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."
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.