I had spent six years in the messianic movement until my family asked me to study your tape series with an open mind. I did and as a result, I have returned to Judaism. I have been a religious Jew for more than a year. Ever since I left, however, a Christian friend of mine who knew me when I was a believer has been trying to prove to me that I was wrong for leaving. I keep telling him that I have no doubts about my faith as a Jew, yet he still hasn’t given up.
Recently, he told me and then showed me in this book of his, that Rashi, the most important Jewish commentator on the Bible, says in Isaiah 7:14 that the word “alma” means “virgin.”
Is this true? How do I respond to him?
Thank you rabbi for all you have done for me.
It is wonderful to hear about your return to the Jewish faith, and it does my heart good to know that our audio series, Let’s Get Biblical, helped you on your journey back to our God and your people. Over the years, this tape series has helped so many individuals return to their Jewish faith. There is nothing that gives me more joy than to welcome a Jew back from the Church.
As to your question regarding Rashi’s commentary on Isaiah 7:14, it is a common practice for missionaries to selectively use rabbinic literature when it suits their purposes, yet to reject the words of the rabbis when it is in conflict with them.
This misuse of rabbinic literature becomes particularly disturbing when missionaries quote rabbinic statements that simply do not exist.
One of the most brazen examples of this sort of missionary corruption of rabbinic literature is of Rashi’s commentary on Isaiah 7:14. In an effort to rescue their indefensible position that the Hebrew word הָעַלְמָה (ha’almah)1 means a virgin, missionaries emphatically insist that Rashi, the most famous medieval Jewish commentator on the Bible, says that the mother of the child was a virgin.
This is a stunning assertion considering that no such statement like this exists in Rashi’s commentary on this verse. In fact, the word “virgin” never appears anywhere in Rashi’s commentary on Isaiah 7:14. What missionaries have done here is misquote the words of this medieval commentator in order to buttress Matthew’s untenable translation of Isaiah 7:14.
One of the most well known missionary books to flagrantly misquote Rashi in this manner is David Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary. On pages 6-7 of his book, Stern writes,
The most famous medieval Jewish Bible commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (“Rashi,” 1040-1105), who determinedly opposed christological interpretation of the Tanakh, nevertheless wrote on Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, the almah shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanu’el.’ This means that our Creator will be with us. This is the sign: The one who will conceive is a girl (na’arah) who never in her life has had intercourse with any man. Upon this one shall the Holy Spirit have power.” (Mikra’ot G’dolot, ad loc.)
The fact is Stern’s quote of Rashi simply does not exist. What Stern has done is deliberately change the words of Rashi in order to provide his readers with a completely distorted, christological version of Rashi’s commentary.
In essence, Stern has tampered with the words of the super-commentator, Rashi, just as Matthew had altered the words of the prophet Isaiah.
Here is what Rashi actually says on this verse:
Immanuel: Meaning, that our Rock will be with us, and this is the sign: She is a young girl and has never prophesied (nitneviet: נתנבאית).
This missionary mistranslated the Hebrew word nitneviet in Rashi’s commentary to mean “sex” or “intercourse.” This translation is preposterous. The Hebrew word nitneviet means “prophesied,” not “intercourse.” The root of the Hebrew wordnitneviet appears frequently in Tanach. It is related to the Hebrew word navie which means “a prophet,” a word with all students of the Bible are familiar.
It is unfortunate, yet predictable, that missionaries do to the words of Rashi what Matthew did to the words of Isaiah.
Once again, welcome home to the Jewish faith, and may the Merciful One continue to guide you. With best wishes for a happy Chanukah.
The Hebrew word הָעַלְמָה (ha’almah) means “the young woman , ” which conveys age/gender, not sexual purity. Only the word בְּתוּלָה (b’tulah) – in both biblical and modern Hebrew – encapsulates and conveys certain virginity. ↩