Israel Saphir 1780
The Saphir family was a family well known in Hungary, and greatly respected by the Jews. For two generations at least it had been much distinguished. The father of Israel Saphir was learned in the Jewish law, and had much influence among his co-religionists. He had three sons, one of whom became famous through all Germany as a wit and poet, being by many considered the fitting successor of the renowned Jean Paul Richter. His name was Moritz, originally Moses, Gottlieb Saphir. He is recognized as one of the great literary men of the period, and long biographies appear of him in most German biographical dictionaries. His wit was so sharp and pungent that he had to leave several States, in which he gave offence to the petty rulers.
Israel Saphir was the eldest of the three brothers. He was a merchant, originally a wool-broker — a man of good education, of a studious nature, well up in Hebrew and in Hebrew law, and accomplished in many departments of knowledge and science. He was most active as an educationist. He projected and carried out an educational institute in Pesth, with a staff of eight professors, in which the children of the better classes were educated. Adolph thus describes his father —
” My father, Israel Saphir, a brother of the well-known writer, M. G. Saphir, was a merchant. He was a good Hebrew scholar, and had intimate knowledge of German, French, and English literature. He also pursued with zeal, philosophical and theological studies, and rendered much service to the cause of education in Hungary.”
The third brother was also a man of ability, father of one of the greatest linguists of the day who is now at the head of the Oriental University Institute at Woking (Gottlieb Leitner). He died young, leaving a son and a daughter. His widow married a Jewish Christian missionary in Constaninople, Johann Moritz Leitner, who adopted the two children as his own and gave them his name.
Israel Saphir was well known and respected among all the Jews of Hungary, a confidante of the chief rabbi. When Dr. Keith, a Scottish missionary, lay ill in Pesth, he made especial inquiry for some one of respectability, intelligence, and candour, on whom he could thoroughly depend for information respecting the state of the Jews. He was at once emphatically told that there was no man like Saphir, from whom he could get the requisite information — that he was looked up to by the Jews as the most learned among them. Accordingly he saw him, and had much conversation with him. Saphir’s habits were literary. He was a master of German literature. When the mission was commenced, he had just begun to study English. Actuated chiefly by a desire to advance his knowledge of English, he appeared regularly at the services of Dr. Duncan, leading his son Adolph, then eleven or twelve years of age, by the hand. Gradually the truth reached his heart, and he recognized in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah foretold by the prophets. His little son, with an intellect always keen, became convinced at the same time ; — both, however, being reticent on the subject.
It was the custom of the missionaries to have communion in an upper room. On one occasion prior to his conversion, old Saphir, highly respected in the Hungarian Jewish community, attended the meeting as an observer, something he had done before. He brought with him his young son, Adolph.
The boy, standing, was between his knees, the young head reaching nearly to the aged face, the face nearly resting on the youthful head. We had ended the Supper. Dr Duncan gave out the sixty-fourth paraphrase, “To Him that loved the souls of men.” To our surprise the voice of the old Hebrew rose above our voices, and when we looked to him the tears were falling plentifully on the head of Adolph. These are days to be remembered.
The silent influences were brought to light in a very unexpected way, and by the action of the son. One morning Adolph requested his father to allow him to ask the blessing at breakfast. On permission being given, he poured out an earnest, short prayer, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The consternation in the family, and shortly thereafter in the Jewish quarter, where they lived, was great. “By and by,” says Mr. Wingate, who gives this account, “we heard that the Jews were saying that the Holy Ghost had fallen on Saphir’s son, and that he expounded the Scripture as they had never heard it expounded before.” Adolph himself makes this reference —
“Through the instrumentality of Scotch missionaries my father saw the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, and was received into the Christian Church in 1843, at the age of sixty-three years. I, at that time a lad in my twelfth year, was the first of our family to accept the gospel.”
The conversion of Israel Saphir and his family caused a great sensation among the Jews, who knew that as a Jew he had been remarkable for honesty and wisdom, and who could not believe that in becoming a Christian he was a deceiver. Largely through his efforts many well-educated Jews attended the services in English and German language and the counselling meetings. During the following eight years it is reported that more than 50 Jews came to faith in Jesus and were baptized.
The son of Israel Saphir, Adolph Saphir, describes his impression of these years of revival as years of “solemnity: the intense conviction of sin, the abundant joy in redemption, the great love and brotherly unity …” Another son, Philip Saphir, assisted by his sister, Elisabeth, founded a primary school, at one time for more than thousand pupils. Another sister, Johanna, married Charles Schoenberger, another Jewish believer, who founded the Hebrew Christian Testimony with David Baron.
LCJE Århus, Denmark 2007 Jewish mission to Hungary ; Rolf G. Heitmann, General Secretary, Norwegian Church Ministry to Israel
In New Horizons 1996; “The Most Fruitful of All Missionary Work” John S. Ross. http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=459#note5 Quote taken from David Brown, The Life of Rabbi Duncan (Edinburgh, 1872), p. 440
Brown, David. The Life of Rabbi Duncan. Free Presbyterian Publications. 1872/1986
Carlyle, Gavin. Mighty in the Scriptures: Memoir of Adolph Saphir, J.F. Shaw & Co. 1893.