by Dr. Alan Poyner-Levison

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The life of Rabbi Joseph Rabinowitz reveals a remarkable story of the Lord’s hand guiding this Russian rabbi to faith in Messiah Yeshua. Born along the Dniester in Russia in 1837, Joseph Rabinowitz lost his mother at an early age and was taken into the home of his maternal grandfather until he was eleven years of age. Even as a child, Rabinowitz demonstrated a keen intellect. It is said that by the time he was just six years old he could recite the Song of Solomon from memory. During his youth, which was spent in the Chasidic community, he also showed great promise in his literary ability. After he was married at the age of 19, his brother-in-law, Jehiel Hershensohn, first introduced him to the New Testament when he loaned him a copy in Hebrew and suggested that Yeshua was perhaps the Messiah. Rabinowitz, at first surprised, left the Chasidim and pursued study of the Bible on his own.

Rabinowitz returned with his grandfather and took up law as a profession as he wanted to become a solicitor among his own Jewish people. Living in Kishinev, he took great interest in the affairs of his community and frequently lectured and wrote for Jewish newspapers, becoming known for his reformed and progressive ideas. For instance, in 1878 he wrote an article urging his fellow Russian rabbis to improve the conditions of Russian Jewry through sponsored agricultural training. He led by example and cultivated his own garden in accordance with his ideas. And all the while, wherever he went, he brought along his New Testament.

After a wave of persecution, Rabinowitz set forth, New Testament in hand, for what was then known as Palestine with a view of starting a colony there. On reaching Jerusalem and seeing the depressed state of its inhabitants, he became deeply moved. After having ascended the Mount of Olives and viewing the Mosque of Omar over where the former Temple had stood, he began to consider the tragic history of his people and wonder about the meaning of Israel’s suffering. The answer quickly flashed in his mind: The key to the Holy Land was in the hands of his brother Yeshua.

Filled with the glory of this great vision, he returned to Kishinev and soon developed a movement among a number of people from the surrounding towns. They called themselves “The Israelites of the New Covenant.” Rabinowitz set forth his new-found faith in a series of thirteen articles, which he modeled on the work of Maimonides. In 1885, he was baptized in Berlin and was invited to join the Lutheran and Russian churches; but he remained sensitive to his Jewish brethren and refused to enter a place of worship that displayed a crucifix.

A Christian minister, Mr. Faber, who had personally observed the profound influence of Rabinowitz in Galicia and Lithuania, gave this description of the rabbi:

Rabinowitz is a preacher of the gospel in the spirit of Jewish nationality; a preacher so gifted, so versed in scripture, so deeply rooted in the divine Word of the New Covenant, as the Jewish nation has not possessed since the day of the Apostles. This is his great importance; his sermons published in Hebrew, Russian, and in the jargon called Yiddish, which reached ten thousand copies, in the masses of the Jews from Eastern Europe they found eager readers in the most remote districts of Serbia, and in the secluded valleys of the Carpathian mountains.

Through the influence of Joseph Rabinowitz, the general attitude of Jewish people toward Yeshua improved considerably; and even though many Christians looked strangely upon this alliance of Christianity and Judaism, a committee was formed in Great Britain to support Rabinowitz’ work.

Joseph Rabinowitz died in 1899, but the work he began continued on into the twentieth century to bridge the gap between the Church and the Synagogue through the person of Yeshua.

I would like to acknowledge that the varied information contained herein
was gleaned from the writings of Hugh Schonfield.
- Dr. Alan Poyner-Levison

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Dr. Poyner-Levison is Messianic Teacher at Beit Shalom Ministries, England,
and is AMC's UK Representative. Thank you, Alan.