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Light from the Sidra

Shoftim ('Judges') 22nd August 2015. 7th Ellul 5775

Torah: Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9. Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12

Please note that unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from Tanach (The Artscroll™ Series/Stone Edition, April 2013. Published and Distributed by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, New York 11232)

 

Kept in the dark

I find it interesting that the Haftarah reading this week ends at Isaiah 52:12 and that next week’s Haftarah begins at chapter 54:1. Why is Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 never read in synagogue?

Some years ago, a friend of mine was taking part at an exhibition of the Bible and on display was the Hebrew text of Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 with an English translation. A Jewish teacher approached him and asked whether Isaiah lived before or after Jesus. In the eighth century BCE, my friend told her. ‘Wow!’ she said, ‘It makes you think doesn’t it?’

Another friend once asked a north London rabbi why this chapter is never read in shul. ‘Well,’ said the rabbi, ‘If we read Isaiah 53 in synagogue, a lot of our people might become Christians.’

A few years ago, a zealous young Orthodox Jew angrily challenged me about the interpretation of Isaiah 53. ‘You Christians have got it all wrong about Isaiah 53,’ he said. ‘It isn’t about Jesus.’

‘Then why does everyone who encounters the chapter for the first time think it’s about Jesus? I responded.

‘That’s because they’ve never had the real meaning of the chapter explained to them.’

‘What is the chapter really about?’

‘The fact is, Isaiah 53 could be about anyone!’

‘If it could be about anyone, it could be about Jesus.’

‘No! It’s not about Jesus!’

‘Well give me some idea of who the suffering righteous servant could be.’

‘He could be Abraham because he suffered a lot. He could be Jeremiah because he suffered too. He could be Isaiah himself because he suffered. The servant could be the Jewish people. As I say, Isaiah 53 could be about anyone!’

‘Then it could be about Jesus…’

‘No! It’s not about Jesus!’

‘Let me get this right,’ I concluded, ‘Are you telling me that Isaiah 53 could be about anybody except the one person everyone thinks it’s about when they read it for the first time?’

‘Absolutely!’

I don’t think I need to comment on that kind of approach to biblical interpretation, let alone the logic of it.

The custom of reading a chapter from the Prophets – the Haftarah – to accompany the reading from the Torah in the synagogue is an ancient one, even though it is not known precisely when the system was instituted, who introduced it or what the circumstances surrounding its introduction were. However, Jewish scholars who gathered in Jerusalem for the 14th World Congress of Jewish Studies two years ago were informed that the sages responsible for compiling the annual cycle of synagogue readings from the Prophets deliberately omitted every passage in the Tanakh that is cited in the New Testament.

In my misspent youth I read most of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. One of the quotes I remember from the series is from Goldfinger, in which the eponymous villain observes, ‘Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”’

The rabbinic exclusion of certain passages from the Prophets, the scholars in Jerusalem were told, was neither happenstance nor coincidence; it was enemy action. At some time, a deliberate decision was taken to hide Isaiah 52:13-53:12, in which the righteous Servant of the Lord suffers for the sins of his people, from the Jewish people.

Jewish scholars are now recognising that centuries ago a policy was implemented to excise from the annual round of readings from the Prophets every passage that the New Testament applies to Jesus. The only exception appears to be Isaiah 40:1-26, which begins, ‘Comfort, comfort My people…’

This rabbinic strategy has been remarkably successful in withholding the truth about Jesus from the Jewish people. The rabbinic ‘scorched earth’ policy, even though it virtually eliminated every Messianic reference in the Hebrew Scriptures, is a back-handed acknowledgement of the truth of Jesus’ claims. The rabbis obviously considered the claims of Jesus to be subversive of rabbinic Judaism. But why? If Jesus was a false Messiah, as the rabbis believe, why exclude almost all the passages quoted in the New Testament from the synagogue readings because some pseudo Messiah once claimed that the prophets were speaking about him? The rabbinic policy is a clear testimony to the power of the prophecies they excluded.

Deuteronomy 18 foretells the raising up of a prophet like Moses: ‘and it shall be that the man who will not hearken to My words that [the Prophet] shall speak in My Name, I will exact from him’ (Deut 18:19) Thus, the compliers of the Haftarot not only refused to hearken to the words of the prophesied Prophet, they also withheld his words and his works from the people of Israel.

However, there is no need for anyone who reads these words to remain in ignorance any longer. The Messiah, the Saviour not only of Israel but also the world has come and has fulfilled the hundreds of prophecies concerning him in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. Don’t allow yourself to live in ignorance of the Prophet any longer. Don’t remain in the dark.

Contact me today and I’ll send you more information.


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