Michael Solomon Alexander

From Rabbis meet Jesus the Messiah – a collection of 24 biographies and testimonies of Rabbis encounters with Jesus the Messiah

© Messianic Good News.

Bishop AlexanderFrom orthodox Rabbi to Anglican Bishop is a pathway trodden by few, but such was the path of Michael Solomon Alexander. He was born into a strictly orthodox family in 1799 in the Duchy of Posen (now in Poland). His father was a Rabbi and every care was taken to educate him “after the most strictest sect of their religion.” By the age of sixteen he was teaching the Talmud, but was already having doubts about the value of the endless minutiae, the hairsplitting regulations it taught. His secret nighttime studies in the Synagogue to resolve his doubts led to a confrontation with his older brother, who was now a rabbi and head of the family. The rabbi was horrified that his own brother, a mere stripling, dared to question the perfection of the Talmud and he ordered him to desist from such impious speculations or to leave his house and the town. The young Alexander was faced with a choice between his principles and his home. He decided to seek work in England, his father’s birthplace.

On arrival in England, he applied to the Chief Rabbi in London for work. Despite his questioning of the Talmud his faith in Judaism had not been shaken and he rose steadily within the Orthodox Synagogue. He began as a tutor in Colchester, moved to Norwich to take up the post of Rabbi, and in 1825 moved to Plymouth as community Shochet and Prayer-Reader. He was highly regarded and seen as a man destined for high office. Few at that time would have guessed that that was to be in the Church. During this period, he became acquainted with a Christian Minister, through whom he encountered the New Testament for the first time. It aroused in him disquieting doubts and misgivings and he resolved to leave them behind when he moved to Plymouth with its strong Jewish community.

It was in Plymouth that he met and fell in love with Deborah, the younger sister of the Rabbi’s wife. Everyone concerned saw it as a very suitable match, and they became engaged. However, if Alexander had hoped to elude the “Hound of Heaven” by a change of scene it was not to be. When he arrived in Plymouth he was befriended by a local curate, Rev. Golding, who asked him for Hebrew lessons, and those developed into long discussions on passages of the Old and New Testaments. Confronted with Christ on almost every page the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah gradually deepened. He began to secretly attend services at Rev. Golding’s church. He experienced an agonizing spiritual and emotional struggle as he began to weigh up the consequences. He felt compelled to share his spiritual concerns with his wife to be although it might entail the loss of her forever.

Deborah was horrified and at first considered breaking off the engagement, but her love for Michael was unshakeable and she vowed that she would never marry anyone but him. Her family did everything they could to end the relationship, but eventually they gave their consent and the couple were married in November 1824. Their early days of marriage were not full of intense discussions of Christianity, but when Christian friends and Ministers came to visit the spiritual discussions, which involved close examination of the Scriptures, ensured that the struggles of Michael Alexander continued. Eventually he confided in a fellow Rabbi, but it only produced an explosion and threw the whole Jewish community of Plymouth into ferment. The Chief Rabbi in London was drawn in and wrote to Alexander begging him to go before the Ark in the Synagogue and curse the God of the Christians. Eventually Alexander was suspended from his position.

His conversion was not a dramatic Damascus Road experience. There was nothing sudden, emotional or unbalanced in his conversion, but rather through a slow and painstaking study of the Scriptures, listening to sermons and seeking insight from others he came to the unshakeable conviction that Jesus was the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah and Redeemer. From that conviction he never wavered. He was baptised in June 1825 at a service attended by very many in Plymouth, for not only were adult baptisms relatively rare in the Church of England then, but even rarer was the baptism of a Rabbi.

His wife suffered greatly through all this, but the demeanour of her husband compared to his opponents, and her own searching of the Scriptures led her to put her trust in Messiah Jesus shortly afterwards and she was baptised five months later.

After a time of Christian work and study in Ireland he was ordained and then joined the Church’s Ministry to the Jews in 1827, working in Posen, Danzig and Warsaw before returning in 1830 to work in London. During that time he visited his hometown in Poland and was able to visit some of his family under cover of darkness, but the hostility against him in the town was so great that he had to withdraw. In London he regularly preached to large numbers of Jews who came to his After-Meetings and a number came to faith. In 1832 he accepted the post of Professor of Hebrew and Rabbinical Literature at King’s College London, during which time he undertook a complete revision of the Hebrew New Testament and also the Hebrew version of the Prayer Book.

However, what Michael Alexander considered the high point of his ministry, and the greatest privilege Christ bestowed upon him, was about to unfold. For some years the Anglican Church had wanted to establish a Church in Jerusalem, but there was much opposition to such a plan. By 1839 building work had begun, but the post of Bishop had yet to be decided. Alexander McCaul was offered the post but he refused, feeling that the most suitable man for Bishop of Jerusalem would be a Hebrew Christian. Michael Solomon Alexander was who he had in mind, and there was no hesitation in appointing him. In early 1842 he and his family arrived in Jerusalem.

It is difficult for us today to imagine conditions in Jerusalem then. It was a neglected backwater with little security from diplomatic representation, little in the way of home comforts and it was a struggle to maintain a very basic standard of living. To establish a Church and a Mission work in such an environment was a Herculean task, and this was to take its toll on the new Bishop. The building of a hospital, clinic and Church premises was a major ongoing work, the fruitfulness of which only appeared after Michael Solomon Alexander’s times.

Despite the difficulties and opposition the work bore immediate fruit and by the end of his first year eight Jews had been baptised. A School for training of Hebrew Christian missionaries was established and a Bible Depot was opened. The Jews began to realise that the mission was a menace to their religion and matters came to a head when three rabbis, Abraham, Benjamin and Eliezer placed themselves under instruction for baptism. A report spread through the country that fourteen rabbis of Jerusalem had become Christians and a deputation was sent from the Jews of Tiberias to enquire into the truth of the report. Those Jews who had been friendly towards the mission withdrew in a panic and destroyed or hid the books they had received. But two out of the three rabbis were baptized soon afterwards along with two other Jewish enquirers – Isaac Paul Hirsch and Simon Peter Frankel.

By 1845 Michael Solomon Alexander felt able to contemplate a period of rest and a visit to England to report on the work. It was not to be. During the journey to Suez he felt unwell, went to rest early but unexpectedly passed away in the night. It appears that his whole system was worn down and diseased by his labours and the conditions in which he had worked. Michael Solomon Alexander has joined those Israelites who entered the true rest in their Messiah and who will return with Him when He appears in glory, but his testimony still speaks to Jewish people who hear it, and the work that he established continues to bear fruit in Jerusalem to this day, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah.