A virgin birth: A Jewish idea?

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Artwork by Elhanan ben-Avraham

“Behold, I am YHVH, the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for Me? Jeremiah 32:27

Just as a building is built from a blueprint, and then constructed upon a foundation, so too is the Bible constructed. Historical events recorded in the Torah are then codified in the commandments of YHVH. And from that Torah the Prophets carried forth those principles in prophesying the promises to occur in the future. As the sages of Israel wrote, “All the Prophets prophesied only of the coming days of the Messiah” (Babylonian Talmud Brachot 34b).

The idea of a virgin birth has caused much consternation and criticism, likening such a preposterous idea to Greek myths and paganism, and not a concept in Judaism at all. There is objection that it is “against the natural order,” but I would suggest that one keep in mind that not all things can be understood by the scientific method, that there are realms of reality and truth that exist beyond that method’s limited perception, yet as real as iron. The very fact of the existence of anything would suggest that. And the Creator of such order may also interfere with that natural order for His own purposes.  It also is emphasized that the word translated “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 is “almah”- a young woman, not the Hebrew “betulah” – virgin. But almah was used for virtuous young women in Israel, who would retain their purity and virginity until marriage in the Jewish world where clean and unclean was central to the culture. And the scholars of the Septuagint, seventy Jewish translators of the Tenach to Greek agreed on the Greek word there to be parthenos, which is virgin. Besides, a young woman bearing a son was nothing unusual at all, and could hardly be considered a sign given by YHVH.

But is there indeed a precedent in the Torah and Prophets for such an unusual event?

To explain the theological question of G-d, who fills all-in-all, “coming down” on Mount Sinai, and even creating the entire material universe that is not Himself, Kabbalistic Judaism coined the Torat Ha Tsimtsum – the teaching of the reduction of the Creator, reducing Himself and withdrawing to create a womb-like space in which to create the cosmos. The TsimTsum, meaning contraction, is the act by which the Creator removed His Limitlessness from the world so that Creation could occur.

Another more foundational example in the Torah is when Avraham was very old in years, and without a son to carry on his name, YHVH spoke to him that he would have a son by his wife Sarah, who had been barren all her life and was now far beyond child-bearing years. “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” and “The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” Then YHVH sent three messengers (angels) to the tent of Avraham and Sarah to confirm that promise of a son, to which the incredulous Sarah laughed, saying “After I am grown old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” But Avraham at the age of one hundred, and Sarah at ninety, brought forth a son and called him Itzhak (meaning ‘he will laugh’). From that one spermatozoid arose the tribes and nation of Israel.

This was a sign given to our father Avraham of an even greater future event, the advent of the Messiah. In the 1st century CE, Miriam the betrothed of Joseph became pregnant as did Sarah- a woman in her 90’s no longer ovulating- became pregnant. But Miriam’s pregnancy was the reverse of the sign given to Avraham, which was an other-than-natural birth that would give rise to the nation of Israel, G-d’s vessel chosen to carry his Word, and to bring forth the Messiah of YHVH. The Messiah would come into this world in a way not of other men. As Itzhak was born of a single sperm without an egg, so would the Messiah be born of an egg without a sperm. And he would be not as other men, and his calling and mission not as any other man.

Thus is it written:

  • Jeremiah 33 – “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David, the line of David; he will do what is just and right in the land… This is the name by which he will be called: YHVH Tzidkeinu.” The Messiah would be called “The LORD our righteousness” (יהוה צידקאנו-).
  • Isaiah 9:6-7 – “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of YHVH of hosts will perform this.”
  • Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore YHVH himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
  • Matthew 1:20 – “But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of YHVH appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, you son of David, fear not to take unto thee Miriam thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of YHVH had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Yeshua (Salvation).”