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District Rabbi for 40 Years
AFTER FORTY YEARS as district rabbi in Tapio Szele, Hungary, Rabbi Iechiel Lichtenstein read the New Testament. Through is reading and the working of the Holy Spirit in mind and heart, he found Him of whom all the Scriptures testify. His response was immediate and complete, and he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and as the Messiah of Israel.
As Rabbi Lichtenstein progressed in the knowledge of Christ, he boldly communicated his newfound truth to his congregation in the synagogue, and in his sermons made frequent references to the New Testament. His efforts, however, were not wholly acceptable to his congregation, and some members accused him to the chief rabbi in Budapest concerning his Christian belief and preaching. This brought about his resignation as rabbi and resulted in severe hardship and persecution. But he continued to preach the gospel, and maintained a courageous and consistent witness.
As his knowledge of Christ increased and his Christian experience developed, he became a prolific writer. In a pamphlet entitled, "A Jewish Mirror", he tells of his first reading of the New Testament and of its effect upon him:
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 merely nominal Christianity. Of the fountainhead of Christianity, I knew nothing. Strangely enough, it was the horrible Tisza-Eszlar blood accusation1 which first drew me to read the New Testament. This trial brought from their lurking places all the enemies of the Jews, 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 the 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 defense of the Jews, I often met with passages where Christ was spoken of as He who brings joy to men, 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 trusting my eyes. I took a New Testament out of its hidden corner; a book which some forty years before I had in vexation taken from a Jewish teacher, and I began to turn over its leaves to red. How can I express the impression which I then received? The half had not been told me of the greatness, power, and glory of this book, formerly a sealed book to me. All seemed so new to me 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 festal attire.
In his pamphlet Judaism and Christianity he writes:
I had thought the New Testament to be impure, a source of pride, of selfishness, of hatred, and of the worst kind of violence, but as I opened it, I felt myself pecularly and wonderfully taken possession of. A sudden glory, a light flashed through my soul. I looked for thorns and found roses; I discovered pearls instead of mess; instead of bondage, freedom; instead of death life, salvation, resurrection, heavenly treasure.
So great was the exaltation of spirit that he found in his reading of the New Testament that he wrote to his doctor son in Budapest:
1. See pp. 30-31
From every line in the New Testament, from every word, the Jewish spirit streamed forth light, life, power, endurance, faith, hope, love, charity, limitless and indestructible faith in God, kindness to prodigality, moderation to self-denial, content to the exclusion of all sense of need, consideration for others, with extreme strictness as regards self, all these things were found pervading the book.
Almost immediately after his conversion, a storm of persecution burst upon him. There was great resentment that he, a rabbi still in office, dared to testify publicly in sermons and pamphlets to the Messiahship of Jesus. Some who had been his friends scoffed at him and derided him. Others seriously warned him, pointing out the danger and the strife which would result from his conversion and his missionary activities. He was asked to remain silent about his new faith, for the sake of peace, and to keep his new ideas to himself. But, like Jeremiah of old, he felt that there was a fire in his bones, and he could not refrain from speaking: "I am in derision daily. Every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jer. 20:7-9).
In, "A Jewish Mirror", Lichtenstein he records:
I have been an honored rabbi for the space of forty years, and now, in my old age,
I am 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..."
In another place, after referring to the incident of the woman afflicted for twelve years who was healed by touching the hem of Jesus' garment (Mark 5:25-35). Lichtenstein writes:
The Jew also has been sick for 2000 years, and in vain has he sought healing and
Help of his physicians: in vain has he spent his substance. By faith alone, and by
Contact with Jesus, by the power which goes forth from Jesus only can he find
Lichtenstein died on October 16, 1909 at the age of 85. From the beginning, he "counted the cost" of his faith, and was prepared unhesitatingly and with qualification to pay the price. Like Paul, who could boast of his Jewishness and orthodoxy, he could affirm: "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them as dung, that I may win Christ and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection..." (Phil 3:7-10).