A few days ago I posted a study of #145 on the list of missionary claims that Jesus fulfilled 365 prophecies. This claim is tied to a missionary favorite: T'hillim / Psalm 110:4 has "The L-rd has sworn, and He will not relent, you are a priest forever, a rightful king (מַלְכִּי־צֶ֙דֶק֙) by my decree."
In that post I explained that "Melchizedek" is not a name, but it is rather a description (a king of righteousness). Many Jewish names in the T'nach are descriptions -- indeed when G-d changes Jacob's name from Jacob (which means "holder of the heel, i.e. a follower" -- Jacob was born the second twin, holding the heel of his brother Esau) to Israel. The name Israel -- implying a שָׂר / sar – a cheif, prince or ruler -- a leader of others: “for you have striven with an angel and with men and you have persevered” (B'reshit / Genesis 32:29). אֵל / El means mighty or powerful, but אֵל / El is often translated as "G-d", and אֵל / El is often used as a name (description) of G-d by itself or as part of other words (e.g. elohim). The name Israel means a prince of G-d or a divine master. . . but G-d does not actually "change" Jacob's name to Israel -- he is called by both names, because each name defines a different aspect of the man. . .
Thus "names" in the bible are descriptions not mere "labels."
Yet in B'reshit / Genesis we are told "מַלְכִּי־צֶ֙דֶק֙ / Malkhi-tzedek / a king of righteousness, king of Salem brought forth bread and wine. He was a priest to God, the Most High."
The missionary posted a message on my Facebook stating that "the rabbis even say this is about the messiah" (that Melchizedek is a name and is a prophecy about the messiah). I do not allow misleading missionizing on my page, but do want to explain the error of this statement.
This blog has spent some time discussing the Missionary Misuse of Jewish Sources. Most missionaries have been lied to themselves and they repeat these lies, through ignorance. There are modern missionaries, such as Michael L. Brown (an apostate Jew who was a secular Jew who, as a teenager, got into drug use and worse. He became a Christian in his teens, but because he was born a Jew many Christians think he is knowledgable. To compound this error Brown himself has written many books as if he is an expert, with titles often begining "Answering Jewish Objections").
The missionary on Facebook stated that the Talmud states that "Melchizedek is about the messiah." The msisionary did not cite a passage, but that is immaterial.
This claim stems from missionaries quoting a source they do not understand -- midrash aggadah. The Talmud explains how to perform various mitzvot (commands). For example, the Torah tells us that we must butcher animals as G-d explained to us -- but the how is not mentioned. The "how" is explained in the Mishna, which is where the explanations were written down. The second part of the Talmud is called the Gemara. The second half of the Talmud is the Gemara. (So Mishna + Gemara = Talmud). For a 300 year period ending in 500CE the Amoraim in Babylon and Jerusalem set about analyzing and commenting on Mishna. But Gemara is not limited to just analyzing Mishna. It goes into some oral law that was not included in the Mishna (Tosefta).
Missionaries will take quotes from the Gemara -- which includes discussions, humor, legal debate, and even stories (tall tales). Quoting these to prove something is beyond ridiculous. The Ramban explained to the King of Aragon in the 12th century: "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." (Disputation at Barcelona).
Missionaries are trying to take "sermons" and claim that they are somehow "proof" of some point.
Encyclopedia Judaica explains it well "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. . .Systematic philosophies or theological doctrines are not to be found in the aggadah."
Prophecy, which is what missionaries claim "Melchizedek" as Jesus to be, must always be based on the plain meaning. אֵין מִקְרָא יוֹצֵא מִידֵי פְשׁוּטוֹ -- in English this would be "A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning." (Treatise Shabbat 63a, TreatiseY'vamot 11b, 24a; quoted by Rashi at B'réshıt / Genesis 15:10, 37:19, Sh'mot / Exodus 12:2).
Thus a missionary pointing to something some obsure rabbi said (speaking in homily or even poetry), or a funny discussion in the Talmud, and try to say it supports their prophetic concepts of Jesus are a non-starter. Prophecy is always based on the plain meaning, not on interpretation.
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, 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."
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.
Translation is not an exact science, even when translating between two languages that are similar one to the other. Hebrew is not similar to Greek or English -- or indeed to any other language, with the possible exceptions of Aramaic and, to a lesser degree, Arabic.
Few words of any language have one and only one sense (or meaning) - most words in most languages have several different meanings. For example, the Hebrew word רֹאשׁ / rosh means head, but it can also mean top, and it can also mean the most important part of something. Rosh is often mistranslated as "new" (leading to the mistranslation of "new year" for רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה / Rosh HaShanah -- literally translated as "head of the year" not "new year").
This variance in different languages makes translating the T'nach (Jewish bible) from Hebrew into English more art than science as a translator must choose the meaning of a Hebrew word, which may itself have multiple meanings, with an English word which also may have multiple meanings and not be a "perfect" match to the Hebrew.
A good example of this is the Hebrew word יוֹם / yom which is often translated as "day." This causes many missionaries (particularly evangelical missionaries) to insist that B'reshit / Genesis must be speaking of a 24 hour "day" in the creation chapter. However, the word יוֹם / yom can have different meanings other than a 24 hour day. The precise meaning of יוֹם / yom in the T'nach has 4 meanings depending on the context.
There is an additional issue when considering English translations. In English some words have changed meaning over time. This issue is also true of Greek words which were used in early translations of the T'nach into Greek.
A word chosen in translation 1800 years ago may mean something different than the word means today.
Consider the argument that the word in Y’shayahu / Isaiah 7:14 means “virgin” when it does not – it more properly translates to “young woman” and does not even suggest virginity or a lack of virginity. The Greek translations of 2000+ years ago (translators unknown, but maintained by Christians) chose the Greek word παρθένος / parthenos.
Today the Koine Greek word παρθένος / parthenos is usually translated as virgin – and thus many a missionary will argue that the word in Y’shayahu / Isaiah 7:14 must be “virgin” (this is complicated by the fact that the Christian bible uses this passage as the “prophecy” that Jesus will be a virgin birth). Yet, 2800 years ago παρθένος / parthenos did not mean virgin. The ancient Greek poet Ὅμηρος / Homer (1200 - 800 BCE) wrote in his Iliad. 2.512-515 that a 'parthenos' gave birth ('teken') to two children: “Ascalaphus and Ialmenus, sons of Mars, led the people that dwelt in Aspledon and Orchomenus the realm of Minyas. Astyoche, a noble maiden (parthenos), bore them in the house of Actor son of Azeus; for she had gone with Mars secretly into an upper chamber, and he had lain with her.”
The ancient Greek translation of B’reshit / Genesis 34:3 states that Dinah is a "parthenos" after her rape by Sh'chem – obviously after rape Dinah was no longer a virgin.
In the misuse of παρθένος / parthenos as "virgin" rather than "young woman" the English translators may well have been innocent. It seems that the word παρθένος / parthenos came to mean "virgin" over time. . . . but originally it did not mean virgin. The Hebrew in Y’shayahu / Isaiah 7:14 is הָעַלְמָה (the young woman). Jews have been trying to correct this Christian mistake for nearly as long as Christianity has existed! Indeed, Justin Martyr (100 CE, so VERY EARLY Christinan) wrote in "Trypho the Jew" that Jews of his era said: "you (Jews) and your teachers venture to affirm that in the prophecy of Isaiah it is not said, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son."
Missionaries who insist they do not need to learn Hebrew to understand the “bible” are fooling themselves.
Missionaries who fool themselves into thinking that the King James Version (KJV) is "as good" as the original are deluding themselves.
When one relies on translations one is allowing the translator to be interpreter – for that is what a translator must be. . . Whether words in early English translations no longer have the meaning they had in the 17th century when the King James Translation was first completed (and contains the word “unicorn” along with “virgin!), or whether there are mistranslations due to poor choices or even deceitful choices the reader is an innocent victim of the translator.
Since translation is more art than science the trick is in finding the word in the target language which is the closest in meaning to each word in the source language. Modern translators have the added problem that if they want people to buy their translation it must also “match” what people expect to see.
Thus modern translations often use earlier mistranslations, perhaps because readers expect to see them. The “proof” texts are particularly vulnerable to this “borrowing” from earlier translations.
Not all Christian translations of the 20th and 21st centuries are guilty of the same mistranslations – but most are. Take for example Daniel 9:25. The King James Version (KJV) has “the Messiah the Prince.” The KJV puts the definite article "the" in front of the translation they chose for the Hebrew word מָשִֽׁיחַ / (moshiach). They chose to translate מָשִֽׁיחַ / moshiach as "the messiah” in Daniel 9:25 although the Hebrew word for "the" does not appear at all ('ha").
Let me repeat that: “the messiah” does not appear in Daniel 9:25. There is no “the” in front of the word מָשִֽׁיחַ / moshiach / messiah / anointed one.
The KJV also capitalizes the “m” in “messiah” (there are no capital letters in Hebrew), thus making it appear to “fit” Jesus.
Let's discuss the word "messiah" -- how is it used? What does it mean? How often is it found in the T’nach (Jewish bible)?
The term מָשִֽׁיחַ / moshiach is usually used to speak of priests and kings who have already lived – not “the messiah.” It means “anointed one” and is used often to speak of Aaron, Moses’ brother, who was a messiah – an anointed priest. It is found 39 times in the T’nach (Jewish bible).
34 times the usage is as a noun (messiah) and 5 times the usage is as an adjective (smeared with oil).
Yet most Christian translations only use the word “messiah” once or twice (usually in Daniel 9, sometimes in T'hillim / Psalm 2). . .
Isn’t that amazing?
The word appears 39 times in the תַּנַ"ךְ / T'nach (Jewish bible) – yet it is not translated as “messiah” 39 times by the Christian versions.
Knowing now that the King James has altered Daniel 9:25 to say “the Messiah” when it truly says “messiah” (or “anointed one”) – and that the KJV uses the word “messiah” in Daniel 9, but not in the other 37 locations in appears in the T’nach (Jewish bible) one can begin to see how translators are liars (whether they mean to be or not).
Let’s just look at a few Christian translations for Daniel 9:
None of them use the word “messiah” in the other 37 locations (39 in all) the term actually is found in the T’nach (bible). This selective translation (mistranslation?) misleads their innocent readers.
Perhaps you can see why it is impossible to rely on English translations to truly read the T’nach (bible).
Even Jewish translations are not perfect. Since translation is more art than science the trick is in finding the word in the target language which is the closest in meaning to each word in the source language – consider the example I gave early in this post that the Hebrew word רֹאשׁ rosh means head, but it can also mean top, and it can also mean the most important part of something.
Hebrew is often poetic, and some subtle nuances of meaning may well be lost in the translation, while in other instances false meanings may be presented even with the best of translators. Consider the Hebrew verb לִשְׁמֹר li-sh'mor. This verb is normally translated as to guard, but it can also mean to keep, or even to observe or to fulfill (a law).
However the verbs "to observe" and "to fulfill" also have other meanings: "to observe" can also mean to witness or to watch something happening, and "to fulfil" can also mean to bring something to completion - but the Hebrew verb לִשְׁמֹר li-sh'mor cannot have any of these secondary senses. G-d frequently commands us in the Torah to "keep His mitzvot!"
וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם מִצְוֹתַי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם “keep my commands and do them" (Vayikra / Leviticus 22:31), and לְאַהֲבָה אֶת יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ... וְלִשְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו "(to) love HaShem your G-d... and (to) keep His commands, His inexplicable rules and His judgements..." (D'varim / Deuteronomy 30:16).
Any of the identical verbs mentioned above (keep, observe, fulfill) could be chosen to translate there verses but, if "fulfill" were used, it would have to be made clear that it was not being used in the sense of complete/bring to completion because the Hebrew verb לִשְׁמֹר li-sh'mor cannot mean this. Thus, when Matthew reports (5:17) that Jesus claimed that he had come to "fulfill the Torah and the Prophets" it is misused.
Hopefully this post will encourage some of you to begin to learn Hebrew – but even for those of you who cannot dedicate the time to learn the language, just be aware that you need to double check any translations you might use. All translations have issues – even Jewish translations. Yet, many of the Christian translations, even the modern ones, have “built in” prejudices which can lead the reader in error (Daniel 9 and Isaiah 7 are perfect examples of such mistranslations).
The Judaica Press translation of the T'nach is considered by many to be an excellent translation. It is available online free, with or without the commentary of Rashi -- רבי שלמה יצחקי (R' Shlomo Yitzachi / Solomon Isaac), 11th century CE.
The Living Torah is an excellent translation of the Chumash (Torah and Haftarah) by R' Aryeh Kaplan (Z"L). This is also available free online in English, Spanish and Russian.
The Artscroll Stone Edition T'nach (or Chumash) is available for purchase at the Artscroll website.
Having shown in the post "Is Blood Necessary for the Atonement of Sin?" that it is NOT required, and that only two fairly minor forms of wrongdoing could be atoned for with blood sacrifices, the missionary may often retort "but although SOME sins may be atoned for with out blood you need blood to atone for the SOUL." At which point they quote Vayikra / Leviticus 17:11 (mistranslated):
" For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." King James Version translation.
Their point being that your immortal soul cannot be forgiven without blood (see Romans 9:22) -- even though the T'nach tells us time and again that the sin sacrifice ( חַטָאת קָרבָּן chatat qorban), teshuva (repenting of your sins and returning to G-d) and tzedakah (doing good for other people, aka "charity") atone for sins. The Torah also tells us that the חַטָאת קָרבָּן (sin sacrifice) only atoned for mistakes (a "missing of the mark" -- you tried to do the right thing and "missed." Intentional sins could be forgiven with acts of charity and repenting -- but not with blood (sin) sacrifices).
The only other type of blood sacrifice which atoned for wrongdoing was the אָשָׁם / asham (guilt / trespass) sacrifice.
A third sacrifice people think had to do with sin (but it did not) was the עֹלָ֖ה / olah.
An עֹלָ֖ה / olah was not a טָּאת / sin sacrifice or a אָשָׁם / guilt sacrifice. An עֹלָ֖ה / olah, translated as "burnt sacrifice," was a voluntary sacrifice generally brought to G-d as a donation to G-d or to seal a vow. . . but sometimes brought for impure thoughts, not deeds).
The חַטָּאת / cḥattat (accidental sins) and אָשָׁם / asham sacrifices were PRIVATE offerings brought by INDIVIDUALS, not “atonement” offerings on behalf of the entire nation. Also, no individual sacrifice could be brought for someone else or in advance. The type of offering was specified (female goat or lamb being the most common, but sometimes a bull, birds or flour) -- only domesticated (not wild) kosher animals were fit for sacrifice. Human sacrifices (Jesus anyone?) are totally forbidden by the Torah. Read Vayikra / Leviticus chapter 5 to learn about the אָשָׁם / asham (guilt / tresspass) qorbanot (sacrifices) and the very few things they covered:
Read Vayikra / Leviticus chapter 5 to learn about the אָשָׁם / asham (guilt / tresspass) qorbanot (sacrifices) and the very few things they covered:
The אָשָׁם / asham (guilt / tresspass) qorbanot also atoned for stealing things from the altar.
You also brought an אָשָׁם / asham if you weren't sure if you'd sinned -- or what sin you might have committed. If you weren't sure you'd sinnd you'd bring an asham, instead of a חַטָּאת / cḥattat (accidental sins). This is because a חַטָּאת / cḥattat (accidental sins) means an admission of the sin, and you'd be punished for it. If a person brought an asham (because they weren't sure they'd sinned) and later discovered that he had in fact committed the sin, he would have to bring a chatat at that time.
Those are IT as far as blood sacrifices for individual sins, so what about that claim mentioned in the first paragraph? What about the missionary assertion that ONLY blood atones for the soul?
First of all, the word in Vayikra / Leviticus 17:11 is not "soul." This is a mistranslation. Some more modern Christian translations are correcting this mistranslation. The NIV has "it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life" -- which is more accurate.
Not immortal soul, but rather the "life force." What is the life force? It is the blood coursing through your veins, carrying oxygen to your body -- it is the "stuff" that keeps your body alive -- in Hebrew this is the נפש / nefesh.
נפש / Nefesh translates to life force, not immortal soul. Yet most missionaries think that Leviticus (Vayikra) is speaking of the immortal “soul” since many of their translations do translate נפש / nefesh as "soul." This misleads innocent Christians into thinking that the atonement spoken of in Vayikra / Leviticus 17:11 is for the immortal soul, when in reality it is for your life-force.
To understand Vayikra / Leviticus 17:11 being with line 10 and ending at 14. "If any person, whether of the family of Israel or a proselyte who joins them, eats any blood, I will direct My anger against the person who eats blood and cut him off [spiritually] from among his people. This is because the life force of the flesh is in the blood; and I therefore gave it to you to be [placed] on the altar to atone for your lives. It is the blood that atones for a life, and I therefore told the Israelites, 'Let none of you eat blood.' A proselyte who joins you shall [likewise] not eat blood. If any man, whether of the family of Israel or a proselyte who joins them, traps an animal or bird that may be eaten and spills its blood, he must cover [the blood] with earth. [All this] is because every living creature has its blood associated with its life-force. Tell the Israelites not to eat any blood, since the life-force of all flesh is in its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off [spiritually]." Vayikra / Leviticus 17:11-14.
To paraphrase, it is saying that no one should eat blood because the thing that keeps you alive is the blood coursing through your body. Therefore the only use for blood is to bury it in the dirt or use it for one of the few blood sacrifices permissible in the Torah (none of which allow human blood or human sacrifice).
Did you notice that it says "only blood atones for the life force?"
Neither did I.
Because it does not say that at all.
Did you also notice to be [placed] on the altar ? This clearly says that a kosher animal's blood only "makes atonement" when it is "applied to the altar. Jesus was not a kosher animal and his blood was not placed on the altar (which is the only way blood can atone at all).
Hebrews 9:22 misleads Christians into thinking you need blood to atone because it says “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” This is not biblical -- Vayikra / Leviticus 17:11 isn’t speaking of the immortal soul, and it nowhere says that sins can’t be forgiven without blood.
Read most Christian translations and you’d never know this.
Jewelry atones (exact same word) for the life force (nefesh) as does blood. "We therefore want to bring an offering to G-d. Every man who found any gold article [such as] and anklet, a bracelet, a finger ring, and earring, or a body ornament [wishes to bring it] to atone for our souls (life force) before G-d." Bamidbar / Numbers 31:50.
Notice that Bamidbar / Numbers 31:50 uses the exact same word as Vayikra / Leviticus 17:11, לְכַפֵּ֖ר. Thus both the blood of a kosher animal on the altar and jewelry atone for the nefesh (the life force).
The Hebrew word that is translated as "atonement" is כַּפָּרָה, from the verb-stem כפר and is related to כִּפּוּר kippur and its plural כִּפֻּרִים kippurim (“atonement”), and also כֹּֽפֶר kofer (“atone,” “pitch”, “tar”, and “ransom”). The term occurs 18 times in Sh'mot / Exodus, 7 times in Vayikra / Leviticus, once in B'midbar / Numbers and once in Divrei Hayamim / Chronicles. The root כפר is usually used in the pi'él and pu'al conjugations in the sense of “to atone” or “to effect atonement”, but it also occurs occasionally with meaning of “to cover” (in the physical sense), e.g. in B'réshıt / Genesis 6:14.
The Hebrew verb כפר “atone” is related to כֹּֽפֶר kofer which is often translated as “ransom” (which occurs in Sh'mot / Exodus 21:30, 30:12; B'midbar / Numbers 35:31,32). "Ransom" in ancient times had a different meaning than it does today, and in modern English this is not a good translation for the term. Thus, most modern Jewish translations often translate it also as "atone."
Another related word is וְכָפַרְתָּ v'chafarta “and you are to cover it with a layer of...” in B'réshıt / Genesis 6:14; for this reason, the word כֹּֽפֶר kofer is also used for “pitch”, the tar-like substance formerly used for caulking (water-proofing) ships.
Translating כֹּֽפֶר kofer as “ransom” is very misleading -- the words are not really identical (translations rarely have an exact "match" in meaning). In modern English "atone" is a better translation for כֹּֽפֶר kofer than “ransom.” Take a look at the following Christian translations of Sh'mot / Exodus 30:12 (which use "ransom") and contrast them to two modern Jewish translations which use the word "atone."
"When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the L-RD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them." King James Versions Exodus 30:12.
"When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the L-RD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them." NIV Exodus 30:12.
Among the Christian translations reviewed only Young's Literal translation gets it right "atonement for his soul." Now here are some Jewish translations:.
"When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the L-rd an atonement for his soul (nefesh - life force) when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted." Judaica Press Translation Sh'mot / Exodus 30:12.
"When you take a census of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give HaShem an atonement for is soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them." Artscroll Stone Edition, Sh'mot / Exodus 30:12.
Translations are tricky things -- it is hard to translate something from Hebrew into English with accuracy -- but when a translator chooses a different word which changes the meaning for no good reason (other than to make a "proof text" appear to apply to their theology) it should make a bible reader question that particular translation, and perhaps begin to learn Hebrew to ensure they are not being misled (either by accident or purposefully).
The Christian concept of sacrifice is very different from what the Torah tells us and what Judaism teaches. Sacrifices did not begin with the Temple or at Mount Sinai -- they go much farther back than that. Noah brought more pairs of kosher animals to sacrifice to G-d on board the ark than he did non-kosher animals (not fit for sacrifice). Sacrifices are not a snare -- they are a gift from G-d to mankind.
The purpose of sacrifice is to give up something of value and feel badly about what we did. The PROCESS of sacrifice brings us to a realization and a cleansing. In other words -- sacrifices are a gift from G-d to us as ONE way to atone.
Stop thinking of קָרְבָּן - qorban (sacrifices) in terms of sin. Sin has very very little to do with sacrifices. Start reading the Jewish bible about sin, repentance and atonement for what IS there and you will see for yourself that what I've told you is true. Most qorban is given as an offer to G-d (it actually means drawing nearer to G-d), and has nothing to do with sin or atoning for sin.
When we speak of sins that qorban does atone for we must separate communal sins from individual sins (Jews are judged both as a nation and individually). Here is a short list of things that atone for wrongdoings.
2 Samuel 12:13-14 is a cheit (David admits to sin before Nathan the prophet and repents)
Jonah 3:10 has to do with the sins of Nineveh (unspecified, just identified as "evil" in 1:2), the people repented and G-d forgave
Leviticus 26:40-42 speaks of avon and repentence atoning for it
Ezikiel 18:21-32 speaks of chatat (21), pesha (22), chatat (24), pesha (28), pesha and avon (30) are all atoned through repentance
Proverbs 16:6 an avon is atoned for with kindness
Daniel 4:24 is chatat and avon by showing mercy and kindness
PRAYER (accompanied by repentance)
Hosea 14:2-3 teshuva (turning to G-d) and 1prayer atones for avon
1 Kings 8:46-50 include chatat, avon, rasha (wicked or evil) and pesha are atoned for by prayer
Daniel 9:5-19 include chatat, avon, and rasha are atoned by prayer
Isaiah 27:9 both chatat and avon are atoned by removing idolatry
Isaiah 40:1-2 avon is removed by punishment
Lamentations 4:22 avon is removed by punishment
Isaiah 22:14 avon will surely not be atoned until you die.
Leviticus 5:1-13 for specific ashams (guilts including not testifying honestly, touching something ritually unclean, if one makes an oath one doesn't keep, he must confess, and he must bring a guilt offering which should be a female sheep or goat, but if he can't afford it he may bring two turtle doves (one as a chatat and one as an olah). If he cannot afford the turtle doves he may bring flour as a chatat (sin offer)
Exodus 30:15-16 to atone for the life-force (similar to blood in Leviticus 17:11)
Numbers 31:50 to atone for the life-force (similar to blood in Leviticus 17:11)
Numbers 17:11-12 atonement for the Israelites "for there is wrath" Per Rashi (a Jewish sage) this secret was given over to him by the angel of death when he went up to heaven, that incense holds back the plague… as is related in Tractate Shabbath (89a).
Read King Solomon's dedication of the first Temple found in 1 Kings 8. King Solomon is dedicating the very place for sacrifices, and he mentions that there will be a time when the Temple will not exist, or Jews will not be near it and can not bring qorban (sacrifices) -- and says that without sacrifices HaShem will hear our prayers: "When your people Israel. . . turn back to you and confess your name, praying and making supplication to you in this temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel. . " Without blood. Without a Temple. . .
So, no blood is not needed for atonement of sins, and blood is not needed for the atonement of your immortal sou.
Recently we discussed the fact that Jesus could not have been the messiah because he is missing the most basic criteria: if he was a "virgin birth" and if Joseph, Mary's husband, had not contributed the sperm to create him, then Jesus had no tribal status and may well have been a mamzer (disqualifying him not only from kingship, but limiting his marriage pool in the future). If Joseph was his father the two totally different lineages given for Joseph in the Christian bible would both disqualify both Joseph and Jesus from the right to kingship (being the messiah).
Not to mention the fact that neither man ever WAS a messiah (an anointed king of the Jews). . .
Let's look at the other end of the spectrum Could Jesus' murder by Roman crucifixion (like about 50,000 other Jews) constitute a sacrifice?
The Torah vehemently FORBIDS human sacrifices.
Vayikra / Leviticus 18:21; "you shall not give any of your offspring to pass through for Molech. And you shall not profane the Name of your G-d. I am the L-rd." (Molech was a false god, but the point is that human sacrifices profane the name of G-d and are forbidden).
Vayikra / Leviticus 24; "if a man strikes down any human being he shall be put to death.. . . one who strikes a person shall be put to death. . . One law shall be exacted for you, convert and resident alike, for I am the L-rd, your G-d.
Got that? Jesus' murder by the Romans was not legal per Jewish law. The Jews had lost the right to pass the death penalty and Jesus (per the Christian bible) had not committed a crime warranting the death penalty. The trial of Jesus as described in the Christian bible could never have happened -- it went against Jewish law (we can discuss the trial at another time). The point being that a human death is NOT a sacrifice, it is an abomination to G-d.
See also D'varim / Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Jeremiah 7:31, 19: 5; Ezekiel 23:37, 39). These all speak of how G-d hates human sacrifice.
Bamidbar / Numbers 35:33; "you shall not corrupt the land in which you live, for the blood corrupts the land, and the blood which is shed in the land cannot be atoned for except through the blood of the one who shed it."
D'varim / Deuteronomy 24:16; "Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, nor shall sons be put to death because of fathers; each man shall be put to death for his own transgression.
Melachim II / II Kings 14:6; "it is written in the book of the Torah of Moses, which the L-rd commanded saying: "Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor shall sons be put to death for fathers, but each man shall be put to death for his own sin."
See also Sh'mot / Exodus 32:31-33; Yirmiyahu / Jeremiah 31:29 [30 in a Christian Bible]; Yechezkel /Ezekiel 18:4,20; and T'hillim / Psalms 49:7.
Aside from the fact that human sacrifice is forbidden, Torah tells us that a proper sacrifice must be of a kosher, domestic animal (the animal is often identified as a bull, a seh (goat or lamb), etc (see Sh'mot / Exodus 13:13; Vayikra / Leviticus 22). Jesus, being a human (or even a demi-god) was obviously not a kosher animal and thus was unacceptable as a sacrifice.
The sacrificial ritual must be administered by a Jewish Priest (see Vayikra / Leviticus Chapters 1-7). According to the accounts in the Greek Testament (Christian Bible), Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:33; John 19:18, 23). Some Christians may say that Jesus was a priest "like Melchitzedek" -- but Jewish sacrifices had to be brought by Jewish priests who were of the tribe of Levi and descended from Aaron (Moses' brother) -- which would exclude Jesus (see Sh'mot / Exodus 29:9 and Bamidbar / Numbers 25:13 for two of many references).
Many missionaries state that Jesus was a "sin sacrifice." In Hebrew a sin is a mistake -- you tried to do the right thing and you "missed." It is important to note that only accidental mistakes by individuals and a few, fairly minor, wrongdoings by individuals could be atoned for with the few types of sacrifices that atoned for "sin" and "guilt."
The חַטָּאת cḥattat (accidental sins) and אָשָׁם asham sacrifices were PRIVATE offerings brought by INDIVIDUALS, not “atonement” offerings on behalf of the entire nation. As mentioned the חַטָּאת chatat was for a missing of the mark (a חֵטְא / cheit -- you tried to do good but missed) and the אָשָׁם asham was for three different types of violations:
Torah further tells us that the blood of the (חֵטְא / cheit / sin) sacrifice had to be sprinkled by the Jewish Priest on the veil of the sanctuary and on the altar in the Temple (e.g., Vayikra / Leviticus 4: 5-6). Christian Bible evidence clearly shows this was not done.
Then it tells us that cheit / sin) sacrifice must be without any physical defect or blemish (e.g., Vayikra / Leviticus 4:3). According to the various accounts in the Christian Bible, Jesus was beaten, whipped, and dragged on the ground before being crucified (Matthew 26:67, 27:26, 30-31; Mark 14: 65, 15:15-20; Luke 22: 63; John 18:22, 19:1, 3). Moreover, as a Jew by birth, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after being born, a ritual that leaves a scar ("sign of the covenant"). According to the Christian Bible, circumcision is tantamount to mutilation (Philippians 3:2, Galatians 5:12).
Torah says that the Passover sacrifice be a male-goat, be offered on an individual (per household) basis (Bamidbar / Numbers 28:22), not as a communal offering. According to the Christian Bible, Jesus’ death (termed a “sin sacrifice”) expiated the sins of mankind (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:12, 10:10, 10:18 ).
Torah goes on to say that the Paschal seh (goat or lamb) was NOT to be offered for the removal of sins. It was a commemorative/festive offering. The sacrificed Paschal seh (goat or lamb) had to be roasted and eaten, and in the first instance in Egypt its blood was used to mark the side-posts and lintel of the doors (Sh’mot / Exodus 12: 7-8). There is no record in the Christian Bible that this Jesus was eaten or that his blood was put on the door posts (lest it be suggested that Christianity promotes cannibalism).
Torah says that there were individual and communal sacrifices .
Torah teaches that sacrifices can only atone for sins committed PRIOR to the offering of the sacrifice. No sacrifice could ever atone for sins committed AFTER the sacrifice was offered. Thus, no sacrifice could ever atone for people born after the sacrifice was offered.
So, as you can clearly see that the death of Jesus could never atone for any sin, much less all sins of all people for all time? NOT AT ALL, NEVER! The story is pagan in its entirety and breaks all the laws of Jewish sacrifice.
The missionaries who say that Jesus was a human sacrifice whose death "atoned for the sins of the world makes a common mistake regarding sacrifices. They seem to think that G-d needed them (bloodthirsty god perhaps?) Missionaries seem think there was some "magic" in blood sacrifices and this is not supported by the Jewish bible. Indeed sacrifices were not so much for G-d as they were a gift from G-d.
The Rambam explained this when he told us that G-d doesn't need sacrifices.
In other words, the Jews were used to bringing sacrifices and this is why G-d permitted them. Sacrifices gave man a way to feel closer to G-d by giving Him something of value (be it money, flour, an animal, etc.).
In pagan religions the gods were bloodthirsty and needed blood to be satisfied. In Judaism G-d permitted man to bring sacrifices because man needed them -- He needs nothing.
The Rambam's "The Laws of Repentence": "If a person violates any mitzvot of the Torah, willingly or unintentionally. . .he must repent. . .Similarly, people who are sentenced by the Rabbinical court to be executed, or to be lashed, do not attain atonement through their death or lashing unless they repent and confess. . .
Now that the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) is not standing, and there is no sacrificial altar for atonement, we are only left with repentance. Through repentance, G-d forgives our sins, and no mention is made of these sins even if one sinned one's whole life and repented only in his final moments. As it is written, "The wickedness of the wicked will not cause him to stumble when be turns back from his wickedness." (Ychezkiel / Ezekiel 33:12)."
Sacrifices were not magic -- they were a gift of G-d to help us truly atone by giving up something of value to Him. G-d forbids and abhors human sacrifice. The death of Jesus (if he ever even lived) couldn't have atoned for the sins of anyone, he was simply murdered by the Romans as were tens of thousands of Jews.
G-d is unchanging. It’s right there in Torah. He even tells you not to put your trust in the "son of man" in whom there is no salvation.
Yet Jesus is called "son of man" 88 times in the Christian bible!
Matthew uses the term 32 times
Luke uses the term 25 times
John uses it 12 times
Yet the T'nach (the "OT" - "only testament") tells us: "Do not trust in princes, or in the son of man, who has no salvation." (Psalm / T'hillim 146:3).
Could it be any clearer???
If you need a few more:
"I HaShem do not change ." Malachai 3:6
"Before Me no god was formed, nor will there be one after Me. I, even I, am HaShem, and besides Me there is no Savior.” Isaiah 43:11
“I am the first and I am the last; apart from Me there is no G-d! Isaiah 44:6
"I am HaShem, and there is no other; besides Me there is no G-d" Isaiah 45:5
"Remember the first things of old, that I am G-d and there is no other; I am G-d and there is none like Me." Isaiah 46:9.
A little math for missionaries. . . 100% + 100% + 100% does not equal 1 no matter how many Trinitarians tell you that it does!
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.