Report on Jewish Missions 1922

Dies auch in Deutsch erhaeltlich

In 1922 the Reverends L. Zeckhausen, David Baron and Dr. Arnold Frank reported to the United Free Church of Scotland on ‘the success of Jewish mission’. They argued persuasively against the perception that the Jew is more difficult to bring to Christ than any other, and consequently dispelled the myth that Christian anti-Semitism poses an insurmountable obstacle to the Jewish acceptance of Jesus. It is interesting to note the relative openness to the gospel among the Jews in the period prior to the Second World War and the evidence of a significant harvest among the Jews in Europe before the devastating destruction of European Jewry in the holocaust.

This is an edited version of the introduction and a few excerpts from those reports.

THERE is no more common assertion than that it is difficult to convert a Jew, and many have used the assertion to decry all effort to bring him to the knowledge of Christ. It is not surprising that Jews themselves should promote the idea, for the belief that their brethren cling tenaciously to their faith must act as a deterrent on some who would like to abandon it; but that Christians should agree to this is astonishing. How did they themselves come to hold their present beliefs if not through Jewish converts to Christianity? How did the Christian faith at first spread throughout the known world if not through Jews who had come to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah? Christians who would emphasize the difficulty, in fact, betray ignorance of the history of their own faith, for were not ‘about three thousand’ of these immovable Jews converted in one day at Pentecost?

Jewish Movements towards Christianity

It is practically impossible to measure accurately the proportion of gain that has come to the Christian Church from Jewry. It has been calculated that at the time of Christ the Jewish people numbered 4,000,000. By the Middle Ages they had been reduced to 1,000,000. What had become of the remainder and of the natural increase that should have accrued to them as a people? No doubt, forced conversions during the Crusades and such methods as those employed by the Inquisition in Spain account for much. But room must be left for sincere conviction. Jews may label the great majority of conversions to Christianity as the effects of ‘assimilation,’ but assimilation cannot always be a mechanical process, or the Jewish people must be set down as mentally and morally impotent — which they are not. In the eighteenth century Moses Mendelssohn thought he could use Jewish culture for world advancement. The more intimate contact with Gentiles which the movement involved had a result the opposite of what he anticipated, for the whole of his descendants are now Christian. In fact, when Jews come vitally into contact with the Christian faith, they find it congenial and attractive spiritually. Sometimes the connection issues in mass movements towards Christianity. In 1819, 1,236 out of 3,610 Jews in Berlin became Christians, and for years afterwards there were secessions at the rate of 122 per annum. The Great War revealed Jew and Gentile to each other as never before, and a mass movement, as in Hungary and Ukrainia, was the result.

Jewish Baptisms

We are not, however, without some real guidance regarding the number of Jews who have become converts to Christianity. De le Roi, a missionary of the London Jews Society, has made a calculation of the baptisms that took place throughout the world during the nineteenth century. While his figures must largely be approximate, they have been accepted by Jews themselves as substantially correct. He gives the baptisms as follows:

United Kingdom 28,830 *
Germany 17,520 5,000
Holland 1,800
Norway & Sweden 500
Denmark 100
Switzerland 100
France 600 1,800
Austro-Hungary 8,356 36,200 200
Russia 3,136 12,000 69,400
Asia and Africa 100 500
Australia 200
North America 11,500 1,500#
Italy 300
Rumania 1,500
Turkey 3,300
Greece, Bulgaria & Serbia 100
TOTAL 72,742 57,300 74,500

* The figure for the United Kingdom includes 5,330 conversions by British missions abroad.  # The figures for North America include those for Holland and Switzerland.

More recent statisticians regard De le Roi’s estimate as very conservative, and the actual numbers are probably between 225,000 and 250,000.

It has been computed that of every 156 Jews in the world one is a Protestant Christian, whilst the proportion from the other non-Christian religions is one to every 525. If the ingathering from the heathen and Moslem world had been in the same ratio as that from among the children of Israel, there would have been a total of seven million converts from the non-Christian Gentile world instead of only two to three million during the nineteenth century. Investigators have also discovered that the Protestant Jewish converts who enter the Christian ministry are three times more numerous than those from the ranks of converts from other non-Christian faiths.

Causes of Conversions

When Jews find it impossible to deny the success of the Gospel among their fellows, they betake themselves to the insinuation that the conduct of these so-called converts cannot retain the respect of reasonable men. Their change of belief can be attributed only to interested motives. Some have found it convenient to become Christians, they urge, because worldly position has tempted them, or because persecution has forced them to convert for safety’s sake, or because they have intermarried with the alien, or because they have become religiously indifferent as to what creed they profess. Recently a correspondent from Jerusalem called attention to the fact that, “here in Eretz Yisrael (i.e.Palestine) the missionaries are exceptionally successful in their underhand work. Here they have fertile ground for their labours, and in Jerusalem every week young Jews are converted.” By way of discrediting the movement still further, he adds that the majority of these young Jews are “poor people from Eastern Europe who cannot find work and are without any means of subsistence,” and so are “an easy prey to the missionaries.” Even Christians hold the view that Jews change from self-interest.

The Alleged Cost of Conversions

Another method by which discredit is sought to be cast upon Hebrew Christians is to call attention to the cost of Jewish missions. A hostile Jewish critic pointed out that over a series of years one society spent from £600 to £3,000 on one conversion, and that it cost the same society £28,439 to baptize 28 Jews. A satirist in Punch recently joined these mercenary opponents, and after indicating that on the average it cost £1,000 to convert a Jew, jocularly said that he knew many Jews who would be happy to change their faith at a smaller figure. A militant Rabbi recently declared that the money employed on Jewish missions would be better used “in a determined attempt to save the remnant of Israelfrom the hands of heartless persecutors and murderers.” All of which criticism shows a lamentable ignorance of the spirit of Christianity and of the command of the Christian’s Lord and Master.

Much is evident, from the following reports of Hebrew Christians in the mission fields, to refute these claims.

Report on the activities of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, by the Rev. L. Zeckhausen

Though called ‘London’ Society, its work, at different times, has been almost as widely spread as the Jewish dispersion itself, for, besides many places in England and Ireland, it sought to reach the Jews in Holland, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, France, Italy, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, Egypt, Tunis, Algiers, Morocco, Arabia, Abyssinia, and Canada. It even made an attempt to get at the ‘Orphan Colony’ of the Jews in China, and found ways and means of sending missionary literature to the secluded Jews in the oases of the Sahara and in the rocky fastnesses of the Atlas Mountains. It has provided the Scriptures and missionary literature in at least a dozen different tongues. It has founded schools, churches, hospitals, dispensaries, book-depots, homes for inquirers, and industrial establishments in many different parts of the world.

The success, in the narrower sense of the word, as expressed in Mission baptisms, has naturally varied in the different countries and at different times, but some sort of visible result there has been everywhere. The baptismal registers of the Society’s mission churches in London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Jerusalem, etc., run into many hundreds each.

In Persia, there was no Jewish Christian some forty years ago. Now there are regular communities of them, with churches and schools, at Teheran, Ispahan, and Hamadan, and they number more than 200 adult members between them. The communities are largely self-supporting, that of Hamadan having its own minister, the Rev. Ezekiel Haim, one of the early converts of the Mission in Persia.

The story of the Mission to the Jews of Abyssinia—the Falashas, as they are called—is little short of an epic, with its tale of wonderful achievements, its trials, sufferings and fiery persecutions, the steadfastness of the numerous converts, several of whom were deemed worthy of the martyr’s crown, and the great hope for the future, when European missionaries are once more allowed to settle and work in that distant land.

Very considerable indeed is the number of Christian ministers and missionaries that passed through the Society’s schools and training institutions in London, Jerusalem, and elsewhere, and it is no exaggeration to say that many of its best workers have been recruited from the ranks of the Society’s young converts.

The hospitals at Jerusalem and Safed, besides showing the Jews Christian kindness and helping to remove deep-seated prejudices, have been a great stimulus to the wealthier Jews to care for their own poor by providing them with hospitals of their own, and have so literally served as a means “to provoke the Jews to jealousy.” And the same, in a lesser degree, can be said of the dispensaries in London, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool,Dublin, etc.

Activities of the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel, as reported by the Rev. David Baron

The ‘Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel,’ being only 29 years old, is one of the youngest existing agencies for the evangelization of the Jewish people. Our object is partly expressed in the name of the Mission. We are profoundly conscious of Israel’s need and helplessness apart from Christ. We have also the conviction that Hebrew Christians, apart from all sectarian aims, have a special call to the task of evangelising their people, and that there is room in the field for their testimony.

The special task to which we have devoted ourselves is the continuous systematic teaching and preaching of the Word of God. In the London Mission House, where our headquarters are, a Bible reading for Jewish men has gone on every evening all these years, with the exception of a few weeks in the height of summer. The great purpose has been to show that Christ is the centre of the whole of God’s self-revelation; that in the New Testament we have the true development and fulfilment of the law and the prophets; that the Name of Jesus is the only one given among men whereby we must be saved; and that, so long as the Jewish nation persists in denying or ignoring Him, their house will remain desolate, and they themselves continue to be wanderers among the nations. For many years, until the War gave a shattering blow to our work among the men from which we are gradually recovering, it was a gladsome sight for anyone who has the salvation of Israel at heart to see night after night fifty or sixty or even more Jewish men following with open Hebrew Bibles before them, and without a word of interruption, the long and close exposition; they listened quietly and reverently while the speakers—men of their own nationality—extolled Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God and Redeemer of Israel.

For over a quarter of a century our Sunday School for Jewish children has been carried on. These children come with the permission of their parents, who themselves are more or less influenced by the Gospel. Without exaggeration it may be said that hundreds of Jewish boys and girls who have passed through the classes have as good, if not better, acquaintance with the fundamental truths of Christianity than the average Sunday School children in connection with the Churches. Their eagerness in learning Scripture, especially the New Testament, is remarkable. A few years ago several of the older Jewish girls learned by heart the whole of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Several, who for years attended Sunday School and other classes and were baptized as soon as they were grown up, have given us much joy by the steadfastness of their faith and their fervent love and zeal for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even were we to suppose that Jewish Missions are as barren of results as some either ignorantly or maliciously represent, it would still be the duty of the Church of Christ to preach the Gospel to the Jews in obedience to His commands and to deliver its own soul. But the results have been great and wonderful. Many thousands of Jews have been brought to the knowledge of Christ within the past fifty years. Among those led to a knowledge of Christ in our London Mission House, six or seven are now ministers of Gentile Christian congregations, others are missionaries in this country, Canada, and the United States. Further, that a great preparation work is being accomplished is manifest from the readiness of masses of Jews to hear about Christ and to read the New Testament. In the course of mission journeys in Germany, Austria, Hungary, North Africa,Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor, we have had Jews flock to our rooms—in some places from early morning till late at night—to hear about Christ. Even in the centres of Chassidic bigotry in Galicia and Rumania we have had our rooms packed with Jews eagerly discussing the claims of Jesus, and many of them thankfully accepting the New Testament, while in Russia, just before the War, hundreds of Jews in different towns actually paid for admission to hear two of our missionary brethren lecture on true Christianity. In the Ukraine there seems to be a Christward movement among the Jews. As I write, I learn from a fellow-worker in Wolynia of meetings which are attended by a thousand or more Jews.

The changed attitude of many thoughtful Jews in relation to Christ may be taken as an encouragement to Christians to persevere in prayer and effort on Israel’s behalf and to be full of hope in regard to the future, for, whatever maybe the outlook in reference to the other nations, in respect of this unique and peculiar people we may use the words of Adoniram Judson, “our prospects are as bright as the promises of God.”  As an illustration a remarkable passage may be quoted from a recent book by a prominent Jewish author. He remonstrates with the Jews for “their suicidal obstinacy in refusing to know anything of the greatness of Jesus.” “What is this?” he exclaims. “Is it only the Jew who is unable to see and hear all that others see and hear? Are the Jews stricken with blindness and deafness as regards Christ, so that to them only He has nothing to say?”  He then turns to the Christians, reminds them of their indebtedness to Jews for the best and the holiest that they possess, points out that it was through Jews they first heard of Christ, that if He was misunderstood, hated, persecuted by Jews, He was also accepted and loved by Jews, who by their love, faithfulness, and courage gave Jesus Christ to the nations, and who, with their life and death, paid for what Christians now call their own. He then continues: “The apostles and the evangelists were all Jews; the one hundred and twenty in the ‘upper room’ were all Jews; in the New Testament there is not a line which has not been penned by a Jewish hand, and which is not filled with the true Jewish spirit. And Christ? Did He not say that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?…And this Christ—is He to be of no importance to us Jews? Understand, then, what we shall do: we shall bring Him back to us. Christ is not dead for us—for us he has not yet lived; and He will not slay us, He will make us alive again. His profound holy words, and all that is true and heart-appealing in the New Testament, must from now be heard in our synagogues and taught to our children, in order that the wrong we had committed may be made good…and the curse turned into blessing, and He at last may find us who has always been seeking after us.” [1]

Work of the Irish Presbyterian Mission in Hamburg, reported by Dr. Arnold Frank

The distribution of literature on the streets, amongst the emigrants, and through the post to Rabbis, teachers, and other Jews, always was an important part of our work. Although this is a sowing in hope, we know of several emigrants who accepted New Testaments on leaving this harbour and were so powerfully influenced by what they read that their search for truth continued, with the result that they finally became Christians. A Jewish medical man in Prague was so interested in a booklet sent to him, containing descriptions of converted Jews, that he purchased a New Testament and thus came to a living faith in Christ. This is no isolated fact.

It has been my privilege to lead many educated and well situated Hebrews to Christ. Only one or two instances. A Jewish lawyer came to me and said: “When a boy, a lady teacher I had at school told Christ’s story in such a fascinating way and she herself was so amiable, that Christ’s picture was enshrined in my soul. At first I could not but speak of Jesus, but when my father, a strict Jew, said if I did not discontinue naming Christ he would not allow me to attend the religious lesson, and as that was to me the most interesting of all the classes, I kept silent. Now I have finished my studies, am independent, and wish to be one of Christ’s disciples.” Another gentleman, a chemical manager of a factory, told me: “I had a strict religious upbringing, but since my student days I found no satisfaction in Judaism, and I would not like to train my children in a religion that gives neither life nor light. I feel myself drawn to Christ, especially since I saw His transforming influence in a person in my office.” During a whole winter he came to me twice weekly for instruction. It was a real joy to lead this earnest, intelligent truth seeker to Jesus.

We could have baptized hundreds of Jews of this city if we did not insist on giving them a long course of instruction and did not aim at true conversion. In our congregation we have a good sprinkling of Jewish converts, but our Mission House has perhaps been our most fruitful agency. In it Jewish youths find a Christian home, work and religious instruction. Our daily Bible Class is attended not only by the inquirers living in the home; other Jews come also, so that we often had (before the War) as many as thirty men listening to the Gospel message. In the course of years thousands have thus heard the truth, and a large number has accepted Christ and been baptised.

Of these spiritual sons some thirty are engaged in direct Christian work. Three of them are ministers of the Gospel in England; three are Jewish missionaries in Manchester and Liverpool. Rev. J. Neugewirtz is superintendent of the Jewish Mission in Montreal. In the United States are some twenty in the Ministry and Mission field. Three ordained ministers, four town missionaries and two evangelists in Germany, are converts of our Mission. The evangelists have been richly blessed in bringing souls to Christ and then being the means of forming congregations, which are now ministered to by other men.

Another branch of our work is the publication of Christian literature, especially our monthly Zions Freund. The folding, stitching and dispatching of the 27,000 copies monthly of this periodical employ the residents of our Mission House. Not a few Jews read it. Its main object is to interest earnest Christians in Israel’s salvation. Thousands of believers have through reading Zions Freund recognised their duty to the Jews, speak kindly to them and tell them of their Messiah. We have thus a large band of fellow-workers, whose testimony has frequently borne precious fruit.

Only at one period have we had crowds listening to the Gospel—this was before the War, when thousands of Jews were emigrating—otherwise we have largely to do with individuals. I believe this personal work is more fruitful. I have learned not to gauge success by baptismal figures, but by the number of those who remain faithful.

Successes in Hungary

IN a speech delivered in the jubilee year of Scotland’s Jewish Mission, the late Rev. Dr. Adolph Saphir declared: “God has given you abundant success in your Mission. You have made many converts, and converts’ converts … It is often said that there are few converts, but it certainly is not true … If the Jews lived together in one country, and if the converts from Judaism continued to live with their brethren, the assertion that there are but few Jewish converts would be perfectly impossible. But now they are scattered over the whole world.”

On both counts Dr. Saphir’s statement may be accepted as true. One reason why so many imagine that there is little success attending mission effort among Jews, is without doubt because converts are seldom gathered into organised Jewish Christian Churches. They lack the visibility of Chinese or African Christians, and because people do not see a ‘native’ Church of Jewish converts expanding and labouring they are apt to suppose that little is accomplished. Nevertheless, converts are numerous, and the marvel is not that they are few, but that they number so many. Yet, is it a marvel? Is not the Gospel itself Jewish? And do we not accept the testimony of St. Paul, that its power is of God unto the salvation of Jew as well as Gentile?

Dr. Saphir was thinking specially of our Mission in Hungary. It is generally spoken of as the Budapest Mission, but that is scarcely a correct designation, for the influence of the Mission has, almost from the start, extended over the whole of Hungary and far beyond it. Of this Mission the Rev. Gavin Carlyle, in his ‘Life of William Wingate,’ states, “No Jewish Mission has, we believe, been so successful. Its converts exercised a great influence in many parts of the world afterwards.” What the actual numbers are none can reckon, but if all had remained together to form a Jewish Christian Church we may quite legitimately conclude that, prior to 1914, Hungary would have contained a Jewish Christian community numbering many thousands.

Within a short time after the arrival of the first missionaries in 1841, the Jewish community was deeply stirred and the ingathering soon began. So much were heart and imagination struck by the numerous conversions that “Pentecostal Days” came to be the expression used to describe the time and its events.

Among the converts were men of note. All the members of the influential Saphir family were baptised. The eminent Professor Franz Delitzsch, in a letter to the General Assembly, remarked, with playful allusion to the name Saphir, that the foundation of the Mission was laid in sapphires. Another celebrated convert was Dr. Alfred Edersheim, author of ‘The Life and Times of the Messiah,’ and at one time a minister in Aberdeen. We have also Rev. Alexander Tomory of Constantinople, whose son became a well-known missionary in Calcutta. In the lists are the names of Rabbi Husch; Prof. Moritz Bloch (Balogh) of the theological college at Budapest; Dr. Wolff, Hebrew Tutor in Glasgow; Dr. Leitner, the famous orientalist; Rev. C. A. Schönberger; Drs. Gilbert, Thüritz, and Zuckerkandl, successful medical missionaries in London, Bucharest, and Rustchuk respectively; and many others. The influence of such men has been world-wide, and all the Churches are in their debt. To follow the “converts’ converts” would lead too far afield, but note may be made of at least one of them. One of the early converts was Mr. G. R. Lederer, who emigrated to New York, and we have Saphir’s authority for stating that he among others was the means of the conversion of Schereschewski, who became the first Christian Bishop in China and translated the Scriptures into the Chinese language.

Throughout the whole history of the Mission the simple preaching of the Gospel has been one of the principal methods of work. But from early days the Mission Schools have had an extraordinary influence. Many thousands of pupils have passed through them, and in almost every town and village in Hungary Jews or Jewish converts are to be found who themselves or some of whose relatives received Christian instruction in our educational institution. The first missionaries and all their successors have laid emphasis on the production and circulation of Christian literature, and during the past half century the National Bible Society of Scotland and the London Religious Tract Society have nobly co-operated with the Mission. Regular colportage and, since the beginning of the present century, widespread itineracy have also been features of the work. Bible Classes, Sunday Schools, Clubs, Women’s Associations have also played an important part. All these branches of activity are directed to the winning of the Jews, and they have been richly blessed.

During the past four years between 600 and 700 Jews and Jewesses have, after careful instruction, been baptised in the Mission itself, and the figures might have been increased indefinitely if we had only had more workers to instruct inquirers. But the movement of Jews into the Christian Church has been universal in Hungary during the period. The figures have been put as high as 30,000, and probably that is no exaggeration, although accurate statistics have not yet been prepared for the country as a whole, and even for Budapest itself only those for the years 1918 to 1920 are available. In that city alone during these three years no fewer than 7,406 Jewish people entered the Christian Church; of these 2,665 joined the Protestant Churches, 4,561 became Roman Catholic, and 180 were received into other communions. Of the total, 62 percent were male and 38 percent female converts, almost all of them belonging to the intellectual classes.

[1] Von Constantin Brunner, „Der Judenhass und die Juden,“ Berlin, 1919.

About admin