Rabbi Tovia Singer vs. Dr. Michael Brown: Is Jesus the Messiah?

Due to so many wonderful contributions from readers recently, and my own studies, I’m adding a debate between two of the biggest heavyweights of thought in the Jewish Christian debate scene. There’s an awesome array of debates out there, many of which feature Rabbi Tovia Singer utterly dismantling Christian pastors, however, diligent students will before long find Dr. Michael Brown in debate after debate demolishing their rabbinic Jewish counterparts. We’re gifted a rare moment in which the immoveable object meets the irresistible force. I’d like to have readers listen with an open heart and mind, so that they come away with a better understanding of our shared history.

― T. C. M


10 thoughts on “Rabbi Tovia Singer vs. Dr. Michael Brown: Is Jesus the Messiah?

  1. Very interesting! I didn’t have time to listen to all of it- but it was interesting cos I found I agreed and disagreed with both of them on different points. My biggest disagreement would be with R. Singer- because a lot of Jews don’t believe in that interpretation of hell- certainly I’ve never heard an Orthodox Rabbi before cite “burning for eternity” or any kind of burning at all- because Gehinnom (though no one claims to know exactly what it is) is always viewed as more of a kind of purgatory. I think this is probably more to do with being an American than anything else- they seem to take such a hard line approach.

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    • I remember having a very similar conversation with one of my brothers in my teens. There was this question mark of “Do Jewish people believe in hell?” and “Is that in the Torah, or is it just like another word for the grave?” Not being a Bible believing Christian at that particular time the beliefs were all pretty nebulous, and coming from an Irish catholic household (not practising) I said to myself Jesus was probably involved in there somewhere, but overall nothing really came of it. I do notice Rabbi Singer is very hard-line, even very domineering in how they deliver their points, be they good points or bad (which I’d imagine works wonders around many listeners). I’m curious, what’s the emphasise on in terms of Rabbinic preaching (if they preach in the American sense) and teaching? If they’re not hell fire screechers are they more into making an emphasizes on God’s love, Their wisdom or perhaps something I’m not pre guessing.

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    • I’m about 40 minutes into the conversation myself. It’s always interesting to return to these kinds of debate when we’re better acquainted with the material. I’ve noticed Rabbi Singer really belabours linking Jewishness, literally being Jewish, to his understanding of the Torah (namely an understanding informed and guided by the oral traditions). I’ve always been conscious of the distinction between Jewish believers by blood and the Jew who’s one by their faith, their religious practises. There are many Jewish people who simply don’t believe in God, much like how there are many ethnic groups who in the majority don’t take their family’s religious views very seriously. I’m of the opinion that if a young Jewess married their childhood sweetheart (also Jewish by birth), I’d find it very unsympathetic of rabbi Singer to berate them as being somehow less Jewish because they don’t buy into his understanding of the Torah.

      Personally I’m not even writing about if the couple became Christians or anything else, because there’s historic tension there, but what if they simply became Kabbalists (they’re just big Madonna fans), or Karites. Suddenly they’re blackballed and become less Jewish because they’re not lining up with rabbi Singer’s school of interpretation. They do say later, kind of reluctantly “I suppose a Jew can be a Christian too.” and I’m thinking of course they can, obviously they’re no longer of rabbi Singer’s religious persuasion, but that doesn’t mean they’re disqualified from being Jewish in the second sense.

      Rabbi Singer even insisted (minute 24) if Dr. Brown and Sid Roth’s grandparents had left Singer’s understanding of Judaism then they would be on a Christian radio station by this point in their lives. He says “you wouldn’t be identifying as Jews.” That’s like saying without the oral Torah that the prima facie reading of Scripture points towards Christianity being true. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to say that (and it’s a bit of a dig at Jewish believers who are neither Christian nor orthodox). Their reading of God’s love being so strong as a mother’s love for the child at her breast was a welcomed reminder though, found a great video I intend to share on that.

      It’s very startling to hear the rabbi describe Peter and James (the brother of Jesus) as orthodox Jews, it’s interesting and unlike him from what I’ve listened to up until now. Although I wasn’t really keen on when at minute 23 Sid asked “Who is Jesus?” To which rabbi Singer replied “The more important question is who Jesus wasn’t!” I’m listening to this and saying to my laptop “No no, that’s not the question.” It’s that thing politicians do where they answer the question they want to answer. 😛 Anyway, I’d enjoy reading your thoughts if you get through the rather lengthy exchange.

      Guy: Hey, I disagreed with your last article. Did you even study orthodox Judaism before writing this wall ‘o lies?

      Me: Well, yes, I think my haircut is awesome too. It used to be a lot longer, but during the Summer you get that chaffing around the back of your neck when it’s really hot. So yeah, I decided to give up my rock and roll style. You know how it is.

      Guy:….#makes a fist#

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      • First off, I want to really apologise for taking so long to get back to you- I wanted to think out my answers and then I just ended up not being on the internet very much for the last two weeks- so sorry! And yes, in answer to your first question, there is more of a focus on god’s love. It’s not just that Rabbi Singer is hardline, in my opinion, but that he’s arguing things that are counter to the way that a lot of Rabbis talk about the afterlife.
        Yes, I think I was about an hour into this. I think that’s a very valid point that you made about the fact that there is a difference in being ethnically Jewish and the fact that that does not change regardless of how religious one is. However, I do have to say that while you can be ethnically Jewish and Christian, I do see where Singer is coming from on this. The truth is, it is an oxymoron to call yourself a Messianic Jew and the think the other person is being intellectually dishonest on this. Perhaps even just purely from the illogical nature of this semantically, where “Messianic” refers to their beliefs- one would assume when they say “Jewish” they mean beliefs also- and it seems to be that this individual is arguing you can be theologically Jewish and believe in Jesus- which isn’t correct. Even if the person remains ethnically Jewish, in two generations that will be irrelevant anyway. Not that I’m criticising someone for choosing to not be Jewish theologically speaking- I think if someone genuinely wants to convert out of Judaism, more power to them, but then why not call themselves a Christian? (and yes it would still be true to say they were ethnically Jewish- I believe I once heard Bill Maher say “I’m Jew-ish”, because he’s ethnically half Jewish but a Catholic)
        That doesn’t surprise me that he says that about Peter and James- there is view I’ve heard before that some of the disciples were reformers of Judaism.
        Anyway, hope I made sense on that.

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      • GOOD MORNING! (Ops, all caps). I’ve written up this reply over a couple of days, so here’s hoping I’ve remained consistent, relevant and winsome in reflecting upon some of your points.

        Maybe rabbi Singer presents their case the way in which they do not because it’s thoroughly orthodox, but because it preaches really well. For example, many of my friends in the Calvinist camp have an understanding of God in which he doesn’t love unbelievers (at least not in the same way he loves believers). As you can imagine that’s not an effective line in our overly emotional culture, due to which many believers in the reformed camp preach God’s love for sinners and believers and everybody. They’re prepared to fudge their faith rather than look an atheist square in the eye and say “God does not love you.” Now, I’m some kind of classical baptist, for which I can preach God’s love (real love) for sinners all day everyday. Christ didn’t just die for the elect, the believer, He died on behalf of everybody, doing so out of love for everybody. Perhaps rabbi Singer finds the threat of hell useful in the same way Calvinists find a baptist understanding of God’s universal love useful, he’s wanting to be James Bond but his faith doesn’t provide him a licence to kill (a mutated mash up of “orthodox Jewish Christianity” might however). That’s effective maybe, good red meat for an angry young orthodox man somewhere, nevertheless, must be frustrating for Jewish believers in Judaism who want an informative/faithful conversation on the subject.

        Perhaps describing a person’s position as an oxymoron would be right if you and I were to interpret messianic Jew as if to say “Micheal is an orthodox Jew who believes in Jesus.” Certain portions of the oral tradition appear to disqualify people from claiming to be in outlook both Christian and orthodox. However, isn’t this to make the “Jew” belief in messianic Jews synonymous with “orthodox Judaism”? Messianic Jew by an oxymoron understanding would mean messianic = Christian/Jew = orthodox Judaism (which would land the believer in error). I naturally understood the title messianic Jew in the way which you’ve described as semantic, where messianic referenced beliefs and Jew was with regards to ethnicity. Although, you’ve also shared (quoting for clarity’s sake): “and it seems to be that this individual is arguing you can be theologically Jewish and believe in Jesus- which isn’t correct.”

        I suppose the most helpful question would be to ask what it means to be “theologically Jewish”. Rabbi Singer described the Karaites as “a glorious group”, for which I’m curious to ask are they and their views (in our humble opinions) within the margin of being described as theological Judaism? I believe they are. The best sense I can make of the situation on my lonesome would be to write that the ethnic makeup of any group’s followers can (in the opinion of the Jewish majority) disqualify them from being described as Jewish theologically. For an example, two movements ordinarily described as cults emerge from out of the Jewish community, both are made up of an ethnically Jewish membership grounding their views within Jewish theology/Jewish religious sources. However, hundreds of years later group A subsists of an ethnic exchange of 10% gentile/90% Jew. Whereas group B, having extended its membership one hundred times, subsists of an ethnic makeup of 10% Jewish people/90% gentile people. I imagine rabbi Singer would describe group A as Jewish and group B as foreign to Judaism (despite both having had Jewish roots). Group A just as in the case of orthodox Judaism isn’t exclusively made of ethnically Jewish people.

        We can only speculate when or after which event Jewish communities (writing with regards to ethnicity) began believing in the otherness of Jewish believers in Jesus. Which event or set of beliefs can cause one understanding of God’s revelation to humanity by way of the nation of Israel to be considered “theologically Jewish”, whereas the messianic Jew’s expression, which also believes in an Israel which is the apple of God’s eye, becomes tainted in some sense.

        Lee Strobel in their The case for the real Jesus book really adds emphasis onto both my points about rabbi Singer’s style, in addition to whether or not Jews who are desiring God are theological failures for their choosing Christ (not that that’s the kind of language you’d use). Two pages of the link should do (a word search of “The response was volcanic.” will get us to the right page if the link isn’t firing right):


        Quietly confident that this isn’t an interest of yours, I’ll keep this follow up observation really brief. If, as early Jewish practitioners of Christianity believed, Jesus had come as God’s son in a special sense of the word, wouldn’t their choice to be faithful to their rabbi’s teachings be not a betrayal of their Jewish faith, but the fulfilment. That’s regarding when you’ve shared “and it seems to be that this individual is arguing you can be theologically Jewish and believe in Jesus- which isn’t correct.” For us to admit that the Twelve truly believed Genesis 22:18 (namely “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed”) to have been a foretaste of the Gospel, then their choice as faithful Jews must’ve been made.

        As I’ve read many times before, it’s not that the earliest debates within the Jewish community were to do with whether or not Jews could believe in “Christianity” (or Jesus), instead they’d held debates about if/how GENTILES could follow. Rabbi Singer rather than join in the Jewish reclamation of Jesus, treats our shared info as if it’s shown Christ to be the historic figure below. The small chapter titled The Mistaken Messiah (from The Impossible Faith by J. P. Holding) should do for our conversation:


        Sabbatai, after being imprisoned and brought before sultan Mehmed IV, was given three alternatives. Death by being impaled, prove himself and his claims against “a volley of arrow fire”, or convert to Islam. Less than confident in their claim to being the messiah (like many messianic pretenders), Sabbatai converted. Rabbi Singer insists (to paraphrase) “I feel about Jesus the same way I do about Muhammad, Buddha or Krishna.” As if to make Jesus into an entity thoroughly outside of Jewish history/theology. Singer appears to treat our search and discovery of the Jesus of history as if we had found another Sabbatai (could their approach be fair?) “The Jewish reclamation of Jesus” couldn’t have taken place if the central figure were Muhammad, Thor or Buddha simply because Jewish historians can’t “reclaim” anybody/any religious movement which wasn’t once/isn’t Jewish. The question of the identity of Jesus in orthodox circles appears to descend speedily into an offensive mode of chat, and the question becomes who Jesus wasn’t, which as you can imagine is no way to advance an inquiry. Imagine going on a blind date, only to ask your date about their life, to which they replied “Well, I can tell you this. I’m not president Nixon, I’m not Britney Spears, I’m not Bob Dole, nor am I Dolly Parton, I’m not Salman Rushdie nor the people who put a fatwa on him. Let’s talk about that.” We’d be getting nowhere (with our dates I mean).

        To restate with a twist my earlier point about beliefs being disowned on account of their not having an ethnically Jewish makeup, wouldn’t so hostile a verdict on Jewish believers in Jesus from the nation of Israel, if based upon the expansion of gentiles into messianic Judaism (thus causing our semantic reading to become messianic not so much Judaism anymore) be a kind of primitive identity politics. To wiki (albeit appearing to enjoy your politics you’re probably better acquainted with these things than I): “Identity politics, also called identitarian politics,[1] refers to political positions based on the interests and perspectives of social groups with which people identify.”

        I appreciate my grandmother’s Catholicism, however, it’s never entered my mind that someone could be doing Irish theology wrong. Perhaps this isn’t applicable to so special a case as the nation of Israel. Could I be right in that because historically Jews are an ethnic minority, an often under threat/displaced minority, they might reject other Jews for taking part in a way of life which appears to be to the detriment of their people as a whole?

        You’ve made a fair point in asking why won’t Jewish believers in Jesus just describe themselves as Christian. However, there’s perhaps a fair answer too. Wouldn’t once orthodox Jews who are now Jewish believers in Jesus want to mitigate the backlash against themselves and their newfound beliefs? This could be as much a conversation about how Jewish families respond to their sons and daughter who find Jesus an attractive alternative as it is about messianic Jews themselves.

        For example, if they’re still Jew-ish, wouldn’t these men and women in so sensitive a time for their families and themselves want to retain their identity as Jews rather than be described as being cut off from the people (AKA irrelevant in two generations). That’s especially true if there’s being Jewish without being an orthodox believer, as in Jewishness outside of a single theology. Jewish people eat kosher, they marry kosher, there’s even the famous Jewish sense of humour. I once stole second base, but felt so guilty afterwards I gave it back (am I doing it right?)

        Just imaging arriving at an honest conclusion that Jesus really is the Christ, only then to be shunned by brokenhearted parents and grandparents who on their best day (writing religiously) could be described as nominal. Desperately desiring to retain everything Jewish, save an orthodox rejecting of Jesus as Christ, messianic Jews could simply be pleading “Don’t send me away, I’m not dead to you.” Believing in Jesus and trying to follow Their example I’ve even experienced this myself from people who didn’t/couldn’t use the deep roots of the Jewish people as justification for their cutting ties. The conversation historically goes something like the below (and no, it’s not Michael Jackson vs. O. J. Simpson, it’s an orthodox Jew and the Messianic Jew in conversation!):

        MJ: “Just Jew it!”

        OJ: “You aren’t Jewish.”

        MJ: “Why aren’t I Jewish?”

        OJ: “Well, you just aren’t. Not theologically.”

        Pharisees: “I am?”

        OJ: “Certainly.”

        Karaite: “How about me?”

        OJ: “Glorious group the Karaites. Thoroughly Jewish. Just think of our wonderful shared religious heritage; the Sadducees, Essenes, conservatives and the reformed.”

        Kabbalist: “Let’s not forget Kaballah and the Hasidics!”

        OJ: “How could anyone forget?!”

        MJ: “Just Jew it?”

        Everybody else: “Are you STILL here?!”

        P. S. Bill Maher Catholic!? #monocle breaks#

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  2. Hehe well don’t worry, your reply was great- I have to be honest, I wrote this a while ago, but didn’t have the chance to finish it, so I hope it’s not too off topic or badly done- I just found it on my computer and thought I’d better send it to you before I forget again! As always, very sorry for the delayed reply!
    Hahaha that’s true. I think anything other than “one love” is radical and hate filled in our culture 😉 . Yes perhaps- I get that it’s a useful sort of threat, it being used in many religious teachings for millennia. And of course, I don’t object to people being told where they’re going wrong, cos goodness knows everyone could do with that.
    I just do not see the teaching of hell in that way as a particularly Jewish philosophy (which is ironic, because a lot of his focus seems to be on being Jewish). A lot of jewish philosophy and teachings *does* focus on the fallibility of man. That’s why Jews have two festivals for repenting and making amends for things you’ve done wrong in a year and trying to improve for the future (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur)- plus in one of the daily prayers there’s a bit about repenting. But that doesn’t mean that there’s a whole lot on hell. Maybe that’s because it’s not seen as a good motivator (if you know you’re probably doing something wrong a lot of the time) and maybe because a lot of Jewish teachings tend to be uncertain on how the whole “afterlife” thing works anyway. Either way, I think Judaism is a lot more about self-improvement and the threat of hell doesn’t really feature as much as the concept of reaping rewards in “Olam Habaah”- the world to come (ie heaven). I hope that made sense and showed why I found his ideas so incongruous.
    Hmm I wouldn’t say so- because most sects of Judaism including reform do not believe in Jesus. It’s quite hard to argue from a theological standpoint, because if you believe in a Jewish version of the messiah, then you will believe a lot of things that haven’t happened have in fact happened. I don’t believe they mean it to be about being ethnically Jewish, because of how he argues from a theological standpoint.
    Well I would probably say that the Karaites are theologically Jewish (all other opinions aside). Again, the difference generally speaking, between theological Judaism and Christianity is the belief in Jesus’ divinity. (Funnily enough, I just looked it up, and both Jewish and Christian organisations seem to accept Messianic Jews as Christian, the only ones in disagreement with this are the Messianic Jews themselves)
    Ah I think we can date that to the foundation of Christianity- it is where the two faiths have always diverged and the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity. I don’t think it’s a sense of otherness at all- it’s just a different belief system. If Jews had believed in Jesus, there would be no distinction, since as you mentioned, the disciples were ethnically Jewish. I don’t think it’s a question of seeing someone as “other”- it would be like saying there are Christians who don’t believe Jesus is divine- to my mind a Christian that didn’t believe in Christ would be a tad illogical (although I don’t know enough about Christianity- so correct me if I’m wrong on that). Jews don’t believe Jesus is divine, so worshipping Jesus is idolatrous within Judaism. So calling themselves Messianic Jews is a misnomer in a theological sense (as I said, this is a position they seem to argue from)
    Thanks for sending me that link. It actually adds a dynamic to the discussion I hadn’t mentioned before, but will try and explain in relation to the “Jews for Jesus”. Basically, to put it as simply as I can, there has always been an issue with proselytising groups for two reasons 1) Judaism isn’t a proselytising faith so it’s incongruous to a lot of Jews and 2) there has been a history of forcible conversions and persecution because of such organisations/movements. I think this explains why Rabbi Singer talks about identity so much- he is referring to the persecution of Jews and why there was a distinction for his ancestors.
    Well it’s only faithful if they believed Jesus was in fact the son of god- if, as most Jews believed, he wasn’t, then he was a false prophet and then in that case they were being faithful to their religion.
    You are correct that some Jews were debating whether Christianity was just for Jews or for everyone- but those were the disciples. I believe it was the Sanhedrin (Jewish governing body) who didn’t see Christianity as being for the Jews at all. Either way, I cannot say that the Jewish community as a whole were on board with Christianity
    Again, I wouldn’t say I think the argument is from an ethnic point of view, as I’ve never met a Jew who doesn’t think Jesus was ethnically Jewish- but again, I think it comes to theological disagreements. Hehehe I am sadly *very* familiar with the term identity politics- which is why I think it’s best to have the argument *not* on the grounds of ethnicity at all, but on the question of theology and what people believe to be the truth.
    Yes, you are in the right ballpark- I think I’ll refer back to what I said about why I understand Singer’s position (though like I said, don’t entirely agree with it for the sake of this argument). I think though that I will add it was less a decision to reject other Jews, but a fear of the very bloody consequences for the Jews who refused to convert when others did. Whole villages were put to the sword during the mass conversions of the Crusades and there were similar fears during the pogroms. I think the context here is very important.
    Hmm I don’t see how that would mitigate the backlash. As I probably should have said earlier, there isn’t a principle of shunning (as far as I’m aware), so the idea that they might be afraid if they converted is not exactly correct. I would say a covert operation to change the faith from within is likely to spark far more animosity (this may be perceived as such an attempt). If so, I don’t think it’s the most effective way of persuading people of their cause, because it just doesn’t seem very honest. I think people who are genuine and stand by their principles are more persuasive (but maybe that’s just me). As I said, I still think they’re being intellectually dishonest and that’s where I take issue with them.
    Hahahaha you’re doing just fine 😉
    Hehe have to say the response from grandparents would probably be something like “nu- what is this about you believing in Jesus now? But you still like Schmultz herring right?” I’m not saying there are no communities that would be bothered by this- but to be honest, I think these parents/grandparents would have to be (to use a Jewish word) a total schmuck not to know that believing in Jesus made them Christian. We’d have to find a real schmerel that’s gonna say “shloimi shoftim loves Jesus, but he still wears Tzitzit, so it’s all kol beseider”. (sorry- you can see me getting carried away 😉 ) My point is no one’s going to buy that.

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