Introduction to The Collected Writings of Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein (1824-1909)
By Jorge Quiñónez
Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein was among the most well known Jewish believers in Jesus (JBJs) in the late 19th century through the very beginning of the 20th century. In the Jewish missions circles of the time, he is equal or perhaps second only to Joseph Rabinowitz in notoriety. Practically any history of JBJs which has appeared in recent times makes reference to him and his work. David Baron states “What Joseph Rabinovich [sic] was to the Jews of Russia, that, and even more, Rabbi Lichtenstein was to the more cultured Jews of Austria, Hungary, Germany, etc.” That he was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and his unwillingness to be baptized had much to do with his fame. Baron said of his writings “…Rabbi Lichtenstein… produce[d] [a] remarkable series of pamphlets… [of] great importance and value…” This is the first time that most of the writings of this Orthodox Hungarian rabbi have appeared together in print. In this introduction, I provide a brief biographical sketch of Lichtenstein.
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF LICHTENSTEIN’S LIFE
Isaac Lichtenstein was born in an Orthodox Jewish home in northern Hungary in 1824. He had a yeshiva education and was ordained as a rabbi by the age of 20. He married around the age of 30. He eventually became the district rabbi for the Hungarian city of Tapioszele. He served in his post for over 35 years and through reading the New Testament became a JBJ in 1883. For several years, he kept his new belief secret. However, he eventually made his belief that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel public during one of his Sabbath sermons. He voluntarily resigned from his position as rabbi at the beginning of 1892. In his remaining years, he traveled and preached throughout Europe and continued to write. He died at 8 a.m. on Friday, October 16, 1908, at the age of 85.
When Lichtenstein became a JBJ, he was about 60 years of age, a bit too old to start an independent congregation for JBJs. He often told David Baron: “Oh, if there were only a Hebrew Christian Church, how gladly would I join it! If I were twenty years younger, I would endeavor myself to form one.” Compare this to Joseph Rabinowitz, who was 48 years old when he began his Hebrew Christian congregation in Kishinev in 1885.
Lichtenstein never took the step to get publicly baptized which after his death allowed him to be buried in the Jewish cemetery despite him being a JBJ. For this reason and because of his desire to keep strong connections with the Jewish community he was criticized by his peers including Baron and Rabinowitz. In a letter to Baron in 1898, Lichtenstein writes:
Two workers with the Norwegian Israel Mission in 1892 made an insightful observation about another important JBJ, namely Yechiel Lichtenstein (se below) which could just as well apply to Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein. They commented that “He is one of these peculiar proselytes from our time in whom the Christian belief in Jesus of Nazareth in an independent and original way has merged with Jewish thought and culture – which, apart from him, is also true of Rabinowitz, Lucky and others, who each has his own opinion of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.”
WHY A COLLECTION OF LICHTENSTEIN’S WRITINGS?
There are several simple reasons for doing a book on Isaac Lichtenstein’s writings. They have been out-of-print since the 1920s and they have never before been collected in one collection. Lichtenstein’s pamphlets in English were published through the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel based in England as well as many others which only appeared in obscure German journals or published only in Hungary. In recent decades, people who have discussed and quoted Lichtenstein have depended on secondary sources such as testimonies written by people other than Lichtenstein. In other words, one needs to seriously question how accurate is a second or third generation quotation from a work which Lichtenstein wrote? This alone is reason enough for compiling this anthology of Rabbi Isaac (Ignatz) Lichtenstein’s writings.
The average readers (and researchers as well) need to have access to this individual who is now so important in the recent history of modern Messianic Jews. Most of the writings were written as brief religious tracts. They are thus more like chapters in a book. To our knowledge, he wrote only in German. He has been translated into English, Yiddish, French, Italian, Hebrew, and other languages. I do not claim that I have found every tract that was translated into English that Lichtenstein ever wrote (in German). However, if anyone finds or knows of another tract by Lichtenstein in English or German not included in my collection: please contact me.
THE TWO TROUBLESOME LICHTENSTEINS
Isaac Lichtenstein’s name is commonly confused with another Lichtenstein, who was also a JBJ and probably a rabbi as well, Yehiel Tsvi Herschensohn-Lichtenstein, a Romanian Hassid and prolific writer. In many of their publications, they abbreviated their first names as “J. [Jechiel (Tsvi)] Lichtenstein” and “I. [Isaac/Ignatz] Lichtenstein”. The confusion between them is due to the nature of the writing system in which their names were printed. Most German books of this time were printed in Fraktur, a gothic style alphabet (a variation of the Old Latin alphabet; it appears somewhat similar to the Old English font today on most computers). The appearance of the capital letters “I” and “J” are identical in Fraktur: hence the source of confusion.
I conclude by quoting a thoughtful prayer that Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein wrote to open an address he gave at a conference on Jewish missions in 1895:
Almighty Heavenly Father, Eheyeh asher Eheyeh, Sovereign Ruler of past, present and future; we bless You for our past, and thank You, that in Your inscrutable wisdom, You have chosen us out of all peoples of the earth, to give us knowledge of the truth, and to make us witnesses of Your Covenant of everlasting life. Our present is dark, gloomy and desolate; but we trust Your word, O Father, that to all eternity You will not forsake Your people Israel, and we hasten forward full of hope to a glorious future, for You have sent Your heralds in the Name of Your beloved Son, Yeshua the Messiah, to comfort the mourning Daughter of Zion.
German and English Bibliography for Isaac Lichtenstein
[Note: This bibliography is not precisely in chronological order, mainly, because I could not find exact publication dates of Lichtenstein’s original German writings. Thus, sometimes a particular German work will have a later publication date than the English translation. I have tried to match the original German works with their English translations.]
I. Lichtenstein. An Appeal to the Jewish People. (Translated by Mrs. Baron). [London]: The Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel [H. C. T. I.] (1894).
I. Lichtenstein. Eine Bitte an die geehrten Leser. Budapest (1880).
I. Lichtenstein. Der Talmud auf der Anklagebank durch einen begeisterten Berehrer des Judenthums. Heft I. Budapest (1886).
I. Lichtenstein. Mein Zeugnis. Heft II. Budapest: Hornyánszky (1886).
I. Lichtenstein. Die Liebe und die Bekehrung. Heft III. Budapest (1886).
J. Lichtenstein. Judaism and Christianity. (Translated from the German by Margaret M. Alison). Elliot (1893).
Isaac Lichtenstein. Judenthum und Christenthum. Hamburg: A. Scheibenhuber .
I. Lichtenstein. Two Letter, or, What I Really Wish. (Translated by Mrs. Baron). London: H. C. T. I. (1887).
I. Lichtenstein. “Zwei Briefe oder was ich eigentlich will” in Saat auf Hoffnung 30 (1893), 9-36. [Reprinted London: H. C. T. I. (1902)].
I. Lichtenstein. The Blood of Christ. H. C. T. I. (1903).
I. Lichtenstein. “Das Blut Christi, ein Nachklang aus dem Midrasch Echa” in Saat auf Hoffnung 30 (1893), 229-232.
I. Lichtenstein. “Welche Anknüpfungspunkte findet die evangelische Berkündigung bei den Juden?” in Gustaf Dalman (editor). Die allgemeine Konferenz für Judenmission in Leipzig, abgehalten vom 6. bis 8. Juni 1895. Leipzig (1896). [Schriften des Institutum Judaicum in Leipzig, No. 44-46.]
I. Lichtenstein. “Letter from Rabbi Lichtenstein” in The Scattered Nation 7 (July 1896), 175-176.
I. Lichtenstein. “How to Approach the Jews” in The Scattered Nation 8 (October 1896), 193-195.
I. Lichtenstein. The Jewish Mirror. London: H. C. T. I. .
I. Lichtenstein. Judenspiegel. [Vienna: L. Scnberger (1896)].
I. Lichtenstein. The Points of Contact between Evangelical and Jewish Doctrine: An Address, Delivered at Leipsic. (Translated from the German by Mrs. Baron). Northfield, England: H. C. T. I. (1897).
I. Lichtenstein. Begegnungspunkte zwischen Juden und Christen: Gesetz und Evangelium. London (1902).
I. Lichtenstein. “Ein Weihnachts: und Neujahrsgrutz an alle Neugeborenen im Herrn” in Saat auf Hoffnung 36 (1899), 5-9.
I. Lichtenstein. “Ein Weihnachts: und Neujahrsgrutz für die auserwählten Kinder des Lichtes” in Saat auf Hoffnung 37 (1900), 35-40.
I. Lichtenstein. Ein Geheimniss aus dem Talmud. [Vienna, L. Scnberger, (1900)].
I. Lichtenstein. “Ein Neujahrsgrutz für die Neugebornen im Herrn zum Heilsjahre 1902” in Saat auf Hoffnung 39 (1902), 5-8.