Is the suffering servant Israel or Jesus?

Athetotheist wrote: Mon Aug 28, 2023 8:29 pm “For the transgression of my people they (למו) were stricken.” (Isaiah 53:8). The word they (למו) is plural (see Psalm 99:7) and clearly indicates that this verse does not refer to a single individual.

In BLB, actually Isa 53:8 refers to a singular person.

Isa 53:8 He (singular) was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his (singular) generation? for he (singular) was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he (number unspecified) stricken. … onc_732008

But even if it was plural, I’m not so sure Hebrew is so strict in terms of plural usage. Elohim is also in the plural, but no Jew says there are more than one God.

Athetotheist wrote: Tue Aug 29, 2023 9:35 pm In the context of the surrounding chapters, Israel is the servant, as is said in 41:8 and 49:3.

Actually, if one wants to read it in context, you have to start at chapter 40. This entire section of Isa 40 – 55 is talking about another deliverance from bondage that parallels the exodus from Egypt.

“Recently, scholars have noted the way in which the Exodus event echoes throughout Isaiah 40–55.” … -in-isaiah

Athetotheist wrote: Thu Aug 31, 2023 12:14 am Starting at chapter 40, you read through the passages which identify Israel as the servant.

It doesn’t make any sense. If it’s a parallel with the Exodus account, Moses was the deliverer of Israel out of Egypt, not Israel itself being the deliverer of Israel.

Athetotheist wrote: Fri Sep 01, 2023 12:08 am Trying to make Isaiah out to be a parallel of Exodus doesn’t change the fact that Isaiah has Jehovah referring to Israel as “my servant” (41:8, 49:3).

Why are claiming it’s a “fact” when there’s nothing to support it besides merely asserting it? Please provide the textual evidence.

It is clear when the passages are read in the context of Isa 40-55 that it is alluding to the Exodus account. Moses was the servant in the Exodus account. He was an individual, not an entire nation.

[Exo 4:10 KJV] 10 And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I [am] not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I [am] slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.

[Exo 14:31 KJV] 31 And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.

Athetotheist wrote: Sat Sep 02, 2023 12:08 am But you, Israel My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, who loved Me,
(Isaiah 41:8)

And He said to me, “You are My servant, Israel, about whom I will boast.”
(Isaiah 49:3)

Yes, Israel can also be a servant. But in the context of a suffering servant to redeem people, how can Israel redeem? In Isa 53, there is only one mention of a servant.

[Isa 53:11 KJV] 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, [and] shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

Athetotheist wrote: Sun Sep 03, 2023 1:20 pm The Hebrew text points to Israel redeeming the nations through their realization that they’ve made Israel suffer.

I don’t think it makes any sense Isa 53 is referring to the Jewish people as a whole as the suffering servant. The most natural reading of Isa 53 refers to a single person.

[Isa 53:2 KJV] 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, [there is] no beauty that we should desire him.

If “he” is the nation of Israel, then who is the “we” in the above passage? Since “we” is inclusive and not referring to “they”, it must be the Jews.

Also, in verse 10, God was pleased to bruise and put the servant to grief.

Isa 53:10
(KJV) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put [him] to grief:
(OJB) Yet it pleased Hashem to bruise him; He hath put him to suffering;

Why would God be pleased to inflict pain on Israel? However, if it referred to Jesus, it would be an act of self-sacrifice.
Also, how many Jews are grateful that God has afflicted them? Not many.

Athetotheist wrote: Tue Sep 05, 2023 8:55 pm That, according to the Hebrew Bible, is what happens after the nations realize that they’ve punished the servant Israel unjustly.

Where does it say the nations (or even we) will realize they’ve punished the servant?

Actually, many verses puts God as the one who afflicts the servant, not we (or the nations).

[Isa 53:4 KJV] 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

[Isa 53:6 KJV] 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

[Isa 53:10 KJV] 10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put [him] to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see [his] seed, he shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

If the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is Israel, then it means God was the instigator of the suffering upon Israel.

[Isa 53:4 KJV] 4 Surely he (Israel) hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him (Israel) stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

[Isa 53:6 KJV] 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him (Israel) the iniquity of us all.

[Isa 53:10 KJV] 10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him (Israel); he hath put [him] (Israel) to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see [his] seed, he shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

There is no other greater suffering in the modern era that the Jews have suffered than the Holocaust. Between 5 to 6 million Jews were killed, roughly one third of the entire Jewish worldwide population at that time. Millions more had endured the concentration camps and even tortured.

So, it would mean God was involved in causing the Jews to suffer during the Holocaust.

There are several problems with this. The immediate problem is it puts God as the institagor of evil, which is contrary to God being an omnibenevolent God.

The person who first proposed this idea was Ignaz Maybaum.

He is most frequently remembered for his controversial view in The Face of God After Auschwitz (1965) that the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust was vicarious atonement for the sins of the rest of the world. He was connecting the Jewish people to the figure of the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 52 and 53 in the Tanakh (the Christian Old Testament). In the same work he employed Christian imagery, speaking of Auschwitz as the new Golgotha and the gas chambers as replacing the cross.

His comparison of the Jews dying in the Holocaust and Jesus dying on the cross has several problems.

1. In the Jewish law, the animal that bore sin had to be perfect. Jews are not sinless, whereas Jesus was sinless.

[1Pe 1:19 KJV] 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

2. The Jews had no concept they were suffering for the sins of the world. Jesus knew he would be suffering for the sins of the world.

[Mat 16:21 KJV] 21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.

3. The Jews went to concentration camps and died against their will. Jesus willingly laid down his life to die on the cross.

[Jhn 10:18 KJV] 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

4. The Jews were not joyful going to their death. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him of the salvation of mankind.

[Heb 12:2 KJV] 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

5. There was no victorious moment for the death of the Jews. Jesus was victorious over death because he resurrected from the dead.

[Jhn 11:25 KJV] 25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

Another problem with the view the Jews underwent vicarious suffering during the Holocaust is it is a minority view among Jews. I’ll post more about that in a separate post.

Earlier, I argued against the position the suffering servant in Isa 53 would be the nation of Israel.

I also stated, “Jews underwent vicarious suffering during the Holocaust is a minority view among Jews.”

There are at least 20 different Jewish views of the Holocaust. One of them is the view that the Jews as a nation underwent vicarious suffering (#12).

1. “God is dead.” If there were a God, he would surely have prevented the Holocaust. Since God did not prevent it, then God as traditionally understood either does not exist or has changed in some way. For some, this means that God has abandoned them, while for others it means God never did exist. Jews must be in the world for themselves. This may mean a turn to atheism or perhaps a turn to some more like pantheism. Sherman Wine holds that no God can possibly exist, while Richard Rubenstein has come to suggest a kind of neo-paganism as the best alternative.
2. “The Eclipse of God.” There are times when God is inexplicably absent from history. Martin Buber made this phrase famous, suggesting that the 20th century was passing through a period where God, for reasons unknowable to us, refused to reveal himself.
3. A Distant God. The experience of the Holocaust calls for Jews to reinterpret their belief in God. God is obviously not a being who actually interferes with human existence in any tangible, measurable way. Arthur A. Cohen holds that God is so transcendent that he cannot be held responsible for the Holocaust.
4. A Limited God. God is not omnipotent. He does not have the power to bring to a halt such things as the Holocaust. Harold Kushner made this view popular in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
5. Free Will & God. Terrible events such as the Holocaust are the price we have to pay for having free will. God will not and cannot interfere with history, otherwise, our free will would effectively cease to exist. Eliezer Berkovits, for example, stresses that God is all-powerful but that he curtails his own freedom to respect human freedom, even with such horrific consequences.
6. A Suffering God. Borrowing from Christian reflection on Christ and the passibility of God, Hans Jonas has suggested that God is limited in power but able to suffer with the pain of the Jewish people. Others stress the compassion and love of God, even if not understood in the Holocaust.
7. Jewish Survival. The event issues a call for Jewish affirmation for survival. The rise of the nation of Israel is one way of reading this revelation. Emil Fackenheim speaks of the 614th commandment– “”Jews are forbidden to give Hitler posthumous victories.” He further states this as Jews are “commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish;” “to remember the victims of Auschwitz, lest their memory perish;” and they are “forbidden to despair of Man, lest they co-operate in delivering the world to the forces of Auschwitz;” nor “to despair of the God of Israel, lest Judaism perish.”
8. Incomprehensible Silence. The Shoah exceeds human comprehension. It is a so horrific as to strip away any attempts at explanation. André Neher believes that there can only be silence after the Holocaust–God’s silence and our own.
9. A Theodicy of Protest. If the Holocaust is a mystery, it is nonetheless on the surface a clearly unjust and wicked horror that God should have prevented. What does this then reveal about the character of God? Perhaps God is capable of evil. David Blumenthal has argued that an analogy can be drawn between child abuse and the Holocaust. Children of abusing parents can learn to eventually make their peace with such a parent but should never be required to abstain from challenging the parent’s misuse of authority.
10. A Broken Covenant. The Holocaust is proof that God has broken his covenant with the Jewish people. One need not conclude, Irving Greenberg holds, that Jews can still not choose to hold to Jewish law, but it is now only on a voluntary basis.
11. Providential History. Some have suggested the Shoah had the providential outcome of overturning old medieval Jewish structures and replacing them with modern Jewish life, and that this is what needed to happen.
12. Vicarious Suffering. In the Holocaust, the Jewish people become the “suffering servant” of Isaiah, collectively suffering for the sins of the world. Ignaz Maybaum explored this shocking claim, holding that perhaps in the Holocaust Jews even atoned for humanity’s wickedness.
13. Coming Messiah. Sha’ar Yashuv Cohen has argued that the Shoah represents the birth pangs of the Messiah, that the Jewish people are in the final days before the Jewish savior finally comes.
14. “Because of our sins we were punished.” (mi-penei hataeinu) Some in the Orthodox community have taught that European Jews were punished for their sins, either for the heresy of liberal Judaism or for an unfaithful rejection of the Holy Land. In these views, the Shoah is God’s just retribution.
15. One More Tragedy. Some would suggest that the Holocaust is not a singular event, but only represents one more horror in human history. From this viewpoint, Jews make too much of the Holocaust as a crisis event that changes everything. David Weiss has taken something like this position.
16. Jewish Reconstruction. The Holocaust is better understood as a historical tragedy, singular or otherwise, that must now be answered with Jewish commitment to the restoration of cultural and ethnic life. Those who survive must rebuild what has been violated and lost.
17. Christian Responsibility. Christians need to face up to the their history of anti-Semitism and the role it played in the Holocaust. Ben Zion Bokser has suggested that Christianity’s exclusive view of itself rendered the German people numb to the moral repugnance of Nazi racial theories. Others argue that this culpability should put an end to any exclusive claims on Christianity’s part or to any assigning of “second-class” status to Jewish faith. Supersessionism is no longer a credible theology.
18. Jewish Responsibility. Marc Ellis argues that national Israel now uses the rhetoric of the Holocaust to justify the oppression of the Palestinian people. The Holocaust should become a reminder to care for the disadvantaged state of all colonized groups. In a broader way, the Shoah is a reminder that to be a Jew is to be a chosen people, one that must carry out the covenant and bring salvation to others in daily life.
19. Jewish Witness. Jews must not allow despair to shut their testimonies forever. Memory and writing is at the heart of what it means to be Jewish, and the Holocaust is a temptation to hopelessness and to the secular Enlightenment, a project wholly discredited by the Shoah. It is better to keep one’s Jewish identity and belief in the face of this. Even God cannot rob Jews of this loyalty.
20. God’s Female Face. God was not absent in the Holocaust, rather present in the face of female Jewish sufferers, who by covering themselves and holding to their dignity were bringing the Jewish God into Auschwitz. Melissa Raphael has made this position part of the current Jewish discussion.
21. No Theology nach Auschwitz. Any attempt at theology totalizes the ultimate horror, and by doing so, it lessens the suffering of what happened, as well as opening up humanity to ultimately excusing it and letting it happen again. For some this is a radical negation of any attempt to explain, while for others it is a simple dismissal of religious attempts at an answer. Any talk of God’s justice or love makes a mockery of what happened in the Shoah. … views.html

Wikipedia presents many Jewish theological views of the Holocaust, none of which mentions the vicarious suffering of the Jews.

Holocaust theology is a body of theological and philosophical debate concerning the role of God in the universe in light of the Holocaust of the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Several believe the Holocaust was the result of Israel’s sins.

Satmar leader Joel Teitelbaum writes:
Because of our sinfulness we have suffered greatly, suffering as bitter as wormwood, worse than any Israel has known since it became a people.The well-known Lithuanian Jewish leader, Rabbi Elazar Shach taught that the Holocaust was a divine punishment for the sins of the Jewish people, and for the abandoning of religious observance for the enlightenment.Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, in 1939, stated that the Nazi persecution of the Jews was the fault of non-Orthodox JewsBoth Meir Kahane and Avigdor Miller have written extensively in defense of God during the Holocaust, while criticizing the European Jewish community’s abandonment of traditional Jewish values.

God is “amputating limbs to save the body”:

In 1980, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch wrote:

“[The limb] is incurably diseased… God, like the professor-surgeon… seeks the good of Israel, and indeed, all He does is done for the good…. In the spiritual sense, no harm was done, because the everlasting spirit of the Jewish people was not destroyed.” (“Mada Ve’emuna,” Machon Lubavitch, 1980, Kfar Chabad)[23][24][25]

There is no divine purpose and Jews must reject God.

Prof. Richard Rubenstein’s original piece on this issue, After Auschwitz, held that the only intellectually honest response to the Holocaust is to reject God, and to recognize that all existence is ultimately meaningless. According to this piece, there is no divine plan or purpose, no God that reveals His will to humankind, and God does not care about the world.

God decided to remain hidden and not do anything.

Eliezer Berkovits held that man’s free will depends on God’s decision to remain hidden. If God were to reveal himself in history and hold back the hand of tyrants, man’s free will would be rendered non-existent.

It is not a result of sin.

David Weiss Halivni
What happened in the Shoah is above and beyond measure (l’miskpat): above and beyond suffering, above and beyond any punishment. There is no transgression that merits such punishment… and it cannot be attributed to sin.”[32]