Can the Rabbis Err and Lead the People Astray?
It may come as a surprise to many that the Torah recognizes the possibility of a situation in which the Rabbis can err and thus lead many to sin. We will address this question in the following vein and leave the conclusion to the reader’s consideration.
Did the Rabbis err in the trial of Yeshua?
Torah never recognizes any appeal to a higher court by the different parties to a lawsuit, that if the matter should be too difficult for the local judge to decide, they themselves were to carry it to the superior court.
This superior court was not a court of appeal, as we know it today, for it did not hear a case after the local court had already given a verdict, but it is instituted in cases in which the local court would not trust itself to give a verdict at all, i.e., it was too difficult for the local judge to give verdict. In such a case, the Torah simply states,
When a matter is too difficult for you to judge, … then you shall come to the priests, the Levites and to the judge, who is in those days, and shall inquire. And they shall declare to you the word of judgment, and you shall do according to the word which they declare to you … (Deu 17:8-10)
Mosheh plainly instructs that when there is for “you” (the local judge) a matter too difficult to give a judicial decision upon, then go to the place which YHVH would choose (the future Temple) and inquire about the matter before the priests and the judge of the higher court.
We should note here that the instruction is not meant for the parties of a dispute to address the higher court, but for the local judge to present the case before the higher institution. And the decision of the higher court shall serve as a verdict, which needlessly to say, is to be founded upon the Torah.
Today, this mechanism of judgment is called “responsa”: a body of written decisions and rulings given by legal Rabbinic authority in response to questions addressed to them.
And if the whole congregation of Israel shall err, the matter became obscured from the eyes of the assembly and do any of the things which Yehovah has commanded not to be done, and are guilty, when the sin which they have sinned becomes known, then the assembly shall bring a young bull for the sin and bring it before the Tent of Meeting. (Lev 4:13-14)
In his comments on Leviticus 4:13, Rashi says that the phrase kol edat Israel, “the whole congregation of Israel”, refers to the Great Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court, not to the entire nation. And it could not be otherwise, as it is very impossible for the entire nation to commit the same sin by mistake.
Note: There were two Rabbinate courts which were both called Sanhedrin, the Great Sanhedrin and the Lesser Sanhedrin. The Great Sanhedrin, עֵדָה edah, of 71 judges had its seat on the Temple Mount and acted as the Supreme Court. Lesser courts of 23 judges were appointed to sit as tribunals in each city.
In order to make this point quite clear, namely, that “the whole congregation of Israel” refers to the Great Sanhedrin, the Torah clarifies with the words, “and the matter became obscured from the eyes of the assembly”; thus, in the first half of the sentence, the “congregation”, edah, refers to the court, and the “assembly”, kahal, refers to the commoners.
With this clarification, we explain these verses to refer to a situation in which the judges can make a mistake and, due to their error in interpreting the Law, the nation of Israel can transgress the Torah of YHVH. And as a result of such conduct the Supreme Court may indeed hand down wrong decisions, which in turn would make the people sin.
For this reason and to prevent such judgments, the Supreme Judge has called His prophets to be the eyes of the nation (Isa 29:10). In other words, the prophets are called to serve as “proctors” of YHVH and watch over the entire nation (the Supreme Court included).
However, the Torah also makes it very clear that the people are not entirely released from sin, if the court is mistaken in its decisions. They still have the obligation to follow the Torah, as Exo 23:2 states: “You shalt not follow a multitude to do evil”. In such cases of wrong decisions of the court, the people are not meant to follow the majority if that majority is transgressing the Torah, even if that majority is the Supreme Court.
Thus, we see that the Torah clearly recognizes the possibility of a situation in which the judges can err but also creates the proper legal mechanism of corrections to address such cases through the office of the prophets, i.e., the mechanism of checks and balances.
Did the Rabbis err in their prejudgment in the trial of Yeshua?
The legal issues in the trial of Yeshua
We have already pointed out in the article Why the Pharisaic Trial of Yeshua Was Illegitimate – Time of Reckoning Ministry that the Rabbis had broken their own rules making the trial of Yeshua illegitimate, even according to the Mishnah, “the Oral Law” of the Rabbis.
Note: The Mishnah is the first part of the Talmud; it is a collection of early oral interpretations of the scriptures that was compiled about 200 A.D.
None of the requirements in the Mishnah were fulfilled in the trial of Yeshua. Yeshua was first brought to Chanan, the father-in-law of Kayapha the high priest, and then he was brought to Kayapha’s house, where a private council was staged; Yeshua was not brought before the Great Sanhedrin, as required by law, which too renders the trial of Yeshua illegitimate. Had he been brought before the Great Sanhedrin, wherein we can expect to see Nikodemus and the other Pharisees, who believed in him (see Acts 15:5), certainly the outcome of the trial must have been quite different, as it was the case of Shaul, when he was accused (Acts 23:9).
Knowing what we learned in the foresaid article, a solid foundation was established for the conclusion that the Pharisaic trial of Yeshua was staged and thus made illegitimate. With this we are coming to the next talking point: the plot to kill Yeshua.
The plot against Yeshua
But saving Yeshua from death was not meant to be. The Son of Elohim must have died in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled as written. Even the corrupted Kayapha knew that when he said,
“You know nothing at all, neither do you consider that it is better for us that one man die for the people than that the entire nation should perish”. But he did not say this from himself but being high priest that year he prophesied that Yeshua should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather together into one the children of Elohim who were scattered abroad. (Joh 11:49-52)
Kayapha knew who Yeshua was but nonetheless had misinterpreted the prophecy about the Messiah Mosheh commanded Israel to await. By his vote to condemn Yeshua, Kayapha appointed his victim to death, who in that memorable year was to perish for the entire nation.
But, as Yochanan puts it, the high priest spoke these prophetic words inadvertently which he did not completely understand; words spoken widely and truly than he knew. In his own words Kayapha indeed feared that Yeshua would gain such an influence over the people as to lead a revolt against Rome.
Several passages in the Apostolic Writings testify what the people were expecting from the Messiah when he would come; even his disciple Kepha was ready to fight. But Kayapha knew that such a revolt against Rome would result in bloodshed in which the whole nation would perish. He feared that such a development of the events would bring in only calamities and cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease.
Therefore, he pressured the rest of the Pharisees to condemn Yeshua prophesying that one must die to save many, and not for the Judeans only but also to gather the lost tribes of the House of Israel. And he and the staged court thus sealed the prophecy of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks with their verdict.
So, from that day on they plotted to kill him. Yeshua therefore no longer went openly among the people but went from there into the country (Joh 11:53-54).
The ancient Rabbis vs. the modern-day Rabbis
Was the trial of Yeshua a Rabbinic mistake, or it was a deliberate act? According to the high priest’s own words, it was a deliberate decision to condemn Yeshua to death; they did not err due to ignorance. That was in the first century Judea.
But did the Rabbis learn from the history. We have certain proof that the ancient Rabbis did learn and in fact knew that Yeshua was the Messiah of YHVH. We also have the proof (watch the video) that some of the Rabbis have kept their belief in secret, as we explained in the article Revealing Yeshua Secretly Guarded by the Rabbis – Time of Reckoning Ministry.
Thus, the name of Yeshua has been secretly and jealously guarded by the Rabbis of blessed memory throughout the centuries that he is the long-anticipated Messiah of Israel about whom Mosheh prophesied at Mount Nebo.
But the person whom the Christians call “Jesus” is not really the person the ancient Rabbis believed in. Unlike the Christians, the Yeshua the Rabbis believed in was the Jew who entirely embraced the Torah and taught the others to do so. That was the real Messiah whom we revealed to our readers in the article Has the Messiah Abolished the Law of God? – Time of Reckoning Ministry.
The Rabbis’ error in Psalm 53
The ancient Rabbis believed that Psalm 53 indeed speaks of the suffering Messiah, as they clearly stated this in Sanhedrin 98b. There they say that the world was created by virtue of the merit of the Messiah (See Sanhedrin 98b:13). This should not come to us as a surprise that their view echoes the words of the apostle: “All came to be through Him, and without Him not even one came to be that came to be” (See also Eph 3:9, Col 1:16, Heb 1:2, Heb 11:3, Rom 11:36, and “the Messiah is the beginning of the creation of Elohim” (Rev 3:14).
And this is what the Rabbis says in the Talmud about the Messiah:
About the Messiah, the Gemara asks: What is his name? The school of Rabbi Sheila says: Shiloh is his name, as it is stated: “Until when Shiloh shall come” (Genesis 49:10). … And the Rabbis say: The leper of the house of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi is his name, as it is stated: “Indeed our illnesses he did bear and our pains he endured; yet we did esteem him injured, stricken by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4) (Sanhedrin 98b:14)
And this is what the prophet has foreseen about the Messiah,
Who has believed our report? And to whom was the arm of Yehovah revealed? For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or splendor that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of pains and knowing sickness. And as one from whom the face is hidden, being despised, and we did not consider him. (Isa 53:1-3)
But if the Rabbis believed in the real Messiah, Yeshua haMashiach, who and why changed this belief?
The non-messianic interpretation of Isaiah 52-53 dates back the medieval centuries, when the European Jews suffered cruelty at the hands of the Christians. There was a great deal of fear among the Jewish communities in the medieval Europe that the Jewry would cease to exist.
The view that Yeshayahu 52-53 deals with the Messiah was almost universal until Rashi applied it to the nation of Israel. It was the medieval Tanak commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040–1105), who diverted from the original teaching in the Talmud to a new teaching, namely, that the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is not the Messiah but Israel.
In Time of Reckoning Ministry, we believe that Rashi changed the message of Isaiah 53 to counteract the growing threat of the Christianity upon the Jewish population through massacres, pogroms, forced conversions, assimilations, and rapes.
This is Rashi’s new interpretation of the prophecy concerning the Suffering Messiah in Isaiah 53, whose intent was to protect the Jews from the Christian religion:
So is the custom of this prophet [Ed. Isaiah]: he mentions all Israel as one man, e.g., (Isa 44:2), “Fear not, My servant Jacob”; (Isa 44:1), “And now, hearken, Jacob, My servant.” Here too (Isa 52:13), “Behold My servant shall prosper,” he said concerning the house of Jacob. (Isaiah 53:3 with Rashi)
We can understand why Rashi wanted to deviate from the original meaning of Isaiah 53, namely, that the prophecy is concerning the suffering of the Messiah.
This interpretation of Rashi is problematic, because it rewrites the chapter to mean the opposite of what it in fact says about the suffering servant. Such a reading compels us to consider the question: if that is the intention of the prophet, why is that not made clear, as the verses fail to explicitly mention that Israel is meant.
The reader must be cautious that while it is important to be aware of what Isaiah 53 really means, the simple explanation of the words in their immediate context is primary to the understanding of the message of the prophecy. The irony in the case of Rashi is that he is known for his literal interpretation of the Scripture.
Furthermore, Rashi’s interpretation is not grounded well in the text, as the connection between “he” and “Israel” is never raised or even hinted at in the context of the entire chapter of Isaiah 53. This suggestion of Rashi also falls short on why there is no mention of “Israel” in the chapter, as there is no textual basis for his comment.
While the connection between Ya’akov and Yeshurun (a poetic form for Israel) in Isaiah 44 is all fine and good, it works for Isaiah 44 but not for Isaiah 53, because there is little in the chapter that would suggest anything beyond the literal interpretation of the “he”. The situation is hardly parallel. Rashi invented a contradiction between “he” and “Israel” where it does not exist and thus is giving the passage a meaning that it does not have.
The artificial division of Scripture in chapters
It is always important to remember that chapter numbers were first inserted into Bible in the thirteenth century and do not reflect the Scriptural division of the text. While this was a Christian division, not Rabbinic, the Rabbis followed suit. Thus, most of the commentators agree that the words “Who has believed our report” commence a new message, like “Behold my servant” in Isa 42:1.
What Rashi did was that he deliberately separated Chapter 53 of Isaiah from Chapter 52. But we will read the original message as it was meant connecting both chapters in the most natural way.
Behold, My servant shall work wisely, he shall be exalted and lifted up and very high. As many were appalled at you, so was the disfigurement beyond any man’s and his form beyond the sons of men. He shall likewise startle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall understand. (Isa 52:13-15) Who has believed our report? And to whom was the arm of Yehovah revealed? For he grew up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or splendor that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should desire him … (Isa 53:1-2)
And although Rashi did not cite any evidence illustrating that this is an acceptable linguistic rule in Biblical Hebrew to substitute “all Israel” for “he”, we did cite such evidence to the opposite in the articles Who is the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53? Part 1&2 asking the plain question: “If in Isaiah 53 “he” is “Israel”, then who are the “we”? Besides, when did the kings of the earth shut their mouths because of Israel?
Moreover, those interpreters who advance Rashi’s view are under the necessity of explaining the Bible code in 52:10-12 and 53:5-7, as we did in Part 2 of the foresaid article.
Reading is an experience that takes place in time. Hence, the second, third, and fourth time a reader encounters a given phrase, such as “he … we” within a short text should be assumed to have different effects over the reader than the first time even though the information is the same. Thus, it will be clear to the reader that the perception of introducing in the prophecy the exaltation of the Mediator of a future redemption is expressed by the repetition of the “he-we” pattern.
The question, then, is how the repetition of “he … we” affects the reader, because Scripture does not come to make things obscure but to explain. And if it is so, then the pattern has no other service in the prophecy but to emphasize through repetition that the “he” is the suffering servant of YHVH and the “we” are Israel.
Sadly, all commentaries of the Rabbis on Isaiah 53 followed Rashi. Thus far Rashi. And thus far the errors of the Rabbis. We should not err and assume that the Rabbis are always right.
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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!