Do the rabbis say that Isaiah 53 is messianic?


No; they do not.

Christianity is unable to prove from the Biblical text of Isaiah 53 that the servant of God, whom the text describes, is a messianic figure. The text does not speak about a king or a ruler, nowhere is spoken about a descendent of David or Jesse, and the word ‘messiah’ is nowhere used in Isaiah 53. Since this is the only text Christianity has to back up their fairy tale of a suffering and dying messiah, they grasp at straws. They claim that the Jewish understanding of this text was always that it speaks about the messiah. Since they cannot come up with any scriptural proof, they bring the ancient rabbinic writings as proof that Isaiah 53 speaks about the messiah. Christianity goes rabbinic. It used to be only messianic Jews coming with the ancient rabbis in order to make their point, but now also mainstream Christianity is falling back upon the rabbis in order to prove that JC was the messiah. This is about the same as butchers calling upon vegetarians in order to prove that eating meat is very healthy. The reason for this absurd behavior is very simple: The Christians have nothing better.

But what Christianity does here is applying the same tactic which the NT writers displayed: They take a piece of text, rip it out of context, and misrepresent it. In order to understand what is going on in books like the Talmud and Midrash you need to have been thoroughly taught by rabbis in a yeshiva. Because of the fact that Christians have no idea what is flying when they read those books they come to wrong conclusions.

An example of this is to be found on this site:

They bring there the following passage from the Talmud: "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 God and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b)

Now their claim is that the Talmud here says that Isaiah 53 speaks about the messiah. However, that claim is wrong. What the rabbis from the Talmud do here is making an asmachta. An asmachta is a mnemonic device, invented by the rabbis, and it does NOT give over the plain meaning of the Biblical text.

Here is another example of it: Babylonian Talmud tractate Sotah 14a: "R. Simlai expounded: Why did Moses our teacher yearn to enter the land of Israel? Did he want to eat of its fruits or satisfy himself from its bounty? But thus spoke Moses, 'Many precepts were commanded to Israel which can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. I wish to enter the land so that they may all be fulfilled by me'. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, 'Is it only to receive the reward for obeying the commandments that thou seekest? I ascribe it to thee as if thou didst perform them as it is said: Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors, yet he bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” This is a quote from Isaiah 53.

Does the Talmud now think that Isaiah 53 is speaking about Moses? Of course not. The text of Isaiah is only referred to in order to give an example. Just like the Talmud doesn’t believe that Isaiah 53 speaks about Moses, the same way the Talmud doesn’t claim it speaks about the messiah. Here are a few more examples of the Talmudic rabbis making an asmachta:

Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 57b: "Six things are a good sign for a sick person, namely, sneezing, perspiration, open bowels, seminal emission, sleep and a dream. Sneezing, as it is written: 'His sneezings flash forth light'. (Job 41.10) Perspiration, as it is written: 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread'. (Gen 3.19) Open bowels, as it is written: 'If lie that is bent down hasteneth to be loosed, he shall not go down dying to the pit'. (Is 51.14) Seminal emission, as it is written: 'Seeing seed, he will prolong his days'. (Is 53.10) Sleep, as it is written:' I should have slept, then should I have been at rest'. (Job 3.13) A dream, as it is written: 'Thou didst cause me to dream and make me to live'. (Is 38.16)

Does anybody in his right mind now think that the Talmud claims that Isaiah 53 speaks about a sick person having a seminal emission? Also from the other texts brought by the Talmud it is clear that the texts referred to by the Talmud are not claimed to be talking about the subject under discussion; a sick person. So also when the Talmud speaks about the messiah, and then refers to Isaiah 53, saying: “As it is written etc.”, then the Talmud does not claim that Isaiah 53 speaks about the messiah.

In the back of tractate Brachot of the Babylonian Talmud, on page 90-91 of the counting of the mepharshim, rabbenu Shimshon Mekutsih gives the rules according which we learn the Talmud. There is written under the heading “Hagada” (stories) “Hagada, that is all the explanation that comes in the Talmud on any subject that is not a commandment. This is hagada. You are not to learn from it except for that what comes up on your mind. And you must know that all that the rabbis established concerning the practical execution of the commandments, comes from the mouth of Moses our rabbi, peace be upon him, which he received from the mouth of the Mighty One. We are not to add or subtract from it. And what each one explained from the verses like it appeared to him, and like he saw it in his understanding, and according to what came up on his understanding from the explanations, these we learn, and we don’t rely on the rest.”

Everything written in the Talmud that expounds the 613 commandments, given by God to the Jewish people through Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, that is what we rely upon and study diligently. Everything else in the Talmud that does not speak about the 613 commandments, that is hagada, stories. About that is written above: “We don’t rely on the rest.”

So if anybody is not convinced about the concept of asmachta, and wants to think that the Talmud says that Isaiah 53 speaks about Moses, or a sick person who has a seminal emission, or about the messiah, then he should read the last words again about how to read the stories in the Talmud which do not refer to the law: “We don’t rely on the rest.” The same holds true for the Midrash. You can not take a piece of Midrash and say that it is an absolute truth. In the middle ages, in 1263 CE, the Jewish sage rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, aka the Ramban, was forced to defend Judaism against the Christian religion by King James of Aragonia, in Barcelona. The king attended every session of the dispute, and regularly joined in on the Christian side. Afterwards the king considered the Ramban the winner of the dispute, and he rewarded him with 300 gold coins. But when the Ramban published the disputation in writing, he barely escaped execution and was exiled. During the disputation his opponent, a Jewish convert to Christianity, brought a Midrash in which it is written that at the time when the Temple was destroyed, the messiah was born. Upon this the Ramban answered: "We have three kind of books: The first is the Bible, (the Only Testament) and all of us believe in it in perfect faith. The second is what is called the Talmud, which is the commentary on the commandments of the Torah. There are 613 commandments in the Torah, and there is not one of them which is not explained in the Talmud. We firmly believe in the Talmud's explanations of the commandments. 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. With regard to this book of sermons, if one believes in it; it is well and good, and if one does not believe in it, no harm will come to him. We have sages who wrote that the messiah will not be born until the time near the end, at which time he will come to redeem us from the exile. Therefore, I do not believe the statement of this book that he was born on the day of the destruction of the Temple. We also call the Midrash the book of hagada, that is to say, it is nothing more than matters which one person tells another." Until here the quote of the big Jewish sage the Ramban.

The Ramban didn't believe in the literal statements of the Midrash. The Midrash contains stories, parables, which teach high morals and wise lessons, and we learn the lessons it teaches us, but also here you can not take every statement as a literal truth.

The Ramban said "We have three kind of books. The first is the Bible, and all of us believe in it in perfect faith." That is the highest authority, the Hebrew Bible. Every religious Jew believes in it with perfect faith.

The Midrash: "It is just as if the bishop would rise and deliver a sermon, and one of the listeners whom the sermon pleased recorded it. With regard to this book of sermons, if one believes in it; it is well and good, and if one does not believe in it, no harm will come to him". Simple and plain. Therefore no commentary can push aside the plain literal meaning of the Hebrew Bible, no matter whether that commentary comes from the Talmud, Midrash, or whatever. Therefore, when all through Isaiah the servant of God is the identified as the Jewish people, then also in Isaiah 53 the servant is the Jewish people.

But many times the Biblical text has deeper levels of meaning. There are altogether four levels of understanding the Bible. The first one is the 'pshat', that is the plain literal meaning. That is what tells us in Isaiah 53 that the servant is the people of Israel.

The second level is 'remez'. That means hint, allusion. The text might hint to different things than described in the text.

Then there is 'drash'. That is what is understood from the text by applying the thirteen hermeneutical rules given by God to Moses at Sinai.

And the last one is 'sod', meaning secret. This points to the secrets in the text.

The Jewish sages explain the Bible on all levels, therefore sometimes explanations come up which might seem to be out of place, or contradictory, but those are then explanations on different, deeper, levels.

HOWEVER, no matter what might be derived from a text on different levels, the plain literal meaning of a Biblical text can never be erased.


Summarizing we can conclude:

The rabbis from the Talmud did not say that Isaiah 53 speaks about the messiah.

From the other Jewish writings you can not rip a text out of context and present it as the absolute truth.

Nothing in Isaiah 53 points to a messiah, and the servant in Isaiah is many times identified as the Jewish people. For the full story about Isaiah 53 look HERE 


...........When you want to read the full story why the Jewish people do not recognize the New Testament, look HERE