The Haftorah and Isaiah 53



CLAIM: The Rabbis read Isaiah 52 and 54 in the Haftorah but they purposely skip Isaiah 53 because it would show that Jesus is the Messiah.



Why, among all the Haftorahs read during the whole year, Isaiah 53 is not included, is one of the issues that comes up from time to time. Some actually make the claim that the Rabbis ‘skipped’ it on purpose by reading Isaiah 52 and then jumping to Isaiah 54. All of this is just based on a weak knowledge of the reasons for Jewish customs and a deep-seated hatred for Judaism and the Rabbis. The answer to this question is easily found when one looks into the history, purpose and application of the custom with regards to the Haftorah.


Why do we read the Haftorah? The Rabbis teach us[1] that at one time[2] an occupying king made a decree that the Jewish people could not publicly read from the Torah scroll. In order that the people should not forget about the readings from the Torah, a reading from the prophets was instituted. This selection of the prophets mentioned something related to the weekly Torah portion that was to be read. From this everyone could know what the portion was, and the main subject of it. When the decree was rescinded, this custom remained.[3]


This custom is attested from the ancient times. Two ancient Midrashim, Pesikta D’Rav Kahana, and Pesikta Rabbosei D’Rav Kahana have a number of ‘sermons’ for these Haftorahs. In fact in the New Testament book of Acts[4] we read: "After the reading of the Law (Torah) and the Prophets…" This is understood as referring to this customary reading. We see that the Haftorah was a well-known custom even in those days.


If we look at all the Haftorahs read over a full year they only represent a very small portion of the books of the prophets. We find that Isaiah 9:5-6, an important Christian messianic text, is included as one of the Haftorahs. Likewise, since we read all of the Torah portions, with none of it skipped, including Christian proof texts, it would seem absurd to claim that just this was excluded.


To understand the issue better we need to look into what texts from the prophets were selected. The Haftorahs are divided into 3 groups. The first part, the majority of the Haftorahs, are those that are associated with the weekly Torah readings. If we look at the first 5 readings we see:

  1. Bereishis – Isaiah 42:5-43:10. Bereishis deals with the creation of the world, and this Haftorah starts off with the words: ‘Thus says, the G-d, HaShem Creator of Heaven…’
  2. Noach – Isaiah 54:1-55:5. Noach talks about Noah and the flood, and verse 54:9 mentions the ‘waters of Noach.’
  3. Lech Lecha – Isaiah 40:27-41:16. This talks about Avraham his wars with the kings and other events. The Rabbis found a hint at this in 41:2-3.
  4. VaYeira – 2 Kings 4:1-37. Here we learn of the promise and the birth of Yitzchok and the Haftorah talks about the prophet Elisha and how he promised that someone would give birth to a son.
  5. Chayah Sarah – 1 Kings 1:1-31. This talks about the aging and death of Avraham, and the Haftorah talks of the same with regards to King David.

And so it continues for all of the weeks except those special ones, which I will shortly explain. However since none of the weekly readings deals with the subject of Isaiah 53 in any manner, we cannot say that it has been excluded, as there is no reason to include it.


The second part, are those Haftorahs that are read on the Shabbos of a one of the Jewish festivals, or one of the ‘special’ Shabboses. Here are a few examples:

  1. Yom Kippur there are two Haftorahs. In the morning we read Isaiah 57:14-58:14, and in the afternoon we read the book of Jonah, both of which relate to the theme of tshuva.
  2. First day of Sukkos we read Zechariah 14:1-21 which mentions the festival of Sukkos.
  3. First day of Passover we read Joshua 3:5-7, 5:2-16, 6:,27, which mentions the celebration of the festival of Passover.
  4. First day of Shevous we read Ezekiel 1:1-28, 3:12 which deals with the revelation that the prophet had which is similar to the experience of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.


The final part, are the Haftorahs read during the 10 weeks before Rosh HaShanah. They are divided into two parts. The first are three Haftorahs read before the fast day of the 9th of Av. This is a period of mourning leading up to that fast day. Then the seven Haftorahs read from the Shabbos following the 9th of Av, until the Shabbos before Rosh HaShanah. These are portions dealing with the consolation of the Jewish people, for the destruction. Portions were chosen for INCLUSION, based on a criteria, and not excluded. It is interesting to note that all of them are taken from the book of Isaiah and specifically from after chapter 40.


The first three Haftorahs, before the 9th of Av, deal with warnings of punishments and are a prelude to the 9th of Av the day that commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

  1. Jeremiah 1:1-2:3
  2. Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4
  3. Isaiah 1:1-27


Following this seven Haftorahs of consolation are read:

  1. Isaiah 40:1-26
  2. Isaiah 49:14-51:3
  3. Isaiah 54:11-55:5
  4. Isaiah 51:12-52:12
  5. Isaiah 54:1-10
  6. Isaiah 60:1-22
  7. Isaiah 61:10-63:9

If we look at these seven Haftorahs of consolation, they all are taken from the last part of Isaiah, but none of them follow directly any other one. Also the third week is the only one out of numerical order.


The missionaries make the claim that between the fourth and fifth week, Isaiah 53 is purposely left out. But there are a few problems with this proposition. First, we see many of the chapters in this part of Isaiah are skipped. For example all of chapters 42-48 and 55-59 are left out. Second an examination of these passages we see that they give messages of comfort for the Jewish people in exile. However, no matter what the interpretation of Isaiah 53 one takes, there are no words of comfort for the Jewish people.


There appears to be support for the view of the Rabbis, from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that Isaiah 53 does not relate to any consolations for the Jewish People. This is from the documents 4Q176, which is referred to as 4QTanhumin[5].  Scholars see this fragment as a collection of verses consoling Israel. What is interesting is to notice what passages from Isaiah are included and the order of these passages.

  1. Isaiah 40:1-5, Isaiah 41:8-9, Isaiah 49:7, 13-17[6]
  2. Isaiah 43:1-2 [7]
  3. Isaiah 43:4-6[8]
  4. Isaiah 51:22-23[9]
  5. Isaiah 52:1-3, 54:4-10[10]

Of the first five of the Haftorahs of consolation, all are represented here. And interestingly, there is the same skip of Isaiah 53 in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which predate Christianity!! It is not logical to claim that the compilers of the Dead Sea Scrolls were part of the ‘Rabbinic Conspiracy.’


From this we see that the Rabbis specifically chose the Haftorahs, and did not skip or exclude any to fool people, or hide some errors they ‘knew’ in their own religion.


© Moshe Shulman 2003

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


[1]   This is in the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 284 in the name of the Avudraham and the Lavush. It is found in the Bach and Taz.

[2]   Most like Antiochus in the 2nd century BCE.

[3]   There are other customs, like the wording of ‘keser’ in the musaf prayer that have remained as reminder of decreees that were repealed.

[4]   13:15

[5]    Tanhumin means comforting.

[6]    Fragment 1 + 2

[7]    Fragment 3

[8]    Fragment 4+5

[9]    Fragment 6 + 7

[10]    Fragment 8-11. It is interesting to note that these two chapters appear contiguously in the fragments.