The readers of this blog are already familiar with Thomas. He has contributed many articulate and insightful comments (see for example “Response to Line of Fire 10”). We are proud to welcome Thomas as a co-author on this blog.
Thomas was kind enough to share his personal story:
I was raised like most other North American Jews- in an interfaith (Jewish mother, non-practicing Protestant father) in the suburbs of a large North American city. I was raised with a Jewish identity, went to Hebrew school, and had a bar mitzvah. We went to synagogue on the High Holidays, lit Shabbat candles on Friday night, and so on.
When I went away to university, I started getting involved with the local Jewish association- mostly Israel advocacy, some Jewish programming, and I was also learning more about my Jewish identity through getting involved at the local orthodox synagogue (although I was neither observant nor religious- merely started attending shabbat morning services).
Upon my graduation, I moved back to my home city, and started working. I don’t quite remember when I first came across the ‘messianic jewish’ movement, but I had always known of Jews for Jesus (et al), and one day I came across a messianic website featuring proofs texts of Jesus’ messiahship in the Hebrew Bible, and it caught my attention, so I looked at it, thinking I would get a good chuckle. Rather, I was very bothered- although I knew little about the Hebrew Bible, these arguments seemed compelling! The scriptural verses seemed to prove exactly their point! How was this possible?
To make a (very) long story short, this bothered me day and night. I read articles and watched videos online- there was messianic site after site offering proofs, and yet I had difficulty finding one or two competent Jewish websites offering refutations- I knew there must be some Jewish refutation- but nothing I found online was satisfactory.
The Christian arguments had dozens of verses, plus references to the Talmud and other Jewish works, and the Jewish refutations I found online seemed surprisingly bare-boned, and did not ease my doubts in the slightest.
This reached a fever pitch where, one night laying in bed, I asked myself- what good reason do I have NOT to accept Christianity? What other choice did I have? It was so abundantly clear that whatever Jewish arguments existed, I could not find them.
One morning, I asked G-d to teach me- to show me what He wanted me to do.
I got an answer.
That night, while on campus for an evening classes program I was taking, the guest speaker happened to be (obviously unknown to me) a rabbi from Jews for Judaism. That certainly caught my attention. I actually had met this rabbi once or twice in the past, and I scheduled a meeting with him to discuss what was causing me so much distress, and to finally hear what the Jewish responses were- and whether they were satisfactory.
We reviewed some of the big proof texts, and the major theological issues (repentance & atonement, divinity of messiah, etc.), and it caused me to take a big step back. The refutations he provided me were very clear and straightforward, and I did a lot more reading, and met with the rabbi a few more times, and after a while I felt that I had received a satisfactory answer to my questions. But some doubts persisted, but while I knew that I could not answer many Christian arguments, I was not plagued by the same fears I had before.
It was only later, when I came across Rabbi Blumenthal’s writings (Contra Brown and The Council of My Nation) did it become clear as day to me. Until then, all the arguments I had seen were when the Christian presented Proof Text A, and the Jew attempted to refute it. But when I read Rabbi Blumenthal’s articles, it put everything in a new light. It became clear to me that not only are the ‘messianic prophecies’ not pointing to Jesus, but the Jewish-Christian disagreement goes MUCH deeper: the fundamental teachings of the Hebrew Bible preclude the major theological teachings of Christianity, such as the required belief in the messiah’s divinity, his death as atonement, the nature of G-d, and so on. I also found one argument particularly convincing- that Christianity accepts wholeheartedly the Jewish biblical tradition- that the Jews knew how to identify correct prophets and reject false prophets, and that the Jews accurately kept, passed on, codified and canonized the books of the Hebrew Bible.
And yet, the same Christianity that believes the Jews met G-d at Mt. Sinai and transmitted His message to humanity- do not know how to identify their own messiah and do not know the nature of their own G-d. Once I reflected upon this more, the point made more and more sense- to accept the Jewish bible and reject everything the Jews say about their own bible – seemed to be utterly illogical.
I printed both these articles out, and I read them each dozens and dozens of times. I thought about them, reflected upon them, and argued with myself about the arguments presented in the book, and it knocked out any lingering doubts I had.
Peace had come upon me.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal
Aww gee, I’m blushing =)
You say that Jewish belief excludes the messiah’s death as atonement. Would you say that there is no concept of substitutionary atonement (by that I mean substitutionary death) in the Tanach?
Bography, there is no vicarious atonement in the Tanach, especially using a human being, given the prohibition against human sacrifice. Additionally, given that there is no biblical command to believe in the messiah (or his suffering or death) to achieve vicarious atonement, yes, the Hebrew Scriptures preclude legitimate belief in the messiah’s death as vicarious atonement.
Thomas, there are various Jewish interpretations of who the suffering servant is in Isaiah 53, and thus various Jewish variations on the following verse:
He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due. Isaiah 53:8b.
What do you make of the above verse?
Bography, as a number of the scholars indicated in my post above, one verse in complete contradiction with the rest of scripture does not constitute a new, important theology.
The bible forbids human sacrifice, and the bible commands that each person is responsible for his own choices, and responsible for the consequences (Deut 24:16).
The point is, bography- as Brueggemann writes above, Isaiah 53 does not represent a main theological teaching, so you’re asking the wrong question. There is no good reason to focus on a solitary chapter (vague and unclear as it is), and overlook the manifold verses and consistent scriptural themes teaching the exact opposite of what you believe this says.
Thomas I infer you’re saying that Isaiah 53:8 is in “complete contradiction” with the rest of Tanach. Is that correct? We still have the issue of what that verse means. So, does it mean somebody dying for someone else’s sin, even if the rabbis think the verse is a prophetic blunder.
It’s not a ‘prophetic blunder.’ It’s your understanding which is the blunder, my friend.
It is *according to your intepretation of Isaiah 53* that makes it contradict the rest of Scripture. To a Jew (and most scholars), Isaiah 53, like Isaiah 52 and Isaiah 54 surrounding it, discusses the redemption of Zion. But you’ve missed my point- why is your focus on a single solitary chapter and not the dozens which clearly teach the opposite of your theology? Why the selective reading? I have no problem with Isaiah 53- much like Psalm 44 or Isaiah 40:2, it is most likely Israel being punished unjustly.
As I wrote above, Isaiah 53 has minimal theological import- it simply discusses Israel (or perhaps the prophet) suffering unjustly because of the sins of the world.
I’m not really sure I see your problem with this, bography. How do you ‘interpret’ Deut 24:16 which says no one will die for the sins of another?
There is a major difference between suffering due to the sins of others, and dying vicariously for them. Example- a drunk driver hits someone- their sin causes suffering among others, but there is no vicarious suffering.
There is no single other place where a human being is a vicarious sufferer in the OT. Scripture repeatedly teaches that no one will die for another, and that human offerings are forbidden.
So what is the issue here? The OT precludes the major aspects of Christian atonement theology, and Isaiah 53 is certainly not talking about Jesus, and has minimal theological import- so you are focusing in on one grain of sand and saying ‘Look at how big it is.’
I say- take a step back, see the other 700 grains which are much bigger, and then we can come back to this chapter.
Otherwise, one is just question-begging.
I often wondered on a point that is somewhat implied by you, why, if G-d is all powerful and all knowing, would he find it necessary to repeal all his laws and covenants simply because some guy got nailed onto a cross.
That same guy, to my understanding, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew and was deified quite some time after his death.
What really made it for me, was the fact that Christendom tries it’s damndest to convert, and convince everybody that they are wrong (much the same as islam), Judaism, on the other hand makes no attempt to do so.
The Jewish people are content in their knowledge of the truth, which of course will come out in the end!