for Jesus does not cite Yefet ben Ali on Isaiah 53, but other missionaries do -- and again the source yet again appears to be the 19th century Christian book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer which is discussed in this blog post. This book was the brainchild of Edward B. Pusey, an English Christian missionary, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, from 1828 until his death. Pusey's goal was to missionize the Jews. The infamous book he sponsored (regarding Isaiah 53) has been used to evangelize the Jews for well over a hundred years. "the way whereby our L-rd's kingdom is to be enlarged, plainly is by Missionaries," wrote Pusey.
Would Christians hold up Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, as a great expert on Christianity?
Of course not.
Normative Christianity rejects the teachings of Joseph Smith.
Yet missionaries hold up Jewish apostates as if they are some reputable Jewish source, and this is the case with Yefet ben Ali as quoted (selectively as we will see) by missionaries.
So who was Yefet Ben Ali?
He was not a "Rabbi."
He was not a "Rabbinical" source.
He was a 10th century (C.E.) Karaite.
What is a Karaite?
These were apostate Jews, coming to fruition in the 9th century CE (shortly before it died out) who denied the authenticity of the oral mitzvot (Talmud). The Karaites were a sect which appears to have begun when the Muslims defeated Jerusalem in the 7th century C.E, reaching its peak in the 9th century CE (900 years after Jesus), mostly dying out less than a hundred years later.
The Karaites rejected the oral mitzvot (Talmud) hundreds of years after the oral mitzvot had been recorded. There are people today who call themselves Karaites, but do not confuse the ancient group with people who today claim to be Karaites. There are less than 100,000 Karaites worldwide (about 30 - 50,000 in Israel), and most are not even Jewish. In 1932, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, there were only some 10,000 of them in Russia and approximately 2,000 elsewhere in the world. The modern Karaites claim they are descended from the ancients, but this seems highly unlikely. Modern Karaism took the name of the ancient group -- and while they claim to be linked to them that link is precarious indeed. From Aish's Crash Course on Judaism regarding the Karaites.
(The Muslims defeated Jerusalem in the 7th century CE (Omar). This is where we begin the history of the Karaites). "Indeed, when Omar defeated the Persians and took over Babylonia, he immediately gave his blessing to the Reish Galusa to head the Jewish community. As a matter of fact, Omar was so fond of the Reish Galusa -- Bustenai Ben Haninai -- that when he himself decided to marry the daughter of the Persian king, he insisted that Bustenai marry her sister. Thus in a bizarre twist of fate, the Reish Galusa became brother-in-law to the caliph.
(After the death of Bustenai, his sons by an earlier wife sought to delegitimatize his sons by the Persian princess, claiming that she never converted to Judaism. However, this was unlikely as the case of a Reish Galusa marrying a non-Jewish woman without conversion would have caused a furor and public condemnation. Indeed the Gaonim of the day ruled that all his children were legitimate Jews.)
During the long history of Babylonian Jewry, sometimes the Reish Galusa wielded more power, sometimes the Gaonim. Much depended on the political climate and the personalities involved. Generally, however, the position of the Gaon was determined by scholarship, while the position of Reish Galusa was depended on lineage (as the Reish Galusa was traditionally the descendant of King David.)
And it was a dispute over lineage that gave rise to a splinter sect in 8th century Baghdad -- a splinter sect that came to be known as the Karaites.
When Shlomo, the Reish Galusa, died childless in 760, two of his nephews Hananiah and Anan vied for the position. Hananiah got the job and Anan went off to start his own religion.
This is another example of a pattern we have seen previously -- a split among the Jews due to an ego problem. (We saw it, for example, in Part 20 with Rehoboam and Jeroboam.)
The sect that Anan started in some ways was similar to the Sadducees. Like the Sadducees, the Karaites didn't recognize the authority of the Oral Torah and hence they read the Written Torah literally. (Their name, Karaites, comes from the Hebrew verb, kara, meaning "read.")
As we saw earlier, it is impossible to live a Jewish life without the Oral Torah as so much of the Written Torah is not specific enough. Thus, where the Torah commands "and you shall write them [these words] upon the doorposts of your home," how can anyone know which words of the Torah, or indeed, if the entire Torah is to be written on the doorpost? It is the Oral Torah that explains that this passage refers to the words of the Shema prayer, which are to be written on a parchment scroll and then affixed in a specified place and manner on the doorpost. The mezuzah!
As a result of their literal reading of the Torah, the Karaites came to observe Shabbat in total darkness, unable to leave their homes all day except to go to the synagogue. They did away with the observance of Chanukah because it is not mentioned in the Written Torah, as well as with the separation of meat and milk for the same reason.
One might think that this sect would have little appeal, and initially it did not. But, with time, the Karaites began to attract those Jews who wanted to dismiss the opinions of the rabbis; this turned out to be a huge draw.
That is, until the great sage, the Sa'adiah Gaon entered the picture.
Sa'adiah Gaon is famed for his writings, particularly the Book of Belief and Opinions, and for his critiques of the Karaites which made mincemeat of their beliefs.
His arguments stopped the spread of Karaitism which could have overwhelmed the entire Jewish world. It was so popular at one point that in the 10th century the majority of Jews in the Land of Israel were Karaites.
However, the Karaites never recovered from the assault of Sa'adiah Gaon on the logic of their beliefs. Their numbers shrunk with time, though unlike the Sadducees, they never completely disappeared.
(Incidentally, up until World War II, there was a large Karaite community in the Crimea, which in trying to save themselves from the Nazis, claimed that they were not actually Jews. Of course, they were murdered too.)
Today, there is a small number of Karaites left, living chiefly in Israel, though no one is sure how many as the Karaites forbid census-taking. Their population has been variously estimated at 7,000 all the way up to 40,000. The Karaites are reputed to be very religious people, and from the outside appear indistinguishable from Orthodox Jews, though they are forbidden to marry other Jews and marry only each other.
When the Sa'adiah Gaon died in 942, the period of the Gaonim of Babylon was almost over. It would officially end in 1038 with the death of Chai Gaon."
The Rambam opined that Karaites of 1000 years ago were not heretics (as many other Jewish sources opined), but were ignorant, acting in error based on the customs they were taught. They were not intentionally heretical, per the Rambam, but were like kidnapped children who don’t know any better.
Whether an apostate (heretic) or in error it is quite clear that referencing a Karaite is NOT appropriate or logical. This is not a "Jewish source" any more than quoting some non-normative Christian source would be acceptable as a "Christian source."
Yefet ben Ali, therefore is not a "rabbinical" source. He rejected rabbinical Judaism!
The Driver and Neubauer book mentions that Yefet ben Ali personally saw the passage as messianic he also states that many Karaites view the servant as the Jewish nation, and that Saadia Gaon (9th century CE) viewed the servant as Jeremiah the prophet. "Some of the learned (Karaites) apply the prophecy to the pious of their own sect (the Jewish people), resting their view upon two arguments: In the first place, because their history answers to the descriptions given in this section; and secondly, because of the word "lamo" (in their deaths), which is plural. Others of them think the subject of it to be David and the messiah, saying that all the expressions of contempt, such as "many were desolated at thee", refer to the seed of David who are in exile (the Jewish people); and all the glorious things, such as 'behold my servant will be prosperous' and 'so shall he sprinkle', refer to the Messiah." The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer.
As anti traditional Judaism as he was, Yefet ben Ali was just as anti-Christianity -- another fact missionaries never mention to their followers as they quote him.
Jews for Jesus also references Eliezer HaKalir in their "Jewish sources" whom they state say that the servant in Isaiah 53 was the messiah. Even Jews for Jesus starts out by remarking that the man was "one of (the) greatest Jewish religious poets."
Poets, by their nature, are POETIC and not literal!
Why are Jews for Jesus and other missionary sources including Michael L. Brown quoting from a פּיּוּטִ / payuut (poem) to "prove" something?
R' Elazar (also known as Eliezer Hakalir) was a Kabbalist - a mystic, a poet. His writings are "drash" -- mystical commentary. That is, by definition it isn't what the passage means in any ordinary sense. So once again we are dealing with Midrash Aggadah allegory. It is NOT meant to be taken at face value. It is homily -- not a literal interpretation that missionaries wish to present to unknowing believers in Jesus as "fact".
R' Elazar was one a very prolific liturgical poets and was the author of many of the kinot / lamentations for Tishah B'Av. How deceitful of Jews for Jesus to quote a poet for "proof" of anything.
Torah.org states "It is certain that R' E' lived before the time of Rashi (died 1105) as Rashi quotes R' E's poems many times in both his Tanach and Talmud commentaries. Some say that the paytan / liturgist was R' Elazar the son of R' Shimon bar Yochai, one of the sages of the Mishnah in the second century. Others contend that he lived in the fifth century and is the R' Eliezer ben R' Shimon who is mentioned in Midrash Rabbah to Vayikra 23:40. Still others identify him as R' Elazar ben Arach, a member of the generation which saw the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash (the Second Temple) in the first century C.E. "
The poem quoted by Jews for Jesus and other missionary websites is the musaf prayer for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). As usual the missionaries are quoting, out of context, a tiny bit of a much larger poem (prayer / payyut). The passage is part of 'Az MeLifnei Beraishit' (Then before the world was created). Read the poem and it is quite clear that none of it is literal. There are four stanzas with each stanza of the piyyut relating to the קדושה / kedusha prayer. In the repetition of the עמידה / Amidah (Standing Prayer) Jews stand to say a special prayer called קדושה / kedusha prayer. This is a sanctification of G-d in which we declare that G-d is One and that He is holy, transcendent beyond anything in creation.
From R' Moshe Shulman's article on this topic is a partial translation of this prayer from the section missionaries selectively quote (and note the parts they do not quote!):
Then before Creation;
The Holy Temple and Yanin were prepared;
An exalted place of prayer from the beginning;
was prepared before there was any people or language.
It was strong for the Shechina to rest there;
Unintentional sinners were shown the upright way;
The wicked whose sins that were red;
were washed and purified to be as they were before.
If He was angry with an anger causing fear;
Holy One do not bring all your anger;
Even if we have continued to steal until this time;
Our Rock will not bring a plague on us.
Our righteous Moshiach (messiah) has been removed from us;
We are beaten and none is here to stand for our righteousness;
Our sins and the yoke of our rebellion are upon him;
He is wounded from our rebellion.
From the earth raise him,
From Seir rise up;
To gather us on Mount Lebanon,
again by the hand of Yanin.
Note that it says the messiah is wounded FROM our rebellion (not "for" -- no one can atone for your sins except you yourself). When read in context the missionary claim is clearly undercut. As R' Shulman wrote in his article: "The simple meaning of this prayer is that we had a Holy Temple for atonement, and now we are in exile, and when Moshiach comes he shall return us to the Holy Temple. (Mount Lebanon) When looking at this passage in full it is somewhat difficult to see what the missionaries are trying to say. Certainly seeing this passage in the context of those before and after, it is hard to see the point they are making."
This payyut is based on the teaching in the Midrash Tanchuma parsha Nasa 11, page 506 in the standard Hebrew edition. There it says: " Teach us, our Rabbi, how many things were created before the Creation of the world?' 'Thus taught our rabbis, "Seven things were created before the world was created. They are: (1) the throne of glory (2) the Torah (3) the Temple (4) the Patriarchs (Abraham Isaac and Jacob) (5) The people Israel (6) the name of the Messiah (7) repentance."
Notice that it is the name of the messiah. Also notice that it is Midrash.
In the Midrash the proof of this pre=existent name is based on the rabbinic interpretation of Psalms 72:17 which literally says: "His name should last forever, may his name last as long as the sun",
This was interpreted as meaning: "His name shall forever endure, before the sun (was made) Yanin was his name."
Remember this is Midrash -- not literal. The Rabbis many times took verses out of context to teach spiritual lessons, this is an example of that. Do not let the missionaries mislead you -- they seem to think that any mention of the messiah = Jesus. This ignores the fact that the real messiah is a Jewish king who will bring world peace and global knowledge of G-d. We do pray that this human king comes speedily and in our days -- as he is, like all of us, a servant of G-d. Many Jewish sources, using homily and allegory, relate the messiah (and King David and Moses and others) to the exalted servant of Isaiah 53 -- but the missionaries mislead their followers into thinking that our teachers relate the messiah to Jesus, and this is totally false.
Jewish commentators state that the section the missionaries love to quote is not about the messiah, but can be attributed to death of the righteous King Josiah or to King Zedekiah -- but yet again it must be emphasized that this is a POEM -- not a literal meaning of the passage in Isaiah 53. This particular poem is found in the מוּסָף musaf ("additional") service of Yom Kippur.
R Moshe Alshich (on some missionary sites called "El Sheik" or "Al Sheik") lived from 1508-1593 CE in the Middle East, primarily in Safed, Israel, where he is buried.. R' Alshich lived 500 years after Rashi supposedly changed the Jewish concept of the servant from the messiah to Israel.
The missionaries claim that the older Jewish opinion was that Isaiah 53's suffering servant was the messiah but that the Jewish sage רבי שלמה יצחקי / R' Solomon Isaac aka Rashi (1040 CE - 1105 CE) changed the entire Jewish view of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to Israel as a direct response against Christianity. Jews for Jesus claims "Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) and some of the later rabbis, though, interpreted the passage as referring to Israel. They knew that the older interpretations referred it to Messiah. However, Rashi lived at a time when a degenerate medieval distortion of Christianity was practiced. He wanted to preserve the Jewish people from accepting such a faith and, although his intentions were sincere, other prominent Jewish rabbis and leaders realized the inconsistencies of Rashi's interpretation."
Rashi did not change the Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to the Jewish nation, this is a missionary claim originating in the 19th century and is easily disproved. Read the blog post "Rashi "changed" the Jewish interpretation from the messiah to Israel"
Returning to the missionary claim -- if Rashi "changed" the Jewish view of the servant from the messiah to the people of Israel (the Jewish nation) in the 11th century did someone forget to pass the message on to R' Moshe Alshich who lived in the 16th century? Why are missionaries quoting someone who lived 400 years after Rashi to "prove" that Rashi changed it?
A bit backwards, don't you think?
How do missionaries explain this major time discrepancy?
Missionaries are notorious for throwing out references and quotes with abandon hoping that there is so much mud thrown up that no one will bother to check each one of his facts -- or if they did the reader / listener would get so bored they'd tune out the truth.
Now if Rashi CHANGED the servant from the messiah to Israel 500 years before R' Ashlich then why would any Jew state as a fact that the servant is the messiah? Does this make any sense? Did Alshich not know the Jews had conspired to changed the interpretation missionaries such as Jews for Jesus or Michael Brown?
Already you can see this doesn't make sense. The literal meaning of the servant in Isaiah is Israel. Using homily the servant has been applied to many different people -- including Moses, Abraham and others.
How do we know that R' Alshich's commentary is not literal?
R' Alshich was a great Kabbalist. Indeed R' Alshich is considered one of the great darshanim (sermonizers) of the Jewish world.
Do you remember what the sage the Ramban (Nachmanides) told the King of Aragon (Spain) about sermons (aka midrash aggadot or stories)? He explained to the king: "We have a third book called Midrash, meaning sermons. It is just as if the bishop would rise and deliver a sermon, and one of the listeners whom the sermon pleased recorded it. In regard to this book, those who believe it well and good, but those who do not believe it do no harm." (Disputation at Barcelona).
The modern resource The Encyclopedia Judaica speaking of אַגָּדָה / aggadah: "The aggadah comprehends a great variety of forms and content. It includes narrative, legends, doctrines, admonitions to ethical conduct and good behavior, words of encouragement and comfort, and expressions of hope for future redemption. Its forms and modes of expression are as rich and colorful as its content. Parables and allegories, metaphors and terse maxims; lyrics, dirges, and prayers, biting satire and fierce polemic, idyllic tales and tense dramatic dialogues, hyperboles and plays on words, permutations of letters, calculations of their arithmetical values (gematria) or their employment as initials of other words (notarikon) – all are found in the aggadah."
Torah is understood on many levels -- this is called PaRDeS.
* P'shat (פְּשָׁט) - the "plain" ("simple") meaning of a passage
* Remez (רֶמֶז) - "hints" implied in the text but not explicit
* Drash (דְּרַשׁ) - which is a deeper or even midrashic meaning -- often inferred from other scripture
* Sod (סוֹד) - "secret" ("mystery") meanings
These four levels (PaRDeS) are all valid, but the meaning of a passage is always derived from the plain (pshat) reading. R' Alshich's quotes are Drash. Ergo Brown (and D&N and many other Chrstians who quote one section out of context) either don't understand PaRDeS or simply choose to lie to their readers and lead them to believe that what is pshat (plain meaning) is really drash (midrashic).
The Pusey book never gives original sources, so it is hard to track down these quotes. In the case of R Moshe Alshich it comes from a very obscure work called Marot HaTsobeot" (Collected Visions), on the prophets and their prophecies. Marot HaTsobeot is an exegetical and mystical commentary. That is, by definition it isn't what the passage means in any ordinary sense. So once again we are dealing with Midrash Aggadah allegory. It is NOT meant to be taken at face value. It is homily -- not a literal interpreation.
But even so the Pusey version is self serving and not true to the original at all. For example, the Pusey has R Moshe Alshich saying what Brown quoted him as saying: "our rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view."
That is not what R Moshe Alshich says. He doesn't say doesn't say "our Rabbis of blessed memory." R Moshe Alshich uses a common abbreviation: R"ZL. The usual assumption would be that that's what it means, but the abbreviation also stands for *my* Rabbis of blessed memory.
The missionaries are also lying to their readers by only partially quoting this passage. They leave out a very pertinent part of the quote: "Our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the Messiah, and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view: for the Messiah is of course David, who, as is well known, was ‘anointed’, and there is a verse in which the prophet, speaking in the name of the L-rd, says expressly, ‘My servant David shall be king over them’. The expression my servant, therefore, can be justly referred to David."
We cannot emphasize this enough: R' Alshich is saying that King David is the messiah in question!
R' Alshich goes on to say that the suffering "which entered into the world, one third was for David and the fathers, one for the generation in exile (the Jewish people) and one third for the King Messiah."
R' Moshe was a mystic and using aggadah (homily) he was writing about the highly mystical homilies used by other mystics like himself. R' Alshich was not speaking literally (he references Midrash Tanchuma for one). Alshich divides this fourth servant song of Isaiah to correspond to the three divisions of the Midrash (so much for "literal") as his comments align with the Aggadah.
R' Alshich's comment (who he then states is King David) is made about Isaiah 52:13-53:1 (not Isaiah 53 in whole) and points to King David; Moses; and the Jews (Israel).
Missionaries, through selective quotation, mislead their readers about R' Alshich's true statements and the fact that they are clearly allegorical in nature (not literal).
Using allegory R Moshe equates the Messiah with King David (who was a messiah). He then writes about different worlds populated by angels.
He, R' Moshe was a mystic, writing in the center of Jewish mysticism, is transmitting a mystical interpretation of the text.
In other words this is not ps'hat (plain meaning).
It is not intended to be taken literally by anyone. It is simply homily and R Moshe says that HIS rabbis envision it (homiletically).
This makes the passage of my Rabbis of blessed memory" logical. He is explaining where his homily stems from. He is NOT saying "all the Rabbis who ever lived" as the missionaries infer.
Pusey and his translators may not have understood Jewish mysticism or they may simply have ignored context because they were trying to prove that Jews speak of the servant in Isaiah as the messiah. Their error (or they ignored it) was in misusing and mistranslating a common abbreviation: R"ZL.
R' Alshich states that the servant is Israel and then using Midrash (allegory) first says king messiah IS king David not Jesus or some other messiah, and BTW David was a messiah, an anointed king of Israel). Then R Moshe Alshich compares the servant to MOSES. Folks: this is midrash! Allegory!!! Midrashim were written in an allegorical style that was NEVER meant to be taken literally.
So R Moshe Alshich never meant for any of this to be taken literally, but using Kabbalist reasoning meant it to be viewed as allegory.
This particular part of the midrash explains that the messiah of whom R Moshe Alshich speaks is King David himself (who was a messiah): "The Messiah is of course David, who, as is well known, was "anointed", and there is a verse in which the prophet, speaking in the name of HaShem, says expressly, "My servant David shall be king over them" (Ezekiel 37:24). The expression My servant, therefore, can justly be referred to David."
He then goes on to say the following: "The Almighty, however, says that there is no need for surprise at their attitude of incredulity in the presence of these marvels [of the restoration of Israel], for who believed our report--the report, namely, which we made known to you from heaven, but which the kings had not heard of? So fearful was it, that in the eyes of everyone who did hear it [of the restoration of Israel], it was too wondrous to behold. . ."
He even references Moses in relation to Isaiah 53: "And he made his grave with the wicked. I will show you an instance of this in the chief of all the prophets [Moses], who, by still suffering after his death, endured a heavier penalty than others who had suffered for their generation. Moses was buried away from the Promised Land."
The Rav goes on at length relating Isaiah to Moses. In other words: to try and say the interpretation of el-Sheikh is that Isaiah is speaking of the messiah and only the messiah is untrue and simplistic -- and in the case of Christian missionaries deceptive.
R' Moshe Shulman has an article about this often used personage by missionaries. Read his article Rabbi Moshe Al Sheich and Isaiah 53. Here is a snippet:
The Al Sheich is not approaching this as a literal commentary, but as a non-literal sermon. We cannot use what he says, no matter how interesting it is, to draw conclusions as to what the Rabbis think Isaiah 53 means. Another proof (if we need it) that he is abandoning the literal meaning is that he quotes a famous Midrash and gives an interesting explanation: Our Rabbis say that of all the suffering which entered into the world, one third was for David and the fathers, one for the generation in exile, and one for the King Messiah. . .
he is explaining Isaiah 53, in the context of the Midrash dealing with suffering. He divides Isaiah 53 into three to correspond to the three divisions of the Midrash. The first part of the Midrash (David and the fathers) is 53:9-12 - Moshe. The second part (generation in exile) is 53:2-8 - the righteous of Israel. The third part (for the King Messiah) is 52:13-53:1 – the Messiah."
Missionary Misuse of Jewish Sources on Isaiah 53, Ibn Crispin aka "Moshe Kohen, a 15th-century rabbi in Spain"
Jews for Jesus uses the description "Moshe Kohen, a 15th-century rabbi in Spain" for a person most missionaries name as "Rabbi Moshe Kohen "Ibn Crispin" of Cordova, Spain." The quote given is "This passage, the commentators explain, speaks of the captivity of Israel, although the singular number is used in it throughout. Others have supposed it to mean the just in this present world, who are crushed and oppressed now…but these too, for the same reason, by altering the number, distort the verses from their natural meaning. And then it seemed to me that…having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined "after the stubbornness of their own hearts," and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah."
In his second volume of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Michael L. Brown wrote "other significant commentators interpreting this key passage with reference to the sufferings of Messiah son of David include Rabbi Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin (or Ibn Krispin)"
It took days (weeks) of research to find out that Ibn Crispin was a philosopher. "Ibn Crispin" was a title -- the man's real name was Moshe Cohen. He was a Yeminite poet who lived in the 14th century.
Yes, that is right.
Ibn Crispin was also a mystic.
Taking his writings as literal considering he was a mystic and poet is a flagrant missionary slight of hand and distortion.
Ibn Crispin's most famous book was "Sefer ha-Musar" which had major Averroistic themes. (The main concept was the marriage of religion and philosophy).
So Ibn Crispin was a mystical thinker using allegory and trying to quote him as if he is making psh'at (literal interpretation). If you can read French I highly recommend you read) 'A propos de l'Averrosme juif' (On Jewish Averroism), by Vajda, G. (1952).
Averroes (for those unfamiliar with him) was a MUSLIM philosopher of the 12th century named Abu'l-Walid Ibn Rushd. He came from Cordova (same as Ibn Crispin). Averroes tried to reconcile Aristotle's theories with Islam. His work was translated into Hebrew and it influenced a whole generation and Moshe Ibn Crispin was one of the MOST influenced.
Missionaries (like Michael Brown) who hold Moshe Cohen, aka Ibn Crispin, up as some great rabbinical source to “prove” that “the rabbis” relate the suffering servant in Isaiah 52-53 to the messiah (and not Israel) is far from the mark. Ibn Crispin was an obscure poet and a philosopher who followed a Muslim's teachings. This is an instance of missionaries taking the words of a Jew as "Jewish teaching" -- when nothing could be further from the truth.
Still, let's quote part of the lengthy entry from "Ibn Crispin" in the Driver and Neubauer book -- the quotes the missionaries either gloss over or do not quote: "My servant. . . in each (case it is used in scripture) it is plainly applied to the sons of men born of human parents. . . the expression cannot possibly be applied to the substance of the Creator himself, as is done by our opponents in their theory of the trinity, according to which, this man was of the substance of the Creator. . .
"For they (the Christians) hold that the whole (G-dhead) is of one substance, but that it is divided into three persons, the father, the son and the spirit, that the son took flesh and came down to the earth: now even granting all of this, which, though it is impossible to speak about, still less to conceive, you nevertheless maintain, how could he describe himself as 'my servant,' i.e. as one who devoted himself to serve 'me,' i.e. to serve himself? since, for a man to be called his own servant is a palpable absurdity. . .
"He shall be high, etc. These words afford likewise an answer to our opponents (the Christians); for they refer exclusively to the future. The prophet says, 'He will be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly;' and this language clearly cannot be applied to G-d; for how could it be said of Him that, like a mortal man, he will at some future time be high and exalted, as though He had not been so before? Yet if G-d is G-d He is the same in the past as He will be in the future.
"If, now, they (the Christians) say that the word servant denotes the flesh in which He became incarnate in the world. . . but during the whole time that he is reported to have been incarnate (as Jesus), we do not find that exaltation or supremacy ever fell to his lot, even to the day of his death. . ."
Missionary Misuse of Jewish Sources on Isaiah 53, Rashi "changed" the Jewish interpretation from the messiah to Israel
This is an oft repeated missionary claim: the ancient Jewish sources all agreed that the messiah (moshiach ben David) was the subject of Isaiah 53, but that רבי שלמה יצחקי / R' Solomon Isaac aka Rashi (1040 CE - 1105 CE) changed the entire Jewish view of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to Israel as a direct response against Christianity.
Jews for Jesus claims "Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) and some of the later rabbis, though, interpreted the passage as referring to Israel. They knew that the older interpretations referred it to Messiah. However, Rashi lived at a time when a degenerate medieval distortion of Christianity was practiced. He wanted to preserve the Jewish people from accepting such a faith and, although his intentions were sincere, other prominent Jewish rabbis and leaders realized the inconsistencies of Rashi's interpretation."
This is a very interesting claim given that there is source after source after source pre-dating Rashi by nearly 1000 years which state the exact opposite of this missionary statement -- made (you will note) as if it is a factual statement and not their opinion.
In 248 CE -- 792 years before the birth of Rashi -- early church father Ὠριγένης / Origen (184 CE - 284 CE) wrote that ancient Christians knew that the literal meaning by Jews was that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people. “bore reference to the whole [Jewish] people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations.” Origen, 248 C.E., Contra Celsum.
So much for the missionary claim that "the older interpretations" (of Isaiah 53) referred it to Messiah."
Did Origen miss the missionary message?
If Rashi did not invent the idea that the servant in Isaiah was Israel, why do so many missionaries claim that he did?
It all goes back to that 19th century book written by the missionary E.B. Pusey The idea that Jews USED to say that Isaiah 52-53 was about the messiah but "changed" it to the nation of Israel because of the threat of Christianity during the time of Rashi (12th century CE) -- as mentioned even on Jews for Jesus as quoted above -- popped up in the 19th century thanks to the book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer.
Missionaries so often just repeat a claim made by other missionaries. Isn't it interesting that the quote in the previous post (about Midrash Tanchuma) appears in so many missionary locations? It might add credibility to the missionaries if they chose differing quotations -- but they all parrot the same misuses!
Aside from the Christian Origen (2nd century CE) do we have any other proofs that the Jewish sages noted that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish nation?
Of course we do.
The missionaries reference Targum Yonatan (Jonathan) to prove that ancient Jews spoke of the messiah in Isaiah 53 and reference the Targum for proof. Well and good, but the Targum also speaks of the servant as being Israel (the Jewish people) -- something the missionaries never seem to mention! The messiah (in this allegorical story using Isaiah 53 as its "jumping off" point) is an exalted messiah -- not the suffering Jesus concept. Nowhere in Targum Yonatan does it speak of a suffering messiah. It speaks of an EXALTED messiah. The suffering servant in the Targum is Israel -- Jews. There is a blog post on the missionary misuse of Targum Yonatan.
So much for the missionary claim that Rashi "invented" the idea that Isaiah's suffering servant is Israel rather than the messiah. It simply is not true.
We needn't rely on a Christian source or even the Targum Yonatan to show that the primary consensus among Jewish sources is that in the ps'hat (plain meaning) the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people -- there are plenty of other sources pre-dating Rashi which state the same thing.
In the Babylonian Talmud, בְּרָכֹות / Berachot 5a, pre-dating Rashi by at least 500 years, states that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people "If the Holy One, blessed be He, is pleased with Israel or man, He crushes him with painful sufferings. For it is said: And the L-rd was pleased with [him, hence] He crushed him by disease (Isa. 53:10). Now, you might think that this is so even if he did not accept them with love. Therefore it is said: "To see if his soul would offer itself in restitution" (Isa. 53:10). Even as the trespass-offering must be brought by consent, so also the sufferings must be endured with consent. And if he did accept them, what is his reward? "He will see his seed, prolong his days" (Isa. 53:10). And more than that, his knowledge [of the Torah] will endure with him. For it is said: "The purpose of the Lord will prosper in his hand" (Isa. 53:10). It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai says: The Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through sufferings.. These are: The Torah, the Land of Israel and the World To Come."
Note that Jews for Jesus and the other missionary sources somehow miss this Talmudic quote regarding Isaiah's suffering servant!
A noted scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Christianity in the first century of the common era, Geza Vermes, wrote "Neither the suffering of the messiah, nor his death and resurrection, appear to be part of the faith of first century Judaism." (Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels, page 38). Vermes was a British scholar of Jewish Hungarian roots who became a Catholic priest, and even accumulated many accolades as a Christian scholar while a Roman Catholic priest. Geza Vermes was born a Jew to Hungarian parents who were Jews and were murdered by the Nazis. He was taken in by Catholics (I think nuns) and raised as a Roman Catholic. So, when he, as adult, found out about his heritage, he decided to RETURN to Judaism.
Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah (Midrash, so not a literal interpretation), has three citations referencing that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 refers to the righteous of Israel (chapters 6, 13, 27).
Additional sources pre-dating Rashi:
Yalkut Shimoni II 476
Bamidbar Rabbah chapter 13.2
Zohar (numerous places)
Poems by R. Shlomo Ibn Gavriel
Isaiah himself often refers to the Jewish people as G-d's servant. Chapters are a Christian invention -- but even so in chapters 41, 44, 45, 48 and 49 Jacob (another name for the Jewish people) and Israel (another name for the Jewish people) are stated repeatedly to be G-d's servant.
Finally, the missionary argument that early Jewish sources referred to Isaiah's servant as the messiah and we "changed" it is false -- but it is also a straw horse. It is a diversion from the true question at hand, to whit -- can Isaiah 53 possibly be about Jesus? The answer to that question is a resounding "no." Jesus did not live a long life. He did not have children. He was not exalted in life. He did not die multiple deaths. . .
There are Jewish sources who view the servant in Isaiah 53 as the Jewish people, as the messiah, as Moses, as David -- there are many interpretations (most not meant literally). The consensus of Jewish opinion is that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people -- but if it can be applied to others as well it cannot be applied to Jesus -- and that is the question a Christian must ask as they read the T'nach (Jewish bible) for what it truly says -- not what taking a word or sentence out of context forces it to seem to say.
This particluar reference appears on the Jews for Jesus website on their page "The Rabbis Dilema, a Look at Isaiah 53." The dilemma really belongs to the folks at that website because the quote they give never even mentiosn Isaiah 53!
The quote given is "Who art thou, O great mountain?" (Zechariah 4:7) This refers to the King Messiah. And why does he call him the "great mountain?" Because he is greater than the patriarchs, as it is said, "My servant shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly." He will be higher than Abraham who said, "I raise high my hand unto the L-rd" (Gen. 14:22), lifted up above Moses, to whom it is said, "Lift it up into thy bosom" (Numbers 11:12), loftier than the ministering angels, of whom it is written, "Their wheels were lofty and terrible" (Ezekiel 1:18). And out of whom does he come forth? Out of David."
Do you see Isaiah 53 mentioned there?
Neither do I.
The quote above comes from Jews for Jesus but the same quote is found in the book "The Real Kosher Jesus" (page 169) and Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus : Volume 2 also by Michael L. Brown (an apostate Jew who is now a Christian minister), ICLNET (a Christian resource), Mark Eastman's "text commentaries" of the Blue Letter Bible -- and since the quote is identical in all places (it is, after all a translation so one might expect some differences!) it all seems to be taken from that 19th century missionary book I mentioned when beginning the task to explore missionary misuse of Rabbinical sources on Isaiah 53. The book is The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer. I discuss it in this blog post.
Many missionary sites who misuse Jewish sources seem to quote from the same (generally 19th century) missionary sources. The Driver and Neubauer book is an oft used resource as are apostates of questionable expertise. I discussed this issue in the blog post Missionaries misuse Jewish Sources -- let's discuss how.
The reference given is actually to Zechariah 4:7 -- a verse which is not messianic. It says "Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you sink to a plain! He will bring out the stone of the main architect, with shouts of grace, grace to it."
The passage is about Zerubbabel -- but the Midrash uses it as a "jumping off" point to talk about the messiah and the messianic age.
This reference is מדרש תנחומא / Midrash Tanchuma which is primarily a collection of stories and rabbinic homilies, all connected with the Torah (Five Books of Moses), not Nevi'im (Prophets, which contains Isaiah and others). This Midrash is named for Rabbi Tanhuma.
As discussed in earlier blog posts there are two major types of midrash -- midrash halacha (legal discussions - and there is some of this in מדרש תנחומא / Midrash Tanchuma) and midrash aggadah (stories that are NOT literal and should not be used to "prove" anything theologically -- the bulk of this collection). Midrash aggadot are meant to make a moral point -- not to be taken at face value as literal. To understand Midrash I recommend reading "What is a Midrash?"
Midrash aggadah (like Midrash Tanchuma) are stories meant to make a moral point -- they are not literal. Note, also that this quote defintely fits the Jewish concept of the messiah (a very great prophet who will be a descendant of King David) -- but it does not fit Isaiah 53's suffering servant of Jesus as depicted in the Christian bible. Per the Christian bible Jesus was not even a descendant of King David according to Jewish law because Joseph (who was a descendant of David) was not his biological father.
In his article "The Lies and Distortions of Driver in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters" R' Moshe Shulman writes of another missionary misuse of מדרש תנחומא / Midrash Tanchuma: "(this) selection...is claimed to be from the Midrash Tanchuma. This selection itself is controversial as the source for it is NOT from the Midrashim that the Jewish people have, but comes from a work by Father Raymond Martini, Pugio Fidei. Driver (one of the authors of the book) defends his use of this work, even though his co-author Neubauer wished to have it rejected. I would not have mentioned it here because of this disagreement alone (although my rejection of it on those grounds is warranted.)
"The problem is that the translation does not agree with the Hebrew and had he translated it as the Hebrew has it, we would all see that this is a distortion and could not be from the Midrash at all. Here is the translation that we have from Driver: "R. Nahman says. The word ' man ' in the passage, Every man a head of the house of his fathers (Num. i. 4), refers to the Messiah the son of David, as it is written, ' Behold the man whose name is Zemah' (the branch); where Yonathan interprets, Behold the man Messiah (Zech. vi. 12); and so it is said, 'A man of pains' and known to sickness."
"Here is the literal translation from the Hebrew original that appears in that work itself: "R. Nahman says. The word ' man ' in the passage, refers to the Messiah the son of David, as it is written, ' Behold the man whose name is Zemah'; Targum Yonathan this man is the Messiah and so it says, 'A man of pains' and known to sickness."
"There are a number of minor differences in the translation, from what appears in the text, and problems with the text, whose implications are such as to significantly change the meaning:
As far as Driver’s using Yonason and dropping the word ‘Targum’ I do not know why he dropped it, hiding that the text explicitly said it was from the Targum Yonason. It is, however, a clear indication that this text IS NOT from the Tanchuma. The Tanchuma NEVER quotes from the Targum. While it would not have been unusual for the Tanchuma to cite a Rabbi, in that case he would have been referred to as Rabbi Yonason ben Uzziel, as he is in all Rabbinic literature. So in addition to all the other problems, this passage is not just bogus, but Driver seems to have tried to hide the fact that it was."
Ruth was the ancestress of King David. David's father, Yishai, was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. Yishai doubted his own Jewishness (let alone tribal status) because his grandmother was a convert to Judaism. During Ruth’s lifetime, many individuals were doubtful about the legitimacy of her marriage to Boaz. The Torah forbids a Jew to marry a Moabite -- and Ruth was from Moab. However, the biblical prohibition is to marry a male Moabite, not a a female Moabitess. . .
But I digress -- רות רבה (Ruth Rabbah) and it is מדרש אגדה / Midrash Aggadah -- a story meant to make a moral point.
The very word "midrash" is in the title!
Yet again missionaries are ignorant of Jewish teachings. Midrash Aggadah / מדרש אגדה is a form of storytelling that explores ethics and values in biblical texts. ("אגדה / Aggadah" literally means "story" or "telling" in Hebrew).
So the missionaries are taking a story and trying to insist that this is "proof" that the sages saw Isaiah 53 LITERALLY as being about the messiah.
Tell me, would a story about Santa Clause be taken as literal by a Christian?
Why are they willing to take a Jewish story and insist it has some meaning?
Sites like Jews for Jesus say such outlandish things as "Our ancient commentators with one accord noted that the context clearly speaks of G-d's Anointed One, the Messiah" -- based on quotes from stories and poems!
Yet even ancient Christians knew that the literal meaning by Jews was that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people. “bore reference to the whole [Jewish] people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations.” Origen, 248 C.E., Contra Celsum.
The quote given by missionaries does reference Isaiah 53, but because the quote is so selective it is misleading. They will quote "The fifth interpretation [of Ruth 2:14] makes it refer to the Messiah. Come hither: approach to royal state. And eat of the BREAD refers to the bread of royalty; AND DIP THY MORSEL IN THE VINEGAR refers to his sufferings, as it is said, But he was wounded because of our transgressions." Ruth Rabbah 5:6, quoted from Jews for Jesus.
The missionaries quote where the midrash mentions the messiah but it ignores the first interpretation which refers to King David -- R' Yochanan explained these six phrases as referring to Dovid / David ("All these six months that David was in a flight from Absalom. . ."), the second interpretation is of King Solomon ("Therefore the L-rd said to Solomon. . ."), the third interpretation is of Ḥizkiyyahu / Hezekiah ("Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble and rebuke" Isaiah 37:3.), the fourth is talking about Menashe ("Hezekiah's son Menashe was the worst Jewish ing, but he eventually repented. Melachim Beit / 2 Kings 21:1-17), and the fifth applies the passage to the messiah.
The sixth interpretation refers to Boaz himself (Ruth's husband, and great-grandfather to King David). This is the literal meaning (the p'shat) -- all the others are NOT literal. The passage has to do with Boaz sitting and eating with the common reapers. . .
Do you begin to see just how the missionaries mislead people with selective quotes and by not explaining the difference between allegory and literal meaning?
The missionaries misuse Jewish sources that are stories and try to somehow hang a theological "proof" on a story. This is like insisting that Santa Clause is an integral part of trinity.
Ruth Rabbah is a later work -- while no one knows with certainty when it was written it can't be earlier than the 4th century of the common era (CE) because Rabbis who lived then are mentioned! The Encyclopedia Judaica seems to think it couldn't be earlier than the 6th century of the common era (it quotes sources from the 4th century CE), but in its current form the earliest iteration is the 16th century CE. the Encyclopedia Judaica says: "Ruth Rabbah, first published at Pesaro in 1519 together with the four Midrashim on the other Scrolls (to which it bears no relation), has often been reprinted on the basis of this editio princeps. The printed versions are quite defective. . . Ruth Rabbah is an exegetical Midrash. . .The work has apparently a total of ten poems, these being of the classical type found in amoraic Midrashim, in that they commence with an extraneous verse, taken usually from the Hagiographa, which is expounded and then connected with the one treated at the beginning of the section."
The point being that referencing this Midrash which post-dates Christianity is no "prophetic proof" of Jesus.
Midrash Aggadah / מדרש אגדה can take any biblical word or verse as a starting point, but there is no one standardized method of interpretation. Indeed, some scholars define midrash simply as any Jewish statement with a reference to a specific biblical verse or verses. One can find the link from Ruth to the messiah in the Babylonian Talmud, where R' Ĕl'azar [ben Shammua'], a 4th generation (mid-2nd century C.E.) tanna says: “At around mealtime, Bo'az said to her ‘Goshi halōm’ (Come over here)...” [Rut / Ruth 2:14]—Said Rabbi Ĕl'azar: [By saying this] he was giving her a hint “The royal dynasty of King David is destined to come from you”, because the [unusual]word halōm is also applied to it in the verse [Sh'muél Beit / 2 Samuel 7:18] “Then King David went in and sat in HaShem’s Presence and said, ‘L-rd G-d, who am I and what is special about my house that You have brought me halōm (to here)?’ ” (Babylonian Talmud, Treatsie Shabbat 113b).
Do not let missionaries mislead you when they quote stories as if this is somehow "proof" of something -- and remember that the messiah IS a Jewish concept, one will find references to the messiah both in the T'nach (bible) and Jewish writings, but a mere mention of the messiah does not in any way prove that Jesus was that messiah.
To learn more about midrashim I recommend reading R' Moshe Shulman's article What is a Midrash?
One source usually referenced is תרגום יונתן / Targum Yonatan (Jonathan).
Missionaries will say that the Targum is a translation of parts of the bible (in this case נְבִיאִים / Nevi'im / Prophets) into Aramaic.
This is incorrect. A Targum / תרגום paraphrases and expands on the biblical text -- it is more interpretative and explanation than translation -- more midrash (homily and allegory) than p'shat (literal meaning). This fact becomes important as we discuss the misuse of this Targum by missionaries.
Once again we have missionaries presenting allegory as if it were literal.
The misleading quote missionaries use is "Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men" and then they comment "The early targums by Jonathan ben Uzziel show that he clearly believed in a suffering Messiah."
Thus the missionary is presenting this quote from the Targum as ‘proof’ that the ancient Rabbis believed that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 was the messiah.
It certainly seems that way given that the word "messiah" is used in the missionary quote, but again one must read the Targum itself and read it IN CONTEXT to understand that:
Missionaries presenting the single quote mislead their followers into thinking that "The early targums by Jonathan ben Uzziel show that he clearly believed in a suffering Messiah."
Also, the Targum never speaks of the messiah as a suffering messiah.
There is no concept of a suffering messiah in Judaism.
The Targum speaks of an EXALTED messiah.
Many missionaries equate the word "messiah" only with Jesus, as if he were the only messiah to ever live.
מָשִׁיחַ (moshiach / messiah) is the Hebrew word which is used thirty nine times in the T'nach to describe various people. They are all normal human beings. Aaron, Moses' brother, was a messiah. Kings David and Solomon were messiahs. They were all humans born of human mothers and fathers. When Jews speak of "the" messiah they refer to a king promised in the T'nach (bible) who will also be human and a descendant of King Solomon and the tribe of Judah.
Thus when the word "messiah" is used in the T'nach (bible) or in various Jewish sources one must first ask "which messiah is being spoken about?" In the Targum it does appear to be "the" messiah (moshiach ben David) -- as an exalted messiah, not a suffering messiah. Targum Yonathan speaks of an exalted messiah and a suffering Israel. Pay attention to the use of singular versus plural in the Targum.
To summarize: the Targum Yonatan is not a translation from Hebrew into Aramaic of Isaiah (and the other prophets). It is a midrashic, interpretive work. In Isaiah 53 the Targum sometimes refers to the suffering servant as the Jewish people (Isaiah 52:14, 53:2, 53:6, 53:8, etc.) and sometimes the nations (Isaiah 53:3, 53:4, 53:7, 53:9, etc.) and at times the exalted messiah (Isaiah 52:13, 52:15, 53:4, 53:12, etc.).
The missionary quote from the Targum also includes the phrase "who was bruised for our sins" -- but that is not actually in the Targum -- the missionaries added it.
The Targum is an interpretive rehashing in Aramaic of נְבִיאִים / Nevi'im aka Prophets. It speaks of Israel as suffering and the messiah as exalted and triumphant. Not exactly what the apologists say is it?
Comparing a translation of the Targum of Isaiah 53 with the Hebrew (or an English translation) and it is clear that the Targum is not translation at all. Below is the Artscroll Stone Edition translation of Isaiah 53 compared to an English translation of the Targum.
52:13 Behold, My servant will succeed; he will be exalted and become high and exceedingly lofty.
52:13. Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong:
52:14 Just as multitudes were astonished over you (saying) "His appearance is too marred to be a man's, and his visage to be human,
52:14. the house of Israel looked to him during many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men,
52:15 so will the many nations exclaim about him, and kings will shut their mouths (in amazement) for they will see that which had never been told to them, and will perceive things they had never heard.
52:15. so will he scatter many peoples; kings will be silent towards him, and put their hands upon their mouth, because they have seen that which was not told them, and they have observed that which they had not heard.
53:1 Who would believe what we have heard! For whom has the arm of HaShem been revealed?
53:1. Who believed this our glad tidings, that the strength of the mighty arm of the L-rd is upon him.
53:2 Formerly he grew like a sapling or like the root from arid ground; he had neither form nor grandeur; we saw him, but without such visage that we could desire him.
53:2. The righteous will grow up before him like blooming shoots, and like a tree which sends forth its roots to streams of water will they increase - a holy generation in the land that was in need of him; his countenance no profane countenance, and the terror at him not the terror at an ordinary man; his complexion shall be a holy complexion, and all who see him will look wistfully upon him.
53:3 He was despised and isolated from men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness. As one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despise nad we had no regard for him.
53:3. Then he will become despised, and will cut off the glory of all the kingdoms; they will be prostrate and mourning, like a man of pains and like one destined for sicknesses; and as though the presence of the spirit had been withdrawn from us, they will be despised, and esteemed not.
53:4 But in truth it was our ills that he bore, and our pains that he carried -- but we had regarded him diseased, stricken by G-d and afflicted!
53:4. Then he shall pray for on behalf of our transgressions, and our iniquities shall be pardoned for his sake, although we were accounted stricken, smitten from before the L-rd, and afflicted.
53:5 He was pained because of our rebellious sins and oppressed through our iniquities; the chastisement upon him was for our benefit, and through his wounds we were healed.
53:5. But he will build up the Holy Place, which has been polluted for our sins, and delivered to the enemy for our iniquities; and by his teaching shall his peace be multiplied and by our devotion to his words, our transgressions will be forgiven us.
53:6 We have all strayed like sheep each of us turning his own way and HaShem inflicted upon him the iniquity of us all.
53:6. All we like sheep had been scattered, we had each wandered off on his own way; but it was the L-rd's good pleasure to forgive the sins of all of us for his sake.
53:7 He was persecuted and afflicted but did not open his mouth; like a sheep being led to the slaughter or a ewe that is silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth.
53:7. He prayed, and he was answered, and ere even he had opened his mouth he was accepted; the mighty of the peoples he will deliver up like a sheep to the slaughter and like a lamb dumb before her shearers; there shall be none before him opening his mouth or saying a word.
53:8 Now that he has been released from captivity and judgment who could have imagined such a generation? For he had been removed from the land of the living, an affliction upon them that was my people's sin.
53:8. Out of chastisements and punishment he will bring our captives near; the wondrous things done to us in his days who shall be able to tell? For he will cause the dominion of the Gentiles to pass away from the land of Israel and transfer to them the sins which my people have committed.
53:9 He submitted himself to his grave like wicked men; and the wealthy (submitted) to his executions for committing no crime and with no deceit in his mouth.
53:9. He will deliver the wicked into the grave, and those that are rich in possessions into the death of utter destruction, in order that those who commit sin may not be established, nor speak deceits with their mouth.
53:10 HaShem desired to oppress him and He afflicted him; if his soul would acknowledge guilt he would see offspring and live long days and the desire or HaShem would succeed in his hand.
53:10. But it is the L-rd's good pleasure to try and to purify the remnant of his people, so as to cleanse their souls from sin; these shall look on the Kingdom of their messiah, their sons and their daughters shall be multiplied, they shall prolong their days, and those who perform the Law of the L-rd shall prosper in his good pleasure.
53:11 He would see (the purpose) and be satisfied with his soul's distress. With his knowledge My servant will vindicate the Righteous One to multitudes; it is their iniquities that he will carry.
53:11. From the subjection of the nation he will deliver their souls, they shall look upon the punishment of those that hate them, and be satisfied with the spoil of their kings; by his wisdom he will hold the guiltless free from guilt, in order to bring many into subjection to the law; and for their sins he will intercede.
53:12 Therefore, I will assign him a portion from the multitudes and he will divide the mighty as spoils -- in return for having poured out his soul for death and being counted among the wicked, for he bore the sin of the multitudes, and prayed for the wicked.
53:12. Then will I divide for him the spoil of many peoples, and the possessions of strong cities shall he divide as prey, because he delivered up his soul to death, and made the rebellious subject to the Law: he shall intercede for many sins, and the rebellious for his sake shall be forgiven.
The missionary ploy in referencing Jewish sources is to say that there are Jews who "see" the messiah in Isaiah 53. That is the wrong question -- throughout the ages many Jewish sources have applied the servant in Isaiah to many Jews including Moses, King David (who was a messiah), and the messiah himself using allegory and homily. The issue for a missionary should be: can Isaiah 53 possible fit Jesus? Not too long ago I wrote a blog post entitled "Can Isaiah 53 be about Jesus?" The answer to that question is "no" and I recommend reading that blog post for more details.
The mere fact that the Targum mentions the messiah does not "prove" the missionary assertion that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the messiah -- indeed the Targum rejects that claim. The Targum teaches that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel (the Jewish people), as Judaism teaches. The mentions of the messiah in the Targum speak of the triumphant, exalted messiah who will eventually redeem Israel and the world.
The Targum does not support the missionary claim that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the messiah.
There is nothing in the Targum that even remotely is connected with the Christian theology about a Messiah who dies for the sins of the world. The missionaries misuse the Targum by selectively quoting it to leave their followers with an erroneous conclusion.
Many missionary websites claim to present quotes from Jewish sources to claim that the Rabbis and sages support the idea that the messiah is Isaiah '53's suffering servant. These claims are often titled something like: "What the Rabbis say about Isaiah 53" or something similar.
These "Jewish sources" given by missionaries usually boil down to one of four areas:
The first oft referenced "quote" is taken from the Talmud. The missionaries will claim "The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of G-d and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b)
This quote is:
The entire discussion in Treatise Sanhedrin is nothing but an academic exercise based on the clever application of various Scriptural verses, but it is not intended to be taken seriously; it can even be seen as mocking the christian obsession with the “name” of their pseudomessiah: for Jews, the messiah's name has never been important—the only thing that matters is whether he succeeds in accomplishing his prescribed list of tasks.
Bottom line is that Sanhedrin 98b is saying that no one knows who the messiah will be, or when he will come let alone what is name might be.
Do the missionaries know anything about the Talmud? Probably not.
Can most missionaries read the Talmud let alone understand how to study it? Definitely not!
Take another look at the small snipped the missionaries quote from Sanhedrin 98b: "The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of G-d and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b)
This small portion of the passage mentions the "leper scholar" (the word was not really leprosy -- it related to many skin diseases not just what modern people think of as leprosy). The "leper scholar" was a real Jew and he is mentioned a few times in Talmud. Marguliout HaYom a commentary on the Talmud by Rabbi Reuven Margolious (an Israeli Talmudic scholar and head of the Rambam Library at Tel Aviv University) wrote: “Look at the Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Chagigah chapter 2 Halacha 1. There we see that Rabbi had a special תלמיד /talmid / wise student who taught on the ‘Work of the Chariot’, without the approval of Rabbi, and for that he was stricken with leprosy. This talmid who was stricken was called ‘the leper of the house of Rabbi.’ And they said about him, ‘Surely our diseases he did bear’”
The leper scholar mentioned in the Talmud was a real person, a "wise student." In this passage he is the butt of one of the jokes.
Why? Because of the out of context humours use of the phrase "he will bear our sins."
Leper is the English word chosen by translators for the Hebrew word צרעת / tzara’at. For missionaries wishing to apply this to Jesus they should know that the Hebrew term is not a physical disease (e.g. lepropsy). No, צרעת / tzara’at is spiritual in nature – caused by sin (not a physical cause).
If missionaries think Jesus is "without sin" then he most certainly could not be the "leper scholar" of this passage even though missionary site after missionary site insists that the messiah must "touch a leper (HaDavar website). This is NOT a messianic requirement and these missionaries are clueless as to צרעת / tzara’at and the fact that this is caused by a serious spiritual sin primarily caused by Sinat Chinam – hatred of Jew against Jew without a reason.
So -- is Jesus a sinner, and a bad enough sinner that G-d would punish him with a rotting skin disease brought on only by spiritual failure?
If not, then this passage is not about Jesus.
צרעת / tzara’at can refer to discoloration on garments (Vayikra / Leviticus 13:47-59), homes (Vayikra / Leviticus 14:33-57) and body / skin (Vayikra / Leviticus 13-14). The Talmud lists seven reasons one might be afflicted with the disease: gossip, murder, perjury, forbidden sexual relationships, arrogance, theft, and envy (Arakhin 16a).
If the missionary insists, "no, of course not!" to that list they have just disqualified Jesus from being the "leper scholar."
The leper scholar is a figure in the Talmud who was struck by leprosy for teaching without Rabbi's permission suggests that it would be likely that comparing the leper scholar to the servant in Isaiah 53 was simply a joke. The complete expression is: חִיוְרָא דְבֵּי רַבִּי ḥivra d'bei rabbi / “the leper of the school of Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi / Judah the Prince]. Translations of Sanhedrin 98b translate this word as “leper."
To see that this passage is in isolation, and that in whole this is a joke making fun of the fact that no one knows the name of the messiah let us read a bit more of the section from Sanhedrin 98b.
"R. Hillel, who maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah."
Interesting that the missionaries do not quote THAT portion of the passage! So R' Hillel says the messiah has already come . . . continue
"What is his [the Messiah's] name? — The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come."
Jesus was not named Shiloh -- ergo this was not met by Jesus either. Again, the missionaries do not quote that bit!
"The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure for ever e'er the sun was, his name is Yinnon."
Yimon, not Jesus. . . Yet again -- this does NOT fit Jesus. . .
"The School of R. Haninah maintained: His name is Haninah, as it is written, Where I will not give you Haninah."
Yet another name. . .
"Others say: His name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah, for it is written, Because Menahem ['the comforter'], that would relieve my soul."
Jesus was not named Menahem either. . . then
"The Rabbis said: His name is 'the G-d scholar,' as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a G-d, smitten of G-d, and afflicted.
"R. Nahman said: if he [the Messiah] is of those living [to day], it might be one like myself, as it is written, And their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governors shall proceed from the midst of them.
"Rab said: if he is of the living, it would be our holy Master; if of the dead, it would have been Daniel the most desirable man.
"Rab Judah said in Rab's name: The Holy One, blessed be He, will raise up another David for us. as it is written, But they shall serve the L-rd their G-d, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them: not 'I raised up', but 'I will raise up' is said. R. Papa said to Abaye: But it is written, And my servant David shall be their prince [nasi] for ever (e.g., an emperor and a viceroy)."
R' Hillel's position is rejected because various prophets who lived after Hezekiah gave future predictions about the messiah (thus although Hezekiah could not be "the" messiah and R' Hillel was having a joke as he surely knew this). A few of the prophets who lived after Hezekiah were Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi to name some.
The fact that the first three schools mentioned presented names for the messiah based on plays on the names of their own teachers also makes it clear that the sages were making a joke -- hey, the messiah is named after ME!
The Talmud (there are actually two Talmuds -- Jerusalem and Babylonian) consists of the מִשְׁנָה / Mishna which was created to be a "cheat sheat" for a learned person -- the writing was kept to a minimum and meant only to serve as a aid to faltering memories who were taught to memorize the oral mitzvot.
The second part of the Talmud are discussions around the Mishna's teachings. These discussions may discuss the finer points of Jewish law (מִדְךְשׁי הֲלָכָה / Midrash Halacha), but there are also stories and humor as well. This מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah -- which means telling a story. מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah is not prophecy or meant to be taken literally. . . a word or sentence is lifted from the bible to make a moral point. However, prophecy is NEVER based on these flights of fancy. The missionaries are taking story telling -- humor -- and trying to present it as "the rabbis literally meant that the messiah's name is XYZ and that the messiah is Isaiah 53's suffering servant."
This is wrong, and it is deceitful. Whether or not the missionaries misusing this passage realize they are distorting it is open to question. Most of them probably do not know anything about the Talmud or Judaism let alone מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah.
This out of context quote, indeed most of the missionary quotes used to claim that Isaiah 53 in Jewish teaching historically was bout the messiah, are false. These claims appear to have stemmed from a 19th century book that 'was the brainchild of a Christian named E. B. Pusey. This book is entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreter 2 vols. (1876-77).
This book was authored by Driver and Neubauer, but it was Pusey's idea.
-The book was the product of a pious Anglican (E. B. Pusey), a liberal Anglican Christian who provided the Hebrew translations (Samuel Driver) and a non-practicing Jew, Adolf Neubauer. Even scholars of the 19th century were unimpressed with this work. The Scottis Orientalist, William Roberson Smith (1846-1894) wrote that "the outcome of the laborious and bulky collection is essentially negative."
Perhaps this post might explain why Smith had that conclusion.
The internet has site after site quoting early Jewish sources who recognize that the suffering servant was the messiah. Perhaps one of the most famous missionary in modern times to misuse these Jewish sources is Michael L. Brown and his multiple "Jewish Objections to Jesus" book sieries. Most of the misquotes and mistranslations stem from a 19th century Christian book entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters.
The only problem is that the various "proofs" given are either mistranslations, taken wholly of of context or 100% made up fiction.
In the next few blog posts I'll address the more commonly given sources including Targum Yonathan (Jonathan), Sanhedrian 98, the Zohar, Sefer Gilgulim, Nachmanides (the Ramban), R' Isaac ben Abraham, Moshe el Sheikh whose real name was Rabbi Moshe Al Sheich and others. This post will focus on the source for most of these distorted quotes as well as the missionary claim that originally Jews USED to say that Isaiah 52-53 was about the messiah but "changed" it to the nation of Israel because of the threat of Christianity during the time of Rashi (12th century CE) popped up in the 19th century.
Most of these quotes and that claim were the brainchild of a Christian named E. B. Pusey. He came up with the idea for a book entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreter 2 vols. (1876-77). This books was authored by Driver and Neubauer, but it was Pusey's idea. The book was the product of a pious Anglican (Pusey), a liberal Anglican Christian who provided the Hebrew translations (Driver) and a non-practicing Jew, Neubauer. Even scholars of the 19th century were unimpressed with this work. The Scottis Orientalist, William Roberson Smith (1846-1894) wrote that "the outcome of the laborious and bulky collection is essentially negative."
Adolf Neubauer was a relatively young man when E.B. Pusey asked him to work on this book with Samuel Driver. He was not yet a teacher at Oxford. His co-author, Samuel Driver, wrote of Neubauer (the Jew) "He did not practice Jewish observances." Adolf Neubauer's education owed more to non-Jewish university studies in Prague and Munich than it did to Jewish sources. As for Samuel Driver, he was the canon of the university's Christ Church.
R' Moshe Shulman wrote an article discussing the bad mistranslations in this source in his article The Lies and Distortions of Driver in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters.
E. B. Pusey wrote a VERY long introduction to this Christian book purporting to give Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 53. This introduction contains many, many errors. Remember, Pusey was an ANGLICAN PRIEST! This is the source that so many Christians point to as a Jewish source! Pusey's image is at the top of this blog -- he is obviously NOT a Jewish source for all that missionaries insist this is a "Jewish source."
Two fellow Oxford men did the translations (Driver and Neubauer). They were very selective (as we will see) on the quotes they gave, and the sources are often mistranslated. Driver was also an Anglican priest. Driver was a was an British churchman and Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church, Oxford. Doesn't sound very Jewish for one claiming to know all about Rabbinical teachings is he?
It gets even better.
The Hebrew Chair at Oxford was attached to a canonry of Christ Church -- so Pusey became an Priest of the Anglican church. THIS is the source quoted by Michael Brown and other Christians as JEWISH!!!!!
Adolf Neubauer was a sub-librarian at Oxford. Neubauer put the book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters together and Driver translated it into English..
E. B. Pusey (again, a Christian trying to disprove the Jewish interpretation of Isaiah's servant and the man who asked that the book be created) wrote the original introduction to Driver & Neubeur's book. In it he claimed that pre-Rashi Jews said Isaiah 53 was about the messiah but Rashi "changed" the interpretation to say Isaiah 53 was about Israel and not the messiah. Pusey the predecessor to Driver at Oxford as the Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church, Oxford -- so he, too, was a priest.
In Pusey's 35 page introduction he defends the work of Raymond Martini from the 13th century. Raymundus Martin (Raymond Martini) was an anti-Jewish Dominican priest from the 13th century CE. Pugio Fidei (Dagger of the Faith) and Capistrum Judaeorum was an anti-Jewish diatribe he wrote (amongst others).
One error, given here is an example, is that this Christian book purporting to give Jewish sources on Isaiah 53 claims to quote the Jewish source Midrash Tanchuma, but in reality the "quote" is from this anti-semitic 13th century Dominican priest. Neubauer would have eliminated it, but Driver insisted on including it. . .
Neubauer DID NOT want to include the passages that appear from Martini as they are forgeries. However Pusey insisted that they appear (as he states in his introduction) and so there now appears a text that is claimed to come from the Talmud Sanhedrin, which disagrees with all texts of Sanhedrin, and is IN FACT taken from Martini.
The preface of the missionary book discusses the issues around Raymond Martin. “Either Martini was what he has hitherto been accounted, an able and laborious and conscientious man with vast resources at his command, which have since been lost, or he was a forger, a liar and a hypocrite. . .” Many of Martin’s supposed “Jewish sources” are non-existent – so the latter seems more likely than the former.
Read the introduction to The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreter and you will see that Neubauer DID NOT want to include the passages that appear from Martini as he knew they were forgeries. However Pusey insisted that they appear (as he states in his introduction) and so there now appears a text that is claimed to come from the Talmud Sanhedrin, which disagrees with all texts of Sanhedrin, and is IN FACT taken from Martini.
In other words Pusey wasn't above lying to make his point that the Jews had interpreted Isaiah 53 as being about the messiah. His use of Martini over even Neubauer's objections shows this.
This issue of falsification and distortion is a common one. The Targum Yonathan is quoted for verse 52:13 but not 52:14 or 53:1.
The Zohar (II 212) is quoted in part but NEVER in full where it would contradict what the quoter is trying to prove. The same could be said about the Ramban (who says that the simple meaning of the passage is that it is about Israel) or the Alsheich who mentions the messiah, but says that the messiah he means is King David. etc etc.
This, then, is the source that proves we Jews changed the meaning of the servant from the messiah to Israel. Hardly bullet-proof and yet time and again we must refute it. These supposed Jewish "proofs" now rebound all over the internet.
Although the title of their book speaks of Isaiah 53, the misquotes often ignore that chapter, and often Isaiah itself, to glean misquotes and distortions from various sources. The internet has site after site "quoting" early Jewish sources who recognize that the suffering servant was the messiah. The only problem is that this is not the truth.
1. Isaiah clearly identifies the servant as Israel (there are no chapters in the original document).
2. An early church father, Origen, in 248 CE, speaks of Jews telling him the servant was Israel and not the messiah.
3. Pusey's 19th century book states we Jews changed it from the messiah to Israel with Rashi, circa 12th century CE yet many of the quotes he uses as proof are dated long after Rashi as late as the 16th century CE.
4. The book throws in quotes from midrash aggadah, zohar and targum as if they were pshat (plain meaning) without educating the reader to the mysticism, allegory and story telling inherent in the different formats.
5. Apologists will quote a sentence where a source speaks of a messiah without stating they have also identified the servant as Israel (or Moses or someone else) and ignoring the messiah in question is moshiach ben Yosef not David. Nowhere do they explain who moshiach ben Yosef IS.
6. The book quotes Karaites as Jewish sources. Karaites are about as representative of Judaism as Mormons are of mainstream Christianity. Karaites do not follow the oral law. Yet nowhere does the book identify for the reader that Karaites do not follow Jewish teaching.
This whole idea that the Rabbis “changed” their interpretation to Israel as the servant in Isaiah 53 from the messiah is disproved by a quote from a very famous Christian indeed. Origen was a famous church father of circa 235 C.E. He is quoted as saying in his book Contra Celsus Book 1 Chapter 55:
"Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies (Isaiah 53); to which my Jewish opponent replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations."
So, no, Rashi, who lived in the 11th century CE -- some 900 years after Origen -- did not "invent" the idea that the suffering servant is the Jewish nation.
So this book, written by Christian clergymen NOT Jews, is playing fast and loose with the facts.
Tomorrow I will begin discussing some of the references given by Driver and Neubauer and put them in context.
Some mistranslations are innocent -- and others appear self-serving.
Nowhere in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53 is there a mention of sin -- yet various Christian translations use that word, perhaps because so many want to believe that Jesus was without sin, and yet a sin sacrifice and use this famous passage to support that belief.
They are being lied to, plain and simple.
Consider Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:5 in the following Christian translations:
"He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed." NET Bible.
"But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed." Douay-Rheims Bible.
"He was wounded for our rebellious acts. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so that we could have peace, and we received healing from his wounds." G-d's Word Translation.
Yet the word for "sin" does not appear in this verse.
The Hebrew is מֵעֲוֹנֹתֵ֑ינוּ (for our impulsive, lustful wrongdoings). Most Christian translations choose the word "iniquity" here, and that is more honest than the translations above. An avon / עוון / transgression is when a person does whatever he wants, but not to anger G‑d. The sinner is intent on enjoying forbidden things he desires -- he knows it is wrong but does it any way. . . Thus an avon is worse than "sin."
The Hebrew word translated as “sin” is חֵטְא / cheit -- a mistake (a missing of the mark). You tried to do the right thing (it wasn't willful or knowingly doing something wrong). "Sin” is a חֵטְא / cheit -- an unintentional sin through carelessness — a “missing of the mark."
Making mistakes (trying to do the right thing and missing aka sin) is all about learning from your mistakes and making up for them via apology, repayment, etc. G-d tells Cain way back in B'reshit / Genesis 4 that he can over come sin (this is "after" Adam and Chava (Eve) sinned, so OOPS there goes the idea of "original sin").
An avon / עוון is not a mistake (it is more serious than sin) -- it is a knowing violation of the rule of law -- the commission of a crime from an impulsive (think lustful) action.
Translating avon / עוון as "sin" is not only incorrect -- it has to be intentional as the words are not at all similar.
Note, too, that most Christian translations of verse five say: "he was pierced for our transgressions" NIV.
The Hebrew word translated as "pierced" is מְחֹלָ֣ל. It is conjugated in a singular 3rd-person masculine passive verb form commonly translated as "he was wounded". A similar term, - m'holelet, conjugated in a singular 3rd-person feminine active verb form is found in Isaiah 51:9. It is commonly translated as "[she] wounded." Pierced is a stretch -- but the general meaning has to do with being wounded by a sword, so pierced is a possible, but not a preferred, translation.
Far more misleading is "he was crushed for our iniquities" NIV.
The verse does not say, “He was wounded for our transgressions and iniquities -- which might lead a reader to "he died FOR my sins." The proper translation is “He was wounded because of our transgressions, and crushed because of our iniquities.” The servant is suffering because of the evil done by others, not "for" them as an act of vicarious atonement. Hebrew uses prepositional prefix-letters ב (b), כ (k), ל (l) and מ (m) to convey prepositions. In this passage the preposition is a מ (mem) in the word מִפְּשָׁעֵנוּ mip'sha'énu. It is never translated as “for” which would incorrectly indicate a vicarious atonement.
There are additional places in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53 where many Christian translations use the word "sin" although it does not appear in the text.
"All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left G-d's paths to follow our own. Yet the L-RD laid on him the sins of us all." New Living Translation, Isaiah 53:6.
Again, the word in verse 6 is עֲוֹ֥ן / avon (iniquity / impulsive wrongdoing) -- not חֵטְא / cheit (sin). The sentence itself (that G-d laid on him the sins of us all) infers vicarious atonement (e.g., Jesus dying for your sins) -- and it is yet another mistranslation. The verse actually says "We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one on his way, and the L-rd accepted his prayers for the iniquity of all of us."
The fact that prayers can atone for iniquity does not "fit" the Christian concept that Jesus has to die for your sins, ergo the passage is mistranslated.
Want proof? The verb לִפְגֹּֽעַ literally means “to encounter” or “to come across by chance”, but it can also mean “to beg”, “to plead [with]”or “to pray [to]”. It takes an indirect object governed by the preposition ב־ (compare the usage in B'réshıt / Genesis 28:11 and Y'rmyahu / Jeremiah 7:16). The word בּוֹ literally means “in him”, “with him”, “through him” (or, in the context of Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53, “in them”, “with them”, “through them”) etc, and the meaning of וַיְיָ הִפְגִּֽיעַ בּוֹ אֵת עֲוֺן כֻּלָּֽנוּ in verse 6 is “We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one on his way, and the L-rd accepted his prayers for the iniquity of all of us." See also Rashi's commentary.
Some Christian translations use the word "sin" in association with sacrifices in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:10.
This is perhaps the worst of the misuse of the term "sin" in all of Isaiah 53 as the word "sin" does not appear, let alone a sin sacrifice. Yet the NIV has: "the L-RD makes his life an offering for sin." and the KJV has "thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin."
This is translated to say that the servant is a SACRIFICE -- an offering for sin. This is totally unbiblical and a terrible distortion. Yet again the word for sin does not appear in the text at all.
The word mistranslated as "sin offering" is אָשָׁם֙ / asham. An אָשָׁם֙ / asham is not a "sin offering." The various sacrifices are discussed in the book of Vaykira / Leviticus. A sin sacrifice is the חַטָּאת / chatat was for a missing of the mark (you tried to do good but missed). It is discussed in Vayikra / Leviticus 4.
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:10 does not speak of the sin sacrifice at all. The word which is used is אָשָׁם / asham.
The word אָשָׁם / asham can be translated as "guilt" (as in you are guilty of something) or to speak of the guilt sacrifice. It is quite clear from the context of that the use of in this verse means "guilt" and not "guilt sacrifice."
How can we be so certain that Isaiah is not speaking of the guilt sacrifice? Because there are only a few violations that one could bring a guilt sacrifice to atone. None of them "fit" the suffering servant. An avon/ עוון (unless it falls under the אָשָׁם תָּלוּי / asham talui or or אָשָׁם גְּזֵל֣וֹת / asham g'zelot) cannot be rectified with a qorban (sacrifice). So what are these two sacrifices which can be brought for an avon/ עוון? They are discussed in Vayikra / Leviticus chapter 5.
Those were the only two types of Avon / עוון (translated by Christians as iniquity) which a person could bring a sacrifice for (an asham / guilt sacrifice). Any other type of Avon / עוון must be atoned for with other actions including charity, prayer, repentance.
Knowing this take a look at the use of the word אָשָׁם / asham in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:10. "G-d desired to oppress him and He afflicted him. If his soul would acknowledge guilt, he would see offspring and live long days, and G-d’s purpose would succeed in his hand."
One may now understand why Christian translations have either "offering for sin" or "guilt sacrifice" instead of the proper translation that the servant must admit his own guilt to have the reward of having children and living a long life.
Jesus did not admit guilt.
Jesus did not have children.
Jesus did not live a long life.
Read about the אָשָׁם / asham for yourself. Check the passage and see that the word used is in fact אָשָׁם / asham and not "sin." Look up the אָשָׁם / asham sacrifices for yourself and see if any of them fit the concept most Christians have about "sin" or Jesus atoning for sin. . .
In other words, folks, use this blog as a starting point. Do your own research.
If so many errors, so many seemingly on purpose and self-serving to make this passage seem to "fit" Jesus, in Isaiah 53 are apparent, how many more passages are being used to mislead innocent Christians seeking G-d into a form of idolatry worshiping a man as G-d?
It often seems that the only passage in the T'nach a missionary ever reads is Isaiah 53. When proselytizing a Jew the very first argument from a missionary tends to be "Isaiah 53's suffering servant can't possibly be Israel (the Jews)."
Respectfully, this is the wrong question.
As a Christian the missionary should be taking a cold, hard look at Isaiah 53 and asking themselves "Can this passage possibly be about Jesus?"
To which the answer is a resounding "no."
As you might have noticed in the 365 Prophecies? section of this blog the "proofs" missionary references in the T'nach (Jewish bible) regarding Jesus tend to fall into one of four categories:
All four of these misuses of scripture are found in Christian translations and interpretations of Isaiah 53.
These are just some glaring examples showing that the servant in Isaiah 53 simply does not "fit" Jesus.
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:5 is not in the list above -- but it is usually badly translated in Christian versions which usually have: “He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities." This is incorrect and conveys the wrong impression that the servant suffered FOR others (as in "Jesus died for your sins"). The correct translation is: “He (the servant) was wounded because of our transgressions (מִפְּשָׁעֵ֔נוּ / pesha), and crushed because of our iniquities (מֵעֲוֹנֹתֵ֑ינוּ / avon).” This conveys that the Servant suffered as a result of the sinfulness of others – not the opposite as Christians contend – that the Servant suffered to atone for the sins of others.
Some missionaries will state that the Great Isaiah Scroll (an ancient copy of Isaiah) bears out their mistranslation of "because of" rather than "for" -- but this is not true. The Hebrew in the Great Isaiah Scroll is the same as those in Jewish versions today -- it has a mem in all of those instances ergo those who say the Great Isaiah Scroll says "because of" are relying on yet another mistranslation.
The following is a quote from "A General Introduction to the Bible" concerning this Isaiah Scroll. "Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only 17 letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The three remaining letters comprise the word LIGHT, which is added in verse 11 and which does not affect the meaning greatly. . . Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission - and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage." (Norman Geisler & William Nix, "A General Introduction to the Bible", Moody Press, Page 263). Now, the Great Isaiah Scroll is NOT reliable and contains scribal spelling errors. Most of the differences are simply grammatical -- it most likely was in a genizah (a "graveyard" for defective copies) -- BUT the content is the same as the Hebrew we have today (even if there are some minor variations). The missionaries who try to use it as proof that Jews have "changed" Isaiah 53 are not learned in Hebrew and most likely are repeating what they've read or heard from other missionaries.
The Torah has different methods of atonement for different types of wrongdoings. . . "Sin” is a חֵטְא / cheit -- an unintentional sin through carelessness — a “missing of the mark." If Jesus died for sin then he died for mistakes -- not for more serious wrongdoings.
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:5 does not speak of "sin." It speaks of far more serious wrongdoings for which no sacrifice could be brought. I wrote about the different types of wrongdoings in this post. An עוון avon (iniquity - the impulsive / lustful actions) or פֶּֽשַׁע pĕsha (transgression, willful rebellion against G-d) are mentioned in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:5 and neither could be atoned for with sacrifices (with the exception listed a few עוון avon that are listed in Vayikra / Leviticus 5 -- such as certain thefts or if a person was unsure if he had sinned).
Isaiah is saying that the servant was wounded because people were guilty of committing עוון avon (iniquity - the impulsive / lustful actions) and פֶּֽשַׁע pĕsha (transgression, willful rebellion against G-d) against the servant. Again -- was Jesus the victim of lustful, impulsive actions against him? How about evil deeds done in defiance of G-d -- was Jesus the victim of acts of evil done on purpose to defy G-d? A missionary might claim "yes" -- and an argument could be made that his death was an act against the evil actions of others -- but this is NOT the missionary claim that Jesus was “He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities." Many, many people have been the victim of the evil actions of others -- including victims of crime today. Even if the correct translation "fit" Jesus it is one out of many he does not "fit."
Simply viewing the passages in the short list it is clear that Jesus does not "fit" Isaiah's suffering servant.
Quite simply, unless one ignores context, mistranslated words ("guilt" becomes "guilt sacrifice", "executions" becomes the singular" and so forth), and even complete opposites (Jesus being killed with criminals rather than among the rich) it is abundantly clear that Jesus does not "fit" the servant in Isaiah 53.
In the other section of this blog I am tackling a missionary list found on the internet in multiple locations with "365 Messianic Prophecies Jesus Fulfilled" to see, one by one, if they stand up to inspection. Having reached #100 on the list Isaiah 53 has not yet been reached. Each missionary claim for Isaiah 53 will be tackled, one by one, when it appears on the list (around 228, 229 on the list).
I leave you with one final thought. The missionary who begins by stating "Isaiah 53 can't be about Israel (the Jews) says this, normally with a comment such as "servant of Isaiah 53 is an innocent and guiltless sufferer. Israel is never described as sinless." Actually, the servant is never described as sinless. Missionaries tend to lump every Jew who ever lived into their analysis -- including apostate Jews who became atheists, or Christians. If one Jew who ever lived wasn't murdered (as the servant is said to die multiple deaths in executions) these missionaries will declare that the servant cannot be the Jews.
Does this missionary argument hold up on inspection?
Read D'varim / Deuteronomy 30. Moses tells the people that there will come a time when the Jewish people will exiled from the land, and only a remnant (a small number) will remain faithful to G-d. Even Y'shayahu / Isaiah (chapter 10:20) states "the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob."
The servant in Isaiah 53 is the righteous remnant of Jews who, throughout history, have remained faithful to G-d and His covenant with us. This is not some "excuse." Time and again the T'nach (bible) tells us that the Jews will be exiled as a punishment and that over time only a few, a "righteous remnant" will remain. It is this righteous few who are the suffering servant of Isaiah.
The missionaries should read a prophet they rarely if ever mention, Tzefaniah / Zephaniah, who wrote (chapter 3) a passage which echoes Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53 and Y'rmiyahu / Jeremiah's "new" covenant as well "And I will leave over in your midst a humble and poor people, and they shall take shelter in the name of the L-rd. The remnant of Israel shall neither commit injustice nor speak lies; neither shall deceitful speech be found in their mouth, for they shall graze and lie down, with no one to cause them to shudder. Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Rejoice and celebrate wholeheartedly, O daughter of Jerusalem!"
Tzefaniah / Zephaniah 3:13 "neither shall deceitful speech be found in their mouth"
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:9 "there was no deceit in his mouth."
Time and again the prophet Y'shayahu / Isaiah declares that Israel (the Jewish people) are G-d's servant. Y'shayahu / Isaiah 41:8 - 9. "But you, Israel My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, who loved Me, Whom I grasped from the ends of the earth, and from its nobles I called you, and I said to you, "You are My servant"; I chose you and I did not despise you."
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 44:1. "And now, hearken, Jacob (Jacob's name was changed to Israel and Jews are often called "Jacob" and "Israel") My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen. 2. So said HaShem your Maker, and He Who formed you from the womb shall aid you. Fear not, My servant Jacob, and Jeshurun (the Jews) whom I have chosen."
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 44:21 "Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you."
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 45:4. "For the sake of My servant Jacob, and Israel My chosen one, and I called to you by your name; I surnamed you, yet you have not known Me."
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 49:3 - 7. "And He said to me (Isaiah), "You are My servant, Israel, about whom I will boast. . . This is what HaShem says- the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel- to him who was despised and abhorred by the nations, to the servant of rulers: "Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of HaShem , who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."
Note one particular phrase in chapter 49 of Isaiah and contrast it with Isaiah 53:
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 49:7 "to him (my servant Israel) who was despised and abhorred by the nations"
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:3 "Despised and rejected by men."
and from Jeremiah:
Y'rmiyahu / Jeremiah 30:10 " 'So do not fear, O Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, O Israel,' declares HaShem."
Also see Isaiah 42:19-20; 43:10 to see that Israel is the servant, nowhere is this term used for the messiah. Jeremiah 30:10 also names Israel as the servant and Jeremiah 30:17 says that the servant Israel is regarded by the nations as an outcast, forsaken by G-d, just like in Isaiah 53:4.
The purpose of this post is not to prove to missionaries that the servant in Isaiah 53 is Israel. That is immaterial to the question of whether or not the servant could possibly fit Jesus. It should be clear, having read this post, that Jesus was not Isaiah's servant. Having determined that the servant is not Jesus, the next logical question is to read Isaiah 53 in context of the entire book of Isaiah to determine whether the righteous remnant of Israel fits the description alone, or in combination with someone else.
The image is the purported rabbinical ordination document (semicha) of Sam Stern. The explanation of the mistakes and alterations is courtesy of Uri Yosef, a native Israeli who also reads German.
Rabbi Sam Stern is another supposed "Orthodox Rabbi" whom missionaries claim converted to Christianity. This post examines that claim.
According to Stern's Christian "story" found on many missionary sites on the internet, Stern was born in Poland around 1917 (give or take a few years). On page 6 of the book he states he is 21 in 1939 (putting his birth year around 1918). He then states he was raised “into a strict Orthodox Jewish rabbinic and Chasidic home,” trained to be a Rabbi. The testimony says he was from “a little town in Congress-Poland near Warsaw.” He later claims he was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust.
Was he an Orthodox Rabbi? It seems highly unlikely. Uri Yosef, the administrator of the Messiah Truth countermissionary forum read Stern's Christian "story" (found in numerous places on the internet) and also saw a copy of Stern's supposed rabbinical ordination (a copy of which is displayed in this post, along with Uri's analysis of it). Written in German, the document has numerous errors which Uri, familiar with German, explains in detail (also found above).
Stern claimed to be from Poland and he claimed to have received his Rabbinical ordination in 1939. In his autobiography Stern claimed he attended Novardok Yeshiva in Lodz, Poland, and that this was the last school he attended prior to the start of World War II. Novardok had numerous yeshivot, but I can find no record that they had a location in Lodz, Poland.
He claimed to be, at that point (1939) he was a משגיח (mashgiach) - a Jew who supervises the kashrut status of a kosher establishment. Yet, in 1936 the Sejm (Polish Parliament) proposed banning shechitah (kosher slaughter). They highly restricted it (establishing a low quota), and with the beginning of World War II in 1939 it was outlawed completely. Link.
Again, the facts simply do not support his claims. How could he be a mashgiach in 1939 when it was highly restricted and then banned that same year? Link. How does being a mashgiach (if he was one) make him a rabbi? The credentials are not the same (although some rabbis are also mashgiach).
On page 28 of his autobiography he states his yeshiva closed due to the war. On page 36, in 1939 after the German invasion, Stern quotes himself as saying "I was too young to be a rabbi having just graduated from school."
Stern himself states he was not a rabbi at the start of World War II, and there was no way for him to become an ordained rabbi during the war. How is that "post war" he can suddenly claim to be a rabbi? Yet by page 42 he sates he was a "graduated rabbi."
Which is it? Was he a mashgiach of a closed yeshiva and not a rabbi, or was he a rabbi? Was there even a Novardok Yeshiva in Lodz, Poland before the war?
There was no mention of Germany or Stern ever having been in Germany as of 1939. Yet, the supposed rabbinical smicha (ordination) is written in German, not Polish or Yiddish or Hebrew and dated 1950. To quote Uri: "There is a picture of what he claims is his Rabbinic certificate from the City of Augsburg, which is a large city in southern Germany. Since I am fluent in German, I can tell that it is a fake, because the German in it is completely incorrect - misspelled words - aside of the fact that it doesn't even contain a complete sentence. The name in it is "Sternschoss Simcha", which also seems to have been "edited".
The Germans had banned Jews attending schools (in Germany, not Poland) in 1938. Stern claimed he received his Rabbinical ordination in 1939 -- but the document he presented was issued by the Germany city (Augsburg) in 1950 (per the document). Was he ordained in 1939 in Poland or 1950 in Germany? Link.
Uri said the name on the document was Sternschoss Simcha, but the name given on his old website was Symcha Sternshoss (a slightly different spelling). A check of the Yad Vashem database of Holocaust survivors and victims results in no result for the name of Sternschoss or Sternshoss -- yet Stern insisted that his entire family (by that name) perished in the Holocaust. Surely his name, and the names of his family, would be recorded. There was a Szternszus, Symcha listed in the Lodz, Poland Ghetto -- but he was born in 1875 and his profession was listed as a drucker (a printer). This birthdate is too early for Stern who said he was born after World War I. On page 6 of the book he states he is 21 in 1939 (putting his birth year around 1918).
Using the various spelling iterations (Sternschoss, Sternshoss and Szternszus) it is not possible to find a person matching the information given for "Sam Stern."
The United States Holocaust Museum finds one "near match" -- Shtermschuss, Slate Yet, this person was born in 1921 and is not the person purporting to be Sam Stern. Slate was a weaver who arrived in Tel Aviv (Israel) in 1939, and thus could not be "Sam Stern."
Uri Yosef is fluent in German, and in reviewing the rabbinical ordination document shown in this post he states that it is obvious the name on that document has been obviously altered (changed).
Is it possible that the person who later called himself "Sam Stern" took an assumed identity after World War II ended? Perhaps he found an old rabbinical ordination for Augsburg, lightly modified it and took the slightly modified name as his own?
Given the missionary articles Stern wrote (a woeful lack of Jewish and Hebrew knowledge) is it possible (probable?) that Stern forged a rabbinical ordination document? Also note that in the document Stern provided it does not say he is an "Orthodox Rabbi," it simply says he is a "Rabbi." Given that the Augsburg Synagogue had been destroyed before the war, and that very few Jews were in Augsburg post war (approximately 300), who had the authority to issue a rabbinical ordination document to Stern from Augsburg?
Let's explore some of the details Stern gave about himself (he later changed his name from Polish to "Sam Stern"). They do not make sense given what we know about the history of the second World War.
Historians estimate that close to 90% of the nearly 3.5 million pre-war Polish Jews perished. Thus only some 350,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust. The Nazis were wonderful record keepers and we have the names – particularly the names of survivors. Would it surprise you to know that the name "Sam Stern" or Symcha Sternshoss fitting the information in the "testimony" does not exist?
It is possible to search Holocaust databases by name – for both those who died and those who survived. There is no record of a Sam Stern born around the time this man claims to be born who survived (or died) in the Holocaust. There is no name that even sounds “near” that name which might be the same person. Link. Doing a little more digging I found a claim that he had changed his name from Symcha Sternchoss, but yet again doing a search on that name did not find a Holocaust survivor with that name among the Jews. There was only one person with that last name, and he was a weaver (not a rabbi), and again the birth dates did not match.. Link.
There was a "Sam Stern" who survived the Holocaust, but he was from Germany, not from Poland, and he was only 2 years old at the start of the war where the “Sam Stern” in the missionary testimonies claims he was 22 years old. Link. There was also a “Sam Stern” from Poland, born in 1922, who was murdered in the Holocaust, Link. I include them, even though he claimed his Polish name was different, to show my attempt to be thorough in finding supporting facts for his biographical details.
The Christian “testimony” by Stern claims that in 1952 he came to Rhode Island to be an assistant rabbi in a Synagogue. Again, I can find absolutely no proof of this. I’ve searched the historical information available listing both the Synagogues and the Rabbis from those Synagogues and can find no record of him.
Perhaps even stranger is the fact that the man claims (in his “testimony”) that he went to a displaced persons camp in Poking, Germany near the Austrian border in April of 1946. Poking closed in 1949 (link), yet Stern states (page 75 of his autobiography) that he stayed in the DP camp until 1951.
This raises yet another question as to Stern's credibility. Per the United States Holocaust Museum Poking "had several Talmud Torahs with more than 200 pupils, as well as a Lubavitcher and a Klausenburger Yeshiva with a combined 500 pupils." If this were the case why did Stern not receive proof of his rabbinical ordination from the camp Yeshiva? Why would his "proof" come from a town over 2 hours away (Augsburg) after the camp was closed?
There was also a DP (displaced persons) camp in Augsburg, Germany. Is it possible that Stern was moved from Poking to Augsburg? That possibility seems remote since Augsburg DP primarily housed Ukrainians and Lithuanians (and Stern said he was Polish). The camp operated from 1945 until 1949 and was run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association. Again, Stern's rabbinical ordination document from Augsburg is dated 1950 -- after the Augsburg DP center had closed. (link).
From what I can discern there was no person meeting the information given in Stern's Christian testimony. There was no “Sam Stern” or "Symcha Sternshoss" born around 1917 (given a 5 to 10 year range) in Poland, who became a Rabbi and who survived the Holocaust to live in a DP camp in Germany, either Poking, or Augsburg Germany.
It gets even odder.
Stern says he became an assistant Rabbi in a Synagogue in Rhode Island. Again, the name of the Synagogue is not given. There is no way to check this claim (I tried!). He says he taught the Talmud. Yet a few sentences later he says “I could not read English.” How could he teach anything to American students if his English was so poor that he could not read it? He does not claim he was teaching in a Yeshiva where he might have been speaking Hebrew, no he was an assistant rabbi and a Synagogue (not a school). . . those facts do not seem to make any sense.
He claims that a missionary gave him a copy of the Christian bible in Yiddish. The missionary giving him the book told Stern that "This is a mission to the Jews."
That also makes no sense! In 2013 Rhode Island had fewer than 19,000 Jews in the entire state! Why would missionaries in Rhode Island be targeting Jews???
Having been unable to prove any of the sketchy biographical data given by Stern up to this point I began to question if this “rabbi” was completely fiction. This options seems more than likely given the arguments he gave for converting to Christianity.
For example “Stern” wrote “Opening the Book of Matthew, I was surprised to read that Jesus is of the lineage of Abraham and David, I also noticed that on every page it says "As it is written," which means that it was written in our Jewish Bible. For example, in the first chapter I read that He will be born of a virgin because it is written: Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel... (Isaiah 7:14).”
But that IS NOT WRITTEN in the Jewish bible. Isaiah 7:14 says nothing about virgins (the term is “young woman” and anyone who reads Hebrew would know that). The terms ha'na'aRAH & ha'alMAH (accent is on the syllable in CAPs) are age-related classifications (and mean a young woman) -- it has nothing to do with being a virgin (young or old). Would not a rabbi know the difference between the Hebrew word for virgin בְּתוּלָה / b'tuLAH and the word for young woman - עַלְמָה / almah?
A rabbi would also know that lineage is transferred by the Jewish father, and if Jesus was a “virgin birth” he would NOT be of the lineage of Abraham and David (he would have no tribal status at all).
A Christian writing a fake “testimony” would not know what the T’nach (Jewish bible) says, but a rabbi surely would! An educated Rabbi would not make such a basic mistake.
It gets even worse. “Stern” references Micah 5:2 (it is not 5:2 in a T’nach, it is 5:1 – again a rabbi would make that simple an error?) that the messiah must be born in Bethlehem – but that is not what Micah says. It says the messiah will come from the line of David (who was of Bethlehem Efrat). “Stern” also gives Matthew’s misquote of Micah which actually reverses the words of Micah, and yet again a rabbi would know better!
He also says “He shall come out of Egypt, for it is written: Out of Egypt have I called my son (Hosea 11:1)” as if this were about the messiah, but again a rabbi would know that Hosea is speaking of the Jewish people as the text actually is not messianic – it is speaking of the Jews escaping slavery in Egypt. The beginning of that verse reads, “When Israel was a child I loved him,” -- Hosea calls Israel, not Jesus, G-ds son.
The so called “proofs” given by “Stern” are typical missionary proof texts, but any rabbi would know they are taken out of context (Isaiah 7 is a message for the then living King Ahaz, who was dead 700 years by the time Jesus was supposedly born). . .
Then "Stern" mentions Isaiah 53, that favorite missionary "proof text." He says "I did not know the contents of Isaiah 53! The next day I showed the same "poem" to a friend, a rabbi in New York. He did not know either that Isaiah had written the chapter. The only conclusion I could reach was that the main reason so many rabbis and other Jews don't know the Messiah, the Saviour of the Old and New Testament, is that they don't know the Bible. I decided to do everything in my power to bring the Jewish Bible to them."
This is also ridiculous. A rabbi who is unfamiliar with the book of Isaiah, including chapter 53? This "rabbi" has a friend, another rabbi, who did not know that Isaiah had written it either? Rabbis do not know the bible???
Another mind boggling example is his statement "the word Messiah appears here (in Daniel 9) in the T'Nach for the first and only time."
The word "messiah" appears in the T'nach 39 times!
Not once, but 39 times! 34 occurrences are nouns (“a messiah”) and five are adjectives (“smeared with oil”).
Not to mention that it appears twice in Daniel 9 alone (not once).
THIS is an Orthodox rabbi????? This is a man "learned in Torah"? This is a man learned in Hebrew?
In other words, this “testimony” seems to be made up of whole cloth. The entire thing seems fabricated. If there is (was) a real Rabbi Sam Stern I would like a missionary to give us some proof that we can research, as none of the autobiographical information given in the “testimony” holds up to inspection. The man seems real enough -- as he founded Hebrew Witness, Inc., in Brooklyn, New York, but is his "Jewish" background accurate? None of the information supplied in the testimonial holds up to inspection.
Was the man a Jew? Maybe, maybe not. If he was a Jew did he come from a religious family? Also maybe, maybe not. The credentials simply do not "check out." Given the length of the war and his supposed "hiding out as a Pole" (how did he manage to not get caught as a Jew when he claims that every other member of his family perished in the Holocaust?). . . perhaps he was from a religiously Jewish family but had little to no Jewish education because of the interruption during World War II. . .who knows? Given the untraceable autobiographical information supplied there is no way to determine what Stern's true background might have been.
Perhaps oddest of all is that the Christians seemed to reject him, too. If this man was so "learned" why did the very Christians he sought to join reject him? These are the same Christians who now tout him as a great example of a "learned Jew who became a Christian!" Here are a few quotes, again from his autobiography.
Having completed four years at a Christian college (Biola) he wrote "They told me I had started too late in life and would never amount to anything. . . I approached Dr. Michelson. . .and told him I was now ready to enter the ministry full time I was dismayed that he did not agree with me. "You do not need to rush. Stay in the mailing room. . ."
A group of ministers ordained him, but a year later "The Director of the mission said he did not know exactly where to place me. He asked if I would be willing to sit at the reception desk. . ."
Not able to get work as a missionary he wound up becoming a social worker. Why would the Christians not take advantage of this "Orthodox Rabbi who became a Christian"? There must have been some reason they rejected him for that purpose. "Hebrew Christians ignored me, spoke against me, or otherwise thought to discourage me. . ."
One reason he might have been rejected as a missionary is his ignorance. In his book he claims to ask a rabbi why G-d is referred to as "elohim" (plural) rather than "el" (singular). It is impossible that a "learned rabbi" would not know basic Hebrew. Elohim is NOT plural. Those with a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew think that the use of the word elohim is plural because it ends in "ים” , transliterated as “im.” In Hebrew a single word does not make a sentence singular or plural, and often the use of ים is found in words that are obviously singular. Elohim ends with the masculine plural suffix "ים”.
Surely a learned rabbi would know basic Hebrew grammar! In Hebrew one word alone does not make it plural or singular. To know if "elohim" is singular or plural it must be in a sentence where:
It receives a plural suffix;
It receives a plural verb;
It receives a plural adjective.
Elohim speaks to the majesty of the entity -- a ruler or judge. The "im" ending denotes power and majesty. The word is used to describe HaShem when He is in a judging or ruling mode (versus say anon*i which speaks of His mercy. The root of the word is eil, which means force.
Rambam in “The Guide for the Perplexed” puts it this way: "Every Hebrew knows that the term elohim is a homonym, and denotes G-d, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries, and that Onkelos the proselyte explained it in the true and correct manner by taking elohim in the sentence, "and ye shall be like elohim" (Gen. iii. 5) in the last-mentioned meaning, and rendering the sentence "and ye shall be like princes."
Every Hebrew apparently except for one "Rabbi" Sam Stern!
Elohim is a title ("name") for G-d, but it means a mighty judge. The word is used to speak of powerful humans (as in B'réshıt / Genesis 6:4, "the sons of the nobles (elohim) would come to the daughters of man") and angels in T'hillim / Psalm 82:6 "I said, "You are angelic creatures, and all of you are angels of the Most High." The word elohim refers to judges (as in Sh'mot / Exodus 21:6 "his master shall bring him to הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים (ha-elohim) the judges" as well as Sh'mot / Exodus 22:7-8 "the homeowner shall approach the judges. . . both parties shall come to the judges. . ."; and it can also refer to false “gods” (i.e. idols).
Whenever elohim speaks of G-d it does not have a plural form verb. In B'reshit / Genesis 1:3 we have the singular "vayomer elohim" (“and G-d said”)—not vayom'ru (the plural inflection “and they said”). This is true foin verse 4: vaya'r elohim (“and G-d saw”)—not vayir'u (the plural inflection “and they saw”) and vayavdél elohim (“and G-d divided/separated”)—not vayavdilu (the plural inflection “and they divided/separated”). . . and on and on it goes.
The word e elohim is used more than 2000 times in the T'nach to speak of G-d, false gods (plural), powerful humans and even angels. Almost always elohim has a singular verb, making the usage singular. The adjective is almost always singular, too, where the word "elohim" is concerned. In fact there are over eleven hundred instances of the word elohim governing an explicitly singular verb-inflexion when speaking of G-d.
Whoever Sam Stern might have been, he was not a learned Jew. His ignorance of basic Hebrew grammar relating to the word "elohim" alone shows this. It is interesting that the various Christians he aligned with rejected him as a minister, too. It is sad that Stern concluded that G-d had rejected His people due to the holocaust. Stern should have rightly put the blame for the holocaust on the evil men who perpetrated it, and realized that by turning his back on Judaism he was turning his back on G-d Himself.
Although missionaries claim that there are many "prophecies" about Jesus in the T'nach it often seems that Isaiah 53 is often the #1 missionary "go to" proof that Jesus was the messiah.
Traditionally Judaism states that Isaiah 53's suffering servant is the Jewish nation, referred to in the singular. Missionaries try to find any "proof" that some Jew somewhere pointed to Isaiah 53's servant as the messiah (or someone else) as if this "proves" that Jesus was the suffering servant.
We will discuss Isaiah 53 in my other blog, 365 Prophecies, and point out that Jesus did not have a long physical life, did not admit guilt, did not have children, etc. as the servant will. There are also places in Isaiah 53 where the servant is referred to in the plural (which doesn't fit Jesus either).
My intention here is to simply address the missionary contention about Isaiah 53 and what Jewish sources have to say about it. The internet has site after site “quoting” early Jewish sources who recognize that the suffering servant was the messiah. The only problem is that this is not the truth.
Go back to early Christianity. An early church father, Origen, in 248 CE, speaks of Jews telling him the servant was Israel and not the messiah.
"Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies; to which my Jewish opponent replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations." Origen, Contra Celsum, Book 1.Chapter 55.
Most missionaries try to claim that Jews before Rashi (1040 - 1105 CE) said the servant in Isaiah 53 was the messiah and "Rashi changed it to the Jews." How do they explain Origen's quote from the 3rd century CE? How do they explain these sources (all pre-Rashi) which all state that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people (Israel):
Eliyahu Rabbah (3 citations)
Yalkut Shimoni II 476
Bamidbar Rabbah chapter 13.2
Zohar (numerous places)
Poems by R. Shlomo Ibn Gavriel
The answers to missionaries trying to prove that Jesus was not (and could not have been) the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 haven’t changed in the 2000 years that Jews have been trying to educate Christians. You can read the same answers (about Isaiah 53 for example) in the Disputation of Barcelona where the Ramban debated a Christian in front of the King of Spain in 1263 CE.
”Friar Paul (the Christian) claimed: “Behold the passage in Isaiah, chapter 53, tells of the death of the messiah and how he was to fall into the hands of his enemies and how he was placed alongside the wicked, as happened to Jesus. Do you believe that this section speaks of the messiah?
(The Ramban) said to him: “In terms of the true meaning of the section, it speaks only of the people of Israel, which the prophets regularly call ‘Israel My servant’ or ‘Jacob My servant.’ ”
Friar Paul said: “I shall prove from the words of your sages that it speaks of the messiah.”
(The Ramban) said to him: “It is true that the rabbis in the aggadah (stories not meant to be taken literally) explain it as referring to the messiah. However, they never said that he would be killed at the hands of his enemies. For you will find in no book of the Jews, neither in the Talmud nor in the Midrash, that the messiah, the descendant of David, would be killed or would be turned over to his enemies or would be buried among the wicked. Indeed even the messiah whom you made for yourself was not buried. I shall explain for you this section properly and clearly, if you wish. There is no indication that the messiah would be killed, as happened to your messiah. They, however, did not wish to hear.”
The truth is the truth. It doesn’t change — and it may seem “tired” when one hears the same truths over and over again.
Friar Paul, the Christian, (in the debate with the Ramban in front of the King) then cited a (Midrash) aggadah (stories not meant to be taken literally). . . The Ramban told the King
"This is analogous to the bishop standing and giving a sermon, with one of the listeners deciding to write it. In regard to this book, those who believe it well and good, but those who do not believe it do no harm.”
Midrash aggadot are like sermons — not meant to be taken literally, yet the missionaries quote from aggadot on Isaiah 53 as if it WERE literal. The 19th century book called “The Fifty-third chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters” by Driver and Neubauer (Christians) began this missionary myth which is repeated by so many missionaries. This untruth is found all over the internet, because they simply do not understand (or if they do understand, they don’t explain to their readers) what Midrash Aggadot really is about. That book also quoted Karaites (considered apostates!), obscure poets and such are quoted in that book as if they were Jewish sages. . . and no sources are given so it is very difficult to trace what is a bad mistranslation versus an outright fable. . .
As the Ramban said to the King of Spain
“We also call this book aggadah, that is, stories, meaning that these are only things which one person tells another.”
And yet these stories are repeated by missionary after missionary as “proof.”
Proof like a castle built out of sand.
My answer is the same as that of the Ramban, 800 years ago. It is old. It is tired. I dearly wish I did not have to repeat it.
But the truth does not change.
The original idea that Jews USED to say that Isaiah 52-53 was about the messiah but "changed" it to the nation of Israel because of the threat of Christianity during the time of Rashi (12th century CE) popped up in the 19th century. It was the brainchild of a Chrstian named E. B. Pusey. He came up with the idea for a book entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters. He wrote a VERY long introduction which in itself contains many, many errors.
Two fellow Oxford men did the translations -- which are very selective (as we will see in future posts) and often mistranslated. The translations were courtesy of Driver and Neubauer. These supposed Jewish "proofs" now rebound all over the internet. (usually uncredited).
Although the title speaks of Isaiah 53, the misquotes often ignore that chapter, and often Isaiah itself, to glean misquotes and distortions from various sources. Missionaries quote all the old standards that come from the Driver and Neubauer book and are found all over the internet. E. B. Pusey was a Christian theologian who lived in the 19th century. So he wasn't Jewish and his knowledge of "Jewish interpretation" of anything was limited (to be kind). Pusey read Hebrew, German, Aramaic and Arabic - but he was not learned in Judaism.
Read the introduction to the book itself and you will see that Neubauer DID NOT want to include the passages that appear from Martini as they are forgeries. However Pusey insisted that they appear (as he states in his introduction) and so there now appears a text that is claimed to come from the talmud Sanhedrin, which disagrees with all texts of Sanhedrin, and is IN FACT taken from Martini.
This issue of falsification and distortion is a common one. The targum Jonathan is quoted for verse 52:13 but usually not 52:14 or 53:1.
Why because that destroys the premise that the servant in Isaiah is the messiah!
The Zohar (II 212) is quoted in part but NEVER in full where it would contradict what the quoter is trying to prove. The Zohar is mysticism -- allegory not literal meaning so quoting it for "facts" is a total distortion. It shouldn't be used to "prove" anything -- but they do use it to try to prove that Jesus could be the messiah, and then they misquote it ignoring the parts that disprove their contention (dishonest at best).
The same could be said for their quotes from the Ramban (Nachmanides, who says that the simple meaning of the passage is that it is about Israel),or the Alsheich who mentions the messiah, but says that the messiah he means is King David. etc etc.
This 19th century book, then, is the source that "proves" we Jews changed the meaning of the servant from the messiah to Israel. Hardly bullet-proof and yet time and again we must refute it. Quotes from it are found all over the internet (usually without crediting the original source).
Over time I may discuss a number of the sources used by missionaries, most taken from Driver and Neubauer -- sources including Sanhedrin 98, the Zohar, Targum Yonathan (Jonathan), Sefer Gilgulim, etc. For now -- consider the source! In the meantime I suggest reading the article "The Lies and Distortions of Driver in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters" by Rabbi Moshe Shulman.
Sophiee Saguy has been countering false missionary claims about Judaism and the T'nach (Jewish bible) for nearly twenty years. You may find her on FaceBook and at the Messiah Truth forum.