Rabbi Tovia Singer posted:
I urge my brothers and sisters to be easygoing with Christians, especially with regard to Isaiah 53, the most debated chapter in the Bible. Let’s reflect to our gentile friends and neighbors the patience that God shows us each and every day of our lives.
In fact, Christians are asking important questions here. Moreover, unlike other passages, Isaiah 53 is enshrined in the New Testament, so Christians might be reluctant to rethink their interpretation of this chapter. There is a lot at stake here for them.
As it turns out, if you are not thoroughly familiar the chapters that precede it, this text can appear quite puzzling. Let it be said once and for all: These passages were never meant to be confusing or mysterious. The prophet presupposed, however, that the reader of Isaiah 53 is already familiar with the chapters that introduce it.
Never lose sight of this point: If a verse can be understood in more than one way, what is the correct rendering? One that is in agreement with the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. If a person ignores vital portions of the immediate context of a passage, and builds his belief around a favorite rendering of a particular text, then what he believes really reflects, not the Word of God, but rather his own ideas, and perhaps those of another imperfect human.
Students of the Bible who explore the last 27 chapters of the Book of Isaiah grasp the identity of the “Suffering Servant.” These stirring chapters triumphantly reveal God’s sovereign plan for His “servant Israel” (Isaiah 41:8-9; 43:10-11; 44:1; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3). Israel’s neighbors will be dumbfounded by the startling events that unfold during the messianic age. These events will not go unnoticed. Together, they will comprehend that their age-old assessment of the Jew was wrong.
Isaiah 53 is the last of four powerful and inspiring Servant Songs. The identity of the servant is clearly established as the nation of Israel throughout the first three Servant Songs, which begin in chapter 41.
As it turns out, we are introduced to different speakers in these famed passages: God and the gentile kings of nations (the astonished gentiles). Each is expressing, from a very different perspective, why the servant of God, the humiliated and battered Jews, suffered so much during their long bitter exile. Understandably, gentiles and God do not have the identical outlook of this striking phenomenon. To be clear, God/Isaiah is speaking in Isaiah 52:13-15. The astonished kings of nations are alone speaking in Isaiah 53:1-8. God resumes speaking in Isaiah 53:9-12. If you grasp the breakdown of these passages, this timeless, crystalline chapter comes into view in full color.
Let’s break down these oracles.
Kings of nations are speaking in 53:1-8. They are together in numbed astonishment, for what they will witness in the messianic age will contradict everything they had ever heard or considered in the past. “Who would have believed our report?” the astounded and contrite world leaders wonder aloud in their dazed bewilderment (53:1). The humbled kings of nations (52:15) will finally grasp and confess that Jewish suffering occurred as a direct result of “our own iniquity,” (53:5) i.e., depraved, reckless Jew-hatred, rather than, as they previously thought, the stubborn blindness of the Jews. They are utterly stunned that the Jewish people, whom all their nations have uniformly despised and molested, are finally vindicated to enjoy the promised salvation of God.
This palpable shock that Israel’s neighbors will express in the End of Days is a common theme in the Hebrew Scriptures. It goes without saying that there is not a single instance in Tanach in which prophets foretell that the Jewish People will be surprised or astonished that the gentiles were right in their understanding of God’s salvation plan for mankind during the messianic age. Accordingly, we find nowhere in Tanach that the Jews will seek out the gentiles for spiritual guidance. On the contrary, the Bible reveals that in the End of Days, ten gentiles of different languages will grasp the shirt of a Jew and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you!” (Zechariah 8:23). The Hebrew word “emachem” in this passage means “you,” in the plural. If, as the Church claims, the Jews were wrong in their assessment of Jesus, why will the gentiles seek out the knowledge of the Jews in the Messianic Age?
Throughout Israel’s long and bitter exile, the nations mistakenly attributed the miserable predicament of the Jew to his stubborn rejection of the world’s religions. In the End of Days, however, all that will change: the gentiles will finally discover what was until then unimaginable: the unwavering Jew was, in fact, all this time faithful to the true God. On the other hand, “We despised and held him of no account” (53:3). In contrast, Christians who ignore the context of the fourth Servant Song, erroneously conclude that Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus.
In essence, we are told in Isaiah 53 that the gentile nations will apprehend two major points in the messianic age:
1) The gentile kings of nations will finally comprehend and confess that Jewish suffering occurred as a direct result of “our own iniquity”: mindless Jew-hatred, rather than, as they previously thought, the errors of the Jews. They are downright amazed that the Jewish people, whom they despised and plundered, are finally raised up to experience the secured salvation of God.
2) Throughout the latter chapters of the Book of Isaiah, the Jewish people are repeatedly identified as afflicted, despised, and forsaken. The prophet assured Israel, however, that at the End of Days they will be redeemed and vindicated in the sight of all the nations.
But how will the gentile make sense out of the past Jewish suffering of long duration? They, not God, will conclude the Jews endured the suffering that they (the gentiles) rightfully deserved. Second, the striking and unparalleled suffering of the Jew gripped and warmed the gentile’s heart. Events such as the Holocaust did not go unnoticed by many gentiles worldwide. Even heart-wrenching, epoch films such as Schindler’s List and Fiddler on the Roof, and the gruesome, ghastly images of young Jewish terror victims brought the gentiles to repent.
There are, no doubt, many gentiles who are repenting now as they grasp the full weight and measure of these words. Our arms are open to you, righteous gentiles. Welcome home. We are holding you close. We will not let you go. Each day, many gentiles are made whole because their mind and soul became permeated with the unimaginable suffering of the Jew. Jewish suffering sparked their repentance: “By his wounds we were healed” (53:5).
This chapter has not yet concluded, for God now steps forward to make clear how the Servant will kindle the exoneration and vindication of the gentiles. After all, the Jewish people are called to be a “Light to the Gentiles.” The King of kings is now speaking: The world is set to be vindicated by the “servant’s knowledge” (53:10).
Does the Church teach that Jesus vindicated the world with his “knowledge”? According to Christian theology, it was not Jesus’ knowledge that vindicated the world. It was his blood. This epic verse is completely inconsistent with a fundamental doctrine of the Church.
Isaiah, however, is not speaking of a crucified messiah in his 53rd chapter. The prophet is referring to the faithful remnant of Israel, who, by their knowledge bear witness to the world that there is no Savior other than the God of Israel (Isaiah 43:10-11). This mandate to vindicate the world as a light to the nations (49:6) is not a task for a common people. The devout remnant of Israel will be righteous (Isaiah 60:21; Zephaniah 3:12-20 ).
In the End of Days, non-Jews will cherish and crave Israel’s knowledge. They will turn to the children of Israel in order to learn of Hashem and His Torah. Filled with remorse, they will confess to the Jewish people “Surely our fathers have inherited lies, worthlessness and unprofitable things. Can a man make gods for himself, which are not gods?” (Jeremiah 16:19-20).
Over the years, I have been struck by the warm and sincere heart of many Christians. I did not grow up in the Church; they did. Parishioners need our patience and love; the kind of compassion and forbearance that God shows us each day.
To which the magnificent Patricia Deneen responded with unparalleled insight, empathy, and sensitivity:
Thank you, Rabbi Tovia, for urging gentleness with Christians when discussing Isaiah 53 with them. This is so important. I have been grieved by posts on Facebook and elsewhere which ridicule Christians for being stupid and blind. Insulting Christians will not result in convincing them of Torah Truth. They are ignorant, yes, but through no fault of their own. Those who have never been Christians cannot imagine the trauma created by just hearing the truth about this chapter in Isaiah for the first time. The shock of realizing that we had been deceived and that our whole belief system was built on false information sent many of us into mourning over the loss of assurance that we were right and the Jews were wrong. I personally mourned for months, as proof text after proof text was dismantled by your incisive teaching. I loved the Jesus of the Christian Scriptures. For some of us, losing him was like losing our best friend. For 58 years I had clung to him, believing that he was God. That belief crumbled in the face of two realities: evidence and love. You, Rabbi Tovia, and other rabbis who responded in love to our questions, have set an example of how to effectively deal with those who are still in darkness. G-d bless you for understanding us and for encouraging others to do the same..
Taken from this thread: May Davies: The illustrious Rabbi Tovia Singer posted:
— with Ronnie James.
WHY DID ISAIAH 53 EMERGE AS THE MOST DEBATED CHAPTER IN THE JEWISH SCRIPTURES?
Christians are so convinced that Jesus is the messiah, they are utterly astounded that the Jews, of all people, consider this claim preposterous. Christians are bewildered by this rejection because it appears so obvious to them that every aspect of Jesus’ life—from his miraculous conception to his crucifixion and resurrection—was clearly predicted in the Jewish Scriptures. They wonder why the Jews then fail to embrace Jesus as their messiah. Can’t they grasp that the prophecies in their own Bible predict that the messiah would suffer and die and then rise from the grave? How can a people who produced so many Nobel Prize winners be so dense? Are they just plain stubborn? Why then did the Jews reject the claim that the messiah would suffer and die for the sins of the world? 
The answer is quite simple: Jewish messianic expectations are firmly rooted in hundreds of prophecies recorded throughout the Hebrew Bible. And Jews who are anticipating a messiah are not looking for anyone remotely like Jesus. They are awaiting the messiah who will destroy the enemies of God, usher in worldwide peace, the universal knowledge of God, the ingathering of the exiles, the resurrection of the dead, and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Who then was Jesus? While it is impossible to answer this question with any certainty because no contemporaneous historian mentioned Jesus, it is possible that he was one of hundreds—perhaps thousands—of obscure, itinerant preachers during the first century who came from the backwoods of the Galilee, wound up on the wrong side of the law, and was summarily executed by the empire. He then would have been one of hundreds of thousands of Jews who were crucified by the Romans during the turbulent first century. For Jews, calling Jesus the messiah and God, Creator of the universe, is foolish and blasphemous.
But doesn’t Isaiah 53, which Christians frequently cite, predict that the messiah would be tortured and killed for the sins of mankind? The answer to this question is simple as well: the messiah is never mentioned in Isaiah 53. Look it up for yourself! As you will see armed with only a Bible and Rabbi Tovia Singer’s two-part audio program and written teachings on this chapter, originally this passage had nothing to do with a future messiah. This chapter was ripped out of context and key words were mistranslated. Prior to the advent of Christianity, there was not a single prediction by anyone that the messiah would be executed for the sins of mankind. 
Tovia Singer explores Isaiah 53: Why is the Servant called to become a Guilt Offering?