In Israel the more ultra-rabbinical a sect, the less they read and study the Bible. Most ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel and elsewhere teach their young men the rabbinical books of the Talmud, and their average yeshiva student knows selected Biblical texts only through the pre-digested commentaries of the Talmud and other rabbinical literature.
However, there are branches among Orthodox Jews that are giving priority to the study of the Bible. One such individual was Rabbi Mordechai Breuer who recently died at the age of 86. He was born into a family of modern Orthodoxy and became a highly respected authority – although virtually unknown outside of Israel – on the Old Testament books of the Bible.
In 1958 he was asked to proofread a Hebrew edition of the Bible and suddenly found himself to be considered an expert on the subject. From then on, his life was spent examining the Hebrew Biblical texts.
The Oldest Existing Hebrew Bible
As all Biblical scholars know, there are a great number of manuscripts (mainly fragments) of the Hebrew Bible which have been preserved over the last thousand years and are used today by scholars who are studying the texts or translating them into different languages. But the Bible considered to be the oldest and most reliable in existence is the Aleppo Codex (Codex is an archaic word for the earliest form of a book. Biblical text were usually written on scrolls to be read in the synagogue. When scribes wrote the text in book form, it was only for scholarly study), copied around 920 A.D. in Tiberius by the famous scribe Aaron Ben-Asher. The priceless Bible was stolen in the 11th century and brought to Egypt, finally ending up in a synagogue in Aleppo, Syria for 600 years.
Up until the 1950’s, the complete manuscript in Aleppo was still in good condition. But with the creation of the modern state of Israel, and the ensuing Arab rioting, scholars pleaded with the Aleppo rabbis to move the Bible to a safer location.
However, for centuries the rabbis of Aleppo had fiercely guarded the codex, keeping it in almost total isolation and not even letting Jewish scholars examine the manuscript! What is worse, the rabbis would not allow the scroll to be photographed, probably out of superstition that as long as that Bible was the sole possession of the Jewish community in Aleppo, they would be safe from calamity. (http://www.bible-researcher.com/aleppo.html)
In 1948 the synagogue was set on fire; the codex disappeared and the Aleppo rabbis led the world to believe it had been destroyed by fire. But witnesses to the rescue of the manuscript informed the Israeli government, and with much behind-the-scenes pressure, worldwide, the rabbis finally allowed the Aleppo Codex to be smuggled into Israel page by page with tourists in 1958. However, to the horror of the Israeli scholars, only two-thirds of the Bible arrived; the Torah was almost completely missing along with a few other portions. Out of a total of 487 pages, only 295 arrived.
Until today, the missing leaves are a subject of fierce controversy as some scholars b elieve they are still hidden among the Jewish community of Aleppo.
A Modern Searcher for God’s Word
In 1968, Rabbi Mordechai Breuer was assigned the task of determining the Hebrew Bible’s wording, spelling, vowels and cantillation (chanting) from ancient manuscripts for a modern Bible commentary which would be faithful to the belief that the Biblical text was inspired by God.
Breuer would have given almost anything to have had access to the Aleppo Codex as the basis for his research. And by now, the Aleppo Bible was in Israel! However as scholars are prone to do, the professors at the Hebrew University studying the Bible would not allow any other researchers to share the asset! (Ha’aretz, 22Mar07)
Due to lack of choice, Breuer used five other most important Bible manuscripts (although newer than the Aleppo Codex). He began his own monumental reconstruction of the Masoretic texts (see the story below) comparing them word for word. His method of selecting the correct text each time he observed variations, was to choose the spelling and notations of what he found in the majority of the five manuscripts. For example, if manuscripts 1, 2, 3 and 5 agreed on a spelling, but 4 did not, he would use the majority spelling.
By accepting the version of the majority and discounting the deviations of the minority, Breuer was convinced he was uncovering the one authoritative original writings of the Bible preserved by Masorah (oral tradition) – the ancient version given by the inspiration of God. (Ibid)
Other scholars strongly disagreed with his methodology because they supposed that there were many oral traditions which came down through the centuries as Jews emigrated to different nations. But Breuer believed that from time immemorial there was a single universally accepted oral tradition and the variant spellings and notations in the different manuscripts were simply errors made by scribes.
Recreating the Text of a Lost Torah
Thus, Rabbi Breuer reconstructed the entire Old Testament by examining each word in the five most important ancient manuscripts. And then his wildest dream came true. Somehow, he managed to get his hands on a copy of the Aleppo Codex. He never even told his son how he came to possess the facsimiles, but the son said when he came home that day with the manuscript, “he acted like an accomplice to a crime!”
Then the next miracle happened. When Breuer began to compare his re-creation of the Biblical text from the five manuscripts to the Aleppo text, lo an behold, they were exactly the same except for two places! An incredible discovery! This comparison proved that from the time the books of the Bible were written there was one and only one universally accepted version of the Masoretic text that was handed from one generation to the next, and it proved that the Aleppo Codex faithfully recorded it.
Furthermore, this meant Breure’s method could be used authoritatively to reconstruct the missing portions of the Aleppo Codex. (Ibid)
Rabbi Breuer later issued an independent version of the entire Old Testament that was quickly accepted as the most reliable and accurate. The “Jerusalem Crown” Bible is a modern version of the Hebrew Scriptures based on the Aleppo Codex and the reconstruction work of Breuer. It is the official version of the Bible of the State of Israel and used when the President of Israel is sworn into office.
Dead Sea Scrolls 1000 years older than Aleppo Codex
With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, very few dramatic changes in the Biblical text have been found. The Dead Sea Scrolls have, in almost every case, confirmed the accuracy of the Masorah, and suggest that an ancestor of the Masoretic Text (a scroll or codex with notations) was indeed in existence at least 100 years before the birth of the Messiah.
There is one very interesting difference found in the Dead Sea Scrolls in Psalm 22:17 (English, 22:16). The Masoretic texts read “like a lion are my hands and feet” which does not make sense. But the Septuagint – a Greek translation of the Old Testament by Jewish scholars in the second century B.C., – reads, “They have pierced my hands and feet.”
Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the Septuagint version of this verse! Since Psalm 22 is one of the most important and clearest chapters describing the death of the Messiah, this is an important verification. Many of the latest revised translations have incorporated changes due to research done with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nevertheless, nearly all are theologically insignificant such as minor misspellings.
The Bible went through a remarkable history to make it into this century, especially in view of the ancient methods of transmitting texts by hand, sometimes in primitive conditions, and considering that the scribes lacked photocopy machines, computers, printing presses, and similar modern inventions. (http://byubroadcasting.org/deadsea/book/chapter2/sec3.html)*
The Mesorah notations in the margins of the text show the painstaking and passionate zeal these ancient scribes possessed in their quest to safeguard the accuracy of the sacred text from generation to generation. The world owes an enormous debt to these dedicated Jewish scribes who spent their lives copying the Word of God, letter by letter, notation by notation, so that after several thousand years, we may still find salvation through the authentic Words of God as originally written down by Moses, the prophets, the kings and inspired men of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”. Matthew 5:10 (NKJ).
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who spitefully use you”. Luke 6:27-28 (NKJ).
These commands were put into practice recently in Israel at a hearing of accused attacker Jack Teitel. Many are familiar with how Ami Ortiz nearly lost his life opening a Purim package in March 2008. The Ortiz family was targeted because of their open faith in Messiah Yeshua. The current legal proceedings are to determine if Teitel is ‘legally competent’ to stand trial. Almost 3 years to the month of the attack, Ami was in the court room for these hearings for first time face to face encounter. Leah Ortiz writes about the account that
There were several recesses during the long hours, when Teitel was taken out of the courtroom and then returned, hands and feet shackled, and surrounded by guards. We were forewarned not to approach him or talk to him. When he would come out, we would go near to the door of the courtroom, and Ami would sit on a barrier which is used to keep the media separated from the prisoners, which is in itself pretty high. When he sat on it, his head nearly touched the ceiling, and from that perch and vantage point, he watched Teitel. Ami remained very calm, and took seeing Teitel for the first time in person very well. He said that he felt OK, and it didn’t seem to throw him off his equilibrium to see his attacker.
Suddenly, a recess was called, and Teitel and the guards came out, and proceeded to walk in our direction. I looked at him directly in his face, and for the first time he made eye contact with me. His eyes searched my face for my reaction to him. I just looked at him, and he saw no hate in my face, because I refuse to hate, even though my poor son has suffered and continues to suffer from his hatred and violence. He looked at David the same way, searching his face for a reaction. Then Chaim called out to him, “How did it feel to see Ami Ortiz in Court today?” Chaim said that Teitel turned around and looked at him with a demonic look that chilled him to the bone. He said he had never experienced anything like that stare before.
The impact of this demonstration of the character of Messiah by the Ortiz family hopefully will be realized in all of Israel. Opportunity for Israelis to see the transforming power of the message of Yeshua exists as this case unfolds. This case and others that involve ‘harassment’ of individual citizens of Israel by the hands of anti-missionaries has come to the attention of the local secular news. On the Maoz Ministry blog a 3-part video series has been posted showing the local news segments. (The Ortiz story is on part 2). It is encouraging to see the secular station actually use the Maoz film footage. So not only does following the words of Yeshua get media coverage but a Messianic congregation is seen as a legitimate positive expression of one’s Jewishness. The conversation of religious tolerance and freedom is disclosed benignly for the Messianic community and malevolently for the anti-missionary establishment. This is a diametric shift in the spiritual atmosphere in the modern Jewish State witnessed in this generation. This is new territory for the gospel in Israel. Moving forward, we can expect to see deeper restoration for the nation as promised in Scripture (Ezekiel 37:26-28), albeit she faces an existential threat from her enemies. Below is the video mentioned:
It is typical for this writer to pray that the Jewish people see their Messiah in the Biblical feasts, particularly Pesach (Passover) and Yom Kippur. With an increasing volume the light of Israel’s Redeemer will be shown through the believers in ‘erets’ Israel (land of Israel).
John Paul is is an Associate Editor for Voice of Revolution, overseeing Jewish Issues.
One of the goals that pertains to the Israel & the Jewish People category in this magazine is to assist in the development of Messianic believers in the LAND of Israel. This will transpire in several ways. A grievous issue that affects most Jewish believers in Israel is the anti-missionary movement. For most gentile western Christians persecution for our faith is non-existent. But for believers in Israel it can take the form of a “double portion” for how they are treated. How can one Jew call another Jew a ‘Nazi’? Is this not beyond insult? But this type of accusation, and even physical attacks, often take place. Below is a quote from an eyewitness at a protest of a Messianic congregation in Ashdod,
Growing up as a Jew, I never in my life would have thought that I would one day be compared to Hitler. But that’s just what happened tonight.
I was informed that there would be a ‘rally’ against Messianic Jews (Jews who believe that Yeshua is the promised Jewish Messiah) in the town of Ashdod, Israel.
At first we thought our dear Pnina was to have her bakery targeted again. The poor woman just wants to make cookies and cakes, but because of her faith in Yeshua, she’s been endlessly harassed for years.
But no, this time the rally was in another part of town outside a Messianic Jewish congregation.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Maybe a few demonstrators? I was shocked by what was in place when I arrived.
The Ashdod police had the entire street closed off. Police check-points stopped cars that wanted to enter the area. In front of the congregation were police barricades, a stage with a podium, a long table, with banners and signs that read: “Yad L’Achim”. I soon realized this was going to be some well organized hate-fest.
Within half an hour the entire street was packed with hundreds and hundreds of ultra-orthodox men and boys dressed in black.
Soon, ‘rabbi’ (I use that term very loosely) after rabbi took to the stage to condemn the plague that is Messianic Judaism. Missionaries, they called us. Then came the comparisons to Hitler. We’re here to destroy the Jewish people, to steal Jewish souls to lead all Jews away from Judaism and on and on and on.
It is hard to conceive of the pain this would cause. The Messianic believers of Israel contribute in all areas of life (for example, serving in the IDF and paying taxes) in building the land of Israel, yet here they are accused of actually ‘destroying’ it. I see in these Jewish believers the future hope of national Israel. All that the western gentile church has done for the modern state of Israel is greatly appreciated. However, I am making an appeal that our first obligation is to these Messianic believers and through them to assist the nation both naturally and spiritually.
Secondly, let us commit to pray for Yad L’Achim and other anti-missionary organizations. How many Rabbi Saul’s (the Apostle Paul) are in their ranks? Let us pray for their children that they may see the Light of their Messiah. The Jewish people have enough enemies already, this internal war is not necessary and is grievous. And don’t forget in your prayer for the persecuted church to include our Jewish brothers and sisters in the land of Israel.
John Paul is is an Associate Editor for Voice of Revolution, overseeing Jewish Issues.
A campaign to raise awareness of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah from Chosen People Ministries, which included billboards and a full page ad in the New York Times promoting a free book explaining the chapter, also featured a public open-mic debate with Dr. Brown at a Marriott in downtown Manhattan on July 15th. The debate began with a presentation from Brown on Isaiah 53, and followed with an opportunity for anyone in attendance to challenge his presentation. Below is a report from Dr. Brown, including live excerpts from the presentation and comments/challenges from some of those that came to the mic:
Reaction from Jewish counter-missionaries (those that actively oppose the message of the gospel being spread to the Jewish people) to the campaign and debate included the following from 5 Towns Jewish Times:
Last Thursday night, Chosen People Ministries held a poorly attended public debate at Manhattan’s Marriott East Side, featuring top missionary lecturer Dr. Michael Brown, author of a five-part book series which purports to answer Jewish objections to JC. Among the few Jews who attended were several countermissionary experts, including Rabbi Moshe Shulman, executive director of Judaism’s Answer (www.judaismsanswer.com). Shulman engaged Brown in collegial exchange and scored several points in refuting Brown’s scholarly allegations that Isaiah 53 definitively supports the messiahship of JC.
Commenting afterwards, Rabbi Shulman noted, “Debates with Jews about the messiah are not new. Over 500 years ago, the Spanish Jewish communities suffered such indignity as part of the Inquisition. Today it’s more subtle, and Jewish apathy is furthering missionary inroads into Russian, Israeli, Bukharian, Persian, and American Jewish communities. The Orthodox can no longer claim to be immune. And what’s happening here is equally unfolding in Israel with little resistance or outrage.”
The chapter, according to the translation in The Times, speaks of a singular “suffering servant,” which Glaser maintains is a reference to Jesus.
Isaiah 53 is a standard polemic text that missionaries use, said Rabbi Tovia Singer of Outreach Judaism.
“Isaiah 53 is the fourth Servant Song which began in Isaiah 41,” Rabbi Singer explained. “In the first three Servant Songs it identifies the servant who suffers at the hands of the nations as Israel. Isaiah introduces the servant of G-d, both in the singular and plural, who endured tremendous pains, but who is ultimately vindicated in the Messianic days… The chapter [is] molested, ripped out of context and mistranslated and presented to Jewish people who know nothing about the faith that they are being asked to abandon.”
In response to allegations such as these from counter-missionaries that the campaign should elicit “resistance and outrage” from Jewish people, and that the 53rd chapter of Isaiah is “molested, ripped out of context and mistranslated” by Messianic missionaries, Brown said the following:
When you hear almost hysterical charges like these from Rabbi Singer, you can only ask yourself why the counter-missionaries are protesting so loudly. Could it be that Isaiah 53 speaks for itself so clearly?
Really now, why would a Jewish rabbi get so upset when we tell our Jewish people to take their Bibles (in Hebrew or in a good Jewish translation) and read Isaiah 53 for themselves? Are we being criticized by professional counter-missionaries for encouraging fellow Jews to read their Bibles, pray, and think for themselves?
In reality, the greatest evangelistic tool we have is not our gospel literature or our arguments or our debating abilities. It is just the text of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures. Countless thousands of Jews have embraced Yeshua as the Messiah based on their study of Isaiah 53, and we are confident that many thousands more will come to faith as well.
Editor’s Note: Introduction to the VOR Series The Basics.
You believe that the Bible is the word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that only those who place their faith in Jesus will find salvation after death. As a Christian, you believe these propositions not because they make you feel good, but because you think that they are true. Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong. The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t. Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6) or he does not. We agree that to be a true Christian is to believe all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so. If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell. Worse still, I have persuaded others, and many close to me, to reject the very idea of God. They too will languish in “eternal fire” (Matthew 24:41). If the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, I have misused my life in the worst conceivable way. I admit this without a single caveat. The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.
— Sam Harris: Letter to a Christian Nation
Sam Harris and the militant atheists of our day are not stupid. Neither are the Orthodox Jews, agnostics, theologically-liberal Christians, or the host of others who have openly rejected the message of the gospel. The burden of proof is on us, the disciples of Jesus, to tell the world His message, and prove that there is no reasonable response to that message other than to fall down and worship Him as Lord. The VOR series, The Basics, is my attempt at doing just that.
Obviously, not everyone will believe what we have to say, no matter how much evidence we provide, and God is not someone that is to be analyzed and discussed as if He were a mere concept, or a hat-in-hand deity in desperate need of people to believe in Him, just waiting to answer every arrogant and haughty “intellectual” question we can come up with… but giving silly, illogical, or inadequate reasons for believing this remarkably radical and supernatural message we carry gives respect neither to the message itself, nor the people to whom we bring it. As Paul said, if Messiah is not raised, we are of all men most to be pitied, for we are giving people false hope, and giving up our lives for a lie.
Let us then strive after the truth, wherever it may lead. For then, we will know the truth, and the truth shall set us free.