|NOTE: An Introduction to the Talmud
is a ten part series. All ten sections are presented here as one piece. To read each
section separately please click here.
An Introduction to the Talmud
Dr. Harris Brody
Recently a Jewish lady in a nursing home rolled her wheelchair out of the Bible study. A nurse pushed her back in. At the end of the Bible study I greeted her. She greeted me with, "I am Jewish." I told her, "So am I, praise the Lord!" To her, as with most Jewish people, being Jewish includes rejecting Yeshua as Messiah and Savior and accepting the Rabbis' teachings of the Talmud as authoritative. One Jewish student at Temple University said that the Tenach (the Old Testament) is only an index to the Talmud. "The Talmud," he said, "is the Word of God, not the Bible, at least not in the same way."
What Is the Talmud?
Just what is the Talmud? Basically it is a very old collection of the sayings of rabbis of all ages and in all parts of the world. It is a commentary on the Tenach (Jewish Bible). Among other things, it contains much devotional and inspirational material. The Talmud is the civil and canonical law of the Jewish people. It contains references not only to the religious life but also to philosophy, medicine, history, jurisprudence and practical duty. More particularly it prescribes dietary and ceremonial regulations. Most Jews today have never seen a Talmud and know little or nothing of its contents. However, what they hear and learn from their rabbis and from tradition, they accept without question. Most do not even realize that the rabbis quarrel among themselves in the Talmud and many questions discussed by them remain unanswered.
One needs to always remember that the Talmud is only a commentary; not the inspired Word of God. A knowledge of it can be a great asset in ministry to my brethren in the flesh. By studying the Talmud one can better understand Jewish people.
The Talmud contains much that is beautiful and admirable; it is of high ethical standards. There is much that refers to the Messiah. Based on its teachings either the Messiah has already come or else He will never come. Note these quotes concerning the Messiah:
We will deal with this subject later in our study.
A Jew who truly believes in the Talmud must conclude that Yeshua is Messiah. Otherwise, the Talmud and God are unreliable.
The Talmud's Beginnings
The Talmud had its roots in the Babylonian captivity (588 BC). God had permitted the Jews to go into exile because of their sin, especially the sin of idolatry. This captivity had a purifying effect on the Jews. They saw first hand the vileness of the heathen cults in Babylon and they longed again to worship God in holiness at Jerusalem. They realized that they had suffered because they had forsaken the Law of God (Torah - five books of Moses) and gone after other gods. They resolved not to do it again. Ezekiel's message and the elders of Judah, who sat under the prophet's teaching, made an impact on the Jewish community (Ezekiel 8:1;14:1; 20:1).
Some believe this was the beginning of the synagogue. In any event, it became the religious center for an exiled and homeless nation. Copies of the Scriptures were also preserved in the synagogue. In this religious center, it awakened many for the study of the Scriptures. This demand created a need for more qualified men to become teachers. These teachers were called "scribes." Their two-fold task was to copy the Scriptures that were scarce and then to teach them and explain them. This was especially so since Hebrew was becoming a dormant language. Sacred and meticulous care was exercised in copying the Scriptures. The debt we owe them is inferred in Romans 3:2. The apostle Paul proclaims "...unto them were committed the oracles of God."
According to Ezra 7:6, Ezra himself was "a ready scribe in the Law of Moses." He helped restore the Law as a guide of living. In one place the Talmud says, "When the Law had been forgotten by Israel, Ezra came up from Babylon and re-established it." In Nehemiah 8:1-10:39 we find a great revival taking place under the leadership of Ezra. Ezra, as a scribe, had a particular ministry in explaining and teaching the Scriptures. "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" (Nehemiah 8:8). Ezra caused the people to understand the Scriptures by explaining to them the "sense" of it. It is from this simple statement in Nehemiah that we have the beginnings of the Talmud.
The understanding of the Law of God, the Torah, was vital for their existence as a nation. The Jew had learned in the Babylonian captivity that he had to remain distinct from the heathen in both religious and secular life. Every aspect of his life was to be a constant reminder that he must remain distinct and holy. Beginning with Ezra, and all who followed, every word of the sages was memorized. This oral teaching was passed down and became the basis of the Talmud. The very explanation of the text became accepted as authoritative as the Scriptures themselves.
The Burdens Of The Oral Law
The word Talmud means "study" or "learning." It consists of two parts. The older is called the Mishnah, which is a compilation of oral laws, and the Gemara, the second part, is the recording of the discussions. Basically the Talmud is referred to as the Oral Torah; whereas the Torah, or the Written Torah, is the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).
The Jews believe that, according to tradition, not only the Written Torah was given to Moses at Mount Sinai but also the Oral Torah. Ancient tradition says, from Exodus 20:1, that God had communicated to Moses the Bible, the Mishnah, Talmud and the Haggadah (legends, folklore, parables, etc.) (Berakoth 5a). It is said Moses received all the law, oral and written, with all its interpretations and applications. He handed it down to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the men of the great assembly (Avot 1:1). A question among the rabbis was why Moses did not write down all the teachings entrusted to him. The answer was that the Gentiles should take from them the Written Law, but the unwritten traditions would remain open to separate Israel from the Gentiles.
The Oral Law, called the Talmud in written form, is a vital part of Jewish Tradition. These oral laws were to teach the way their fathers had walked and that their children were bound to the same. These laws became a hedge by the rabbis to prevent any breach of the Law or customs and to ensure the exact observances. Traditionalism was declared absolutely binding on all. They became a greater obligation than the Scriptures themselves. In the Talmud we read, "The sayings of the elders have more weight than those of the prophets" (Berakoth 1:7); "An offense against the saying of the scribes is worse than one against those of Scripture" (Sanhedrin 11:3). In the Midrash (commentary on the Scriptures), in the introduction on Lamentations, it is inferred from Jeremiah 9:12,13 that to forsake the Oral Law was worse than idolatry, uncleanness or the shedding of blood. So strict were the laws that the Jews must obey them in every jot and tittle. These oral laws were both positive, in the sense of things they had to do (TEGGANOTH), and negative in the things they were not to do (GEZEROTH). These traditional ordinances, or legal laws, are referred to as Halakhah.
The Jews, under the burden of outward ordinances and observances, had crushed their own spirit. They were no longer following the pure religion and law of the Old Testament or Torah. All of their traditions did not make them holier but only gave them more of a burden. Our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, had addressed this issue in Matthew 23:3, 4: "All, therefore, whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not after their works; for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." These Scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses' seat. Only a teacher of the Law of Moses can sit in that seat. The Law is to be honored, but not the hypocritical teachers of it (Matthew 23:2).
The religion of Israel was becoming one of show by the wearing of phylacteries, sitting at the head tables at banquets and in the synagogues, and the deference paid them on the streets (Matthew 23:5-7). The teachings of Yeshua were different. He laid aside the rabbinic Halakhah and tried to restore the inner sanctuary of worship and life style. He was not against true Biblical Halakhah for He said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Our Lord taught that the body of Jewish dogmatism and moral theology is really only Haggadah (legends, folklore, parables) and has no absolute authority. It was wrong to codify a Haggadah into a Halakhah (law, legal code). One should particularly take note of the woes our Lord announces upon the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-36. They closed up the kingdom of heaven not only to themselves but to all who follow them. Yeshua calls them hypocrites.
Two Divisions Of The Talmud
The Talmud consists of two distinct parts: the Mishnah, which is the code of laws, and its commentary, the Gemara. The Mishnah was transmitted orally. A great and well-known Pharisee known as Hillel (30 BC - 20 AD) made one of the earliest attempts to codify the oral laws. No one knows what happened to his effort.
Rabbi Akiba (or Akiva), who died around 135 AD, initiated the pioneer work of collecting and classifying the oral teachings by subject into a "Mishnah" or "review." He was a well-known and respected teacher and had thousands of followers.
The Oral Law was finally compiled in writing by Rabbi Judah Ha Nasi around 200 AD He was known simply as "Rabbi" and was the head of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court. He was a great scholar, but he feared that the Mishnah would someday be forgotten or that there would be heretical departures. He therefore compiled, edited and codified the oral laws and declared the Mishnah to be canonically closed, as Ezra and Nehemiah had "closed" the Torah (five books of Moses).
The Mishnah, which means, "to repeat one's learning, review" was a digest of all the oral laws from the time of Moses. It is referred to as the Second Law, whereas the Torah is the First Law. The work was written in Hebrew.
The second division of the Talmud is known as the Gemara. It was written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew and means "to learn." It was basically an expanded commentary on the Mishnah. Like the Mishnah, the Gemara is the collected discussions of the rabbis who lived after the Mishnah was completed. It was transmitted in two traditions, the Palestinian Gemara (AD 200) and the larger and more authoritative Babylonian Gemara (AD 500). The shift from an oral to a written form was due to a political crisis in the sixth century AD. Zoroastrian fanatics came to power in the Persian realm and most Jews in that area either fled, were dispersed or were killed. The rabbis were afraid that the collective memory of Mishnah and Gemara was in Peril of extinction. A group of scholars called the Saboraim had the task of writing down the teachings into the Babylonian Talmud. The Palestinian Gemara was written by scholars of Caesarea in Palestine in a short digest in the middle of the 4th Century AD.
The Mishnah plus the Babylonian Gemara is known as the Babylonian Talmud. The two Talmuds have always been printed separately and never together. There are different Jewish cultures and customs behind each one.
The Talmud and its traditions are a vital part of Jewish life. Apart from the Torah, the Talmud has more authority than the rest of Scripture. When a Jew speaks of being a Torah Jew, he usually is referring to being an observer of both the Torah (the five books of Moses) and the Talmud.
Jewish people have a unique and particular way of thinking. They are the most successful and productive in the business world as doctors, lawyers, and executives. In Judaism, knowledge is not the property of a "select few" but of equal value among all Jews. Even in the dark ages Jews were centuries ahead in various arts because of Talmud study. The heart and soul of the Jewish people is in the Talmud (Jewish oral laws). It may be in various degrees among the different branches of Judaism, but it is there. Today most Jews have never seen a Talmud, but its contents are taught with the use of the prayer book, keeping religious traditions and holidays, and from the rabbis' sermons. What they hear and learn from their rabbis and tradition they accept without question. A practicing Jew, whether he realizes it or not, learns Talmud in the Synagogue . Violating a Jewish law will quickly bring "Talmud scholars" to the scene correcting that one.
The ancient sages teach that every Jew is required to study Talmud Torah (all religious Jewish literature), "whether poor or rich, healthy or suffering, young or old. Even a beggar going from door to door for sustenance, or someone with a family to support, must establish time to study Torah during the day and night, for it is written, 'You shall recite it day and night'" (Mishnei Torah, Hichot Talmud Torah 1:8).
It was taught that every Jew is obligated to study the Talmud. "For how long is one obligated to study? Until the day of death, as it is said, 'So that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. When a person doesn't study he forgets'" (Shulhan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 246:3).
It has also been taught, "Look into it, grow old and gray in it and don't run away from it, for there is no better measure than it" (Pirkei Avot 5:24). A common response most Gentile believers receive when witnessing to a Jew is, "You believe in your way and I will believe in mine. I don't believe in Yeshua (Jesus) because I'm Jewish." A Jew looks upon Christianity as paganism and Yeshua (Jesus) as a Gentile savior. In general, a Jew is not interested in hearing a "Gentile gospel" nor a "Gentile interpretation" of their Scriptures. They have their Peshat (contextual meaning) and their Derash (commentary).
To really understand a religious or semi-religious Jew and to reach him, you need to understand and respect his Talmud. The "Christian" church oppressed and attacked the Talmud all through the ages. In AD 553 Emperor Justinian prevented the teaching of the "second tradition." In AD 712 the Visigoths in Spain forbade "converts" to Christianity to read Hebrew books. In 1199 Pope Innocent III proclaimed that only the clergy could give the interpretation of Scriptures and that the Jews were a subversive element. This led to the burning of Jewish books by the "church." In southern France, in 1233, Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed was burned. He was a famous Rabbinic codifier, philosopher, and physician (1135-1204). In Paris, in 1236, Pope Gregory IX listed thirty-five charges against the Talmud. The allegations made were that it was against Christian theology and prevented Jewish conversions. He decreed that all Jewish books were to be confiscated and burned at the stake. Volumes of Talmud were snatched away even during synagogue services. Similar instructions were conveyed and carried out by the kings of France, England, Spain, and Portugal.
In Paris, June 25-27, 1240, the inquisitorial committee condemned the Talmud and two years later twenty-four wagonloads of Jewish books containing thousands of volumes were burned by the public executioner. This continued to be the practice of all "Christian" lands. In Rome, in 1553, the Council of Cardinals carried out the decree of seizing and burning all Jewish books to the full potential. Jewish homes were broken into and their books seized and burned. In Poland, in 1757, a thousand copies of the Talmud, which had been confiscated by the clergy and police, were burned.
In the name of Christ Talmuds were burned, and by the sword Jews were forced to convert or be killed. Synagogues were burned down as "Christians" marched around them singing how they loved Jesus.
The Jewish people will never forget the pogroms, the inquisitions, and the burning of their Talmuds. A good majority of Gentile believers today will approach the Jew and in a sense tell him that his theology is all wrong and his books are meaningless. This is certainly not the way to "win friends and influence people," especially Jewish people.
With the use of the Scriptures and Talmud I try to get a Jew to question and examine if his theological position is sound and true. Our Lord did the same. He answered a question with a question to get one to examine his position. Today, to do this, one's questions and answers should be from Talmud Torah to support his Biblical position. Let me illustrate this from a Talmudic story. Issac B. Judah was a disciple of Rabbi Rami bar Hama, but left him to study with Rabbi Sheshet. The reason given was that every time he asked his former Rabbi a question the answer would be with a rational argument. When the disciple found a Mishnah (law) that contradicted the Rabbi's rational argument, the Rabbi replied that the argument no longer applied. However, this was not so with Rabbi Sheshet. Every time the disciple found a Mishnah to contradict Rabbi Sheshet's answer, the Rabbi replied that it is one Mishnah against another (Zev 96b).
With the use of the Talmud I point out that my interpretation of the Messianic prophecies of the Scriptures is truly the traditional view. If this is followed logically then the only result is that Yeshua, Jesus, is the Messiah or the Scriptures and Talmud are false.
For centuries discussion among the religious Jews centered around the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. They acknowledged that the passage speaks of the suffering servant, but they questioned who this suffering servant might be. Secular Jews are usually ignorant that the chapter even exists and religious Jews will not admit to Christians that it refers to the Messiah. Instead, they will quote Rashi's interpretation that the passage speaks of Israel as the suffering servant not Messiah. I put rabbis and others like these on the spot by quoting the traditional rabbis showing that prior to and following Rashi the majority took the view that the suffering servant is Messiah. Orthodox Jews do not accept Rashi's view on Isaiah 53 while almost all Reformed Jews do. Conservative Jews are divided.
Rashi is an abbreviation for a French rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac (1040-1105 CE). Even today the religious Jew reveres Rashi as one of the most rabbinic commentators on the Bible and Talmud. Every page in the Talmud contains Rashi's commentary.
The New Testament teaching of Yeshua, Jesus, as Messiah centers on His substitutionary death based on Isaiah 53. Many rabbinics, including the Orthodox Jews, will purposely misinterpret Isaiah 53 in reaction to Christological teaching. The New Testament, however, bears personal witness that Yeshua, Jesus, is indeed the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and that He was raised from the dead (Luke 22:37; Acts 8:26-35; I Peter 2:21-25).
We know Him whom we believed, but how do we share our faith to the Jew that Yeshua is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53? What do we do when one openly misinterprets the Isaiah 53 passage because of the Christological tone? We have enough New Testament references that the passage does speak of the Messiah, but what does one do when someone rejects the New Testament references? The typical response that the unbelieving Jew gives to the Christian is "You believe your way and I believe mine, I cannot believe in Jesus because I am a Jew. You have your Bible and interpretation and I have mine" Many Christians become frustrated, and wanting to have the final word they will respond with, "I'll pray for you!" Then there are other Christians who are simply too afraid to witness to a Jew, while others just leave it up to the missionaries. First of all, we need to realize that this same gospel is to go to both Jew and Gentile. In fact, the command is to the Jew first (Romans 1:16). Secondly, each one of us has the responsibility to witness to those around us, to both Jew and Gentile, and to reach them on their own level.
For any missionary or believer to reach those around them they must reach them on their own level. This is typical of the apostle Paul:
A further example is given in Acts 21. Paul, as a believer, takes a Jewish vow. Why? Basically, as a Jew he wants to identify with the Jewish people and gain a witness.
The unsaved do not need to conform to the Christian's methodology of ministry, but the Christian does need to reach the unsaved on their own level. Paul took this approach to Jew and Gentile.
Generally, Jews are not interested in hearing what they consider to be a Gentile gospel or a Gentile interpretation of their Scriptures. They believe that they have their Scriptures and Talmud along with its interpretation and the Christian has theirs. How do we break the barrier in witnessing to the Jew? Are we to give up and just pray for them?
The Scriptures teach that we are in the army of God. Each one of us is a soldier. Every soldier must go through basic training to learn the skills needed to be victorious in battle. To be ill skilled is no excuse (Acts 10:7; Ephesians 6:11-20; 11 Timothy 2:3). Peter gives us a battle order:
The word "answer" in the text is the Greek word meaning "apologetics." This teaches us that we are to give a defense of our faith, but to do it with meekness and love. We are to prove, to defend our faith and then let the Holy Spirit convict. We need not only use the Scriptures, but also whatever else we have at our means. We see this taking place in Paul's sermon on Mars' hill. There he found an altar with an inscription to the unknown god. There he told them who the unknown God is whom they ignorantly worshipped (Acts 17:22-34). Paul used what was within his means.
In Part III of "An Introduction to the Talmud" a Talmudic story of a rabbinical disciple was given. When this disciple, Issac ben Judah, found a law to contradict Rabbi Sheshet's law the response was that it was then one law against another law (Zev. 96b).
Many Jews today accept Rashi's interpretation of Isaiah 53 not realizing that there are other Talmudic alternatives referring to Messiah as the Suffering Servant. With the use of the Scriptures and Talmud I point out that my interpretation of Isaiah 53 and other Messianic passages is truly a Jewish interpretation. I bring out that the "Derash" (commentary) of the majority of the traditional rabbis prior to and following Rashi was always that Isaiah is referring to the Messiah as the Suffering Servant. The following are only a few of the many "Derash" quotes of the Messiah as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 that can be used:
Many Jews do not know the "unknown God" of Isaiah 53. With the use of the Talmud and Scriptures I show that my interpretation is truly Jewish and Biblical. God has given me the privilege to lead many of my Jewish brethren to Messiah Yeshua with the Talmudic apologetic approach.
Every Sabbath in synagogue the Torah (Law) and the Haftorah (prophets) are read. However, Isaiah 53 is excluded. Why? It is not read to specifically avoid any Christological reference.
In Part IV of "An Introduction to the Talmud" we saw that Rashi opposed the original interpretation of Isaiah 53 as referring to the Messiah as the Suffering Servant. The majority of Jews today, even among the Orthodox, are ignorant of the passage. While studying in an Orthodox Yeshiva (Jewish seminary), I was surprised that most of the students knew little or nothing of it. After giving the traditional Deresh (commentary) of the chapter, I asked several to explain verse three:
"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not."
I asked them, "Why would we reject our own Messiah? Does it not say that He would be despised and rejected? Why would we hide our faces from Him?" I then explained from verse one that our own people would not even believe this report concerning the Messiah.
The typical response to my questions was, "I do not know." Then the regular studies of Talmud continued. If only the Messianic passages of Talmud would be studied it would all point to Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) as the Suffering Servant whom we have rejected.
Even the disciples of Yeshua had trouble comprehending His role as the Suffering Servant. They only wanted the Kingdom to come. When Yeshua spoke of His death as substitutionary atonement, they did not understand what He meant. And to the Pharisees Yeshua did not fit into their "marks" nor conform to their ways.
Yeshua used the Scriptures to testify of Himself. As with unsaved Jews today and the Jews of Yeshua's day, if they would believe in their own Scriptures it would point to Yeshua as Messiah and to His two advents. Yeshua Himself said,
Among the Yeshiva students I inquired as to why we reject our own Messiah and do not believe the report about Him. Could it be that our "spiritual leaders" who handle the Scriptures refuse to be obedient to them. Then I shared from Jeremiah:
"The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that _ handle the law - _ knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit" Jeremiah 2:8).
Rashi's interpretation of Isaiah 53 is contrary to Scripture and is unprofitable. He rejected the truth and taught a false theology. As God stated through Jeremiah:
"For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:23).
Rashi's interpretation of Isaiah 53 is a lie which "can hold no water" before God. Even when examining the content of the chapter, Isaiah 53 itself points out that the Suffering Servant is Messiah. For example, I usually ask who is the author of Isaiah and the average Jew will say it is Isaiah. I then ask if Isaiah was a Jew. The reply is yes. I will then ask if the people of Isaiah are Jews or not. After these facts have been established, I will read verse eight:
In the verse we have the phrase "of my people." The "my" refers to the author of the book who is Isaiah. The "people" of Isaiah are the Jews. If this it the case, and it is, then how can the third person singular "he" in the verse also be the Jewish people? It cannot for it would be breaking all the rules of grammar. We can therefore interpret Isaiah 53:8 as "for the transgression of my [Isaiah's] people [the Jews] was he [Messiah] stricken."
To accept Rashi's interpretation is to accept a falsehood, but today's Rabbinics love to have it so. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the same sort of situation in his day:
"The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?" (Jeremiah 5:32).
In sharing Isaiah 53 with unsaved Jews, and teaching the proper Derash, I share further words from Jeremiah:
"Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said we will not walk therein" (Jeremiah 6:16)
"Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return" (Jeremiah8:5).
How sad it is to refuse the good and accept the evil. Because of this sin, God lays stumbling blocks before Israel (Jeremiah 6:21).
To the Jew the Messiah would be a stumbling block. This would also include Isaiah 53:
"And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (Isaiah 8:14).
This verse and its interpretation are given of the Messiah in the Talmud:
In the Soncino edition of the Talmud the footnote refers to Isaiah 8:14 and the reference given for the Son of David is the Messiah. The rabbis agree that as the cornerstone of the Temple is symbolic of the Messiah, it is the Messiah that is to be our foundation of faith. To remove the cornerstone is to remove the Messiah out of our life. From Isaiah we read:
"Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation he that believeth shall not make haste" (Isaiah 28:16).
As has been established, this stone, the Messiah of Isaiah, was prophesied to be rejected. Not only do we find this in Isaiah 53 but also in the Psalms:
"The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner" (Psalm 218:22).
Even Rashi in his commentaries accepted these two preceding verses as relating to the Messiah. Even though he denied that Isaiah 53 refers to the Messiah, he never denied that there is a personal Messiah.
In Parts IV and V of "An Introduction to the Talmud" we have been discussing Isaiah 53. We took note that Rashi (Rabbi Solomon Ben Isaac, 1040-1105 AD) set forth the view that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is Israel and not the Messiah. This was not the accepted traditional view. The majority of the rabbis prior to and following Rashi rejected his view. Today among Rabbinical Jews the interpretation of Isaiah 53 has shifted to Rashis position. This is to avoid any Christological reference to Yeshua, Jesus, as only a Gentile Messiah.
The Scriptures are very clear that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah and His atoning work is a fulfillment of Isaiah
53. The New Testament was written by Jewish men under the inspiration of God concerning the Messiah, and
what it says about Yeshua's atoning work is an expansion of Isaiah 53. So unless we first establish the fact that Isaiah 53 speaks of the suffering Messiah, Yeshua Messiah of the New Testament may not even be considered by the Jew. To properly defend our faith (I Pet. 3:15) and win the Jew (Romans 1:16), we need to put ourselves on the Jew's level.
We will begin to look at the New Testament along with Isaiah 53 and support it, when possible, with the traditional rabbinical position. The emphasis will be to establish the fact that the Messiah is the Suffering Servant and also that the New Testament is a Jewish book about Yeshua, Jesus, as the Jewish Messiah.
We begin with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). He was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah (Acts 8:26-39) and the Spirit of God led Philip to speak to him (vs. 29). Philip heard him reading Isaiah and asked if he knew what he was reading (vs. 30). The response was that he needed help (vs. 31).
The Ethiopian eunuch was evidently black and a proselyte to Judaism, known as a "proselyte of the gate." Normally a heathen of those days would not have been reading the Scriptures. The passage that caused the Ethiopian difficulty was Isaiah 53:7,8, which Luke records for his readers from the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament, LXX):
The Ethiopian questioned whether the passage spoke of Isaiah himself or of another (Acts 8:34). The Ethiopian had an advantage over the modern Jew in that he had at least read Isaiah 53. As discussed in Part V of "An Introduction to the Talmud," Jews do not read this passage today.
It was the Spirit of God that led Philip to speak with the Ethiopian. When we witness to a Jew, we need to let the Spirit of God work. Our first step might be to urge him to read Isaiah 53. One approach would be to ask him to explain the passage. Most likely he would need to go home, read it and research it. This would be a good start. Then we could explain how we understand the passage to be according to the traditional Jewish position.
The Ethiopian proselyte to Judaism was seriously thinking about Isaiah 53. He had questions. In studying at a Yeshiva, I have learned to question my questions as well as my answers. In the Talmud words are often very condensed. From these condensed words comes a need to formulate questions in order to explain the following condensed words. If the right questions are asked, the right answers can be derived. Many Yeshiva students are often frustrated at this rational, but once the principles are learned, study becomes easier. There have been months at the Yeshiva in which we have stayed on a small passage of the Talmud and have not only exegeted it but have truly learned it. Because of this process, Jewish attorneys who have studied Talmud usually make some of the best lawyers.
The Ethiopian questioned as to whether Isaiah 53 spoke of Isaiah himself or of another (Acts 8:34). In like manner we need to get the unbelieving Jew to truly question the passage. Does it really speak of Israel or of the Messiah? Doubt must be placed in a Jew's mind before he will examine other possibilities. The Ethiopian eunuch had questions about the passage. It was then that Philip proclaimed Yeshua, Jesus, as the Messiah of whom Isaiah spoke. Once the fact is established that the prophet is speaking of the Messiah, and we can do that rabbinically, then the question of time and person can be raised.
In the past three Talmud articles we have been looking at Isaiah 53. The Orthodox Jews are aware of the passage but will say that Israel is the Suffering Messiah, not an individual. However, the Talmud teaches otherwise. Among the secular and non-Orthodox Jews most are not aware that the passage even exists. When shown, they believe it is a passage taken from the New Testament. Many are amazed to learn that it is actually from the Old Testament. They then usually make the statement, "That's what your Bible says," so I show them that I am using the Old Covenant translation The Holy Scriptures: A Jewish Bible According to the Masoretic Text. It is a decent Jewish translation that reads like the King James Version. It can be purchased at a Jewish bookstore and I highly recommend it if you are witnessing to Jewish people. It can be obtained in the English or in the bilingual Hebrew-English. The latter is recommended even if you do not know Hebrew. By learning a few Hebrew words it can be a great help with regard to the Messianic passages. In future articles we will be looking at these Hebrew words. Avoid any other Jewish translation of the Old Covenant except for the one mentioned above.
The Talmud is clear that the Suffering Messiah is an individual. In tractate Sanhedrin98b one of the names of the Messiah is identified as "Shiloh." The reference is Genesis 49:10. Another Rabbi said, "His name is the leper scholar as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted." The reference is given to Isaiah 53:4.
The Zohar, a book of Jewish mysticism which is accepted as Talmud Torah, supports the fact of the Suffering Messiah of Isaiah 53. The Zohar purports to be a record of discourses between Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai and his contemporaries of the second century. It is said that Simeon and his son hid in a cave for thirteen years to escape the persecution by the Romans. There they meditated on the mystical aspects of God, on Torah and the universe. Basically the Zohar is a mystical commentary on the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses). One legend says that Simeon is the author. It has also been referred to as Midrash ha-Zohar and Midrash de-Rabbi Shim'on ben Yohai.
The Zohar was written partly in Aramaic and partly in Hebrew. It first appeared in Spain in the thirteenth century being made known by Moses ben Shem-Tob de Leon, a cabalistic writer. He ascribed it to Simeon ben Yohai. When Moses de Leon died, his widow confessed that her husband himself had written the Zohar. There is much debate on the authorship.
The Zohar spread rapidly among the Jews and was regarded as a sacred book. The cabalists proclaimed that such a book could not have been written by any mortal unless he had been inspired by God. The Zohar was then placed on the same level with the Bible.
Enthusiasm for the Zohar was felt by many Christian scholars who believed that it contained proofs of the truth of Christianity. William Postel is believed to be the first. Another, Pico della Mirandola, declared that the Zohar contains Christian doctrines on the Trinity, original sin and the Incarnation. John Reuchlin wrote De Arte Cabalistica, which he dedicated to Leo X. His work was to prove that the Messiah had already appeared. Galatinus, a contemporary of Reuchlin, published De Arcanis Catholicae Veritatis in l516. He showed that the Zohar supports the major doctrines of Christianity. Other outstanding Christian theologians on the Zohar were Alabaster, Gasparellus, and Athanasius Kircher. Better known is Knorr von Rosenroth who wrote Kabbalah Denndata (1677-78). It was translated into English in 1887. In our next article we will look at some of the Zohar references concerning the Messiah.
In the past four Talmud articles we have seen the aspect of the suffering Messiah as supported in Talmud Torah. In the last issue of Shalom an introduction to the Zohar was given, which is a book of Jewish mysticism believed by Jews to be inspired. Hassidic Judaism derives its spirituality from the Zohar. Many noted Christian scholars of the past have studied the Zohar and found doctrines concerning the Trinity, Original Sin and the Incarnation. Numerous times while witnessing I have used the Zohar to support New Testament doctrines. We now continue our study of the Suffering Messiah.
The Zohar makes some interesting statements concerning the Suffering Messiah:
It is very clear in the preceding reference that Messiah suffers for us. However, I have found while witnessing to my brethren in the flesh (Jews) that they will deny Scriptures and even their own writings rather than have them point to Yeshua, Jesus. For example, several months ago at Temple University an anti-missionary "friend" debated with me on Isaiah 53. Actually it was not much of a debate. I had asked him to explain Isaiah 53:8:
From the syntax the phrase "my people" refers to Isaiah and his people the Jews. Thereby the pronoun "he" refers to another individual and not to the nation of Israel. My anti-missionary "friend" knew from where I was coming. He admitted that Isaiah was the author. However, when I asked him who were the "people" of Isaiah, he said, "The Gentiles." In response I shared that any simple, logical, rational thinking Jew knows that since Isaiah is Jewish his people must also be Jewish. He just smiled and said nothing. He was spiteful and would not admit that he was wrong. He would rather deny Scriptures than have them point to Yeshua, Jesus. This is true of other Jewish doctrines as well.
The Soncino publishers of the Zohar have excluded from the text section 2:211b-216a, from which the previous Zohar quote is taken. Like my "friend," it is easier for Soncino to deny and eliminate something that points to Yeshua rather than have it before them. Nor do they want anyone else to read it. To justify their actions, Soncino gives a footnote:
"The first four and a half pages of this section (211b-216a) are declared by all the commentators to be an interpolation, containing much erroneous doctrine."
However, what they overlook is that there are other similar references to the Suffering Messiah and other related doctrines elsewhere in the Zohar and Talmud. Most rabbis are not even aware that Soncino has excluded the 211b-216a section, nor can they give a reason. My response to one who argues in support of excluding the section would be to ask them why Soncino would exclude one section and not other sections that include similar information.
Even if a rabbi accepts the interpolation of the Zohar, the Talmud in Sanhedrin 98b makes it clear that the Messiah suffers for our sin, as can be seen in the following quote. There is not one who claims an interpolation of the Talmud.
The above declaration of Sanhedrin 98b is also supported by Marcus Jastrow's Dictionary on the Targums and the Talmud, page 452.
In studying the Zohar, especially section 3:7a-lOb, I was amazed that it parallels the gospel account of Matthew. It begins with the Messiah arising in the land of Galilee when Israel experiences birth pangs:
Yeshua, Jesus, fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy by starting His ministry in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1,2). Isaiah points out that the very region where the Assyrian armies brought darkness and death would be the first to rejoice in the light brought by the preaching of Messiah. Matthew quotes the reference in Matthew 4:14-17. Yeshua, Jesus, begins His ministry in Capernaum of Galilee (Matt. 4:12-17; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:14,-15). Yeshua, Jesus, left Nazareth and took up residence in the town of Capernaum. He left His home never again to return. Galilee was the most northern district of Palestine and was very densely populated. Josephus, a Jewish historian during the days of Yeshua, says about Galilee, "They were ever fond of innovations and by nature disposed to changes, and delighted in seditions." They were open to new ideas. If anyone would have been open to hear Yeshua, it would have been in Galilee. Once He would be accepted in Galilee, His fame would travel, for the traffic of the world passed through Galilee. It was in Galilee where Yeshua called His disciples. Most Jews, including the rabbis, have no concept of this prophecy. It is especially spelled out in the Zohar and fulfilled in the New Testament. Many rabbinics mock at the ministry of Yeshua beginning in Galilee. After all, they believe that true spirituality is connected with Jerusalem and the Temple. They believe that Messiah would start in the heart of Israel, Jerusalem, not in the backward part. How wonderful it is that Yeshua started with the common person and saved simple people like us.
The Zohar then describes that a star shall come from the East and proceed the Messiah:
Most of us are aware of the account of the wise men seeking Yeshua, Jesus:
We cannot tell what star the Magi saw, but it was very clear to them. Some suggestions of what it may have been are Haleys Comet, a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter or the Dog Star. From Numbers a prophecy was given that a Star would come out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17).
Many Jews, especially the rabbis, believe that the birth of Yeshua, Jesus, is only a myth. Yet they do not even realize that the same story is spoken of in the Scriptures and in the Zohar.
In our last study we began to see the parallel, concerning the Messiah, between Matthew's account and the Zohar, a Jewish mystical book. We especially took note concerning the star which would precede Messiah, and the place where He would begin His ministry, which was Galilee.
The Zohar continues and explains that when this star would disappear Messiah would go into hiding. Some very interesting things will then occur. Let's see what they are.
From the above quote we should take note of the following words and phrases: "hidden," "shall return again," "not be visible," "carried up to heaven," "pillar of fire," "descends," "will reveal himself," "gather round him," and "declare war." Most of these we are familiar with in regard to the gospel and the Lord's return. Let's see if we could make some sense from the Zohar's statement and if there really is a parallel to the gospel and Yeshua's, Jesus', return.
The Zohar made the statement that when the star which identified Messiah would disappear, he would go into hiding. Did this actually take place? We know from Matthew's account that after the wise men presented their gifts to Yeshua as a young child, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to take his family and go down to Egypt and hide, because Herod was seeking the young child's life (Matthew 2:11-14). Matthew then makes a connection to Hosea 11:1. He identifies the term "my son" in Hosea and Israel's early sojourn in Egypt. Matthew develops what is commonly known as a Midrash.
The Zohar did not say where the Messiah would hide except that He would be in the "pillar of fire." Jewish reference would be of the Holy Spirit and of His leading. The trip for Joseph and his family was definitely the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The Zohar then makes a statement that the Messiah will "return again," and yet He would "not be visible." What does this mean? Yeshua did indeed return to Israel and began His ministry in Galilee which we noted previously. But how could He return and not be visible? This means that He would not be recognized. Our own Messiah would be rejected and despised. This is where Isaiah 53 begins to fit into the picture (see the previous studies). "He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John. 1:11).
What happens when one is rejected? He leaves. After Yeshua Messiah bore our sin on the tree and was resurrected, He then ascended. This is what the Zohar means when it states that He was "carried up to heaven." Yeshua, Jesus, ascended from the Mount of Olives forty days after His resurrection. He will return to that same place (Acts 1:3,10-11; Zechariah 14:4).
The Zohar adds that the Messiah receives in heaven "power and dominion and the royal crown." Of these things Yeshua did receive. We read in Hebrews:
Next our passage from the Zohar states that when Messiah "descends, the pillar of fire will again be visible to the eyes of the world, and the Messiah will reveal himself." Yeshua Messiah will not return until the end of the Tribulation. He will return when all appears to be lost for Israel.
Then my people Israel will accept the rejected and despised Messiah (Zechariah12:10). They can only receive Him by the leading of the Holy Spirit, or in the Zohar's terms, by the "pillar of fire." John the Baptizer already identified Yeshua as the One who comes with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 2:11).
Those who are born from above have experienced these things, but the nation of Israel collectively awaits. When He "descends" He will "reveal himself as the Zohar says. He will come not as a lamb as He did previously, but this time as a warrior. The nation Israel will stare at the pierced hands of Messiah whom they have pierced. It will be a day of much mourning (Zechariah 12:10-14). It will be a day that the fountain is opened for them to be cleansed of sin and uncleanness (Zechariah 13:1). The mourning will not just be for the fact of acknowledging Yeshua as the Messiah whom they had rejected, but more so for the realization that their loved ones who died before His second advent have no atonement and will perish eternally.
Our Zohar section then adds, "mighty nations will gather round him and he shall declare war against all the world." This is the battle of Armageddon.
We have seen in our past studies that the Zohar, a book of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah), has much to say about the Messiah. During the days of Yeshua the Zohar was considered to be inspired and of the highest level of "Scriptures." It was not meant to be for the common man but only for certain elected ones. We see this in the following quote from the Apocrypha: "These words you must publish openly and those you must keep secret" (2 Esdras 4:6). In this reference Moses was commanded to teach the simple contents of the Law to all, but the higher mystical teachings were to be taught only to the elected ones. Who selected the "elected ones"? It was a decision made by the rabbis.
In Matthew 11:25 Yeshua, Jesus, reversed this whole scenario: "...thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." Yeshua said that His gospel is hidden from the wise and intellectual who would normally receive knowledge first by the rabbis' standards, and instead is given to the common man ("babes"). Try to picture the scene and turmoil caused among the rabbis. He said that the hidden things of God, or a true Biblical Kabbalah, is for the common person and not the wise.
The rabbis understood what Yeshua was teaching. For the wisdom of God does not come by men of great scholarship but by humility. God holds back great truth and blessing from the proud. Yeshua taught that one must empty himself so he can be filled with God's Spirit. For rabbinical Judaism, both past and present, the way to know God is by a mental search. Yeshua simply taught that if a person wants to know God he needs to come unto Him and take His yoke (Matthew 11:27-30). King David also defines how the common person can receive the hidden truth of God in his inward parts. The answer is simply to confess sin (Psalms 51:6,7).
Kabbalah teaches that one cannot know God, who is the Ein Sof, the unknowable God, by the simple content of the Scriptures but only by way of the mystical interpretation. It teaches that man atones for his own sin and can even eradicate his sin nature. Yeshua dealt with this very issue as recorded in Mark seven. In this passage the Pharisees had questioned Him as to why His disciples did not wash their hands after the "traditions of the elders (Mark 7:3,5). Yeshua was not against the hygienic care of His disciples. The issue was ceremonial. Many are not aware that the "traditions of the elders" is a Kabbalistic teaching from the Zohar that has been incorporated into the second chapter of the Shulhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). It teaches that when one goes to sleep, the holy soul departs from his body and an unclean spirit descends upon him. When rising from sleep, the unclean spirit departs from his body except from his finger tips. One is not permitted to walk six feet until he ritually washes his hands alternately three times with water from a vessel. If he touches his eyes or any orifice, the evil spirit will enter back into the body. Also, the water must not be thrown away where an animal or person may drink it, for if they did they would become contaminated or possessed by the evil spirit. After the use of the rest room and before eating bread a similar washing is performed. This is not a Biblical teaching and yet the Pharisees in the first century challenged Yeshua and His disciples as to why they did not keep this tradition of the elders. Yeshua responded that if one wants to get rid of evil, one must cleanse the evil from his heart. One cannot get rid of evil by washing the hands ritually (Mark 7:1-23). This is still practiced today by the religious Orthodox Jew.
The origin of the Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah is Babylonian. During the Babylonian captivity Judaism absorbed much occult influence from her captors such as reincarnation, necromancy, conjuration, astral projection, astrology, numerology and the use of charms. Eventually Babylon became the center of Talmudic learning.
The Zohar and other Jewish mystical books are full of fire and deception. They must be avoided.
© Copyright Dr. Harris Brody, Petah Tikvah Magazine all
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