Spotlight on Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstien

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Great truths cannot be suppressed…they are like the sun.”[1]

Imagine growing up in a world that hated everything about you, where being stoned as a child was commonplace, and where Christians were the face of racism and injustice.

This was the world of Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, an orthodox Hungarian Jew. It is no wonder that when Lichtenstein was once shown a New Testament, he confiscated it and threw it into a dusty corner, where it would remain for 40 years.download

After all, for a Jew, Christ represented a dark, hateful world.

However, some lights cannot be suppressed—no matter how dark the darkness.  In April 1882, the disappearance of a Hungarian, teenaged girl fueled national anti-Semitism, and Christians falsely accused their Jewish brothers of ritualistic murder. Though the accusation proved false, pogroms raged across Hungry.

Horrified by this violence and hatred, Lichtenstein pulled out that forgotten copy of the New Testament to learn of the Christ these people proclaimed—yet he found something entirely unexpected.

I had thought the New Testament to be impure, a source of pride, of overweening selfishness, of hatred, of the worst kind of violence. But as I opened it, I felt myself peculiarly and wonderfully taken possession of…I looked for thorns and gathered roses…instead of hatred, love; instead of vengeance, forgiveness; instead of bondage, freedom… instead of enmity, conciliation; instead of death, life, salvation, resurrection, heavenly treasure.”[2]

Lichtenstein had found his messiah.

In the following years, Lichtenstein continued to officiate as the district rabbi.  In 1884, he shocked his community by revealing his allegiance to Jesus as Messiah.

My testimony for the Messiah seems so simple, common, and obvious that if I kept silent about it the rocks would cry out. It overwhelms me,” said Lichtenstein.[3]

His community loved him and refused to call for his removal.  Yet, he came under severe fire by both Jews and Christians.  Christians wished him to forsake his Jewishness, and Jews wished him to give up Christ. He refused to do either. “Does not Christ belong to the Jews?” He asked a Christian friend.[4]

Lichtenstein and his family suffered great social persecution, were labeled as apostates and sank into poverty. Lichtenstein’s older brother disowned him, and the rabbi’s promising oldest son died tragically at 28. The Christian community increased the heat, demanding Lichtenstein covert.

Yet despite it all, he continued to teach Torah and Christ in his synagogue, bringing many to Messiah. In his writings, Lichtenstein attacked Christians who did not live as Christ, and Jews who reviled him for Christ yet failed to live holy lives.

In 1892, Lichtenstein stepped down from his position at the synagogue, suffering poor health and desiring greater freedom to proclaim the gospel. He continued to teach a Jewish messiah, though persecution followed him. Once, someone even paid a barber to humiliate the rabbi by shaving off his beard.

When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate,” said Lichtenstein, quoting 1 Corinthians 4:12-13.

On October 16, 1908 Lichtenstein passed away in his home at the age of 83. His last words were:

…goodnight, my children; goodnight my enemies, you can injure me no more. We have one God and One Father of all who are called children in heaven and on earth, and one Messiah who gave up his life on the cursed tree for the salvation of men. Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”[5]

DasLicht1The nineteenth century was an era of smoldering anti-Semitism, a dark age just waiting for Hitler’s armies to erect barbed fences between Christian and Jew.  Yet Lichtenstein stood as a light.  For Christians and Jews, he demonstrated the true face of Messiah. Not a Messiah who reviled his people for their identity, but a Messiah who embraced his Jewishness. Not a messiah of hate or violence, but one of love and salvation.

Truly, Lichtenstein was a light in an age of darkness.

To learn more about this remarkable man, check out The Everlasting Jew: Selected Writings of Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, published by Vine of David.

[1] Isaac Lichtenstein, The Everlasting Jew: Selected Writings of Rabbi Lichtenstein, Messianic Luminaries Series, (Marshfield: Vine of David, 2013), 55.

[2] Lichtenstein, The Everlasting Jew, 53.

[3] Lichtenstein, The Everlasting Jew, 14.

[4] Lichtenstein, The Everlasting Jew, 51.

[5] Lichtenstein, The Everlasting Jew, 34.

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