Dr. David Stern and what Rashi says on Isaiah 7:14.


On page 6 of his work Jewish New Testament Commentary[1] it says:


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.  And 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.)


What does Rashi in Mikroas Gadolos really say there? Here is my translation of it:


EMMANUEL: That is to say, our Rock will be with us. And this is the sign, that behold she is a young girl and never prophesied in all her days, and in this there will rest a spirit of prophecy on her….


Compare the two phrases in bold type.[2] They are the translations of the same words. Stern’s translation is just wrong. This became the source of some debate on an Internet newsgroup and one of the Christian members there actually contacted Dr. Stern. The following email message was the response:



From: rbp233@primenet.com (Randolph Parrish)

Newsgroups: alt.messianic

Subject: Dr. David Stern

Date: 22 Feb 1996 08:57:01 -0700

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A while ago I posted a notation that Rashi, in his comments on Isaiah 7:14, had said that the word 'almah' used in that passage meant 'virgin'. This was taken from Dr. David Stern's Jewish New Testament Commentary. It was immediately challenged, and I said that I would write to Dr. Stern for clarification. I have finally received his answer:


'The problem with my citation of Rashi in my note to Matthew 1:23. ... was pointed out to me by another reader some months ago. I explained to him that I had not looked up Mikra'ot G'dolot myself but had quoted the commentary on the book of Isaiah written by Victor Buksbazen (Spearhead Press, Collingswood, NJ, 1971) In his comment on Isaiah 7:14 Buksbazen cites Rashi as I did on his page 150 and gives the footnote reference to Mikra'ot G'dolot on page 156.


'To deal with this reader's letter, I asked a friend to check Mikra'ot G'dolot and he could not find that Rashi said what Buksbazen (and I) had said he said. But I also asked another friend, one who has spent more time than I with Rashi and other Jewish sources, and he said that he feels sure that Rashi did say what I said he said somewhere, if not in Mikra'ot G'dolot. I asked him to follow up this speculation, but till now I haven't gotten an answer.


'Meanwhile, the 4th printing of the Jewish New Testament Commentary has come out; in it I removed the reference to Mikra'ot G'dolot but let the citation itself and its attribution to Rashi stand. I am as aware as you of the potential here for lowering the credibility of my work, but I am moving slowly. If Rashi did say somewhere that the almah of Isaiah 7:14 is a virgin, there is no point in rushing in with mea culpas. On the other hand, the matter can't wait forever.


'If nothing leads me to a genuine Rashi with the ideas I cited on page 7, I will certainly apologize both in a preface and in the text itself. ..


                                                     David H. Stern


Dr. Stern is not only admitting to never have looked up the primary source, but that either he cannot or refuses to look it up!! This is absolutely phenomenal. Rashi’s commentary on Tenach appears in every Jewish edition of the Tenach. It is VERY easily available. Any scholar doing work on Jewish commentary on the Tenach, who does not look up Rashi, is putting his credentials in question. In his later editions he has made changes to this error, and I have seen him defended by missionaries for his honesty in making the change. But this does not change the problem of his scholarship.


There are a few problems that we still must have with him. In his letter he shows that even with his being told that the quote is wrong, he still does not want to accept it, even though he had never seen the primary source. While relying on a secondary source may not be a problem, but to not take the time to look up what Rashi said, when it is so easily available is unacceptable for a scholar who is writing such a commentary. After seeing this issue and how he approached it how much can we trust his statements on what Rabbis teach or say after this? How reliable is anything he says. We have no way to know what his sources are, whether from his own research in the primary sources, or a reliance other sources that may be dubious, like the one used here.



© Moshe Shulman 2003 http://www.judaismsanswer.com

For more information, questions answered, or help with missionaries you can reach Moshe Shulman at outreach@judaismsanswer.com.


[1]     1st edition 1992.

[2]    There are other minor errors in the text.