Moshe Ibn Crispin on Isaiah 53



There may be no other Jewish interpreter of Isaiah 53 cited by missionaries as often as ‘Rabbi’ Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin is.[1] When missionaries discuss what the Rabbis say about Isaiah 53, invariably the Ibn Crispin name appears as one of the many Rabbis agreeing to their view. However, in all these citations there is nothing mentioned about who this person is, except for the century in which he lived.


According to the missionaries, he and his commentary rate with the ‘great’ Rabbis. One missionary website says[2]: “very much in line with what many great Rabbis (Rambam, Saadyah Ibn Danan, Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin of Cordova Spain and many others) have said in the past.” Another source lists Ibn Crispin with two Rabbis, Ramban (Nachmanides) and Moshe AlSheich, who were the greatest Rabbis of their times![3] When this same author is discussing Isaiah 53, he says, “Some traditional Jewish commentators have not been far behind. Just look at what Rabbi Moshe Ibn Crispin (fourteenth century) wrote…”[4]  By the number of times he is cited, he seems to be considered a ‘significant commentator’[5] by all missionaries. This is in stark contrast to his non-existence in Rabbinic literature, of his time or later generations.


Before discussing what Ibn Crispin says in his commentary, we need to clarify who he is and if we really care what he says? This is significant, as the issue is what are the authentic teachings about the meaning of Isaiah 53 of Rabbinic Judaism. If someone does not present the view of Rabbinic Judaism, his words are meaningless for the argument. In missionary literature, they do not seem to take into account whether or not that author is someone with standing for Rabbinic Judaism. There are many significant examples of this.


One example of someone quoted who is without standing is Yaphet ben Ali who appears in a significant number of missionary sources on Isaiah 53. Many of them leave out that Yaphet ben Ali was not a Rabbi. He was an opponent of Rabbinic Judaism. He was a Karaite, a heretical sect that opposed Rabbinic Judaism and has almost totally disappeared. This would be like quoting a Mormon as an authority to a Baptist in a disputation. Rabbinic Judaism does not even care what he says.


Another ‘Rabbi’ often mentioned[6] is Herz Homberg, a member of the Radical Reform of the late 18th century.[7] His many activities after leaving Germany to spread his ideas to Austrian Jews included, setting up a system of schools that were devoid of the teaching of Judaism, he was a censor of Jewish books, and tried to have all the yeshivos closed. His four sons converted to Christianity. In his book on his beliefs, ‘Benei Zion’ he denied belief in a Messiah, denied all traditional Jewish customs, and argued that Judaism and Christianity were essentially the same. To missionaries this person is an authoritative voice of Judaism!


The point is that if we are going to discuss what the ‘Rabbis’ believe, we need to know that these sources quoted are really Rabbis, or respected mainstream Orthodox religious scholars. Not heretics or people who are ignorant of what the Rabbis really teach. Just being born Jewish does not make one an expert in what Judaism teaches, nor does it make what the person writes ‘Judaism.’ Let us now start our examination of Moshe Ibn Crispin.


The missionaries get the majority of their Rabbinic quotes on Isaiah 53 from a work called ‘The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish interpreters’ by Driver and Neubauer.[8] In their introduction, they give short overview paragraphs with information about the particular author who they are translating. Concerning Moshe Ibn Crispin there is an interesting thing. There are two citations for ‘Rabbi Moses Kohen’. There seems to have been some confusion in their mind about authorship.[9] Here is what they say in the Preface: [10]


24A. The commentary of R. Mosheh Kohen ‘Ibn Crispin of Cordova, afterwards of Toledo, also at one period of his life a resident of Valencia, where he composed an answer to a casuistical question. He also wrote notes on the ‘Gate of Heaven’ by R. Yizhaq Israeli. It is possible that these were his earliest work.

24B. The forty-second chapter of the ‘Aid to Faith’ of R. Mosheh of Otor-Sillas (Torresillas) in the kingdom of Leon, and afterwards of Avila, composed in the year 1375, after a disputation held by him with two of his compatriots who had deserted Judaism, and who by permission of the king assembled the Jews together for the purpose of controversy. He cites the ‘Wars of the Lord’, though without mentioning the author’s name, and the Moreh Zedeq of Abner.[11] His own book he dedicates to the celebrated Don David ‘Ibn Ya’ish of Toledo. I at first was of the opinion the two recensions A and B were by the same hand, and classified them accordingly under one head; but I now feel hesitation upon this point, though the question cannot yet be regarded as definitely settled. Three manuscripts have been collated, viz. Bodl. 599 (‘B.), Mich. 147 (‘M.’), and Opp. Add. Quo. 74 (‘O.’) [12]



From this description, we can see a number of differences between the two Rabbi Moshes. The origin and purpose of the Ibn Crispin commentary is obscure, but that of the second Rabbi Moshe is associated with a disputation and the publication of what occurred. It will be instructive to investigate the life and character of Rabbi Moshe of Tordesillas, and then compare him to Moshe Ibn Crispin.


We are fortunate that in 1972 Yehuda Shamir published a book[13] dealing with Rabbi Moshe of Tordesillas. In it, we learn quite a bit about this person. In describing the nature of Rabbi Moshe’s book, Ezer ha-Emunah, Shamir says:


“Jewish and Christian ideologies of the period are presented as reflected through the eyes of a member of the Jewish rabbinic intelligentsia in Spain on the eve of the mass conversion of 1391.” [14]  


“It gives the scholar a detailed map of the scholarly education of Moses of Tordesillas. Sefer Ezer Ha-Emunah includes thousands of references to the Bible… The Talmudic section indicates not only of the Talmud, but also a familiarity with Midrashic literature… Moses ha-Kohen was familiar with the Palestinian as well as the Babylonian Talmud. He was familiar with mystical writings and well read in philosophical works such as Moreh Nebukim[15], Sefer Hegyon Ha-Nefesh[16], and Emunah ve-De’ot[17] in a paraphrased form… He was versed in the Biblical commentaries, such as Rashi and Ibn Ezra. Moses developed a taste for grammar and had varied interests in Rabbinic literature related to law (Mishnah Torah[18]), Messianic speculations (Megilat ha-Megaleh[19]), and Gaonic writings.”[20]


Shamir’s work has the following biographical information:


“… it is clear that Rabbi Moses ha-Kohen led a peaceful life in Tordesillas, a small town southwest of Valladolid, where he was respected and in his own words ‘blessed by G-d in all things.’ During the civil war[21], near its end by 1369 when Enrique II de Trastamara became king that situation changed. Moses ha-Kohen was tortured, apparently because of his position as a learned member and, perhaps, leader of his community, with the object of converting him… It was a bitter experience, but it earned him great respect in Jewish circles. He was robbed of all his possessions and changed into a beaten and silent man, unable to give guidance (tokehot), which is perhaps an indication the he formerly held high rank in the community. He underwent many trials until, as other scholars, he was settled in a new place and sustained by the leaders of Avila.”[22]


Here we see a leader of Spanish Jews (albeit a minor one) taking the position that many great Rabbis of that time were forced to do, and engaged in a disputation forced upon him by the church. Shamir points out[23] his work was strongly influenced by Jacob ben Reuben’s, Milhamot ha-Shem, which Rabbi Moshe elaborated and enlarged to counter the polemical attacks on it by the apostate Abner.  In fact as Shamir states, “Moses ha-Kohen of Tordesillas wrote the first exhaustive response to the followers of Alphonso of Valladolid, better known as Abner of Burgos.”[24] Shamir lists the following books and Rabbis influenced by Ezer ha-Emunah:[25] Eben Bohan of Shemtob ben Isaac Ibn Shaprut; Chizak Emunah of Isaac Troki; Bitul Ikkarei HaNotzrim of Hasdei Crescas; Yosef Albo - Tortosa Disputation of 1413-1414. The historians Baer[26], Chazan,[27] and Graetz[28] mention him and his work in their books.


“If one takes into account the impression Ezer ha-Emunah made in Avila and Toledo, the number of manuscripts which are known to have existed, and the above indications of influence, the conclusion must be that the book enjoyed some circulation and the ideas of the author were familiar to the thinkers and leaders of Spanish Jewry, especially personalities like Albo and Crescas. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that we have three manuscripts of anthologies falsely attributed to Moses ha-Kohen of Tordesillas, and entitled Ezer ha-Emunah (even dated back to that period)…. Ascribing a book to a certain author and even giving it a title of one of this writer’s works is an indication that this will appeal to the readers for whom those names mean something.”[29]


Clearly, Rabbi Moshe of Tordesillas was a mainstream Rabbi of importance in his time, thoroughly Orthodox, and accepted by the Rabbinic leadership of his time and afterwards. There is no question of his acceptability. What then was his view on Isaiah 53? It applies to Israel! Let me quote a few passages: “LII 13 My servant.  This is said of each individual among the just…. LIII 3 All Israel were continually smitten and afflicted among the gentiles….”


Let us now turn to Moshe Ibn Crispin who appears to be a contemporary of Rabbi Moshe of Tordesillas, and compare their relationship to the Rabbinic leadership and community. The information on Ibn Crispin in English is sparse and not encouraging.


As noted above he wrote a commentary on a work by Yitzchok Israeli. Who was this? “To the Christian scholastics of mediaeval Europe he is known as the Jewish physician and philosopher next in importance to Maimonides… For his intrinsic merits as a philosopher, and particularly as a Jewish philosopher, do not by any means entitle him to be coupled with Maimonides.”[30] “Israeli’s importance lies primarily in the fact that he was the first medieval Jewish ‘philosopher’, although his influence on later Jewish philosophers was limited.”[31] Israeli was an unimportant and obscure philosopher.


In the two classical works of Jewish philosophy, I quoted from above, one ignores Ibn Crispin and the second mentions him twice. The first instance[32] only mentions “the works of Moshe Cohen Ibn Crispin of Toledo” without any more information.  The second may not be him at all. With reference to Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 53, she mentions that “of Moshe Cohen Ibn Crispin of Tordesillas, in 1375.”[33]  It is not possible to know for certain whom she means. She may be referring to the more well known work of Rabbi Moshe of Tordesillas, and calling him Ibn Crispin by mistake.


The only other references in English I was able to find were from Encyclopedias. In an article on Judeo-Arabic Literature[34] in the Encyclopedia Judaica, we find:


“In Judeo-Arabic literature, in both Spain and the Middle East, the 13th century marks a division between what preceded it and what followed…. In the field of theology, Moses Ibn Crispin Cohen, who in 1336 left his native Cordoba to settle in Toledo, composed a tract on providence and the afterlife.”[35]


In an article from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Jewish Averroism, we find:


“There were a large number of other thinkers whose work is largely based upon Averroes but who have not been discussed here in detail. The work of Joseph ibn Waqar and Moses ibn Crispin, for example, provides evidence of considerable discussion on Averroistic themes within the Jewish community.”[36]


From the above it appears that he was an obscure Averroistic philosopher from 14th century Spain. It seems that Ibn Crispin’s only claim to fame is his obscure commentary on an obscure philosopher of little importance. In English, this is all we have. However, there is an article by Georges Vajda, written in French, which discusses one of Ibn Crispin’s philosophic works.[37] There he gives all the historical information that we have about Ibn Crispin.

“The little that we know on our author seems to be put together by M. STEINSCHNEIDER Die arabische Litteratur der Juden, § 127, p. 166.  It appears that he issued from a Jewish family who had among its members many notables from the 13th to the 15th centuries. We note in 1283-1286 an almoxarife[38] from Toledo, named Moses Ibn Crispin. In a document of Toledo, of June 23, 1351, appears a Moses, son of Solomon ben Crespin (perhaps our figure.) I owe this information, taken from FRITZ BAER Die Juden im christlichen Spanien, II, 72 et 247, a work that is inaccessible to me, to the friendly kindness of Professor J. M. Millâs VaIlicrosa.  A Joseph Cohen Ibn Crispin was a reputable rabbi in Toledo in the XV century.”[39]

There is little known biographical information about him. He appears to be from the courtier class who were in service to the kings.


In explaining why he has chosen this obscure figure Vajda states:

This time, we would want to illustrate the penetration of Averroism into Jewish thought by making known an author of lesser caliber, coming from the same milieu, whose speculations, without great interest if we measure them to scale against vast doctrinal syntheses, we will get closer, believe me, all the more to the cultural level of the intellectuals who left nothing to posterity.” [40]  

His value as a philosopher is quite small; it is only because of the existence of a manuscript of his work that appears typical of Averroistic Jewish philosophers that he is of value to study.


Concerning this particular manuscript of Ibn Crispin that is examined he states:

“There is one though (in the folios 35-44, written in rather poor Arabic) that is not altogether worthy of neglect, in that it is a good specimen of the overall mentality of which we have spoken. This piece does not have an explicit title, but the subject matter is clearly stated from the very first lines: it treats the subjects of destiny and providence, and in passing on the problem of the immortality of the soul.”[41]

Therefore, we see that he is typical of this group of philosophers in his time.


As we examined Rabbi Moshe of Tordesillas and his place and status with the great Rabbis of Spain, we now need to look at Moshe Ibn Crispin. We cannot call him a ‘Rabbi’ as there is no evidence that he held any position of religious authority. All we know of his status in Spanish society is that he was an Averroistic philosopher. As Vajda notes, his views were those typical of those people, so we need to see what place these philosophers had in Spanish society, and specifically among the religious leadership.


Unfortunately, the situation is not a positive one.

“The moralists of the period and the anti-Maimonideans, as well as well as Crescas’ ‘Or HaShem’, and modern scholars such as Baer, stress that the Averroist atmosphere was largely responsible for the destruction of the Jewish community, for it weakened first the leaders, and others then quickly followed them in conversion.” [42]

As Baer notes:

“The Averroist philosophy was a major cause of communal disaster. When R. Hasdai Crescas dedicated his magnum opus to a polemical attack on ‘the Greek (Aristotle) who has dimmed the eyes of Israel in these times,’ he was indulging in no mere rhetorical flourish.” [43]

Ibn Crispin appears on the opposite side of Rabbi Moshe of Tordesillas. The former is opposed by Crescas, and the latter’s works were used by Crescas.


We find a great deal of similarity between the fights great Rabbis, like the Chasam Sofer, had against the German Reformers, like Homberg, and the fights of the great Rabbis of Spain against the Averroist philosophers who were bringing disaster to Spanish Jewry. Not only Crescas, who has already been mentioned, but also the Rashba, the Rosh,[44] the Akedas Yitzchok[45] and many other Rabbis, greater and lesser were in open opposition to them. The similarity to the German Reform does not end there. Just as we saw that assimilation and apostasy followed Homberg, so it was with the Averroists. 

“The Averroistic outlook, in fact, exercised a marked influence in several areas of the social and religious life of the Jews in Spain, and proved decisive in the fateful hours of their history. The descendants of these highly cultured aristocrats were to betray both their faith and their people during the period of great trial which lasted from 1391 through 1415.”[46]


Baer relates about a particular philosopher, Moses Faquim.

“Moses Faquim, son of Jucef Faquim, was a confirmed Averroist and a political talebearer. In January 1391, shortly before the massacres, the Jews themselves informed the king that Moses Faquim blasphemed against all religions. He would go to Christian churches on the pretense of wishing to embrace Christianity and comport himself accordingly. Then, on coming out he would boast to the Jews of what he had done. At the very time when he was drawing closer to the Christians and their religion, he was seen walking barefoot on the Ninth Day of Ab as if mourning the destruction of the Temple like any other Jew. He drank the wine of the Christians and ate pork, transacted business on Shabbos and resorted to Christian courts. In order to hold up both Judaism and Christianity to ridicule, he would play at being a Moslem by holding Moslem religious services for his Moslem slaves in his magnificent residence in the Jewish quarter, and jest with them about the Jewish and Christian religions. This Moses Faquim was several times involved in acts of denunciation against Jews, and even slandered his own father during the latter’s lifetime by accusing him of a deed that rendered him liable to the death penalty.  Men of Moses Faquim’s stamp were to be found in all the large Jewish communities of Spain, so that his behavior must not be interpreted as indicating that the Jews of Majorca were especially degenerate.”[47]


While Ibn Crispin may not have been as extreme as this fellow had been, (we really have no proof either way, he could have converted also,) we do see that he shows an arrogance and disdain for the great Rabbis in a way that is consistent with the general attitude of the Averroists (and later German Reformers.)  He refers to them as commenting “rashly”, “inclining after the stubbornness of their own hearts”, and having ‘far-fetched interpretations”.[48]


The contrast in character and religiosity between Averroists like Ibn Crispin and the rest of the Jews is summed up by Baer:

“Those individuals who habitually looked down upon the simple masses who scrupulously observed all the commandments and were not afraid, even in the time of national and religious emergency, to proclaim their faith – these same men, when the test came, lacked the spiritual fortitude to prefer death to apostasy. In much the same spirit as they had previously denied the authority of biblical law, they now accepted the rites and ceremonies of an alien religion; ultimately they remained faithful to their ‘religion of the intellect’, the crowning article of faith for all Averroists, whether Jewish or Christian.”[49]


In Summary, what did ‘Rabbi’ Moshe Ibn Crispin have to say? As an Orthodox Jew, I must say that he was not a Rabbi nor is there any evidence that he could have been one. Whatever he said on any subject, is of no value because he was in rebellion against the Rabbis of his time. Whatever he said does not reflect ‘Judaism’. He is irrelevant to any discussions on what the Rabbis, or Rabbinic Judaism teaches.


© Moshe Shulman 2004


For more information, questions answered, or help with missionaries you can reach Moshe Shulman at

Other articles can be found under “Judaism’s Answer” at


[1] Here are a few sources where he appears:  (Jews for Jesus site);  (Two articles by Rachmiel Frydland) (An article by Arnold Fructenbaum.)


[3]  Dr. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol. 3 page 58.

[4]  Ibid. Vol. 2, page 215.

[5]  Brown in his Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Vol. 2 page 227) states: “Other significant commentators interpreting this key passage with reference to the sufferings of the Messiah son of David include Rabbi Moshe Ibn Crispin…” In a private email discussion, I pointed out that this is an error, and he has said he will remove these words in the future. I hope that after reading this paper, he shall have the intellectual honesty to remove all references to Ibn Crispin as an authoritative voice of Judaism.

[6]   See note 1 above. Those sources quote BOTH Ibn Crispin and Homberg.

[7]  This information is taken from the Encyclopedia Judaica 8:940-942.

[8]  This work was originally published over 100 years old, and has been reprinted by KTAV.

[9]   Their decision to see these as two different authors is well justified by what later scholars have to say as I will show here.

[10]    Driver and Neubauer, The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters, page x-xi.

[11]   This is the famous apostate Abner of Burgos.

[12]   In his critical edition of this work Yehuda Shamir used 14 manuscripts which included these three.

[13]   Rabbi Moses Ha-Kohen of Tordesillas and his book Ezer Ha-Emunah – A chapter in the History of the Judeo-Christian Controversy.

[14]  Page v.

[15]  By the Rambam (Maimonides)

[16]  By Avraham bar Chiya HaNasi of Savasorda.

[17]  By Rabbi Saadiah Gaon

[18]  By the Rambam

[19]  By Avraham bar Chiya HaNasi of Savasorda.

[20]  Shamir op. cit. Vol. 1, p. 34-36

[21]  In 1366 a civil war broke out between the king, Don Pedro (son of Alphonso XI who died 1350 from the Black Plague) and his step brother Don Enrique. Enrique and his followers called Don Pedro the ‘king of the Jews, because he, following the practice of his ancestors, had many Jews as advisors. During and after the civil war the Jews of Castile suffered greatly.

[22]  Shamir op. cit. p. 24-25.

[23]  Ibid. p. 40-45

[24]  Ibid. p. 136-137.

[25]  Ibid. p. 139-143.

[26]  Baer, Yitzchok, In a History of the Jews in Christian Spain vol. 1 p. 374 and 375.

[27]  Chazan, Robert. Daggers of Faith: Thirteenth-Century Christian Missionizing and Jewish Response. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  1991. p. 165-166

[28]  Shamir op. cit. p. 4 note 9 cites Graetz’ History of the Jews volume IV p. 140-142.

[29]  Ibid. p. 143.

[30]  A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy, Isaac Husik, page 1.

[31]  A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages, Colette Sirat, page 58.

[32]  Sirat op. cit. page 343.

[33]  Ibid page 345.

[34]  Jewish works written in Arabic.

[35]  JUDEO-ARABIC LITERATURE (From the Encyclopedia Judaica):

[36]  Averroism, Jewish (From the Routledge  Encyclopedia  of Philosophy):

[37]   A propos de l’averroisme juif, SEFARD 1952. I would like to thank Elisza Doyon for the translation and John and Francoise Arbuckle for reviewing her translation.

[38]  An official of the King whose responsibility was to collect revenue. Baer op. cit Vol. 1 p. 77.

[39]  Vajda, op. cit. p. 5 note 5.

[40]  Ibid. p. 5

[41]  Ibid. p. 5-6

[42]  Shamir op. cit. p. 73-74.

[43]  Baer op. cit. Vol. 2 p. 173

[44]  Ibid, Vol. 1. p. 289-305

[45]  Ibid. Vol. 2. p. 254-259

[46]  Ibid. Vol. 1. p. 240.

[47]  Ibid. Vol. 2. p. 52-53.

[48]  Driver and Neubauer op. cit. p.99-100

[49]  Baer op. cit. p. 138.