Rabbis and Isaiah 53
Jewish commentator Rashi believed Isaiah 53 referred to Israel. Rashi, writing in the 11th century, did have some historical precedent for this interpretation, as his commentary became one of the best popular commentaries on the Tanakh.
Eliyahu Rabbah, which scholars agree was written in the end of the tenth century, (Tana Devei Eliyahu) has 3 citations referenced below.
The first book of the Talmud – Brachot page 5a (compiled between app 220 and 300 CE) applies Is 53 to the people of Israel and those who study Torah – “If the Holy One, blessed be He, is pleased with a man, He crushes him with painful sufferings. For it is said: And the Lord was pleased with [him, hence] He crushed him by disease (Isa. 53:10). Now, you might think that this is so even if he did not accept them with love. Therefore it is said: “To see if his soul would offer itself in restitution”(Ibid). Even as the trespass-offering must be brought by consent, so also the sufferings must be endured with consent. And if he did accept them, what is his reward? “He will see his seed, prolong his days”(Ibid). And more than that, his knowledge [of the Torah] will endure with him. For it is said: “The purpose of the Lord will prosper in his hand”(Ibid). It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai says: The Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through sufferings.. These are: The Torah, the Land of Israel and the World To Come.”
In Christian church father Origen’s Contra Celsus, written in the year 248, he writes of Isaiah 53:
Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies; to which my Jewish opponent replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations.
Sanhedrin 98b in the Babylonian Talmud applies Is 53:4 to the Messiah and applies Is 53:12 to Moses in Sotah 14a.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Shekalim 5:1) applies Isaiah 53:12 to Rabbi Akiva.
The Mahari Kara (R’ Yosef Kara, a contemporary of Rashi 11th century) on Isaiah Isaiah 52:13: Quote:
“Behold My servant shall prosper: IsraelMy servant shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. And [according to] the teachings of our Rabbis: He shall be more exalted than Abraham, as it is written: “I have raised my hand toward the Lord…” [Gen 14:22]. He shall be more lifted up than Moses, as it is written: “…as the nurse lifts up the suckling…”. And he [Israel] shall be higher than the ministering angels, as it is written: “And they had backs, and they were very high…” [Ezek 1:18].
Numbers Rabbah 13:2 applies Is 53:12 to Israel in exile –
“There can be almost no doubt that the redactor of Numbers Rabbah had before him an ancient Midrash on Numbers, and perhaps on other books as well, which has not come down to us and which we do not know of today. From the nature of the passages that were incorporated from this work and that remain in the Numbers Rabbah that we have today, one may conclude that this Midrash belonged to the group of Tanhuma-style Midrashim.”
The Midrash Rabba on Deuteronomy says,
“The Israelites poured out their soul to die in the captivity, as it is said, ‘Because he poured out his soul to die.’ (Isaiah 53:12)”
Furthermore, the Midrash known as Tana Devei Eliyahu contains three references to Isaiah 53, applying them to the righteous of Israel (chapters 6, 13, 27).
Another Midrash, Aleph Beitot (final chapter) quotes Isaiah 53 in reference to the nation of Israel as a whole.
Midrash Psalms 94:2 applies Isaiah 53:10 to the righteous in general (also in other earlier writings – Mechilta De Rabbi Ishmael)
Ruth Rabbah 2:14 interprets Is 53:5 to the Messiah
Kuzari also identifies Isaiah 53 as the nation of Israel.
Chovot ha-Levavot also identifies Isaiah 53 as the nation of Israel.
There are numerous individuals that the Zohar applies Isaiah 52/ 53 to:
52:13-14 is applied to the Angel Metatron in Zohar Volume I 182a.
53:5 is applied to Elijah the prophet in Zohar Volume II 115b.
53:5 is applied to Moshiach ben Yosef in Zohar Volume III 276b.
52:13 is applied to Moshe in Zohar Volume III page 153b.
52:13, 53:2,5 is applied to Moshe in Zohar Volume III 280a.
53:1 is applied to Moshe in Tekunei HaZohar page 43a.
53:5 is applied to Moshe in Tekunei HaZohar page 54b and 112a.
53:5, 7 is applied to Moshe in Zohar Volume III 125b.
53:5, 6, 7 is applied to Moshe in Zohar Volume III 282b.
53:7 is applied to Moshe in Zohar Volume I 187a.
53:10 is applied to Moshe in Zohar Volume II 29b.
52:12 is applied to the Righteous of Israel in Zohar Chadash page 15a
52:13 is applied to the Righteous of Israel in Zohar Volume I 181a.
53:5 is applied to the Righteous of Israel in Zohar Volume III 218a, 231a, 247b
53:10 is applied to the Righteous of Israel in Zohar Volume I 140a; Volume II 244b; Volume III 57b
The Elephant in the Room
Whilst some Jewish sources point to the servant as an individual, the individual being divine to the exclusion of all others is something not taught with respect to any servant or messiah in the Jewish Scriptures. Here is where Judaism and Christianity differ.
7. Isaiah 53 – Who is the prophet talking about?
8. Tanna debe Eliyahu in the Jewish Encyclopedia
9. Origen, Contra Celsum, Book 1.Chapter 55
10. [52:13-14 is applied to the Angel Metatron in Zohar Volume I 182a. 2. 53:5 is applied to Elijah the prophet in Zohar Volume II 115b. 3. 53:5 is applied to Moshiach ben Yosef in Zohar Volume III 276b. Then we have the following eight references to Moses: 1. 52:13 in Zohar Volume III page 153b. 2. 52:13, 53:2,5 in Zohar Volume III 280a. 3. 53:1 in Tekunei HaZohar page 43a. 4. 53:5 in Tekunei HaZohar page 54b and 112a. 5. 53:5,7 in Zohar Volume III 125b. 6. 53:5,6,7 in Zohar Volume III 282b. 7. 53:7 in Zohar Volume I 187a. 8. 53:10 in Zohar Volume II 29b. There are eight references to the Righteous of Israel: 1. 52:12 in Zohar Chadash page 15a]
11. [52:13 in Zohar Volume I 181a. 3. 53:5 in Zohar Volume III 218a, 231a, 247b 4. 53:10 in Zohar Volume I 140a; Volume II 244b; Volume III 57]
12. Contra Brown – Answering Dr. Brown’s Objections to Judaism by Rabbi Yisroel C. Blumenthal