Home » Rabbi Tovia Singer & Isaiah 53: My Rebuttal

Rabbi Tovia Singer & Isaiah 53: My Rebuttal

by Dr. Eitan Bar
7 minutes read

Some of you sent me (and I myself also came across) several videos1 on YouTube by Rabbi Tovia Singer where he challenges the Christian perspective on Isaiah 53. In this article, I’ll quote his 10 top arguments and refute them.

Who is Rabbi Tovia Singer?

Rabbi Tovia Singer is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi renowned for his counter-missionary work, particularly in addressing Christian claims aimed at converting Jews. Singer frequently lectures and debates on religious topics, highlighting differences between Judaism and Christianity.

Indeed, Rabbi Singer does present his views with a lot of conviction, which can be persuasive. However, it’s worth noting that, as an American rabbi with very limited Hebrew, he might overlook certain nuances.

Because I am now working on a new book on Isaiah 53, I decided to quote and refute Tovia Singer’s arguments regarding Isaiah 53.

Rabbi Tovia Singer’s arguments

Let’s begin,

1. Singer quotes, “The innocent shall not die for the sake of the wicked. Ezekiel 18:21”

Rabbi Tovia Singer

If Singer uses this passage to challenge the Christian interpretation, it highlights the inconsistencies in his own reading. Singer posits that Israel, specifically the righteous remnant of Israel, is the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, enduring for the transgressions of the Gentiles. Following his line of reasoning regarding Ezekiel 18:21, his stance becomes even more convoluted. He suggests not just one innocent individual suffering for the wicked but an entire group of innocent people enduring for the wicked’s sins. By his own logic, either his interpretation is also flawed, or Isaiah 53 – which undeniably presents an innocent servant sacrificing for sinners – conflicts with Ezekiel 18:21.

2. “Jeremiah says in chapter 31 that the innocent cannot die for the sake of the wicked. This is an abomination. Human sacrifice is opposed by the God of Israel. That’s why we believe what we believe, and we’re willing to die rather than accept the religion that you propose.”

Rabbi Tovia Singer

Singer’s challenge to the Christian interpretation is strange, especially when Rashi (and Singer himself) contends that Isaiah 53 describes innocent Israel suffering for the sins of other nations. Is the idea of one individual suffering for many more objectionable than an entire innocent Jewish nation suffering for the transgressions of those who despise them?

3. “If you had believed in Moses, you would have believed in me.” There’s nothing like that in the Hebrew Bible… what I think you’re quoting is Deuteronomy 18:19-21 [a prophet like me]… that’s referring to Joshua, look at the passages that will follow.”

Rabbi Tovia Singer

It seems Singer hasn’t thoroughly read the Torah to its conclusion. If he had, he’d realize that Deuteronomy 34:10 (“Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses”) interprets Deuteronomy 18:15 in a way that aligns closely with the New Testament. It not only references this passage but emphasizes that no prophet like Moses ever emerged, indicating that no Old Testament prophet fully embodied Moses’s description in Deuteronomy 18:15. Furthermore, Deuteronomy 34:9-10 clarifies that Joshua, despite his significant leadership, wasn’t the prophet akin to Moses as promised in Deuteronomy 18:15.

4. “The Gentile kings of nations are speaking about the Jewish people. The Jews suffered as a result of the horrible behavior of the Gentiles. Moreover, the suffering of the Jewish people triggers within non-Jews a love for Jewish people.”

Rabbi Tovia Singer

Rabbi Singer seems unaware of the disturbing implications of his alternate interpretation. In his view, innocent Jews bear the brunt for the grievous actions of the Gentiles so that God can forgive these same Gentiles. Such an interpretation is unsettling. Gone is the God of the Hebrew Bible who chastises nations for mistreating His chosen ones. Instead, based on Singer’s view of Isaiah 53:10, we encounter a God who delights in afflicting His people to atone for the wrongdoings of those hostile to Jews. Did the Jews who died in the Holocaust save Hitler? Is this truly Singer’s understanding of Isaiah’s message? If so, how did they ever allow Isaiah’s writings into the Hebrew canon, which consistently emphasizes God’s retribution on nations that harm His chosen people?

5. “They don’t know the context – it’s almost as though the church is hiding Isaiah 51, 52, 54, 55.”

Rabbi Tovia Singer

Rabbi Singer asserts that the church lacks contextual understanding. However, he overlooks the widely acknowledged perspective that chapters 40-55 in Isaiah are often termed “Isaiah’s New Exodus.” Repeatedly, these chapters allude to a redemption that not only mirrors but also surpasses the original Exodus. Suppose Moses was the instrument through which God orchestrated the first Exodus. Wouldn’t it be logical to perceive the servant songs in Isaiah (chapters 42, 49, 50, and 53) as indicating a new, Moses-like figure through whom God redeems His people? It seems that Singer may be the one not fully appreciating the context.

6. In Isaiah 53, when it says, “stricken for the transgression of my people,” the last words of Isaiah 53 verse 8, the church actually changed the word THEM to Him. That means the church altered the Hebrew text and its translation in order to make it appear Christological. You have in Isaiah 53 where the prophet is talking about the servant both in singular and plural and the church alters it in order to make it appear Christological.

Rabbi Tovia Singer

Hebrew lexicons clarify that this word can be interpreted as “him” and “them.” Take a look at Christian translations where the word is translated as “them,” even though it doesn’t affect the Messianic interpretation. By the way, you are welcome to take a look at the Jewish Publication Society translation and see if that changes anything.

7. “It has to be axiomatic that Isaiah is a foremost commentary on the book of Isaiah.”

Rabbi Tovia Singer

Given that scholars identify numerous references to the exodus within Isaiah 40-55, it’s evident that the section’s main purpose is Israel’s redemption. The servant in this context cannot represent Israel but rather someone who aids Israel. Drawing parallels with the original exodus, this figure resembles Moses, a “servant” enduring hardship to save his people. Similarly, the servant in Isaiah’s passages experiences suffering at the hands of those he seeks to redeem – in this case, a wayward Israel.

However, suppose we entertain Singer’s viewpoint, which is identical to Rashi’s (Isaiah 53 describes Israel). In that case, Isaiah 53:10 suggests God took pleasure in afflicting these innocent Jews for the sins of others. This would imply God not only orchestrated persecution such as the holocaust but that He punished his faithful Jewish remnant, those who upheld the Torah, to absolve the sins of Gentiles who persecuted them.

Singer argues that anti-Semitism is God’s way to atone for those who perpetuate it. This interpretation seems contrary to Isaiah 40’s opening, which suggests the entire segment from chapters 40-55 aims to forgive and redeem Israel, not the nations that oppressed them.

Furthermore, suppose Singer insists the servant across Isaiah 40-55 is the righteous remnant of Israel. In that case, he faces a contradiction: How can the servant, described as idolatrous in Isaiah 42:17-20 and 44:20-22, be both sinful and righteous?

8. “No deceit in his mouth” is a righteous remnant. Zeph 3:12-14 (same wording about no deceit in mouth).”

Rabbi Tovia Singer

Again, Singer, echoing Rashi, posits that the righteous remnant endures suffering due to the transgressions of other nations. Isaiah 53:10 suggests God’s intention to afflict the servant. I agree in a sense, but there is only one true righteous – Yeshua the Messiah! But suppose we follow Singer’s interpretation; this means God finds pleasure in the torment of righteous Jews, who did not ask for any of it, and their suffering was done against their will on account of the misdeeds of their oppressors. Doesn’t such a perspective twist God’s sense of justice? If God genuinely rejoices in the pain of His chosen ones, inflicted because of others’ sins, what implications does this have on our understanding of Jewish historical suffering, such as the Holocaust? Rabbi Singer seems to overlook the unfavorable light in which his interpretation casts the God of Israel. He makes him look like some evil moral monster.

9. “The problem is they’re never reading the Jewish Bible in the original Hebrew. If you don’t read Scripture in its original language, it’s like kissing God through a towel. The translators become your master. It has to be man-made.”

Rabbi Tovia Singer

This is pure irony. I speak and read Hebrew fluently. Rabbi Tovia Singer does not! Anyways, Singer’s reasoning seems persuasive only to those unfamiliar with the Bible in its original Hebrew. Yet, for those trained in biblical Hebrew at the university level, many of Rabbi Tovia Singer’s points reveal that Singer — not the Christian translators — may lack a comprehensive grasp of biblical Hebrew.

10. This is how they are taught in churches. They’re not taught to think about Isaiah 53:10, that the servant is given long life. How could Jesus be given long life? First of all, if it’s his human state, he didn’t live very long at all, but how could God give God long life? What does that mean? God’s eternal, He is the first cause! How could God give Jesus children? He never had children. What does that even mean? … In case they say, ‘disciples, figurative children,’ the term there is ZERRA, it means SEED, it’s always physical children… God’s purpose will prosper in your hand? But you are God! So the whole thing completely collapses when you insert the doctrine of the trinity.

Rabbi Tovia Singer

Rabbi Singer raises several points, starting with the presumption that Isaiah 53:10 contradicts the concept of a divine Messiah. He presents a misleading choice: it’s either this or that, not both. The New Testament writers recognized Jesus’ dual nature: both Son of David and Son of God. While Singer may dispute our readings of texts like Isaiah 9:5, Psalm 2, Psalm 45, Psalm 110, and Daniel 7:13-14, these passages, when seen through a Christian lens, provide a foundation in the Hebrew Bible for reconciling the Messiah’s human and divine aspects.

The assertion that “ZERRA” (seed) invariably means biological offspring is not accurate. Surely, Singer wouldn’t suggest the “seed” of the serpent in Genesis 3 refers to actual snakes attacking humans. Such a reading overlooks the central theme of Genesis, which emphasizes the significance of lineage in God’s plan. We never encounter a lineage of literal snakes in Genesis. Instead, we find narratives of figures like Cain, Canaan, Ishmael, and Esau and their descendants, who oppose God’s designated lineage. The “seed of the serpent” symbolizes those opposing God’s chosen line, while the “seed of the woman” denotes those chosen by God. The word “seed” sometimes appears in the Hebrew Scriptures metaphorically, including in the Book of Isaiah. Hence, the Lord refers to Israel as the “seed of evildoers,” “seed that commits adultery with the Lord,” and “seed of falsehood” (Isaiah 1:4, 14:20, 57:3-4), referring to their character, as they were inherently wicked, adulterous, and deceitful individuals. Returning to Isaiah 53:10 and the “seed” of the servant, the context is vital. The servant’s triumph in Isaiah 53 precedes a metaphor describing Zion as a mother birthing many children (zera) following her devastating loss. It’s logical to equate the servant’s “seed” with the offspring of this allegorical mother.

This article was a copy-paste from my new book: “The Forbidden Chapter.

1 https://youtu.be/yMdqfwGiImY

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist