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.
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.
Missionary Misuse of Jewish Sources on Isaiah 53, Ibn Crispin aka "Moshe Kohen, a 15th-century rabbi in Spain"
Jews for Jesus uses the description "Moshe Kohen, a 15th-century rabbi in Spain" for a person most missionaries name as "Rabbi Moshe Kohen "Ibn Crispin" of Cordova, Spain." The quote given is "This passage, the commentators explain, speaks of the captivity of Israel, although the singular number is used in it throughout. Others have supposed it to mean the just in this present world, who are crushed and oppressed now…but these too, for the same reason, by altering the number, distort the verses from their natural meaning. And then it seemed to me that…having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined "after the stubbornness of their own hearts," and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah."
In his second volume of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Michael L. Brown wrote "other significant commentators interpreting this key passage with reference to the sufferings of Messiah son of David include Rabbi Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin (or Ibn Krispin)"
It took days (weeks) of research to find out that Ibn Crispin was a philosopher. "Ibn Crispin" was a title -- the man's real name was Moshe Cohen. He was a Yeminite poet who lived in the 14th century.
Yes, that is right.
Ibn Crispin was also a mystic.
Taking his writings as literal considering he was a mystic and poet is a flagrant missionary slight of hand and distortion.
Ibn Crispin's most famous book was "Sefer ha-Musar" which had major Averroistic themes. (The main concept was the marriage of religion and philosophy).
So Ibn Crispin was a mystical thinker using allegory and trying to quote him as if he is making psh'at (literal interpretation). If you can read French I highly recommend you read) 'A propos de l'Averrosme juif' (On Jewish Averroism), by Vajda, G. (1952).
Averroes (for those unfamiliar with him) was a MUSLIM philosopher of the 12th century named Abu'l-Walid Ibn Rushd. He came from Cordova (same as Ibn Crispin). Averroes tried to reconcile Aristotle's theories with Islam. His work was translated into Hebrew and it influenced a whole generation and Moshe Ibn Crispin was one of the MOST influenced.
Missionaries (like Michael Brown) who hold Moshe Cohen, aka Ibn Crispin, up as some great rabbinical source to “prove” that “the rabbis” relate the suffering servant in Isaiah 52-53 to the messiah (and not Israel) is far from the mark. Ibn Crispin was an obscure poet and a philosopher who followed a Muslim's teachings. This is an instance of missionaries taking the words of a Jew as "Jewish teaching" -- when nothing could be further from the truth.
Still, let's quote part of the lengthy entry from "Ibn Crispin" in the Driver and Neubauer book -- the quotes the missionaries either gloss over or do not quote: "My servant. . . in each (case it is used in scripture) it is plainly applied to the sons of men born of human parents. . . the expression cannot possibly be applied to the substance of the Creator himself, as is done by our opponents in their theory of the trinity, according to which, this man was of the substance of the Creator. . .
"For they (the Christians) hold that the whole (G-dhead) is of one substance, but that it is divided into three persons, the father, the son and the spirit, that the son took flesh and came down to the earth: now even granting all of this, which, though it is impossible to speak about, still less to conceive, you nevertheless maintain, how could he describe himself as 'my servant,' i.e. as one who devoted himself to serve 'me,' i.e. to serve himself? since, for a man to be called his own servant is a palpable absurdity. . .
"He shall be high, etc. These words afford likewise an answer to our opponents (the Christians); for they refer exclusively to the future. The prophet says, 'He will be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly;' and this language clearly cannot be applied to G-d; for how could it be said of Him that, like a mortal man, he will at some future time be high and exalted, as though He had not been so before? Yet if G-d is G-d He is the same in the past as He will be in the future.
"If, now, they (the Christians) say that the word servant denotes the flesh in which He became incarnate in the world. . . but during the whole time that he is reported to have been incarnate (as Jesus), we do not find that exaltation or supremacy ever fell to his lot, even to the day of his death. . ."
Missionary Misuse of Jewish Sources on Isaiah 53, Rashi "changed" the Jewish interpretation from the messiah to Israel
This is an oft repeated missionary claim: the ancient Jewish sources all agreed that the messiah (moshiach ben David) was the subject of Isaiah 53, but that רבי שלמה יצחקי / R' Solomon Isaac aka Rashi (1040 CE - 1105 CE) changed the entire Jewish view of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to Israel as a direct response against Christianity.
Jews for Jesus claims "Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) and some of the later rabbis, though, interpreted the passage as referring to Israel. They knew that the older interpretations referred it to Messiah. However, Rashi lived at a time when a degenerate medieval distortion of Christianity was practiced. He wanted to preserve the Jewish people from accepting such a faith and, although his intentions were sincere, other prominent Jewish rabbis and leaders realized the inconsistencies of Rashi's interpretation."
This is a very interesting claim given that there is source after source after source pre-dating Rashi by nearly 1000 years which state the exact opposite of this missionary statement -- made (you will note) as if it is a factual statement and not their opinion.
In 248 CE -- 792 years before the birth of Rashi -- early church father Ὠριγένης / Origen (184 CE - 284 CE) wrote that ancient Christians knew that the literal meaning by Jews was that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people. “bore reference to the whole [Jewish] people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations.” Origen, 248 C.E., Contra Celsum.
So much for the missionary claim that "the older interpretations" (of Isaiah 53) referred it to Messiah."
Did Origen miss the missionary message?
If Rashi did not invent the idea that the servant in Isaiah was Israel, why do so many missionaries claim that he did?
It all goes back to that 19th century book written by the missionary E.B. Pusey The idea that Jews USED to say that Isaiah 52-53 was about the messiah but "changed" it to the nation of Israel because of the threat of Christianity during the time of Rashi (12th century CE) -- as mentioned even on Jews for Jesus as quoted above -- popped up in the 19th century thanks to the book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer.
Missionaries so often just repeat a claim made by other missionaries. Isn't it interesting that the quote in the previous post (about Midrash Tanchuma) appears in so many missionary locations? It might add credibility to the missionaries if they chose differing quotations -- but they all parrot the same misuses!
Aside from the Christian Origen (2nd century CE) do we have any other proofs that the Jewish sages noted that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish nation?
Of course we do.
The missionaries reference Targum Yonatan (Jonathan) to prove that ancient Jews spoke of the messiah in Isaiah 53 and reference the Targum for proof. Well and good, but the Targum also speaks of the servant as being Israel (the Jewish people) -- something the missionaries never seem to mention! The messiah (in this allegorical story using Isaiah 53 as its "jumping off" point) is an exalted messiah -- not the suffering Jesus concept. Nowhere in Targum Yonatan does it speak of a suffering messiah. It speaks of an EXALTED messiah. The suffering servant in the Targum is Israel -- Jews. There is a blog post on the missionary misuse of Targum Yonatan.
So much for the missionary claim that Rashi "invented" the idea that Isaiah's suffering servant is Israel rather than the messiah. It simply is not true.
We needn't rely on a Christian source or even the Targum Yonatan to show that the primary consensus among Jewish sources is that in the ps'hat (plain meaning) the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people -- there are plenty of other sources pre-dating Rashi which state the same thing.
In the Babylonian Talmud, בְּרָכֹות / Berachot 5a, pre-dating Rashi by at least 500 years, states that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people "If the Holy One, blessed be He, is pleased with Israel or man, He crushes him with painful sufferings. For it is said: And the L-rd was pleased with [him, hence] He crushed him by disease (Isa. 53:10). Now, you might think that this is so even if he did not accept them with love. Therefore it is said: "To see if his soul would offer itself in restitution" (Isa. 53:10). Even as the trespass-offering must be brought by consent, so also the sufferings must be endured with consent. And if he did accept them, what is his reward? "He will see his seed, prolong his days" (Isa. 53:10). And more than that, his knowledge [of the Torah] will endure with him. For it is said: "The purpose of the Lord will prosper in his hand" (Isa. 53:10). It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai says: The Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through sufferings.. These are: The Torah, the Land of Israel and the World To Come."
Note that Jews for Jesus and the other missionary sources somehow miss this Talmudic quote regarding Isaiah's suffering servant!
A noted scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Christianity in the first century of the common era, Geza Vermes, wrote "Neither the suffering of the messiah, nor his death and resurrection, appear to be part of the faith of first century Judaism." (Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels, page 38). Vermes was a British scholar of Jewish Hungarian roots who became a Catholic priest, and even accumulated many accolades as a Christian scholar while a Roman Catholic priest. Geza Vermes was born a Jew to Hungarian parents who were Jews and were murdered by the Nazis. He was taken in by Catholics (I think nuns) and raised as a Roman Catholic. So, when he, as adult, found out about his heritage, he decided to RETURN to Judaism.
Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah (Midrash, so not a literal interpretation), has three citations referencing that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 refers to the righteous of Israel (chapters 6, 13, 27).
Additional sources pre-dating Rashi:
Yalkut Shimoni II 476
Bamidbar Rabbah chapter 13.2
Zohar (numerous places)
Poems by R. Shlomo Ibn Gavriel
Isaiah himself often refers to the Jewish people as G-d's servant. Chapters are a Christian invention -- but even so in chapters 41, 44, 45, 48 and 49 Jacob (another name for the Jewish people) and Israel (another name for the Jewish people) are stated repeatedly to be G-d's servant.
Finally, the missionary argument that early Jewish sources referred to Isaiah's servant as the messiah and we "changed" it is false -- but it is also a straw horse. It is a diversion from the true question at hand, to whit -- can Isaiah 53 possibly be about Jesus? The answer to that question is a resounding "no." Jesus did not live a long life. He did not have children. He was not exalted in life. He did not die multiple deaths. . .
There are Jewish sources who view the servant in Isaiah 53 as the Jewish people, as the messiah, as Moses, as David -- there are many interpretations (most not meant literally). The consensus of Jewish opinion is that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people -- but if it can be applied to others as well it cannot be applied to Jesus -- and that is the question a Christian must ask as they read the T'nach (Jewish bible) for what it truly says -- not what taking a word or sentence out of context forces it to seem to say.
This particluar reference appears on the Jews for Jesus website on their page "The Rabbis Dilema, a Look at Isaiah 53." The dilemma really belongs to the folks at that website because the quote they give never even mentiosn Isaiah 53!
The quote given is "Who art thou, O great mountain?" (Zechariah 4:7) This refers to the King Messiah. And why does he call him the "great mountain?" Because he is greater than the patriarchs, as it is said, "My servant shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly." He will be higher than Abraham who said, "I raise high my hand unto the L-rd" (Gen. 14:22), lifted up above Moses, to whom it is said, "Lift it up into thy bosom" (Numbers 11:12), loftier than the ministering angels, of whom it is written, "Their wheels were lofty and terrible" (Ezekiel 1:18). And out of whom does he come forth? Out of David."
Do you see Isaiah 53 mentioned there?
Neither do I.
The quote above comes from Jews for Jesus but the same quote is found in the book "The Real Kosher Jesus" (page 169) and Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus : Volume 2 also by Michael L. Brown (an apostate Jew who is now a Christian minister), ICLNET (a Christian resource), Mark Eastman's "text commentaries" of the Blue Letter Bible -- and since the quote is identical in all places (it is, after all a translation so one might expect some differences!) it all seems to be taken from that 19th century missionary book I mentioned when beginning the task to explore missionary misuse of Rabbinical sources on Isaiah 53. The book is The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer. I discuss it in this blog post.
Many missionary sites who misuse Jewish sources seem to quote from the same (generally 19th century) missionary sources. The Driver and Neubauer book is an oft used resource as are apostates of questionable expertise. I discussed this issue in the blog post Missionaries misuse Jewish Sources -- let's discuss how.
The reference given is actually to Zechariah 4:7 -- a verse which is not messianic. It says "Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you sink to a plain! He will bring out the stone of the main architect, with shouts of grace, grace to it."
The passage is about Zerubbabel -- but the Midrash uses it as a "jumping off" point to talk about the messiah and the messianic age.
This reference is מדרש תנחומא / Midrash Tanchuma which is primarily a collection of stories and rabbinic homilies, all connected with the Torah (Five Books of Moses), not Nevi'im (Prophets, which contains Isaiah and others). This Midrash is named for Rabbi Tanhuma.
As discussed in earlier blog posts there are two major types of midrash -- midrash halacha (legal discussions - and there is some of this in מדרש תנחומא / Midrash Tanchuma) and midrash aggadah (stories that are NOT literal and should not be used to "prove" anything theologically -- the bulk of this collection). Midrash aggadot are meant to make a moral point -- not to be taken at face value as literal. To understand Midrash I recommend reading "What is a Midrash?"
Midrash aggadah (like Midrash Tanchuma) are stories meant to make a moral point -- they are not literal. Note, also that this quote defintely fits the Jewish concept of the messiah (a very great prophet who will be a descendant of King David) -- but it does not fit Isaiah 53's suffering servant of Jesus as depicted in the Christian bible. Per the Christian bible Jesus was not even a descendant of King David according to Jewish law because Joseph (who was a descendant of David) was not his biological father.
In his article "The Lies and Distortions of Driver in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters" R' Moshe Shulman writes of another missionary misuse of מדרש תנחומא / Midrash Tanchuma: "(this) selection...is claimed to be from the Midrash Tanchuma. This selection itself is controversial as the source for it is NOT from the Midrashim that the Jewish people have, but comes from a work by Father Raymond Martini, Pugio Fidei. Driver (one of the authors of the book) defends his use of this work, even though his co-author Neubauer wished to have it rejected. I would not have mentioned it here because of this disagreement alone (although my rejection of it on those grounds is warranted.)
"The problem is that the translation does not agree with the Hebrew and had he translated it as the Hebrew has it, we would all see that this is a distortion and could not be from the Midrash at all. Here is the translation that we have from Driver: "R. Nahman says. The word ' man ' in the passage, Every man a head of the house of his fathers (Num. i. 4), refers to the Messiah the son of David, as it is written, ' Behold the man whose name is Zemah' (the branch); where Yonathan interprets, Behold the man Messiah (Zech. vi. 12); and so it is said, 'A man of pains' and known to sickness."
"Here is the literal translation from the Hebrew original that appears in that work itself: "R. Nahman says. The word ' man ' in the passage, refers to the Messiah the son of David, as it is written, ' Behold the man whose name is Zemah'; Targum Yonathan this man is the Messiah and so it says, 'A man of pains' and known to sickness."
"There are a number of minor differences in the translation, from what appears in the text, and problems with the text, whose implications are such as to significantly change the meaning:
As far as Driver’s using Yonason and dropping the word ‘Targum’ I do not know why he dropped it, hiding that the text explicitly said it was from the Targum Yonason. It is, however, a clear indication that this text IS NOT from the Tanchuma. The Tanchuma NEVER quotes from the Targum. While it would not have been unusual for the Tanchuma to cite a Rabbi, in that case he would have been referred to as Rabbi Yonason ben Uzziel, as he is in all Rabbinic literature. So in addition to all the other problems, this passage is not just bogus, but Driver seems to have tried to hide the fact that it was."
Ruth was the ancestress of King David. David's father, Yishai, was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. Yishai doubted his own Jewishness (let alone tribal status) because his grandmother was a convert to Judaism. During Ruth’s lifetime, many individuals were doubtful about the legitimacy of her marriage to Boaz. The Torah forbids a Jew to marry a Moabite -- and Ruth was from Moab. However, the biblical prohibition is to marry a male Moabite, not a a female Moabitess. . .
But I digress -- רות רבה (Ruth Rabbah) and it is מדרש אגדה / Midrash Aggadah -- a story meant to make a moral point.
The very word "midrash" is in the title!
Yet again missionaries are ignorant of Jewish teachings. Midrash Aggadah / מדרש אגדה is a form of storytelling that explores ethics and values in biblical texts. ("אגדה / Aggadah" literally means "story" or "telling" in Hebrew).
So the missionaries are taking a story and trying to insist that this is "proof" that the sages saw Isaiah 53 LITERALLY as being about the messiah.
Tell me, would a story about Santa Clause be taken as literal by a Christian?
Why are they willing to take a Jewish story and insist it has some meaning?
Sites like Jews for Jesus say such outlandish things as "Our ancient commentators with one accord noted that the context clearly speaks of G-d's Anointed One, the Messiah" -- based on quotes from stories and poems!
Yet even ancient Christians knew that the literal meaning by Jews was that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people. “bore reference to the whole [Jewish] people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations.” Origen, 248 C.E., Contra Celsum.
The quote given by missionaries does reference Isaiah 53, but because the quote is so selective it is misleading. They will quote "The fifth interpretation [of Ruth 2:14] makes it refer to the Messiah. Come hither: approach to royal state. And eat of the BREAD refers to the bread of royalty; AND DIP THY MORSEL IN THE VINEGAR refers to his sufferings, as it is said, But he was wounded because of our transgressions." Ruth Rabbah 5:6, quoted from Jews for Jesus.
The missionaries quote where the midrash mentions the messiah but it ignores the first interpretation which refers to King David -- R' Yochanan explained these six phrases as referring to Dovid / David ("All these six months that David was in a flight from Absalom. . ."), the second interpretation is of King Solomon ("Therefore the L-rd said to Solomon. . ."), the third interpretation is of Ḥizkiyyahu / Hezekiah ("Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble and rebuke" Isaiah 37:3.), the fourth is talking about Menashe ("Hezekiah's son Menashe was the worst Jewish ing, but he eventually repented. Melachim Beit / 2 Kings 21:1-17), and the fifth applies the passage to the messiah.
The sixth interpretation refers to Boaz himself (Ruth's husband, and great-grandfather to King David). This is the literal meaning (the p'shat) -- all the others are NOT literal. The passage has to do with Boaz sitting and eating with the common reapers. . .
Do you begin to see just how the missionaries mislead people with selective quotes and by not explaining the difference between allegory and literal meaning?
The missionaries misuse Jewish sources that are stories and try to somehow hang a theological "proof" on a story. This is like insisting that Santa Clause is an integral part of trinity.
Ruth Rabbah is a later work -- while no one knows with certainty when it was written it can't be earlier than the 4th century of the common era (CE) because Rabbis who lived then are mentioned! The Encyclopedia Judaica seems to think it couldn't be earlier than the 6th century of the common era (it quotes sources from the 4th century CE), but in its current form the earliest iteration is the 16th century CE. the Encyclopedia Judaica says: "Ruth Rabbah, first published at Pesaro in 1519 together with the four Midrashim on the other Scrolls (to which it bears no relation), has often been reprinted on the basis of this editio princeps. The printed versions are quite defective. . . Ruth Rabbah is an exegetical Midrash. . .The work has apparently a total of ten poems, these being of the classical type found in amoraic Midrashim, in that they commence with an extraneous verse, taken usually from the Hagiographa, which is expounded and then connected with the one treated at the beginning of the section."
The point being that referencing this Midrash which post-dates Christianity is no "prophetic proof" of Jesus.
Midrash Aggadah / מדרש אגדה can take any biblical word or verse as a starting point, but there is no one standardized method of interpretation. Indeed, some scholars define midrash simply as any Jewish statement with a reference to a specific biblical verse or verses. One can find the link from Ruth to the messiah in the Babylonian Talmud, where R' Ĕl'azar [ben Shammua'], a 4th generation (mid-2nd century C.E.) tanna says: “At around mealtime, Bo'az said to her ‘Goshi halōm’ (Come over here)...” [Rut / Ruth 2:14]—Said Rabbi Ĕl'azar: [By saying this] he was giving her a hint “The royal dynasty of King David is destined to come from you”, because the [unusual]word halōm is also applied to it in the verse [Sh'muél Beit / 2 Samuel 7:18] “Then King David went in and sat in HaShem’s Presence and said, ‘L-rd G-d, who am I and what is special about my house that You have brought me halōm (to here)?’ ” (Babylonian Talmud, Treatsie Shabbat 113b).
Do not let missionaries mislead you when they quote stories as if this is somehow "proof" of something -- and remember that the messiah IS a Jewish concept, one will find references to the messiah both in the T'nach (bible) and Jewish writings, but a mere mention of the messiah does not in any way prove that Jesus was that messiah.
To learn more about midrashim I recommend reading R' Moshe Shulman's article What is a Midrash?
One source usually referenced is תרגום יונתן / Targum Yonatan (Jonathan).
Missionaries will say that the Targum is a translation of parts of the bible (in this case נְבִיאִים / Nevi'im / Prophets) into Aramaic.
This is incorrect. A Targum / תרגום paraphrases and expands on the biblical text -- it is more interpretative and explanation than translation -- more midrash (homily and allegory) than p'shat (literal meaning). This fact becomes important as we discuss the misuse of this Targum by missionaries.
Once again we have missionaries presenting allegory as if it were literal.
The misleading quote missionaries use is "Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men" and then they comment "The early targums by Jonathan ben Uzziel show that he clearly believed in a suffering Messiah."
Thus the missionary is presenting this quote from the Targum as ‘proof’ that the ancient Rabbis believed that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 was the messiah.
It certainly seems that way given that the word "messiah" is used in the missionary quote, but again one must read the Targum itself and read it IN CONTEXT to understand that:
Missionaries presenting the single quote mislead their followers into thinking that "The early targums by Jonathan ben Uzziel show that he clearly believed in a suffering Messiah."
Also, the Targum never speaks of the messiah as a suffering messiah.
There is no concept of a suffering messiah in Judaism.
The Targum speaks of an EXALTED messiah.
Many missionaries equate the word "messiah" only with Jesus, as if he were the only messiah to ever live.
מָשִׁיחַ (moshiach / messiah) is the Hebrew word which is used thirty nine times in the T'nach to describe various people. They are all normal human beings. Aaron, Moses' brother, was a messiah. Kings David and Solomon were messiahs. They were all humans born of human mothers and fathers. When Jews speak of "the" messiah they refer to a king promised in the T'nach (bible) who will also be human and a descendant of King Solomon and the tribe of Judah.
Thus when the word "messiah" is used in the T'nach (bible) or in various Jewish sources one must first ask "which messiah is being spoken about?" In the Targum it does appear to be "the" messiah (moshiach ben David) -- as an exalted messiah, not a suffering messiah. Targum Yonathan speaks of an exalted messiah and a suffering Israel. Pay attention to the use of singular versus plural in the Targum.
To summarize: the Targum Yonatan is not a translation from Hebrew into Aramaic of Isaiah (and the other prophets). It is a midrashic, interpretive work. In Isaiah 53 the Targum sometimes refers to the suffering servant as the Jewish people (Isaiah 52:14, 53:2, 53:6, 53:8, etc.) and sometimes the nations (Isaiah 53:3, 53:4, 53:7, 53:9, etc.) and at times the exalted messiah (Isaiah 52:13, 52:15, 53:4, 53:12, etc.).
The missionary quote from the Targum also includes the phrase "who was bruised for our sins" -- but that is not actually in the Targum -- the missionaries added it.
The Targum is an interpretive rehashing in Aramaic of נְבִיאִים / Nevi'im aka Prophets. It speaks of Israel as suffering and the messiah as exalted and triumphant. Not exactly what the apologists say is it?
Comparing a translation of the Targum of Isaiah 53 with the Hebrew (or an English translation) and it is clear that the Targum is not translation at all. Below is the Artscroll Stone Edition translation of Isaiah 53 compared to an English translation of the Targum.
52:13 Behold, My servant will succeed; he will be exalted and become high and exceedingly lofty.
52:13. Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong:
52:14 Just as multitudes were astonished over you (saying) "His appearance is too marred to be a man's, and his visage to be human,
52:14. the house of Israel looked to him during many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men,
52:15 so will the many nations exclaim about him, and kings will shut their mouths (in amazement) for they will see that which had never been told to them, and will perceive things they had never heard.
52:15. so will he scatter many peoples; kings will be silent towards him, and put their hands upon their mouth, because they have seen that which was not told them, and they have observed that which they had not heard.
53:1 Who would believe what we have heard! For whom has the arm of HaShem been revealed?
53:1. Who believed this our glad tidings, that the strength of the mighty arm of the L-rd is upon him.
53:2 Formerly he grew like a sapling or like the root from arid ground; he had neither form nor grandeur; we saw him, but without such visage that we could desire him.
53:2. The righteous will grow up before him like blooming shoots, and like a tree which sends forth its roots to streams of water will they increase - a holy generation in the land that was in need of him; his countenance no profane countenance, and the terror at him not the terror at an ordinary man; his complexion shall be a holy complexion, and all who see him will look wistfully upon him.
53:3 He was despised and isolated from men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness. As one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despise nad we had no regard for him.
53:3. Then he will become despised, and will cut off the glory of all the kingdoms; they will be prostrate and mourning, like a man of pains and like one destined for sicknesses; and as though the presence of the spirit had been withdrawn from us, they will be despised, and esteemed not.
53:4 But in truth it was our ills that he bore, and our pains that he carried -- but we had regarded him diseased, stricken by G-d and afflicted!
53:4. Then he shall pray for on behalf of our transgressions, and our iniquities shall be pardoned for his sake, although we were accounted stricken, smitten from before the L-rd, and afflicted.
53:5 He was pained because of our rebellious sins and oppressed through our iniquities; the chastisement upon him was for our benefit, and through his wounds we were healed.
53:5. But he will build up the Holy Place, which has been polluted for our sins, and delivered to the enemy for our iniquities; and by his teaching shall his peace be multiplied and by our devotion to his words, our transgressions will be forgiven us.
53:6 We have all strayed like sheep each of us turning his own way and HaShem inflicted upon him the iniquity of us all.
53:6. All we like sheep had been scattered, we had each wandered off on his own way; but it was the L-rd's good pleasure to forgive the sins of all of us for his sake.
53:7 He was persecuted and afflicted but did not open his mouth; like a sheep being led to the slaughter or a ewe that is silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth.
53:7. He prayed, and he was answered, and ere even he had opened his mouth he was accepted; the mighty of the peoples he will deliver up like a sheep to the slaughter and like a lamb dumb before her shearers; there shall be none before him opening his mouth or saying a word.
53:8 Now that he has been released from captivity and judgment who could have imagined such a generation? For he had been removed from the land of the living, an affliction upon them that was my people's sin.
53:8. Out of chastisements and punishment he will bring our captives near; the wondrous things done to us in his days who shall be able to tell? For he will cause the dominion of the Gentiles to pass away from the land of Israel and transfer to them the sins which my people have committed.
53:9 He submitted himself to his grave like wicked men; and the wealthy (submitted) to his executions for committing no crime and with no deceit in his mouth.
53:9. He will deliver the wicked into the grave, and those that are rich in possessions into the death of utter destruction, in order that those who commit sin may not be established, nor speak deceits with their mouth.
53:10 HaShem desired to oppress him and He afflicted him; if his soul would acknowledge guilt he would see offspring and live long days and the desire or HaShem would succeed in his hand.
53:10. But it is the L-rd's good pleasure to try and to purify the remnant of his people, so as to cleanse their souls from sin; these shall look on the Kingdom of their messiah, their sons and their daughters shall be multiplied, they shall prolong their days, and those who perform the Law of the L-rd shall prosper in his good pleasure.
53:11 He would see (the purpose) and be satisfied with his soul's distress. With his knowledge My servant will vindicate the Righteous One to multitudes; it is their iniquities that he will carry.
53:11. From the subjection of the nation he will deliver their souls, they shall look upon the punishment of those that hate them, and be satisfied with the spoil of their kings; by his wisdom he will hold the guiltless free from guilt, in order to bring many into subjection to the law; and for their sins he will intercede.
53:12 Therefore, I will assign him a portion from the multitudes and he will divide the mighty as spoils -- in return for having poured out his soul for death and being counted among the wicked, for he bore the sin of the multitudes, and prayed for the wicked.
53:12. Then will I divide for him the spoil of many peoples, and the possessions of strong cities shall he divide as prey, because he delivered up his soul to death, and made the rebellious subject to the Law: he shall intercede for many sins, and the rebellious for his sake shall be forgiven.
The missionary ploy in referencing Jewish sources is to say that there are Jews who "see" the messiah in Isaiah 53. That is the wrong question -- throughout the ages many Jewish sources have applied the servant in Isaiah to many Jews including Moses, King David (who was a messiah), and the messiah himself using allegory and homily. The issue for a missionary should be: can Isaiah 53 possible fit Jesus? Not too long ago I wrote a blog post entitled "Can Isaiah 53 be about Jesus?" The answer to that question is "no" and I recommend reading that blog post for more details.
The mere fact that the Targum mentions the messiah does not "prove" the missionary assertion that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the messiah -- indeed the Targum rejects that claim. The Targum teaches that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel (the Jewish people), as Judaism teaches. The mentions of the messiah in the Targum speak of the triumphant, exalted messiah who will eventually redeem Israel and the world.
The Targum does not support the missionary claim that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the messiah.
There is nothing in the Targum that even remotely is connected with the Christian theology about a Messiah who dies for the sins of the world. The missionaries misuse the Targum by selectively quoting it to leave their followers with an erroneous conclusion.
Many missionary websites claim to present quotes from Jewish sources to claim that the Rabbis and sages support the idea that the messiah is Isaiah '53's suffering servant. These claims are often titled something like: "What the Rabbis say about Isaiah 53" or something similar.
These "Jewish sources" given by missionaries usually boil down to one of four areas:
The first oft referenced "quote" is taken from the Talmud. The missionaries will claim "The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of G-d and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b)
This quote is:
The entire discussion in Treatise Sanhedrin is nothing but an academic exercise based on the clever application of various Scriptural verses, but it is not intended to be taken seriously; it can even be seen as mocking the christian obsession with the “name” of their pseudomessiah: for Jews, the messiah's name has never been important—the only thing that matters is whether he succeeds in accomplishing his prescribed list of tasks.
Bottom line is that Sanhedrin 98b is saying that no one knows who the messiah will be, or when he will come let alone what is name might be.
Do the missionaries know anything about the Talmud? Probably not.
Can most missionaries read the Talmud let alone understand how to study it? Definitely not!
Take another look at the small snipped the missionaries quote from Sanhedrin 98b: "The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of G-d and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b)
This small portion of the passage mentions the "leper scholar" (the word was not really leprosy -- it related to many skin diseases not just what modern people think of as leprosy). The "leper scholar" was a real Jew and he is mentioned a few times in Talmud. Marguliout HaYom a commentary on the Talmud by Rabbi Reuven Margolious (an Israeli Talmudic scholar and head of the Rambam Library at Tel Aviv University) wrote: “Look at the Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Chagigah chapter 2 Halacha 1. There we see that Rabbi had a special תלמיד /talmid / wise student who taught on the ‘Work of the Chariot’, without the approval of Rabbi, and for that he was stricken with leprosy. This talmid who was stricken was called ‘the leper of the house of Rabbi.’ And they said about him, ‘Surely our diseases he did bear’”
The leper scholar mentioned in the Talmud was a real person, a "wise student." In this passage he is the butt of one of the jokes.
Why? Because of the out of context humours use of the phrase "he will bear our sins."
Leper is the English word chosen by translators for the Hebrew word צרעת / tzara’at. For missionaries wishing to apply this to Jesus they should know that the Hebrew term is not a physical disease (e.g. lepropsy). No, צרעת / tzara’at is spiritual in nature – caused by sin (not a physical cause).
If missionaries think Jesus is "without sin" then he most certainly could not be the "leper scholar" of this passage even though missionary site after missionary site insists that the messiah must "touch a leper (HaDavar website). This is NOT a messianic requirement and these missionaries are clueless as to צרעת / tzara’at and the fact that this is caused by a serious spiritual sin primarily caused by Sinat Chinam – hatred of Jew against Jew without a reason.
So -- is Jesus a sinner, and a bad enough sinner that G-d would punish him with a rotting skin disease brought on only by spiritual failure?
If not, then this passage is not about Jesus.
צרעת / tzara’at can refer to discoloration on garments (Vayikra / Leviticus 13:47-59), homes (Vayikra / Leviticus 14:33-57) and body / skin (Vayikra / Leviticus 13-14). The Talmud lists seven reasons one might be afflicted with the disease: gossip, murder, perjury, forbidden sexual relationships, arrogance, theft, and envy (Arakhin 16a).
If the missionary insists, "no, of course not!" to that list they have just disqualified Jesus from being the "leper scholar."
The leper scholar is a figure in the Talmud who was struck by leprosy for teaching without Rabbi's permission suggests that it would be likely that comparing the leper scholar to the servant in Isaiah 53 was simply a joke. The complete expression is: חִיוְרָא דְבֵּי רַבִּי ḥivra d'bei rabbi / “the leper of the school of Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi / Judah the Prince]. Translations of Sanhedrin 98b translate this word as “leper."
To see that this passage is in isolation, and that in whole this is a joke making fun of the fact that no one knows the name of the messiah let us read a bit more of the section from Sanhedrin 98b.
"R. Hillel, who maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah."
Interesting that the missionaries do not quote THAT portion of the passage! So R' Hillel says the messiah has already come . . . continue
"What is his [the Messiah's] name? — The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come."
Jesus was not named Shiloh -- ergo this was not met by Jesus either. Again, the missionaries do not quote that bit!
"The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure for ever e'er the sun was, his name is Yinnon."
Yimon, not Jesus. . . Yet again -- this does NOT fit Jesus. . .
"The School of R. Haninah maintained: His name is Haninah, as it is written, Where I will not give you Haninah."
Yet another name. . .
"Others say: His name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah, for it is written, Because Menahem ['the comforter'], that would relieve my soul."
Jesus was not named Menahem either. . . then
"The Rabbis said: His name is 'the G-d scholar,' as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a G-d, smitten of G-d, and afflicted.
"R. Nahman said: if he [the Messiah] is of those living [to day], it might be one like myself, as it is written, And their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governors shall proceed from the midst of them.
"Rab said: if he is of the living, it would be our holy Master; if of the dead, it would have been Daniel the most desirable man.
"Rab Judah said in Rab's name: The Holy One, blessed be He, will raise up another David for us. as it is written, But they shall serve the L-rd their G-d, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them: not 'I raised up', but 'I will raise up' is said. R. Papa said to Abaye: But it is written, And my servant David shall be their prince [nasi] for ever (e.g., an emperor and a viceroy)."
R' Hillel's position is rejected because various prophets who lived after Hezekiah gave future predictions about the messiah (thus although Hezekiah could not be "the" messiah and R' Hillel was having a joke as he surely knew this). A few of the prophets who lived after Hezekiah were Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi to name some.
The fact that the first three schools mentioned presented names for the messiah based on plays on the names of their own teachers also makes it clear that the sages were making a joke -- hey, the messiah is named after ME!
The Talmud (there are actually two Talmuds -- Jerusalem and Babylonian) consists of the מִשְׁנָה / Mishna which was created to be a "cheat sheat" for a learned person -- the writing was kept to a minimum and meant only to serve as a aid to faltering memories who were taught to memorize the oral mitzvot.
The second part of the Talmud are discussions around the Mishna's teachings. These discussions may discuss the finer points of Jewish law (מִדְךְשׁי הֲלָכָה / Midrash Halacha), but there are also stories and humor as well. This מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah -- which means telling a story. מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah is not prophecy or meant to be taken literally. . . a word or sentence is lifted from the bible to make a moral point. However, prophecy is NEVER based on these flights of fancy. The missionaries are taking story telling -- humor -- and trying to present it as "the rabbis literally meant that the messiah's name is XYZ and that the messiah is Isaiah 53's suffering servant."
This is wrong, and it is deceitful. Whether or not the missionaries misusing this passage realize they are distorting it is open to question. Most of them probably do not know anything about the Talmud or Judaism let alone מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah.
This out of context quote, indeed most of the missionary quotes used to claim that Isaiah 53 in Jewish teaching historically was bout the messiah, are false. These claims appear to have stemmed from a 19th century book that 'was the brainchild of a Christian named E. B. Pusey. This book is entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreter 2 vols. (1876-77).
This book was authored by Driver and Neubauer, but it was Pusey's idea.
-The book was the product of a pious Anglican (E. B. Pusey), a liberal Anglican Christian who provided the Hebrew translations (Samuel Driver) and a non-practicing Jew, Adolf Neubauer. Even scholars of the 19th century were unimpressed with this work. The Scottis Orientalist, William Roberson Smith (1846-1894) wrote that "the outcome of the laborious and bulky collection is essentially negative."
Perhaps this post might explain why Smith had that conclusion.
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.