Turning on a Dime II – excerpt from “Continuation of Discussion”

From Diminishing References to Increased Intensity to the Rhythm Argument

In our video debate you presented the argument that chapters 40-48 focus
on Israel while 49 -52 focus on the individual servant. When I pointed
out that this is not the case, and in fact 49-52 still focus on Israel
more than they focus on the individual servant you switched to the
“increased intensity” argument. You argued that the increase of focus on
the individual rises at a steeper rate (in 49-52 over 40-48) than does
the increase in intensity of focus on the nation and that this factor should determine the identity of the unnamed servant of 53.

Now that I have pointed out that the last two chapters before 53 are
intensely focused on the righteousness of Israel’s remnant with no
mention of the individual servant, you switched your argument yet again
and now you want us to accept the “rhythm argument.” You want us to see
some sort of “back and forth” pattern where the fact that one chapter
focuses on one subject is evidence that the next chapter needs to shift
focus to another subject.

You realize that the premise of your original argument was that the flow
of the prophetic word is consistent and that one chapter leads directly
into the next. Now you want us to accept the very opposite premise; that
the chapters swing from one subject to the next. You have switched the
underlying premise of your original argument.

What made you switch the premise? What was the basis of your shift from
seeing the chapters flow consistently from one into another to the idea
that they keep on moving back and forth from one subject to another? Is
there any other basis for this shift in your understanding of Scripture
aside from the desire to bend the prophetic word so that it can agree
with your theology?

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal

See – https://judaismresources.net/2014/07/30/turning-on-a-dime/

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11 Responses to Turning on a Dime II – excerpt from “Continuation of Discussion”

  1. Sharon S says:

    Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal ,

    Good day. Thank you for bringing out the ongoing discussion on Isaiah 40-53 and the tendency in the discussion to change the basis of interpretation in order to justify one’s theology. It must have been frustrating indeed.

    I have a few questions Isaiah 53 itself.  Is Isaiah 53 central or peripheral to overall message of Isaiah 40-53? Is Isaiah 53 a climax to the overall theme of salvation and vindication of Israel in Isaiah? Or can we understand this theme in full without Isaiah 53? Is Isaiah 53 meant to be understood on its own without referring to surrounding passages ?

    Does the theme of Isaiah 53 accord with the teachings of the Torah?Does the theme of Isaiah 53 fit in with the overall theme of Isaiah 40-52 ?

    I find the theme of Isaiah 53 at odds with the teachings of the Torah. The written Torah has stated clearly that “Parents are not to be put to death for their children nor children put to death for their parents, each will die for their own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16) . This principle is repeated in Ezekiel 18 & 33. However we see God laying the iniquity of a group of people on another individual/nation in Isaiah 53 .  God can transfer sin liability on anyone He wishes. The person on whom sin liability is laid upon may be punished for it (Isaiah 53:4-5). God makes his life as an “offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10). This seems to contradict the teachings from the Torah where God prohibits human sacrifice.

    I find the theme of Isaiah 53 at odds with the overall servant passages of Isaiah 40-52. There are passages describing of the servant in Isaiah 42 ,49 and 50 which precedes 53. However we see for the first time that the Servant is bearing the sin liability of others in Isaiah 53. I don’t think that the interpretation that Israel is bearing sins of the other nations is accurate , if we assume the identity of the servant here is Israel. God use the Babylonian and Roman empires as His agents to execute His decrees on Israel. It is known that the rulers of these nations was subsequently punished for this.

    Perhaps , we can look into the above questions rather than focus the debate on the identity of the Servant in these passages . Appreciate your advise.

    Thank you.

    • Sharon S Your questions are valid questions – If you have two interpretations of a given passage – one of them has the passage flow with the surrounding Scripture and with Scripture in general while the other interpretation has this passage go against the grain of the surrounding Scripture and Scripture in general – which interpretation is the more responsible one? If the “bearing of sin” spoken of in 53 is understood in light of the bearers of the vessels of the Lord – 52:11 – and Numbers 4 – in other words – not vicarious atonement but rather bearing a responsibility of others then 53 flows with the themes of 40-66 and conforms with the rest of Scripture – its as simple as that

      1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

  2. Sharon S says:

    Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

    Good day.

    Isaiah 53 speaks of the Servant “took up our pain and bore our suffering” , “pierced for our transgression and was crushed for our iniquities”, that these “punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” . How is this comparable to Isaiah 52:11 and Numbers 4, which alludes to and describes the duties of the Levites in carrying the vessels of the Lord?

    In addition , there are separate rituals to atone for the sins of the Priest and for the nation during Yom Kippur. The blood of the bull atones for the sin of the priests and the blood of the goat atones for the sins of the Israelites. This shows that the priests does not bear the sin liability of the nation and vice versa. However there is a concept of offerings for communal sins which indicates that each individual Israelite is in a way responsible for the sins of another

    Is it accurate then to base the interpretation of “bearing of sin” spoken of in 53 solely on Isaiah 52:11 and Numbers 4- bearers of the vessels of the Lord ?

    In addition , is it a must in biblical hermeneutics /Jewish tradition for a passage to be translated in light of surrounding passages –such as the whole of Isaiah 53 interpreted in light of Isaiah 52:11?

    • Sharon S The translation you are working with does not do justice to the Hebrew – the children of Kehat were liable to die because the entire responsibility of bearing the holy vessels was on their shoulders – but the entire community benefited – this should have been everyone’s responsibility – this understanding fits perfectly with the Hebrew of 53 as well as with the rest of Scripture

      1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

      • Sharon S says:

        Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

        Good day.

        I am assuming that you are concerned with the translation of Numbers 4:20 .I am working with the NIV translation . It is stated in Numbers 4:20 “But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die” . This is similar to the translation in the Tanakh produced by JPS which I got from the Sefaria website. Isaiah 52:11 is referring to Numbers 4 .

        With respect , I will respond that the children of Kehat /Kohathites are performing the positive command of carrying God’s Holy things at the tent of meeting. I agree with you that this should be everyone’s responsibility , yet they are given the privilege to carry out this task. There is a negative command and a liability involved as they are dealing with Holy things.

        However , is it right for us to say that the Kohathites took up the “pain and suffering” of the Israelites when they are bearing God’s Holy things? Is it right to say that the Kohathite who died because he was looking at God’s Holy things is in fact crushed by the iniquities of the Israelites ? Is the punishment that fell on the Kohathite who died brought the Israelites peace, or that they were healed? The Kohathite died because he was not careful in his duty.

        How then is it possible to interpret Isaiah 53 in light of Isaiah 52:11? In my opinion , Isaiah 53 is a unique passage that is not possible to be understood in light of surrounding passages.

        Please correct me if I am wrong. Thank you

        • Sharon S The incorrect translation was your rendition of 53 – The children of Kehat carry the responsibility of maintaining the reverence towards the holy vessels. As humans they are liable to fail once in a while – but this would happen to anyone who would bear that responsibility – therefore it is appropriate to say that the pain that brings everyone peace (because that is what the holy vessels brought the entire community) was upon them. The idea of them bearing the sins of the people is not as obvious in the case of the sons of Kehat – but the idea is that if they were derelict in their duty in projecting the appropriate reverence towards the vessels in a way that the Israelites seeing the sons of Kehat learned to be lax or failed to learn to be reverent – the sons of Kehat carry that. The same applies to the righteous of Israel and even more so – the message they are carrying is everyone’s blessing – but carrying it comes along with a great risk – every violation is magnified and punished. Furthermore, because they are the repositories of the message – if they misrepresent it (as they often do) and the nations get a warped view of the message because of the negligence of the righteous of Israel – Israel suffers for the sins that they were supposed to prevent This is Isaiah 53 in its local context and its larger Scriptural context

          1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • Sharon S says:

            Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

            Good day.

            Thank you for clarifying the magnitude of responsibility borne by the children of Kehat in carrying the holy vessels . You explained that they carry the responsibility to maintain reverence towards the holy vessels-which I have not thought of in my rendition of Isaiah 53. You apply this role to the righteous of Israel who carry God’s message in your interpretation of Isaiah 53.

            In response , I do agree that the responsibilities of the children of Kehat and the righteous of Israel includes maintaining reverence to God’s holy things in the public eye. However , I will stand by initial response. It is not accurate to interpret Isaiah 53 in light of the responsibilities and liabilities of the children of Kehat who carried God’s vessels in the wilderness as per Isaiah 52:11 and Numbers 4.

            Firstly , the translation of Isaiah I am working with , NIV and Tanakh published by JPS does not mention about the Servant bearing God’s Holy Things -be it holy vessels or His message. Isaiah 53 in its own words -is describing God’s Servant bearing the sin liability not of his own making and was punished because of it. Please share if the original Hebrew of 53, read on its own, states otherwise.

            Secondly , if we go by your position that Isaiah 53 flow with the surrounding scripture , in this case Isaiah 52:11-Is it right for us to say that the Righteous of Israel are bearing the “pain that brings everyone peace”- when God is entrusting the Righteous of Israel with His Will -His Holy Message? The opportunity to bear God’s Holy things should be seen as a gift from God to Israel , not as burden arising from Israel doing a favor for the Nations.

            I agree with you that there prohibitions and liabilities for violation involved when Righteous of Israel are dealing with God’s Holy things. There is a great risk and greater punishment involved . However is it right to say that Israel suffers for the sins of the nations arising from their warped view of Israel’s message? The Divine punishment that Israel endured for the most part is due to Israel not being careful in her obligations in bearing God’s message. In addition , Israel suffers greatly from the baseless hatred of the nations who may not have heard / does not want to hear the message she is bearing at all. Israel is persecuted just because she is bearing God’s message -not because she misrepresents it.

            In addition , I brought up the Yom Kippur ritual in which the blood of the bull atones for the sin of the priests and the blood of the goat atones for the sins of the Israelites. The priest have a greater responsibility as compared to the children of Kehat in maintaining reverence of the community in God’s Holy Things and in communal worship . It was Aaron and his sons who cover the holy furnishings and articles before the children of Kehat bear these items on their shoulders. Yet the Priests does not bear the sin liability of the nation and vice versa.

            The above reasons shows that Isaiah 53 is a unique passage that stands on its own. The reading of Isaiah 40-66 flows seamlessly , but the flow is disrupted when it comes to 53. Perhaps it is better to consider another proof text (other than 52:11 or Numbers 4) for the message of Isaiah 53 to flow within the larger Scriptural context.

          • Sharon S To answer your questions 1 – Isaiah 53 itself does not describe the servant as bearing God’s word – but from 40 until 52 (and beyond) God’s servants are the ones who carry His word to varying degrees 2 – The opportunity to bear God’s word is the greatest gift – Israel’s righteous would never exchange it for anything – but it comes with great responsibility and often suffering 3 – Had Israel lived God’s message as they did in the days of David and Solomon then the truth and goodness of the message would be appreciated by the nations 4 – Aaron and his sons do bear the sin liability of the reverence to the vessels to a greater degree than the sons of Kehat – Numbers 18:1

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • Sharon S says:

            Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

            Good day.

            Thank you for continuing to engage in this discussion. It seems your answers seem to confirm the points I made in my earlier comment. However I am guessing that you are firmly sticking with your approach in interpreting Isaiah 53 in light of surrounding passages, in this case Isaiah 52:11. In addition, I observe that the phrase “arm of the Lord” in Isaiah 53:1 is also mentioned in 52:10, just before the bearers of the vessels in 52:11.

            I am not a bible scholar nor someone who knows biblical hebrew. I am  just a “lay person” analyzing the passages through common sense and what I have learnt from your blog- mainly to assess if a message from a given passage in the Scriptures  is central or peripheral to the overall message of Scripture.

            However, I hope to show in this discussion that the message of one chapter may not flow directly into the next. I find in that Isaiah 53 is a unique passage by itself. Coincidently this chapter is positioned smack in the middle of Isaiah 40-66 (14th out of 27 chapters). As a reader, I find the flow of prophetic word from 40 was disrupted at the end of 52 and continue again from 54 to 66. Isaiah 53 has its own unique prophetic theme.

            I also hope to show that there are different  ways of interpreting scripture. I hope to show that taking a different approach or shifting one’s approach to interpret scripture , which goes against the grain of established biblical tradition is valid.

            More importantly, I hope to show that taking different approaches to interpret scripture does not necessarily mean that I am bending scripture to agree with my own theology. Rather I am just letting the translation of Scripture I have in my hand “speak” to me. In my opinion although Isaiah 53 has its own unique message ,nevertheless this message conforms with the message of 40-66 and  the rest of Scripture.

            I will end here. Thank you.

  3. Sharon — you mentioned using the JPS. It is most likely the 1917 edition and if it is avoid using it as the 1917 JPS (Jewish Publication Society) translation as it is only a lightly modified King James Version translation and not a true Hebrew translation. The 1917 is found throughout the internet including Mechon Mamre. AVOID IT.

    Judaica Press T’nach Hebrew and English translation with Rashi’s commentary. This is the recommended online T’nach. http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm

    The Living Torah Hebrew and English translation of the Torah and Haftarah by R’ Aryeh Kaplan (Z”L). Excellent, but it is not the complete T’nach. Also available in Russian and Spanish. Trope (chanting) files, and Divrei Torah (A summary of each portion with kind permission from Ohr Somayach International) also available. http://bible.ort.org/

    Jewish Publication Society 1985 English translation (not recommended). http://taggedtanakh.org/Chapter/Index/english-Gen-1

    Not free but worth buying is the electronic app for the Artscroll Stone Edition T’nach which is only $9.99 and available for Android and Apple. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.artscroll.TANACH&hl=en_US&gl=US

    • Sharon S says:

      Hi Sophiee,

      Good day.

      Thank you for sharing with us links to recommended translations of the online Tanach. I do appreciate that you share recommended online translations of the tanach and the ones to avoid. It is helpful.

      I have always relied on NIV (Christian translation of the Bible) given my Christian background and the fact that it is easily understood and accessible. However I do compare it with Jewish translations of the Tanach from time to time. For the purpose of this discussion , I compared Isaiah 53 rendition as per NIV , available here https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+53&version=NIV with the Isaiah 53 rendition as per Chabad as per your recommendation, available here https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15984

      The difference in Isaiah 53 in the NIV as compared to the Chabad translation .The differences observed as follows:
      •53:3-NIV-He was despised and rejected by mankind;
      53:3-Chabad-Despised and rejected by men,
      •53:5 –NIV -“pierced for our transgressions” ; “punishment that brought us peace”
      53:5-Chabad- “pained because of our transgressions” ; “chastisement of our welfare”
      •53:6-NIV -“and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all”
      53:6-Chabad- “and the Lord accepted his prayers for the iniquity of all of us”
      •53:8-NIV –“By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?”; “for the transgression of my people he was punished.”
      53:8-Chabad-“From imprisonment and from judgment he is taken, and his generation who shall tell?”;” because of the transgression of my people, a plague befell them.”
      •53:10-NIV-and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
      53:10-Chabad-if his soul makes itself restitution
      •53:11-NIV- he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
      53:11-Chabad-From the toil of his soul he would see, he would be satisfied; with his knowledge My servant would vindicate the just for many, and their iniquities he would bear.
      •53:12-NIV-Therefore I will give him a portion among the great; because he poured out his life unto death
      53:12-Chabad-Therefore, I will allot him a portion in public; because he poured out his soul to death,

      It seems to me that the NIV translation influence the mind of the reader , who may some background/knowledge of Christianity , to interpret the passage according to Christian theology , with phrases such as “pierced” ,”laid on him the iniquity”, “makes his life an offering for sin” ,”he will see the light of life “ (53:5, 53:6,53:10,53:11).

      There are issues with translations of the Jewish bible available today and the possibility that these translations are subtly directing the reader to accept a certain theology. However , there are situations where these mistranslations, if identified and removed, does not affect the overall message of a given passage in the Tanach.

      I understand that you run a counter missionary website “Jesus is not for Jews” .I hope you don’t mind what I am about to share . There are key themes in Christianity which surprisingly has its source or being taught in Jewish tradition. Christianity took these themes , skewed and elevate it to such a degree in order to advance its own theology. Unfortunately , instead of addressing these themes, there is a tendency in the counter missionary field to dismiss these themes by stating that Judaism does not believe in these them at all. Perhaps this may be the most convenient way to fend off missionary tactics and to lend credibility to the teachings of Judaism in order to save Jewish souls.

      As a non Jew and coming from a Christian background, I find this approach as being dishonest. It is disappointing for me to hear the counter missionary stating that the concept of original sin does not exist in Judaism to the masses and yet find teachings that look and smell familiar to the themes that the counter missionary vehemently disavows in the pages of the Talmud, or in the teachings of a great Jewish teacher.

      In my opinion , rather than deny , it is better to acknowledge that these themes , unpopular though it may be, is part and parcel of Judaism. It is better to show how Christianity took these themes , skewed and elevate it to such a degree in order to advance its own theology . This , to me is the most honest and effective approach –to Jews and Christians alike.

      Thank you.

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