The School of Matthew
A Critical Review of “The Return of the Kosher Pig”
Imagine two schools of medicine. Let us call them “x” and “y”. Each of these schools has their own approach to medicine and each of these schools puts forth students who put their respective school’s theories into practice. As you probably guessed, these two schools disagree on many elements of the study and practice of healing people. Disagree is actually too mild of a word. Each of these schools earnestly believes that the other school is not teaching medicine, but murder.
One day, the faculty of school “x” admits that they have made a mistake. Not just a one-time mistake but a mistake that had continuously been taught as truth for years and years. Not just a minor mistake, but an error about one of the fundamental concepts of medicine. Let us say that they had been teaching that the liver and the heart are useless organs. May I remind you that the members of “y” had been preaching for years that the liver and the heart are vital organs – but the members of “x” have always disregarded the opinion of school “y”.
At this point you would expect the members of school “x” to do some soul searching. They should ask themselves how this error came to be preached as truth? What fundamental flaw in their system allowed this error to be perpetuated for years on end? What prevented them from realizing their mistake for so long? Why could they not appreciate the inherent truth of school “y’s” teaching concerning the heart and the liver?
Imagine if the members of school “x” do none of the above. Instead they continue teaching whatever they have taught up until now – without even fully rearranging their medical theories to fit with the “newfound” truths that they learned about the heart and the liver.
Would you begin to take them seriously?
The meaning of this parable should be apparent. School “x” is Christianity while school “y” is Judaism. The mistake that many Christians have admitted to is that their teaching of “replacement theology” – which insists that the Church has replaced Israel – is an error. Let us pause to understand the depth of this error. Israel is the second most important word in the Jewish Scriptures after God. Reading the Bible with an incorrect understanding of the word “Israel” is as bad as reading a book about the earth’s climate without knowing what the word “cold” means. You would expect that the various schools of Christian theologians who have now come to realize the error should pause and take stock. They should ask themselves what lead them to this error. They should ask themselves what flaws are inherent in their system that allowed this error to be perpetuated for so long. They should ask themselves why they could not hear the truth inherent in the claim of the Jewish people when they asserted that Israel is Israel and not the Church.
Finally – you would expect them to open their ears just a little bit when the same Jewish people are arguing that God is God and not Jesus.
Is that asking too much?
Christianity asserts that Jesus was the Messiah predicted by the prophets of Israel. This assertion has been rejected by the Jewish people, the disciples and followers of the very prophets whose prophecies Jesus allegedly fulfilled. The fact that so many people accept the claims of the Church does not intimidate the Jew. The simple truth is that Jesus is not the Messiah predicted by the Jewish prophets and that’s all there is to it.
All the Jew needed to do was to look out the window to know that the Messiah hadn’t arrived (as of the time of this writing). The prophets taught that when the Messiah comes the world will be filled with knowledge of God, the exiles of Israel will be gathered back to the land, the Jerusalem Temple will be rebuilt and all of mankind will live in peace (Isaiah 11:9; Ezekiel 37:21,27; Isaiah 2:4). As long as these have not happened then we can be sure that the Messiah who Isaiah and Ezekiel had hoped for is not here yet.
If a Jew was curious and wondered what it was that convinced so many Christians that Jesus was indeed the Messiah he would look to the basic texts of the Church.
What would the Jew expect to find? Since Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah because he supposedly fulfilled the prophecies of the Jewish prophets then the Jew would anticipate that the Christian Scriptures would present some record of the fulfillment of these prophecies. Because we are dealing with foundational matters of faith the Jew would expect that the Scriptural arguments presented by the Christian authors be direct and to the point. Just as Scripture puts forth the foundations of the Jewish faith with force and clarity so would we expect that any important message of faith be presented with the same forcefulness.
The Jew would open the book of Matthew with this expectation in his heart and begin reading. And the Jew would be sorely disappointed. There are so many errors in the first two chapters of Matthew alone that it would be difficult for the Jew to read any further.
Matthew presents Jechoniah as the son of Josiah when in fact he was his grandson (Matthew 1:11 – 2Kings 24:6). Matthew claims that Isaiah 7:14 foretold the virgin birth of Jesus when Isaiah says nothing about a virgin and when read in context, it is clear that Isaiah’s prophecy should have been fulfilled many centuries before the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:23). Matthew translates the Hebrew word “al’fei” as if it said “alufei”. The former means a clan while the latter means a chief (Matthew 2:6 – Micah 5:1 (2). Matthew claims that Jesus fulfilled the prediction of Hosea 11:1 when in actuality Hosea is not making a prediction at all (he is speaking of a past event) and he is referring to the people of Israel and not to the Messiah (Matthew 2:15). Matthew goes on to quote Jeremiah in reference to a massacre of babies when Jeremiah was actually speaking about a nation in exile (Matthew 2:17,18 – Jeremiah 31:14 (15). The kicker is Matthew 2:23. Matthew tells us that Jesus went to live in Nazareth in order to fulfill the prophecy; “he will be called a Nazarene”. There is no such prophecy.
At this point the Jew would put down the book. It is clear to the Jew that to the author of Matthew, words have no meaning. The concept of context seems to be beyond him. And fantasy and fact seem to be completely interchangeable in the mind of this author.
To a Jew who is already holding the book of Matthew in his hands I would say; don’t close the book just yet.
Turn to chapter 23. If you want to know how the Christian world looks at Judaism read that chapter. You can talk till you are blue in the face. You can show them all the sacred texts of Judaism. You can present all of the saintliness of our holiest men and women. It won’t help you. Matthew has already convinced the world of Christendom that Judaism is a legalistic, hypocritical, haughty and cruel religion. The pages of history are soaked with the effects of Matthew’s slander.
This is what a Jew sees when he reads the book of Matthew.
Now that the Jew has closed the book the question that comes to mind is how did anyone believe this man? Why wasn’t this book laughed out of town as soon as it appeared?
Many people would answer this question by postulating that the masses accepted Matthew’s book simply because they wanted to believe. Their desire to believe in the message of Christianity blinded them to the mistakes that abound between the covers of Matthew’s book.
I wouldn’t be so cynical. I believe that people are essentially good and they want to believe in the goodness and trustworthiness of other people. It is hard for people to accept that someone would be so irresponsible that they would mislead others in matters of faith. When a book is presented as a sophisticated piece of work people tend to believe that that is exactly what it is.
This misplaced faith in Matthew put down the foundations of many universities. Throughout the centuries scholars have diligently studied the writings of Matthew and have invented fantastic theories to explain away the errors that plague his book. But the underlying theme of all of these excuses is the belief presented by Dr. Michael Brown in his multi-volume Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus. Dr. Brown tells us that the authors of the Christian Scriptures; “were sometimes writing to Jews who knew their Scriptures well. To manufacture, misquote, or misinterpret verses from the Tanach would be absolutely self-defeating” (Answering Jewish Objections vol. 4; pg. 3).
This misplaced faith in the sophistication and the good intentions of people like Matthew laid the groundwork for centuries of crookedness. For many years the Church has taught that the Jewish people were no longer the chosen nation of God. Many Christians recognize that this belief is unbiblical. But how many Christians have paused to take stock and to ask themselves how it is that so many scholars of Christendom were able to make such a grievous error?
For many dark centuries hatred of Jews and a disdain for Judaism was considered an integral part of the Christian faith. Since the atrocities of the holocaust many Churches have renounced hatred of Jews (the disdain for Judaism is still quite popular). But how many Christians have stopped to ask themselves how this error came to be so deeply embedded in their theology?
A building that stands on a crooked foundation cannot be straight. A theology that is erected on the assumption that Matthew was sophisticated and responsible cannot be free of serious error. And wherever Matthew is respected then his methods and his errors will not only be perpetuated but they will breed new errors and more irresponsibility. And not only will these errors not be laughed out of town but they will be adorned with honor and respect.
How can I be so sure?
Let me introduce you to Itzhak Shapira and his book; “The Return of the Kosher Pig”. Shapira tells us that he holds “full rabbinical ordination” from IAMCS, a Christian school that respects the book of Matthew. And Shapira’s book is decorated with accolades from leaders of various Christian institutions. Joshua Brumbach calls Shapira’s book a “tremendous contribution and an excellent resource”. He goes on to say that Shapira’s book “far surpasses much of what currently exists in regard to Messianic Jewish apologetics”. Dr. Brown tells us that Shapira’s book was written “with much careful study”. Rudy Gonzalez, Ph.D. tells us that he is “convinced that the arguments raised and defended here (in Shapira’s book) cannot be easily dismissed”. Paige Patterson describes Shapira’s book as “one of the most learned” that he has ever read. And this is only a partial listing of the praise garnered by Shapira’s book.
At this point we can expect that Shapira’s book would be the height of accuracy and sophistication. If this is our expectation we will be terribly disappointed. Shapira’s work is riddled with misquotations, mistranslations, misinterpretations, misunderstandings, faulty logic, quotations that do not exist in the original source and in the true tradition of Matthew, slander of the Jewish people and their faith.
No, I don’t expect you to take my word for it. I will walk you through the painful journey if that is where you want to go. I will begin the journey by pointing to an internal inconsistency that is evident at the heart of Shapira’s central argument. This will be followed by a page by page catalogue of blunders. This list is far from exhaustive. I limited myself to those mistakes that can be easily described. My silence on any one point should not be equated with agreement.
List of Errors
Toward the beginning of Shapira’s book (pg. 35) he informs us that Judaism has changed over the last 2000 years. According to Shapira 21st century Judaism rejects the concept of a divine Messiah but by the standards of 1st and 2nd century Judaism belief in a divine Messiah was accepted. It was Maimonides who took Judaism for a “violent and sharp turn” with the creation of his thirteen principles of faith.
So Maimonides and “21st century Judaism” will be the villains of this book. And Shapira will present himself as the true continuum of 1st and 2nd century Judaism. However, Shapira does not stick to his own pattern. In his excitement to see divine messiah’s in every Jewish text Shapira somehow managed to pull Maimonides and 21st century Judaism on to his own bandwagon.
On page 158 Shapira tells us that Maimonides contradicts his own principles of faith when he presented a particular prayer. According to Shapira the prayer reads as follows: “It is our duty as living beings before you, Hashem (Lord), to declare your name, to praise and exalt David son of Jesse your servant the Messiah”.
The prayer that Shapira is misquoting is not some obscure prayer that is only seen by scholars who study the fine print of Maimonides complex texts. This prayer is recited in every Orthodox synagogue of 21st century Judaism. If Shapira’s rendition and interpretation of the prayer would be correct, then Maimonides together with all of 21st century Judaism believes in a divine Messiah.
The actual prayer reads: “It is our duty as living beings before you, O Lord … to praise and exalt You beyond all the songs of David your servant your Messiah”. In other words no one is praising and lauding the Messiah but we praise God with the words of David. The prayer can be accessed online http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/spb/spb17.htm . How did Shapira make this mistake? This is a prayer that he should have said as a traditional Jew every Sabbath. Did he understand what he was saying? Did Shapira stop to think before he accused Maimonides of “violating his own principles”?
On page 21 Shapira “proves” to his readership that Judaism became a reactionary religion; a religion that developed as a negative reaction to Christianity. The evidence he presents to support this preposterous theory is a single paragraph from the Talmud. In this paragraph the Talmud records that in ancient times people wanted to establish a custom to read the Ten Commandments on a daily basis. The Talmud goes on to say that the spiritual leadership prevented this practice from being established due to the arguments of heretics who contended that the only aspect of the Torah that was binding was the Ten Commandments. The spiritual leadership of Israel felt that this custom would inadvertently lend credibility to the fallacious arguments of those schismatics.
Shapira introduces this episode with the words: “The transformation of the framework of Scriptural interpretation from a proactive to a reactive nature is summarized nicely in the Talmud.”
Here (as well as in other places in his book) Shapira slanders the teachers of Israel by insinuating that they modified Judaism as a negative reaction against Christianity.
You may have noticed that this passage from the Talmud is not speaking about “Scriptural interpretation”. It isn’t even speaking about abolishing a practice that had been in place. It speaks about preventing a proposed practice from becoming accepted.
It is on the basis of this lone paragraph that Shapira bases this heavy accusation that Judaism is not a religion with its own principles but one that has developed in reaction to Christianity.
Shapira did not seem to notice that Christianity is barely mentioned throughout the Talmud. The authors of the Talmud did not see Christianity as a significant theological entity on their radar screens. This is obvious from the paucity of material they left us on this subject. In sharp contradistinction, the authors of the Christian Scriptures and the subsequent Church Fathers filled their books with their venomous thoughts on Judaism The same council which voted on the “divine” nature of Jesus (the central thesis of Shapira’s book) also rejected the use of the Jewish calendar simply because it was Jewish. It is entirely plausible that the vote on the alleged divinity of Jesus was influenced by the same hatred toward Judaism that guided these men of the cloth in their rejection of the Jewish calendar. Instead of minding the breaches of his own house, Shapira accuses the teachers of Judaism.
On page 26 Shapira addresses Rabbi Cohen’s contention that “any conversation about the Messiah needs to start with a strict definition… When Jews speak of “The Messiah” there is a common understanding of what is being spoken of.” Shapira dismisses Rabbi Cohen’s statement by pointing to the Talmud which barely speaks of the Messiah and to the followers of false Messiahs who obviously had a different definition of Messiah.
What Shapira had failed to understand is that the Jewish Scriptures themselves give us more than enough information about the Messiah. There is no need for the Talmud to elaborate on this subject because the prophets have already given us a strict definition of the Messiah.
The followers of the false Messiahs fall into two categories; those who believed that the man they pinned their hopes on will fulfill the Biblical prophecies, and those who reshaped their understanding of the Biblical prophecies just so it can fit their hero. The first group of people did not violate the “common understanding” that Judaism shares about the Messiah. They simply hoped that the “common understanding of the Messiah” will be fulfilled through their candidate. The second group of people (those who reshaped their theology to fit their man), cannot expect their twisted theology to be accepted as truth. It is obvious that their theological conclusions are based on their infatuation for the man of their heart.
Shapira’s appeal to the paucity of Talmudic discussion and to the followers of false Messiah’s as evidence to Judaism’s lack of definition of the term; Messiah, is an exercise in futility. The Talmud doesn’t need do provide a definition where Scripture has already provided one for us. And the followers of the false Messiahs, inasmuch as they presented a new definition for Messiah, are not legitimate teachers of Judaism.
On page 31 Shapira addresses Rabbi Shulman’s accusation that the missionaries have little regard for the rabbis and their teachings. In Rabbi Shulman’s words; “We only seek for them (the missionaries) to stop misusing and distorting what they (the rabbis) teach.”
Shapira responds to this with; “we have given the rabbis a seat of honor in this debate.”
This is amazing. Aside from misquoting the rabbis and twisting their words, Shapira consistently accuses them of intellectual dishonesty. The following quotations are but a sampling of Shapira’s denunciations of Israel’s teachers: “Tragically, post-second Temple Judaism became reactive in nature” (page 21). “Unfortunately, Judaism has taken a a sharp and violent turn against the idea of a Divine Messiah with the creation of the thirteen principles of faith by the Rambam…” (page 35). “some Jewish thinkers held….in order to refute the divine nature of the Messiah” (page 118). “some modern Jewish commentators have twisted this verse…” (page 120). “due to the fear that this verse will actually speak of the Messiah…various Jewish thinkers came up with twisted thoughts…” (page 145). “Radak, Shmuel Gordon, Metzodot and most of the sages of the Talmud went around and around trying to refute this as a Messianic prophecy due to the implications it presents.” (page 146).
If this is a “seat of honor” than what is a seat of shame?
On page 34 Shapira describes the Jewish beliefs about the two Messiahs; Messiah son of Joseph and Messiah son of David, with the following words: “The rejected and suffering Messiah is known as Messiah son of Joseph while the returning, conquering king is known as Messiah son of David.” This false premise is the basis of many of the errors in Shapira’s book. Whenever he sees the concept of a suffering Messiah in the Jewish writings he concludes that it is referring to the son of Joseph and whenever he sees a glorious Messiah he assumes it is talking of the son of David. What Shapira has failed to understand is that neither Messiah is “rejected”, and according to some rabbinical literature, both Messiahs suffer and according to the Talmud itself, both Messiahs reign together (Succah 52b).
On page 37 Shapira lists several Jewish ideas that are found in the Christian Scriptures. He then concludes that the Greek Testament ought to be considered a “Jewish book”. How ridiculous! According to this line of reasoning the Quran, the Book of Mormon, and Benjamin Franklin’s Farmer’s Almanac, ought to be considered “Jewish Books” since they all contain some Jewish ideas.
It is obvious that we first have to define the term “Jewish” before we can consider if a given book is or isn’t “Jewish”. Throughout history, the deification of a human (or any other inhabitant of this planet for that matter) has been considered the antithesis of Judaism. To claim that a book is “Jewish” when it violates the very essence of the principle that Jews have lived and died for is a shameless attempt to redefine Judaism.
On page 38 Shapira presents his argument for the acceptance of the literal understanding of the Bible. In this context he claims that there are over 300 prophecies about the coming of the Messiah and his “return”.
This claim demonstrates that Shapira has no grasp of Scriptural reality. The famous missionary slogan; “Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies” only makes sense if one ignores the literal contextual meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures. Furthermore, Shapira is not even conforming to the typical missionary claim, as dishonest as it is. The missionaries contend that Jesus “fulfilled” 300 prophecies, but they acknowledge that he failed to fulfill many hundreds of prophecies as well. Shapira is claiming that there are a grand total of 300 prophecies concerning the Messiah in the Jewish Bible all together. I challenge Shapira to back up this claim in a way that supports his claims for Jesus. For the record, I have listed 1000 verses that teach us that Jesus is not the Messiah of Israel. https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/1000-verses/
On page 42 Shapira tells us that the Rabbis believed that the Targum Yonatan was “straight from God Himself”. He goes on to say that the Talmud recognizes Targum Yonatan as a direct revelation from a Bat Kol.
Shapira is making two mistakes here. Nowhere does the Talmud say that the Targum Yonatan was a revelation through Bat Kol. And the Talmud recognizes that a Bat Kol is not a direct revelation from God. In Sotah 33a we see clearly that a Bat Kol is relegated to the realm of angels and not “one of the manifestations of God” as Shapira claims.
On page 45 Shapira quotes Rashi as teaching that the study of Bible is “not a good habit”. In the footnotes Shapira provides us with the “exact” Hebrew words that Rashi uses. The problem is that Shapira cut off Rashi’s sentence before its actual ending. What Rashi is actually saying is that one should not guide his children to study the Bible “too much”. The point of this teaching is that the study of the Bible, which is not such a demanding process, not distract the children from study of the Oral Law. But the Talmud itself says that a full third of one’s time for study should be dedicated to study of the Bible (Kiddushin 30a).
On page 46 Shapira states that he met an Orthodox rabbi who placed a Bible underneath a book of the Talmud. He does not describe this as the activities of an eccentric or deranged individual (which he was if he exists) but he presents this as typical behavior of Orthodox Jews.
In the Beit Lechem Yehuda commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 283:1) it clearly states that the books of the Talmud may not be placed on top of any book of the Bible. This ruling is universally accepted and is taught to school-children from 1st grade. If Shapira is the expert in Jewish tradition that he claims to be he should have realized that the actions of this Orthodox rabbi are not representative of Orthodox Jewry as a whole.
On page 47 Shapira claims that Rashi teaches that the rest of the books of the Tanach (aside from the Five Books of Moses) were given to Israel not as spiritual books which are filled with the holy spirit but rather as add-ons to the divine inspiration of the Torah.
This is a lie. Rashi (as well as every other Jewish teacher) revered all of the books of the Bible as books that were written in the spirit of prophecy and Divine inspiration (Rashi Chulin 137a).
On page 52 Shapira presents several teachings of the Talmud that speak of people who “enter the kingdom of heaven”. The Talmud teaches that various activities are indications of one’s place in heaven. Shapira presents these teachings as if the rabbis encouraged these activities as a replacement for our walk with God or as a solution to the problem of sin. The Talmud never presented these teachings in that context. These activities are not presented as an alternative to true righteousness but as an indicator of righteousness.
On page 53 Shapira concludes his slander against the teachers of Israel by telling us that; “The same sages spoke against Yeshua in the pages of the Talmud with a great many contradictions. In this book, we can’t go through all the references that speak against Yeshua of Natzeret…”
What audacity! In all of the 2700 pages of Talmud there are three paragraphs that might be speaking of Jesus (some scholars reject this interpretation and propose that Jesus is not mentioned in the Talmud at all). The Christian Scriptures, which is a much smaller set of books than the Talmud is filled with false propaganda against the Jews and their religion. Yet Shapira is worried about the Talmud’s “bias” against Jesus?!
On page 64 Shapira presents us with a teaching from the Zohar. He tells us that the Zohar (II 81a) speaks of two voices that are one. He goes on to say that one of these “voices” is the Messiah. But the passage in the Zohar says nothing about the Messiah. Shapira tells his readers that the word “water” represents the Messiah. This is simply false. The word water especially when contrasted with the word wind (as per the passage in question) represents the kindness of God while wind represents His splendor. (https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/response-to-line-of-fire-14/ )
In the same paragraph Shapira quotes another passage from the Zohar. “The highest kedusah (“holiness”) has three sides and they are united to each other and this is the essence of the Torah”. This quotation is simply a figment of Shapira’s imagination.
Shapira goes on to say that in the “same place” the Zohar speaks of three that are one in relation to the Shema. Here Shapira actually gives us a real page number. The problem is that the page number sends us to the second volume of the Zohar while his first quote was allegedly from the Zohar’s comments on the first section of Genesis; the beginning of the first volume. There is no way that these two quotes can be in the “same place”.
At this point I will make a general comment about the writings of the Kabbalists. There are many quotations from the mystical writings of Judaism that can be misconstrued to read as if these writers believed in a plurality within the concept of God. But this mistake can only be made if the intention of the author is completely ignored. The writers of these mystical works were aware that their words can be misunderstood in this way and they warned their readers not to jump to these unwarranted conclusions. I present here quotes from three of the authors of these mystical writings; the Zohar, Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato), and Avodat Hakodesh (Rabbi Meir ben Gabbai). I chose to quote from these three authors simply because Shapira builds his case on his misunderstanding of their words. But in fact most of the kabbalistic writers preface their works with similar words of clarification and warning.
“For behold before God created any image in the world and before he formed any form He was alone without any image or comparison. And one who speaks of Him before creation where He is outside of any image may not attribute to Him any image or form at all, not with the letter “heh” and not with the letter “yod” and not even with the holy name and not with any letter or dot at all and this is the meaning of “for you have seen no image” (Deuteronomy 4:15). Anything that has any image or comparison you did not see. But after He made the image of the chariot of the elevated man did He descend there and was called with that image (the Tetragrammaton) in order that He be known with His qualities and he is called E-l, Elo-him, Sha-dai, Tz’va-ot, Eh-yeh, in order that he be known with each quality how the world is ruled with kindness and with judgment according to the deeds of men. For if His light were not to spread over His creations how would they (His creations) know Him and how would the verse be fulfilled “His glory fills the earth”? (Isaiah 6:3). Woe to the one who attributes to Him any of these qualities, even these qualities that belong to Him” (Zohar vol. II pg. 42b)
“Above all, it is necessary to know that the true essence and nature of God cannot be grasped at all. It has no analogy, neither with any concept that exists among created things, nor with any idea that the imagination can conceive or the intellect comprehend. There are no words or descriptions which are truly fitting and proper to use in relation to God.
When we speak of God, we make use of words, but we do so only in borrowed or metaphorical terms, so that we should understand what we must regarding Him. Our vocabulary contains only words pertaining to natural concepts, bound by the limitations of created things, and it is therefore impossible for us to say anything at all without these words. But all who seek God and speak about Him must clearly realize that any descriptions or words used in relation to God do not truly relate to Him. They can apply only in borrowed terms, and in no other sense. One must be very careful in this respect.” (Luzzato; Essay on Fundamentals; Feldheim 1983; pg. 367,368).
Rabbi Meir ben Gabbai devotes three chapters in his book, Avodat Hakodesh, to explain how God is absolutely One (Section I chapters 11,12 and 13). He goes on to say that all of the distinctions in God’s names and in His attributes are only perceived as such from the perspective of His creations but they do not describe or affect His essence in any way.
We can learn from these statements (and the many similar pronouncements that abound in the writings of the kabbalists) that when these authors speak of any plurality in relation to God they are not referring to various persons within the godhead. They are referring to distinctions in God’s names and in the expression of His sovereignty in the world. When they say that two are one, three are one or five are one, the kabbalists are telling us that the various names of God are in essence one.
To put this distinction in Scriptural terms we will turn to the book of Zechariah. Zechariah declares: “On that day the Lord will be One and His name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9). It is clear and obvious that God is always one and we don’t need to wait for “that day” (the Messianic era) for God to be One. What the prophet is telling us is that on that day all of mankind will recognize that God is truly One and that all of His names are truly One. All of the discussions of the kabbalists relate to the last phrase of Zechariah’s declaration (His name will be One) and not to the first phrase (The Lord will be One).
Shapira’s misrepresentations of these writers, against their own express warnings, is either ignorant, dishonest or both. As Luzzato declares: “the fool desires no wisdom, they are deeply destructive when they direct their thoughts towards God to say that the Pharisees permitted the matter in violation of God’s command that we make no image or form (Exodus 20:4), for they have attributed corporeality and the qualities of corporeality to the Creator of man…”(Introduction to Kin’at Hashem Tze’va-ot). How can Shapira attribute Christian theology to people who saw that theology as the very antithesis of all that they stood for? Is there no limit to insolence?
Let us move on in our journey through Shapira’s book. On page 66 Shapira presents Sam Stern’s quotation from the Zohar. In this version of the Zohar God’s name “Elo-him” is divided so as to read “E’l” and “hem” and he translates this expression to mean “they are gods”. The interesting thing is that this version of the Zohar exists nowhere outside of Sam Stern’s imagination. The Zohar does indeed divide the name “Elo-him” but not along the lines that Stern set forth but rather the letters are divided to read “mi” and “aileh” which has nothing to do with Stern’s “they are gods”.
Nachmanides does indeed divide the name E’lohim along the lines that Stern attributes to the Zohar but he clearly explains this expression to mean “Master of all powers” (commentary to Genesis 1:1). Shapira himself describes Nachmanides as one who “strongly rejected the idea of a divine Messiah” (page 54). It is clear that Nachmanides was not attributing plurality to God with the use of this expression.
Stern goes on to tell us that the Zohar points to the two entities in Daniel 7:13 (the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man) as proof to the existence of two representations of God. There is no such teaching in the the Zohar. The Zohar actually explains that the one like the son of man that Daniel speaks of is both Israel and the Messiah (Zohar vol. I, 145b, 170a). The Zohar teaches that the dominion spoken of in that passage refers to Israel’s dominion in the Messianic era.
On page 68 Shapira arrives at the climax of his presentation. He presents a quote from Luzzato which he translates as follows: “There is a great secret in the word boreicha [“your creators”], as it represents the internal essence of Messiah! …which speaks of Messiah who is the healer of all flesh and who does wonders.” Shapira provides the Hebrew text for this quote in a footnote. Shapira tells us that this quote is from Luzzato’s commentary on Ecclesiastes.
The fact of the matter is that there is no extant commentary by Luzzato on Ecclesiastes. Shapira’s quote is from the website of a Rabbi in Israel who claims to have conversations with Luzzato (who passed on in the mid 1700s) and to whom Luzzato reveals his teachings on a regular basis. Shapira did not deem this tidbit of information to be important enough to share with his readers. If these Rabbi’s revelations are authentic then Christianity must be a false religion because this is part of what his Rabbi claims to have been taught by Luzzato. But putting all of this aside, Shapira’s English translation is completely off the mark even according to this strange Hebrew text.
This Hebrew text is referring to the concept of the soul of Messiah. It is understood that every human soul is rooted in God’s name. It is also understood that as a person grows in spirituality he or she is granted a deeper soul than the one they possessed until now. The soul that is granted to a person corresponds to that individual’s task in life. This particular text is telling us which aspect of God’s name will enter into the inner soul of the Messiah. It is God who remains Creator and it is God who heals all flesh. According to this text, the Messiah’s soul will emanate from this aspect of God’s name. But this text does not say that the word “boreicha” represents anything and it does not say that the Messiah is the healer of all flesh.
On page 72 Shapira accuses the Rambam of deviating from the Torah when he uses the word “yachid” to describe God’s oneness. Shapira seems to be unaware that the popular version of the Rambam’s thirteen principles was not authored by the Rambam. In his Hebrew Mishne Torah the Rambam does not use the word “yachid” to speak of God’s oneness. He uses the same word “echad” as does the Torah.
In any case this discussion is ridiculous. The word “echad” means precisely the same thing that word “one” means in English. And the word “yachid” means “alone” or “unique”. Both of these terms can refer to a compound unity as easily as they can refer to an absolute unity.
On pages 75-77 Shapira points to the fact that some followers of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe have declared their leader to be divine. This tells Shapira that the belief that a human being can be divine is well within the accepted parameters of Judaism.
These people (who declared the Rebbe to be divine) were ostracized as heretics by every segment of Judaism. It is clear to one and all that their obsession with the Rebbe has lead them to these heretical conclusions and that it is not their devotion to the precepts of Judaism that lead them to their obsession with the Rebbe.
This argument that attempts to bring proof from the believers in charismatic leaders actually works against Shapira. There are not many psychological factors that can distort a person’s view of reality as much as the adoration of a beloved leader. In every culture the followers of magnetic personalities elevated their object of adoration according to the terms of their respective culture. These ardent believers did not let facts or theology get in their way. They rewrote the physical facts and restructured the theology in order to maintain their devotion to their hero. In the culture of Judaism the trajectory generally follows the path of; scholar, saint, prophet, Messiah, and sometimes even god. This says nothing about the actual theology of Judaism. This says everything about the agility of the human mind and what people would do in order to justify devotion to someone who has captured their hearts.
On page 84 Shapira presents a quote from Rabbi Chaim Vital about the lofty nature of Messiah’s soul. But the text he quoted actually proves that Rabbi Vital did NOT believe that the Messiah is to be divine. Rabbi Vital clearly says that the Messiah will receive this lofty soul. In other words the Messiah is a recipient of God’s blessing like the rest of God’s subjects. The recipient of God’s blessing must be a subject of God and not the object of worship. Furthermore, Rabbi Vital explains that the Messiah will not receive a soul that is greater than Adam before the sin it will only be greater than Adam’s soul after the sin. There is no question that Rabbi Vital did not believe in a divine Messiah.
On page 87 Shapira lists the Metzudat David as one of the commentators who understand the great mountain of Zechariah 4:7 as a reference to the Messiah. In fact this commentator understood that the great mountain is a reference to Gog, the archenemy of the Messiah. Shapira actually puts the Hebrew words of the Metzudot David in the footnote so anyone who reads Hebrew can see that his translation is off the mark.
On page 88 Shapira quotes the Abarbanel’s comments to Zechariah 4:7 as if he applied Isaiah 2 to the Messiah. The Abarbanel is actually quoting from Isiaiah 11. (Here too Shapira’s mistake seems to be rooted in his trust of secondary sources. It seems that he doesn’t feel the responsibility to check his quotations in their original sources.) Furthermore, the mere fact that Shapira quotes Abarbanel in his attempt to establish the concept of the divinity of the Messiah is horrifying. The Abarbanel devoted much of his life’s work to refuting this very idea that Shapira is advancing. Abarbanel wrote a book; Yeshuot Meshicho, to refute arguments such as those presented here by Shapira. Yet Shapira has no problem presenting the Abarbanel to his readers as a man who believed in the concept of a divine Messiah.
On page 92 Shapira tells us that the prophet Zechariah and the ancient rabbis taught the spiritual cleansing can be received only by the Messiah and his spirit. He quotes Ezekiel 36:25 and 26 which speak of God sprinkling Israel with waters of cleansing and giving them a new spirit. Shapira claims that the water represents Messiah. This is simply false. The ancient rabbis did not teach that the waters of cleansing are the Messiah.
On page 94 Shapira tells us in that Rabbi Shammai Astreicher interprets Psalm 121 as if the Psalmist (or Israel) look to the Messiah (represented by the mountains) for help. The fact is that Shapira’s quote from Rabbi Astreicher is just one paragraph from a longer article. Merely a few pages later Rabbi Ostreicher explains what he meant when he spoke of the Messiah. It goes without saying that Rabbi Ostreicher does not believe in a divine Messiah.
On page 94 Shapira tells us that the Abarbenel understood that the Midrashic teaching that Messiah will be greater than the angels proves that he believed in a divine Messiah. He also lumps the Abarbenel together with Moshe Ibn Crispin as if he agreed that Isaiah 53 is talking of the Messiah. It is obvious that Shapira never read this Abarbenel that he is quoting in the original source. The Abarbenel makes it clear that he believes that Isaiah 53 is talking of Israel. And he also makes it clear that when the Rabbis said that the Messiah is greater than the angels that they did not mean that he is divine, but that in one limited aspect he is greater than the angels.
On page 95 Shapira argues that; “The claim that the Messiah will be divine is supported by many rabbinic sources. It is interesting that most of the sources date back to the time before the Rambam.”
The fact is that Shapira did not provide one source to prove that any of the rabbis believed that the Messiah is to be divine. It is only after he has distorted the original sources, as we have documented above, and after he has argued that if the rabbis attribute certain tasks or qualities to the Messiah that must mean that they believed that the Messiah is divine. At least one of these rabbis (the Abarbanel) directly addresses Shapira’s argument and he comes to a completely different conclusion.
The entire argument has no foundation to begin with. If you want to tell me that someone believed that something or someone was divine you need to first find out what this person believes about divinity. In the context of Judaism, conferring superlative titles on a human being has nothing to do with attributing divinity to this individual.
Finally, it is interesting to note that most of the rabbis that Shapira has misquoted do NOT predate the Rambam. Abarbanel, Ramchal, Rabbi Astreicher, Metzudat David, Rabbi Chaim Vital and even the shady Ibn Crispin all postdate the Rambam. Shapira doesn’t have his history straight either.
On page 97 Shapira tells us that the Zohar teaches that the Messiah suffers for the sins of Israel. Indeed, the Zohar does teach this but it is also obvious from that text that the Zohar did not consider the Messiah to be divine. The Zohar actually points to a specific Rabbi and tells us that his suffering also atones for the sins of the generation. Furthermore, the atonement spoken of by the Zohar has nothing to do with the Christological concept of atonement. The Zohar clearly says that each individual ultimately needs to answer to God for their own sins. It is only here on earth that the suffering of the Messiah is efficacious and this atonement has no eternal ramifications.
On that same page (97), Shapira presents a Pesikta Rabbati that he claims speaks of the Messiah’s death. The Pesikta actually speaks of Messiah’s suffering but not his death.
On page 98, after quoting the Targum to Isaiah 52:13 which speaks of the Messiah Shapira tells us that Rabbi Moshe Shulman denies this obvious fact. The fact is that Rabbi Shulman directly addresses this quote from the Targum and he points out that the Targum does not apply the suffering of Isaiah 53 to the Messiah, only the exaltation. Shapira unethically misrepresents Rabbi Shulman’s words as well as the words of the Targum.
On pages 101,102 Shapira presents his arguments as to why Isaiah 53 “must” refer to the Messiah and cannot refer to Israel. He divides his argument into 8 points. For some odd reason points #1 and #2 are exactly the same. He argues that the expression “my people” in verse 8 must refer to Israel so how could Israel be both the spectator and the one being observed?
Had Shapira read Rashi (who articulates the view that the servant of Isaiah is Israel) he would have realized that his question does not begin. Rashi does not claim that the servant represents all of Israel. Rather Rashi teaches that the servant represents the righteous of Israel. Furthermore, the rabbinical commentators explain that the expression “my nation” from verse 8 refers to the respective nations of each of the Gentile kings mentioned in 52:15. If Shapira is the expert in rabbinic writings that he claims to be he should have addressed these arguments.
His second point (listed as #3) is that the servant in the chapter consistently appears as a singular individual. This is particularly interesting as Shapira himself makes the fallacious argument that an extra “yod” in the word “bor’echa” (- “Creator”, Ecclesiastes 12:1) represents plurality (page 66). In keeping with his own argument, Shapira should be consistent and acknowledge that the extra “yod” in the word “bemotav” (- “his deaths”, Isaiah 53:9) also represents plurality and the servant of Isaiah is a group of people rather than an individual.
His third point (listed as #4) is that the servant is blameless while Israel is not blameless. The problem with Shapira’s contention is that the servant of Isaiah 53 is not presented as blameless. The verse that Shapira is hinging his contention on merely says that the servant was not guilty of the crimes that his persecutors accused him of and which they had used to justify their actions (Isaiah 53:9).
The next point Shapira makes is that the Jews “always resisted” the various persecutions they had to endure over the years. It seems that Shapira is unfamiliar with Jewish history. He is also unfamiliar with Scripture, which clearly describes Israel’s suffering in a way that conforms with the suffering described in Isaiah 53 (Psalm 44:23; Isaiah 51:23).
On page 102 Shapira quotes Rabbi Dessler’s classic Michtav M’Eliyahu as if he applied Isaiah 53 to the Messiah. When we read the original words of Rabbi Dessler we see that he said nothing of the sort. Rabbi Dessler is not talking about Isaiah 53 or about the Messiah in the essay that Shapira quotes. The entire quote, barring one half of one irrelevant phrase, is simply a figment of his imagination.
On page 106 Shapira presents a list of comments on Isaiah 53 following an introductory statement (on page 105) in which he states that the idea of a Messiah that is more than human is “not foreign to Jewish thought”. Amongst the list of commentators he quotes Rabbi Laniado, the author of “Kli Paz”. The words that Shapira presents in his name are nowhere to be found in his writings. In his comments to Isaiah 11, Rabbi Laniado actually states the opposite of what Shapira is trying to prove and he does so with force and clarity. He prefaces his own comments with a firm statement of faith that no prophet, not even the Messiah, can exceed Moses in the realm of prophecy. It is clear that Rabbi Laniado believed that the Messiah will be a human and no more. And it is also clear that Rabbi Laniado saw the concept of attributing divinity to the Messiah as something foreign to Judaism.
On page 108 presents a quote from Nachmanides. He tells us that this quote is found in Igeret Teiman. The fact is that Nachmanides did not write Igeret Teiman but rather this quote is found in the Ramban’s postscript to his debate with Pablo Christiani. To quote Nachmanides to prove the alleged divinity of the Messiah is the height of audacity. The entire purpose of the essay from which this quote is taken is to refute the very notion that Shapira is trying to establish.
On page 110 Shapira quotes Boyarin in order to establish that the one like the son of man of Daniel 7:13 is the Messiah. What Shapira failed to tell his readers is that Boyarin recognizes that the editor of the book of Daniel did not believe that the son of man is Messiah; he believed it was the people of Israel as is evident by the explanation that is appended to the vision. Boyarin believes that the chapter in Daniel was written by two different authors; a theory that Shapira does not subscribe to.
On page 114 Shapira attributes the usage of “gezera shava” to Metzudat Tziyon. This demonstrates Shapira’s complete lack of familiarity with either the term “gezera shava” or the Metzudat Tziyon or both. The Metzudat Tziyon is a commentary on Scripture on the most basic level. The comments of the Metzudat Tziyon are limited to the direct meaning of words. Metzudat Tziyon often supports his rendition of a given word by quoting another passage in Scripture in which this same word or a grammatical derivative of this word is used. But this has nothing to do with rabbinical “gezera shava” which points to similar words, not to determine their literal meaning, but to create a conceptual connection between the two passages. The commentary of Metzudat Tziyon never engages in this style of Scriptural analysis. It seems that this simple piece of knowledge, one that school-children are familiar with, is beyond the grasp of Itzhak Shapira.
On page 119 Shapira recaps his arguments concerning Daniel 7:13. As with his comments on Isaiah 53, his arguments here are full of holes.
His first argument is that Daniel Boyarin among many other Jewish scholars identifies Daniel 7:13-14 to be speaking of the Messiah. It is interesting to note that Shapira highlights Boyarin from amongst the scholars who comment on this passage. Boyarin actually recognizes that in its present format the book of Daniel identifies the figure from 7:13 as the people of Israel. It is just that Boyarin contends that the original phraseology of verses 13 and 14 trace their origin back to a Canaanite influence (The Jewish Gospels, page 45). And it was that Canaanite influence that introduced the concept of a “divine human” into the thought process of the Jewish people. But Boyarin recognizes that the editor of the book of Daniel believed that the figure in verse 13 is the people of Israel.
Shapira’s second and fifth argument (here too, he turns one argument into two) is that the service of the son of man is the type of service that is only directed toward God. He argues that while Isaiah 60:14 speaks of the various nations repenting of their mistreatment of Israel but it does not use the Hebrew word “avad” (service) to describe their attitude toward Israel. Shapira failed to notice that merely two verses earlier (Isaiah 60:12) the prophet does use the word “avad” to describe the Gentile submission toward Isarel. Shapira’ argument is simply built on his lack of knowledge of the Scriptures.
In his third argument Shapira makes an incredible error of translation. He translates the Aramaic word “asei” which means “come” as if it were the Hebrew word; “you”. Putting this error aside, his argument has no foundation. He argues that the son of man is presented as a singular entity therefore he must be an individual and not a nation. Shapira is ignoring the context of this verse which is part of a larger vision. In this vision great and mighty nations are represented by individual beasts. It only follows that Israel is also represented by an individual man.
On page 122 Shapira tells us that the sages of the Talmud expected either Messiah son of Joseph or Messiah son David to come but not both. This misunderstanding of the Talmud has no basis in fact. The Talmud clearly speaks of both of these rulers coming simultaneously (Succah 52b). When the rabbis of the Talmud spoke of two options for the appearance of the Messiah, they were referring to the Messiah son of David. If Israel will merit the Messiah will make enter on a glorious note and if Israel does not merit then he will enter on a subdued note. But both of these scenarios describe the son of David and not the son of Joseph.
On page 123 Shapira claims that the Targum Yerushalmi on Genesis 3:15 speaks of the piercing of Messiah in his heel. This is a lie as any reader of the Targum can readily see.
On page 123 Shapira claims that the Midrash associates Messiah with Genesis 3:15. The Midrash he quotes actually associates Genesis 4:25 with Messiah and not 3:15.
On page 123 Shapira claims that the Ramad Vali identified Jesus as Messiah son of Joseph. The actual words that Rabbi Vali uses are “sod Moshiach” and the Ramchal (Rabbi Vali’s teacher) actually has an essay explaining the meaning of these words (Kin’at Hashem Tzev’ot pg. 104; Rabbi Freidlander edition). It is clear that these words do NOT mean that the man is literally Messiah son of Joseph. In any case Rabbi Vali himself makes his views on Jesus very clear (Sefer Halikutim Vol. 1 pg. 54) and it is obvious that he saw him as an opponent to God and Godliness.
On page 124 Shapira gives us a lengthy quote from Rabbi Moshe Alshich’s comment to Zechariah 12:10 ( – here Shapira does not claim to be quoting from the original text but from a missionary rendition). In the rendition that Shapira quotes the Jews “discover” that the one they have pierced is Messiah the son of Joseph. Furthermore, in this rendition of the Alshich, Messiah is described as the only one who can forgive sin and as such will be looked upon by the people of Israel.
These Christological details are not present in the original words of the Alshich. According to the Alshich Israel does not “discover” Messiah son of Joseph, neither do they look to him as the only one who can forgive sin. Israel knows and loves Messiah son of Joseph and they look to God as the only one who can forgive sin. If Shapira is the Hebrew expert he makes himself out to be he could have easily checked the original source and he would have avoided this misquotation.
On page 128 Shapira informs us that according to the “traditional Jewish understanding” Zechariah 13:7 refers directly to the suffering Messiah. In parenthesis Shapira refers to Radak and Ibn Ezra. A few lines later on the same page Shapira boldly asserts that Radak cites Ibn Ezra to suggest that this passage (Zechariah 13:7) speaks of the suffering Messiah.
Actually Radak and Ibn Ezra say nothing of the sort. They both say that this passage refers to the destruction of gentile kings that will take place in the time of Messiah son of Joseph. Neither of these traditional commentators say that the prophet is referring to the suffering Messiah in Zechariah 13:7.
On pages 129 and 130 Shapira associates both a paragraph from the Talmud and a prayer from the Yom Kippur liturgy with Messiah son of Joseph when in fact both of these refer to Messiah son of David.
On page 130 Shapira tells us that he “stumbled across” a “rare” Polish Yom Kippur Machzor (liturgy text) of which he provides a photocopy. The quotation that he presents from the Machzor is one that every novice missionary knows so there would be no need for Shapira to “stumble across” it. This is not a “rare” prayer but one that appears in almost every Ashkenazic Machzor. In his excitement to present this prayer Shapira mistranslated the text. In the Hebrew text the prayer is addressed to God while in Shapira’s version the prayer opens with the words; “turn to us, Messiah”. A child who is familiar with Hebrew can confirm that Shapira’s translation is in error.
On page 139 Shapira gets confused with his own translation. He quotes the Talmud which contrasts two verses in Isaiah (Isaiah 24:23 and 30:26). The Talmud explains that the former refers to the world to come while the latter refers to the days of the Messiah. Shapira then tells us that the Talmud equated the reign of the Lord of hosts (mentioned in 24:23) with the reign of the Messiah when in fact it was the verse from chapter 30 that the Talmud associated with the Messiah and not the passage from chapter 24.
On page 145 Shapira speaks of Isaiah 9:5. He tells us that some of the Jewish commentators who explained this verse as a reference to King Hezekiah did so “due to the fear that this verse will actually speak of the Messiah as rabbi Ginzburg believes, various Jewish thinkers came up with twisted thoughts that minimize the simplicity and the beauty of the textual meaning of the text. Shapira goes on to tell us that these scholars were motivated by a “desperate attempt to hide the true meaning…”
What Shapira fails to tell his audience is that there is an overwhelming weight of textual and contextual evidence that this verse refers to King Hezekiah. Many Christian scholars acknowledge this truth (https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/thomas-on-isaiah-95-6/ ). Yet Shapira cannot think of any reason to attribute this verse to King Hezekiah other than a twisted bias against Jesus.
On page 146 Shapira lists Rabbi Elijah of Vilna as one of those who understood Isaiah 9:5-6 to be a reference to the Messiah. This is simply false. Twice in his comments on Isaiah 9:1-6 does Rabbi Elijah tell us that this prophecy refers to Hezekiah.
On page 149 Shapira makes the statement that the Bible never refers to a human being as “elyon” (uppermost). This is simply false as Deuteronomy 26:19 and 28:1 both have this term apply to Israel. The verse that Shapira is discussing (Psalm 89:28) is clearly talking about the human David since it refers to his children sinning and to the devastation of his kingdom (verses 31 and 39).
On page 150 Shapira argues that the Messiah must be divine because the prophet predicts that Israel will serve him. What Shapira fails to tell his readers is that the prophet also speaks of service of the people of Israel with the exact same words that are used to speak of service of the Messiah (2Chronicles 35:3). Since Shapira acknowledges that Israel is not divine he must recognize that his “proof” from the words of the prophet is wrong.
On page 158 Shapira claims that the Ibn Ezra calls the Messiah by God’s name. Here we are dealing with a commentary on Scripture; the realm of the missionary’s supposed expertise. But Shapira couldn’t be more wrong. He completely misunderstood the Ibn Ezra. In his comment to Psalm 2:6 the Ibn Ezra explains that the Messiah is the king that God anoints. He then comments on Zechariah 14:17 to illustrate how the Messiah is described as “God’s king” in the sense of the king that God established on earth. Ibn Ezra concludes his comment by saying that if this (the king of Zechariah 14:17) were to be a reference to God then the prefix of the word “l’melech” would be vowelized differently. It is not as Shapira would have it that the Ibn Ezra read Scripture as if it called the Messiah by God’s name. Instead the Ibn Ezra tells us that the Scriptures speak of the Messiah as the king that God anoints.
Still on page 158 Shapira goes on to make yet another mistake. He quotes Maimonides’ prayer that refers to the Messiah with the expression “yeshu’ot meshicho” (-the salvation of his anointed one). The fact that Maimonides calls the Messiah a king after he just declared that God is the only king tells Shapira that Maimonides believed in a divine messiah. Without getting into the faulty logic of Shapira’s assertion it seems that Shapira is unaware that Maimonides drew his phraseology directly from Scripture (2Samuel 22:51; Psalm 18:51). These passages speak of David himself who was the king that God anointed and was not divine even according to Shapira. The conclusion that Shapira arrived at on the basis of this phrase (“yeshu’ot meshicho”) is completely without foundation.
On page 163 Shapira associates the Talmudic discussion about the possibility of Torah being forgotten with the Messianic era. In fact this Talmudic discussion is not referring to the Messianic era but to the era of exile when some say that the Torah will be forgotten due to the trials and tribulations of Israel’s suffering.
On page 164 Shapira claims that Maimonides contradicts his own principles of faith when he tells us that the Rabbinically instituted fasts will be nullified in the messianic era. What Shapira fails to understand is that when Maimonides spoke of the eternal and unbreakable nature of the Torah he was not referring to those laws instituted by the rabbis. He was only referring to the laws that God gave us through Moses.
On page 168 Shapira demonstrates his lack of familiarity with the Targum. He translates the ubiquitous Targumic phrase “min kadam” as “from the beginning” when in fact it means “from in front of”. This phrase is so pervasive that it even appears in the popular “rabbis kaddish” prayer recited in synagogues all over the world. Yet Shapira doesn’t know what the phrase means. In any case Shapira contradicts himself on this matter. On page 166 Shapira’s mistranslation of the Targum on Isaiah 9:5 gives him a deep messianic “secret” but on page 145 he complains that the Targum does not see this verse as a Messianic prophecy.
On that same page Shapira presents the Targumic rendering of the Hebrew phrase “Avi Ad” as “The Messiah”. In a footnote he presents the original Armaic term as “almaya meshicha”. Here again Shapira demonstrates his inability to read the Targum. The word “almaya” is the last word in the previous phrase while the word “meshicha” is the first word of the next phrase. It is only the word “almaya” which is associated with the Hebrew words “Avi Ad” and not the word “meshicha” (anointed one or Messiah). Shapira simply missed a crucial comma in the reading of the Targum.
On page 173 Shapira presents us with two conflicting translations of the same piece of rabbinic literature. He first tells us that Rabbi Pinchos of Koritz taught the Messiah was created “in essence” before the creation of the world. But further on he tells us that it was “the purpose” of the Messiah that was created before the creation of the world. Needless to say it is his second translation that is correct.
On page 175 Shapira quotes Rashi to the effect that the Messiah will be rejected. But upon reading Rashi’s comment (Micah 5:1) it is obvious that he is not speaking about a rejection of the Messiah but to a rejection of the house of David on account of his questionable ancestry that is rooted in Ruth the Moabite.
On page 176 Shapira insists that the Hebrew word “mimenu” refers to a singular entity and it should therefore be translated as; “from him” and not; “from them”. On the basis of this argument he would have the word “mimenu” in Zechariah 10:4 refer back to Micah 5:1. His entire premise is demonstrably false as the word “mimenu” appears many times in Scripture in reference to a plural entity (e.g. Numbers 21:1; 31:2; Deuteronomy 2:36).
On page 177 Shapira presents the Malbim’s comments to Zechariah 10:4 as if the Malbim believed that the king and the high priest were one and the same person. It is obvious from Malbim’s comment that he understood that they are two separate people.
On page 180 Shapira presents Genesis Rabba 98:9 as if it said that the Gentiles will receive the Messiah before the people of Israel. In fact the Midrash says that in the Messianic era Israel will stand on such a high spiritual level that they will not need the teaching of the Messiah. The Midrash says nothing about the Gentiles receiving him “first”.
On page 184 Shapira claims that Isaiah 51:4 teaches that the light of God will first be revealed to the Gentiles. This concept is nowhere to be found in that verse. In fact merely a few verses later (Isaiah 51:7) the prophet identifies Israel as a nation that already possesses the teaching of God in their hearts and this long before the Gentile nations merit to see the light.
On page 186 Shapira presents the Midrash (Genesis Rabba 1:6) as if it teaches that the Messiah descends to hell and rises to heaven at the same time. This teaching is a figment of Shapira’s imagination. It is not found in that Midrash or in any Midrash for that matter.
On page 191 Shapira presents a translation of Metzudat David. In this translation he mistranslates a verse from the Bible. Shapira renders Joel 2:2 as if it said “as blackness spread upon the mountains” when in fact it says “as dawn spread upon the mountains”.
On page 204 Shapira tells us that the Maharal “clearly expected” the Messiah “to be divine”. He bases this on a quotation from the 41st chapter of Mahral’s book “Netzach Yisrael”. But the Maharal makes it clear beyond a doubt that he never believed that the Messiah is to be divine (see for example chapter 62 of that same book).
On page 209 Shapira presents us with a translation from the Zohar. His translation is riddled with so many errors that it is difficult to count them. But we will present one glaring error from his analysis of this passage from the Zohar. According to Shapira the Zohar mentions “three faces”. This is wrong. The Zohar mentions three spirits but just mentions “all faces” without attributing any number to the faces. It is clear from the words of the Zohar that the faces and the spirits are completely different entities.
On page 215 Shapira presents us with a fantastic rendition of the Targum. He claims that the Targum on Deuteronomy 18:15,18 speaks of a supernatural origin for the Messiah. His reading of the Targum is completely erroneous. The Targum speaks of a prophet that is compared to Moses by virtue of sharing the same holy spirit that inspired Moses. The Targum says nothing about the origin of the Messiah or of anyone else for that matter.
On page 216 Shapira quotes the Radak’s comments to Micah 5:1 in his effort to establish the concept of a divine Messiah. In that very same comment the Radak directly addresses and refutes the Christian claims on this subject. Shapira ignores the Radak’s own words and exploits a half a phrase of his commentary for his own idolatrous purposes.
On the same page Shapira quotes the Targum to Micah 5:1 to the effect that the origin of the Messiah is from before creation. Shapira conveniently ignores the fact that the Targum emphasizes that it is the name of the Messiah that is from before creation and not his physical existence.
From page 227 through page 236 Shapira deals with the prayer found in the Rosh Hashana liturgy which mentions Yeshua. Shapira addresses some of my remarks on this subject (from a personal correspondence) and he concludes that my understanding of this text is not supported by professor Liebes or by any of the Jewish writings. The complete article of professor Liebes actually confirms my understanding that the reference here is to a being that is less than divine. Liebes actually advances the theory that this prayer originates with the early Christians who did not believe in a divine Messiah, a theory that undermines the very faith that Shapira is trying to support. Yet Shapira does not hesitate to quote those elements from Liebes articles that he feels advance his cause while suppressing the elements that openly refute his entire thesis.
On page 236 Shapira presents us with his interpretation of Isaiah 63:9. In this passage the prophet describes God’s affection for the Jewish people. God Himself is afflicted with their suffering (as in Zechariah 2:12) and the messenger of His face saved them. The prophet continues with the words; “with His love and with His compassion He redeemed them; He lifted them and bore them all the days of the world.” Shapira claims that “according to the Hebrew language rules” the four verbs (love, compassion, lifted and bore) “reflect contiguity between the subject and the verb.” On the basis of this “language rule” Shapira concludes that the prophet is describing the love and compassion of the messenger and not the love of God.
The problem is that there is no such “language rule.” It is purely a figment of Shapira’s imagination. Just to illustrate the absurdity of Shapira’s “language rule” let us apply it to Isaiah 44:12 which speaks of the toil of the one who creates an idol. “The ironsmith makes an adze; he works with charcoal and fashions it with hammers. He works on it with his strong arm though he is hungry and without strength, though he drinks no water and grows faint.” According to Shapira’s “language rule”, since the “hammers” are introduced with the Hebrew letter “vav” then according to Shapira we should apply all the verbs that follow directly to the hammers. That is to say that it is the hammer that works with “his strong arm”, it is the hammer that gets hungry and weak, and it is the hammer that thirsts and grows faint.
So much for Shapira’s “language rule.”
On page 238 Shapira claims that the Ramban interpreted Isaiah 63:12 as a reference to the Messiah. This is patently false. What the Ramban is saying is that the same mighty arm that God applied in the time of Moses will be also applied in the time of the Messiah. The Ramban did not say that Isaiah 63:12 speaks of the Messiah.
On that same page (238) Shapira goes on to attribute his lies to the comments of Rashi on Isaiah 63:9. Shapira tells us that Rashi explains that the words “he was afflicted” speak about the angel Michael. Fact is that Rashi translates the verse in a way that the phrase; “he was afflicted”, does not even appear in the verse.
On page 246 Shapira claims that Rabbi Yekutiel Weiss applies Hosea 11:1 to the Messiah in his book “D’veash V’chalav”. Upon examining Rabbi Weiss’s book it becomes clear that Shapira conflated two different thoughts and Rabbi Weiss makes no such application.
On page 247 Shapira claims that Luzzato applies Hosea 11:1 to the Messiah in his book “Article of Redemption”. The funny thing is that this verse does not appear at all in Luzzato’s Article of Redemption. This quote is simply another figment of Shapira’s imagination.
On page 250 Shapira makes the argument that since the Alsheich identifies the Messiah as a “na’ar” (youth) this then equates the Messiah with the angel Metatron who is also called “na’ar”. This argument is ridiculous. The term “na’ar” describes any youth and the term “na’ar” appears countless times in the vast body of rabbinic literature. It is obvious that there is no basis to jump to the conclusion that every time the word na’ar appears the intention is to describe the angel Metatron.
On page 252 Shapira claims that the Sh’la referred to the angel Metatron as “son”. This is false. The Sh’la clearly distinguishes the angel Metatron from the entity called “son” (Torah Shebichtav; Parshat Chayei Sarah).
On page 255 Shapira misquotes the Zohar. According to Shapira the Zohar is saying that the angel Metatron was not created, when in fact the Zohar does not say this about the angel Metatron (or any angel for that matter).
On page 261 Shapira claims that the Zohar teaches that the Messiah is to be born from a virgin. There is no such teaching in the Zohar.
Shapira and his defenders have already begun to generate fantastic theories to explain away the mistakes that plague his book. This does not surprise me. A religious community that can defend and justify Matthew can defend anyone.
I believe that each and every human being is created in the image of God. This means that no matter how many sophisticated arguments are presented to establish a falsehood the breath of God in our nostrils will not be satisfied with a lie.
Shapira has done humanity a great service. He made it that much easier to see through the sham erected by the followers of Matthew. Even people who cannot read Hebrew and cannot study the original words that Shapira has mangled in his presentation will see through this farce. Just step back and look at the map of Shapira’s thesis. He begins with the argument that 1st and 2nd century Judaism accepted the concept of a divine Messiah. And it is only due to the Rambam’s sharp and violent reaction to Christianity that turned Judaism into the monotheistic religion that it is (page 35). Yet the overwhelming majority of Shapira’s “sources” for the concept of a divine Messiah postdate the Rambam.
Shapira himself identifies the Ramban as one who “strongly rejected the idea of a divine Messiah” (page 54). Yet his book is full of quotations from the same Ramban in his effort to “prove” that the rabbis believed in a divine Messiah (pages 108, 148,201, 238). Even the Rambam himself, the arch-villain of Shapira’s opening remarks, is eventually quoted by Shapira as a rabbinic “source” for the concept of a divine Messiah (page 158).
How could anyone take this man seriously?
Yet here we have Daniel Nessim; Executive Director of Chosen People Ministries (UK), leader of Messianic Congregation Beth Sar Shalom, and a trustee of the British Messianic Jewish Alliance, assuring us that “Messianic Judaism has never before produced such an extended, thoroughly researched case for Messiah Yeshua.” Or take Paige Patterson; President of South West Baptist Theological Seminary, describing Shapira’s book as “one of the “most interesting and learned tomes that I have ever read.”
A man who maligns the teachers of Israel with the claim that they “have elected to go against the words of the Torah itself and the Prophets” (page 47) is described by Russell Resnik; Executive Director of the Union of Messianic Congregations, as a man who “honors the people and traditions of Israel” (page ix).
What does this tell us about these leaders? What does it tell us about the religious and intellectual culture that can honor such crude ignorance as if it were the height of sophisticated erudition? And what does it tell us about the spiritual foundations of this culture?
Perhaps it is time to reconsider the clever arguments that have been presented to defend Matthew’s blunders? Perhaps it is time to reexamine Matthew’s character assassination of Judaism and her teachers? If acceptance of Matthew can lead to admiration of Shapira then perhaps it is time to reassess that original acceptance?
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal