Why I believe

I was born and brought up in a Jewish religious home. As far back as I can remember, my father always wore a religious garb, with beard and peyoths (side curls) and all the other customary marks of Jewish orthodoxy. The Jewish community where I spent my boyhood was small and poverty-stricken. It was not in a position to maintain a cheder (Jewish religious school). But being a devout Jew my father felt it his bounden duty himself to instruct his five children, my four sisters and his only son, in the faith of his fathers.

And when he no longer was able to devote the needed time and strength to that task, he engaged, out of his own meagre resources, a Belfer (primary religious teacher) to continue our instruction. It was the Belfer who started teaching me the Chumesh (Pentateuch), but he did not stay long. For various reasons, chiefly financial, my father had to let him go. It was decided that I should be sent to a cheder in a neighbouring town to continue my religious training. Accordingly, after Pesach (the Jewish Passover), when I had reached the ripe age of seven, my father took me by the hand and brought me to the Cheder, about four miles away from our village.

I Became a Talmudic Student

I began the study of the Talmud at the age of nine. A year later the Rebbe advised my father that he had advanced me in my studies as far as he was able, and that if my father desired me to continue my Talmudic studies he should transfer me to a higher school of learning. My father joyfully took that advice and soon I was enrolled as a student in a Yeshivah (higher Jewish school for rabbinical and Talmudic study). Such was my life until I reached my 13th year, that is until I became Bar Mitzvah (a son of the Law). This is an important milestone in the life of a Jewish boy. According to Jewish tradition, at that point the boy comes of age and becomes a member of the Synagogue.

Prior to that the father is responsible for the sins of his son, but now the father is freed from that responsibility. From then on the “Son of the Law” must himself suffer the penalty for his misdeeds. A year later I was in the capital city of Poland, Warsaw, continuing my Talmudic studies in one of the famous rabbinical seminaries, at the end of which course of studies I expected to obtain my rabbinical diploma. But this meant a period of struggle and privation. Food was provided by the seminary but for lodging, I like other needy students, had to find some Jewish store where I could act as night watchman, for which service I would receive shelter and sometimes a few cents.

Doubts and Problems

The teaching in the rabbinical schools was all “spoon-fed” – that is, we had to learn by heart, memorize, what we read in the books or what we heard from the lips of the Rabbi. Independent reasoning and questions were utterly discouraged. Those who inadvertently expressed a doubt or an opinion of their own, ideas not found in the books, were cruelly punished for their temerity. The result was that I carried around my problems and doubts, not daring to confide them to anyone. Also, at that time, it became clear to me that however much I tried; I would not go to heaven anyway. I felt I could not measure up to the requirements of the Torah. A Talmudic story about a famous Rabbi troubled me exceedingly. When his end was approaching, he was so terrified that he wept bitter tears. He did not know, he lamented, where he was going, to Heaven or to Gehenna. “If such a Rabbi,” I said to myself, “so famous for his devotion and sanctity, did not know whether he was good enough to go to Heaven, what chance have I to get there!” At this point an incident occurred which completely changed the whole course of my life. I had a friend who was suspected of not being sufficiently orthodox according to the rigid conception of the Yeshivah I was attending. He belonged to a religious Zionist group, called the Mizrachi, which was not tolerated by the Yeshivah.

Although I had nothing to do with this group, my association with that friend of mine made me an object of suspicion too. At that time also I became dissatisfied with the whole system of rabbinical education. All of it was nothing except what the Rabbis long ago had said or written. I desired to read and to study things which were outside the Talmudic Curriculum. I craved to learn things additional to those taught in the Yeshivah. That opportunity soon came. Walking in the streets of Warsaw I met a friend, also a Talmudic student, standing in the street and selling things. I asked him why he was doing it. He said: “I am fed up with the tyranny and of the Rabbis. I am now earning my own living and am no longer dependent on the Yeshivah. Now I can think for myself and read what I like.” A short time later I too was standing in the street selling things.

A Radical Change

Then the storekeeper who gave me lodging on his premises, saw me thus in the street with my basket of goods. “Aha,” he said, “You are no longer in the Yeshivah! My store is only for Yeshivah Bocherim (students). Therefore you can no longer sleep in my place!” So I had to look for another lodging and found it soon in the home of a kindly motherly woman. But this woman attended meetings at a Mission! “What are they doing at the Mission?” I asked her. “Come and see” she replied. My curiosity was aroused, and so one day I accompanied her to the meeting. The Missionaries were not altogether unknown to me. I had heard of them before – and abhorred them.

I also had seen some of their literature; and as soon as I looked into it, I tore it up. It seemed to propound the idea that Jews should believe in three gods and exchange the holy Torah for the teaching of the “Hanged One,” Whose name it was a sin for a Jew even to take upon his lips, because “that One” was supposed to be the cause of all the sorrows that had befallen Israel since His day nearly two thousand years ago. Moreover, what I saw at the Mission that day filled me with ridicule. The missionary began the meeting by offering prayer in Yiddish – I could not help bursting out in laughter. In our circle, in the synagogue, only ignorant women prayed in Yiddish. The language of prayer for men was Hebrew, from the Siddur! A little reflection, however, made me ashamed of my behaviour. After all, I said to myself, God understood all the languages, even Yiddish. Then thinking back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the prophets – they had no Siddur to pray from, and yet their prayers were accepted by God.

Signs of the Messiah

Then, at the close of the meeting, I heard the speaker make the following announcement: “If any of you want a sign from the Tenach (Old Testament) that Jesus is the Messiah, let them remain until after the meeting, and I will prove to them with more than one sign that this is so.” I decided to stay for I was sure he was wrong. I knew there were no signs in the Tenach by which he could prove his point. I knew also that I could demolish all his arguments, and show him that he was in error. I was therefore eager to hear what he had to say. The missionary made a long speech, quoting many verses from the Tenach in his support. But I had an answer ready for every one of those verses. Some of them, I explained, may not apply to the Messiah, and of those that did, I showed him that it was not Jesus to whom they referred. The only passage, however, for which I did not know the answer, was Daniel 9:24-26. It reads as follows: “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.

Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous tunes. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself. “I simply had to confess that I did not understand this passage at all, but I promised the speaker that I would study it and come back with the answer. What puzzled me, was: “Why was Messiah to be cut off!” As I continued attending the meetings I learned to respect the people for their patience and humility. Further reflection and study made me see that all my ready answers were based, not upon the unprejudiced study of the Bible, but upon what the Rabbis had told me. I had to admit that the promises fulfilled in Jesus were too numerous to be explained away. There was an accumulation of evidence which could in no manner be set aside.

I Accept the Messiah

However, I wanted to get to the bottom of the whole matter. Therefore I obtained a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew to learn at first-hand who Jesus was, and what He came to do and teach. I read through it carefully, comparing the many references in it to the Old Testament. Slowly it dawned upon me that Jesus must be the Messiah! Looking back upon my life, I realized that step by step the hand of God was upon me, leading me. All the circumstances of its course seemed to combine to bring me to that conclusion and decision. It was the hand of God which I could not and would not resist, and it was the Spirit of God, Who still broods over the chaos of this world and over men’s souls, darkened through sin, crying: May there be light!” It was a lonely decision to take. I could not consult my parents or friends. They would not have understood.

They would have been bitterly opposed to it. Nevertheless, I knew that my next step was to make an open and public confession of my faith in the Messiah. But at the time I lacked the courage to come out boldly. Then came the winter of the year 1937. There was a meeting at the Mission and on that occasion it was composed wholly of Jewish believers, except for the speaker who was a Gentile woman. She talked about the Temple of Jerusalem, explaining how everything in it -its construction and furniture – all pointed to the fact that all men were sinners, and that the Lord Jesus was the sacrifice for the sins of all.

So, that was why Messiah had to be cut off, as Daniel had foretold? “How is it,” I asked myself, “that a Gentile woman knows more about the Bible and about the significance of these things than I, a student of the Yeshivah? Does this not prove that we as a nation have rejected our Messiah?” When the speaker had finished, we were invited to kneel and pray. Then the unexpected happened: In spite of my Jewish reluctance to kneel, I immediately sank upon my knees and prayed that God might open my eyes to the Truth, and forgive me my sins for not acknowledging openly before men that Jesus was my Messiah.

Boldness and Assurance!

God answered my prayer. A new assurance filled my soul. I was no longer afraid to confess Him before men. I was no longer afraid of the consequences. This, however, was not the end of my difficulties. Soon my parents learned of the step I had taken, and they came endeavouring to dissuade me from my new-found faith. But as time went on their opposition relaxed and I had many opportunities of witnessing to them about their and my Messiah. After the war I left Poland and went to England to study. With my training behind me, I came to the United States to share in a witness for Messiah among my own people. Then, for four years I lived in Israel, serving as pastor to Israeli believers in Messiah and sharing my witness with my brethren there. In Israel I met my wife who is also a Jewish believer in the Messiah. She had suffered through the Nazi occupation of France but had survived and come to Israel. We now live with our children in Cincinatti, Ohio, where it is my privilege to serve God and my people.

What my Heart feels

Words fail me to describe what my heart feels. Awed by the power and greatness of the God of Daniel, King Darius wrote a decree to his dominions which perhaps describes best the awe and reverence that I feel for what God has done for me: ” .., for He is the living God, enduring forever; His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and His dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues, He works signs arms wonders in heaven and on earth, He Who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions” (Daniel 6:26,27). From my harrowing experiences under the Nazis in Poland I know that men who reject Messiah are capable of bringing hell on earth. But surely God has not abandoned mankind. He has a plan for every person who will trust in Him. The Bible, which has guided and sustained me thus far, promises that peace and justice will fill the earth only when the Prince of Peace returns. He is the only hope of mankind, and I know that He will come, because He has proved to me His great love and His miraculous power. Will you not also trust Him, my friend? And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son. Zechariah 12:10

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