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The Testimony Of Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein

By Elie Nessim, November 23, 1996 Printer Friendly Version

Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the LORD.  Hosanna in the Highest.
This is a testimony of a Rabbi who became a follower of YESHUA.  His name was Isaac Lichtenstein.  He was not yet twenty when he became a Rabbi, and after officiating for several years in different communities in Northern Hungary, Isaac Lichtenstein finally settled as District Rabbi in Tapio Szele, where he remained for nearly forty years, labouring ceaselessly and unselfishly for the good of his people.

Earlier in his ministry, a Jewish teacher in the communal school in his District casually showed him a German Bible.  Turning the leaves, his eye fell on the name ‘Yesu Christi’.  He became furiously angry and sharply reproved the teacher for having such a thing in his possession.  Taking the Book, he flung it across the room in a rage.  It fell behind others on a shelf where, dusty and forgotten, it lay for some thirty odd years.

About that time, a fierce wave of anti-Semitism broke out in Hungary, culminating in the now historic ‘Tisza Eslar’ affair.  In that picturesque little Hungarian town, situated on the Theiss, twelve Jews and a Jewess were thrown into prison accused of having killed a Christian girl in order to use her blood for ritual purposes.  The most tragic part of the case, being that a little Jewish boy, who had been kept some time from his parents by the Police Commissary, was prevailed on by threats and cruelties to appear as the chief witness against his own father, the Synagogue Sexton, and recite a concocted circumstantial tale of the supposed murdered girl.

The mental state of Rabbi Lichtenstein at this time, is best revealed in his ‘ Judenspiegel’ (Jewish Mirror):  Often have they oppressed me from my youth, may Israel say.  No long explanation is needed to show that in these few words, the Psalmist sums up the bitter experiences and sorrows which we, at least of the older generation, have suffered from our youth up at the hands of the Christian populations surrounding us.

Mockery, scorn, blows, and all manner of humiliation have been our portion, even at the hands of Christian children.  I remember still the stones which were thrown at us as we left the Synagogue, and how, when bathing in the river, and powerless, we saw them cast our clothing with laughter and insult into the water.  Once, with sorrow and weeping, I saw my father felled to the ground without the least hesitation by a nobleman, so called, because he had not quickly enough made room for him on a narrow path.

But these sad experiences are known well enough to need no dwelling on, and would to GOD that such persecution of the Jews by the Christians, were altogether a thing of the forgotten past.

As impressions of early life take a deep hold, and as in my riper years I still had no cause to modify these impressions, it is no wonder that I came to think that Christ Himself, was the plague and curse of the Jews; the origin and promoter of our sorrows and persecutions.  In this conviction I grew to years of manhood, and still cherishing it, I became old.  I knew no difference between true and nominal Christianity.  Of the Fountainhead of Christianity itself, I knew nothing.

Strangely enough, it was the horrible ‘Tisza Eslar’, blood accusation, which first drew me to read the New Testament.  This trial, brought from their lurking places all our enemies, and once again as in olden times, the cry reechoed, ‘Death to the Jew’.  The frenzy was excessive and among the ringleaders were many who used the name of Christ and His Doctrine as a cloak to cover their abominable doings.  These wicked practices of men, wearing the name of Christ, only to further their evil designs, aroused the indignation of some true Christians, who, with pen on fire and warning voices, denounced the lying rage of the anti-Semites.

In articles written by the latter in defence of the Jews, I often met with passages where Christ was spoken of as He who brings joy to man; the Prince of Peace, and the Redeemer; and His Gospel was extolled as a message of love and life to all people.  I was surprised and scarcely trusted my eyes when I espied in a hidden corner, the New Testament, which some thirty years before, I had in vexation taken from a Jewish teacher; and I began to turn over its leaves and read.  How can I express the impression which I then received?  Not the half had been told me of the greatness, power and glory of this Book; formerly a sealed Book to me.  All seemed so new, and yet it did me good, like the sight of an old friend who has laid aside his dusty, travel-worn garments, and appears in festive attire like a bridegroom in wedding robes, or a bride adorned with her jewels.

For two or three years, Rabbi Lichtenstein kept these convictions locked in his own breast.  He began however, in his Synagogue, to preach strange and new doctrines which both interested and astonished his hearers.  At last, he could contain himself no longer.  Preaching one Saturday from Christ’s parable of the whited sepulchre he openly avowed that his subject was taken from the New Testament, and spoke of JESUS as the true Messiah, the Redeemer of Israel!

Ultimately, he embodied his ideas in three publications, appearing in rapid succession which created tremendous sensation among the Jews, not only in Hungary, but throughout the Continent of Europe.  And no wonder, for here was an old and respected Rabbi, still in office, calling upon his people in burning words to range themselves under the banner of the long despised JESUS of Nazareth, and to hail Him as their true Messiah and King.  As was inevitable, no sooner did official Jewry realize the significance of Rabbi Lichtenstein’s position and writings, than a storm of persecution broke loose upon him.

From the Jewish pulpit, and in the press, anathemas were hurled at his head, and he, who but a few weeks before, was classed among the noblest leaders and teachers, was now described as a disgrace and a reproach to his nation, all because he dared pronounce the hated name of JESUS.  He had found in the New Testament the true Judaism and would remain as before with his congregation, and preach it in the Synagogue.  He did so, and this, in spite of many persecutions and reproaches which were heaped upon him.  From his official place as District Rabbi, he continued to teach and to preach from the New Testament.  This was a touching testimony to the strong attachment of his own community, which alone, had power to make request for his dismissal, Judaism being a State religion in Hungary.

As a matter of fact, much pressure was brought to bear upon them, and some members of the congregation and the relatives of his wife, were completely ruined by the loss of trade, but still, they clung to him.  At last, however, after losing his all in his endeavour to save some of the members of his congregation from ruin, and with his health much impaired by the many trials and sorrows which fell to his lot in consequence of his bold stand for the truth, he voluntarily resigned his office as District Rabbi.

About this time, he wrote: Dear Jewish Brethren; I, an honoured Rabbi for the space of forty years, am now, in my old age, treated by my friends as one possessed by an evil spirit, and by my enemies as an outcast.  I am become a butt of mockers who point the finger at me.  But while I live, I will stand on my watchtower, though I may stand there all alone.  I will listen to the Words of GOD, and look for the time when He will return to Zion in mercy; and Israel shall fill the world with his joyous cry, Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the LORD.  Hosanna in the Highest. Quite unexpectedly, he was taken ill and lingered only a short while.  It was eight o’clock in the morning of Friday, October 16th, 1909, that the hoary Rabbi entered into the presence of his LORD.

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