I’m an Italian noahide. I read in various Jewish sources, and also in this forum at

The suffering servant? Yeshayahu- Isaiah - Chapter 53

that the figure of the "suffering servant" described in Isaiah 52-53 is interpreted in the Jewish tradition as referring to the entire people of Israel and not to an individual figure. But I read the following passage in the Talmud Bavli:

Sanhedrin 98b

Apropos 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). The school of Rabbi Yannai says: Yinnon is his name, as it is stated: “May his name endure forever; may his name continue [yinnon] as long as the sun; and may men bless themselves by him” (Psalms 72:17). The school of Rabbi Ḥanina says: Ḥanina is his name, as it is stated: “For I will show you no favor [ḥanina]” (Jeremiah 16:13). And some say that Menaḥem ben Ḥizkiyya is his name, as it is stated: “Because the comforter [menaḥem] that should relieve my soul is far from me” (Lamentations 1:16). 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).

It seems to me that the passage above shows that, in addition to a collective interpretation, there is also in the Jewish tradition an individual interpretation, and specifically messianic, of the "suffering servant".

I also read the Italian edition of “Sefer Vikkuah haRamban”, the famous “Barcelona Dispute”, where this great master says:

“It is true that our masters, their memory be blessed, in the books of the Haggadah they refer to the Messiah the interpretation of this passage "(referring to the “suffering servant” in Isaiah 52:13 and later;editor's note). But they never said that the Messiah would die at the hands of the enemies”.

I therefore wonder: why then is this messianic interpretation often not mentioned? It seems to me that it is attested in the Jewish tradition


A messianic interpretation of the "suffering servant" passages was known in Jewish tradition, as you point out from Sanhedrin 98b. This interpretation is also found in the Targum on the verse, as well as Midrash Tanchuma, Toledot 14. In other words, this has been interpreted as a passage about the Messiah for a long time. This isn't the only place that a traditional interpretation of a controversial passage was displaced (compare Sanhedrin 94a vs. Rashi and Radak to Isaiah 9:5)

The reason why the interpretation of the servant as Israel is mentioned more often as the "Jewish interpretation" is probably because of the medieval Jewish-Christian debates, and the commentaries that arose from them. The Christian side would want the Jew to concede that the passage speaks about the Messiah, then to concede that the Messiah spoken of is Jesus. It's easier for the Jew to deny that the passage mentions the Messiah at all, so as to concede as little as possible in the dispute. This is a tactic in medieval dialectic theory of obligations, and the Ramban seems to have taken advantage of this in his dispute when he said that he didn't believe in aggadot (1, 2).

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  • @b a A courtesy: could you please tell me exactly what the Targum on Isaiah 52:13 says in a messianic sense? – Amos74 Dec 13 '19 at 11:28
  • @Amos74 "My servant" is translated as "my servant the Messiah" – b a Dec 13 '19 at 12:12

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