Rabbi Abraham Schwartzenberg
Rabbi Abraham lived in Kasimir, Poland, and was employed by a Jewish merchant who became bankrupt but was nonetheless chosen as rabbi at Lublin because of his Talmudic learning. Schwartzenberg, who was an upright, conscientious man, took offence at the appointment of a man who had not demonstrated accountability and wisdom, and who perhaps had exhibited dubious business practices. He reproached the Jewish leaders for not acting according to the law, deeply disappointed with what he perceived to be hypocrisy and double standards.
At about this time, someone gave him a New Testament that had been left in the town by Becker, a Jewish Christian. The rabbi read the New Testament, was impressed deeply and began to speak of it, encouraging others to read it also. He was convicted of the truth, but felt he needed to know more! His first action in this direction was to seek out a Roman Catholic priest, but when this man told him he could be baptized but must put away the New Testament, he realized the truth was not to be found with him. Next he travelled to Lublin, where he had heard of an evangelical minister. This man received him coldly and with suspicion. The rabbi decided to do a mikveh himself, in the same manner in which John the Baptist had baptized his disciples. He went to a river and dipped himself three times, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as he had learned from reading the Gospels.
After this he heard that there was a well-loved and respected missionary living in Warsaw, Dr. McCaul, and he made his way there to meet him. McCaul was known for his love for the Jewish people and for his knowledge of the Biband Jewish literature. Rabbi Schwartzenberg visited him and asked him to teach him, as he had become convinced that Judaism without Christianity was only, as he quoted, “the shadow of death”. Dr. McCaul found him to be deeply learned, with a spirit profoundly devout, and a heart breaking to be at peace with God. But he knew from experience that this man was choosing a difficult path.
“My good rabbi”, he warned him, “you know the animosity which your people evince towards one of themselves who returns to the teaching of the Bible, with regard to their Redeemer. You know that they will not scruple to accuse you of the most heinous crimes, and inconsistencies, the moment that they find out that you are feeling your way back again to the fold of Israel’s Shepherd.”
“Yes”, answered Abraham sorrowfully, “I thought of that too. I know that though today I am esteemed by my people as one of the saints of the earth, tomorrow when the step which I am determined to take shall transpire, my name shall be cast out as evil and all manner of false accusation will be hurled against me. I have, however, provided against the faith being sullied on my account. Here is the means of rebutting any attempt against my character. I told my people that I was about to resign my post, and move to Warsaw. As I was a stranger in the Polish city I asked the heads of the congregation to testify to my religious and moral character, according as they conscientiously thought of me. Read what they say, and keep the paper by you.”
Dr. McCaul read the testimonial, which was signed by many influential leaders in the Jewish community. It confirmed his good impression of the rabbi, and praised him highly. So he agreed to accept Abraham as his pupil, and began to teach him the basics of faith as taught in the Bible. Before long former acquaintances heard that their former rabbi was studying with the Christian missionary, and were shocked and incensed against him. They came to Warsaw to see Dr. McCaul and laid terrible charges of dishonesty, immorality and godlessness against the rabbi. In response, the doctor showed them their own written commendation, and they were disarmed. But the battle did not stop there. A report was circulated that the rabbi had gone mad.What else could possible explain the fact that a well-learned and respected rabbi should turn to Christianity?!
The rabbi was baptized by Dr. McCaul on November 8th, 1828, when he was sixty-four years of age, receiving, in addition to his former name of Abraham, that of Jacob, which he chose from Micah vii. 20, ” Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.” He expressed a wish to retain his beard and Jewish costume, in order to prove to his brethren that no mere worldly motive had induced him to renounce Rabbinism and he had not left his people. He said :
“The Jews often think that persons are baptized in order to escape reproach, or
to live in Christian quarters of the city, or to walk in the ” Saxon Garden” (from
which Polish Jews were then excluded), but I will show them that none of these
things move me. I am a Jew still formerly I was an unbelieving Jew, but now
I am a believing Jew, and, whatever inconvenience or reproach may result, I
wish to bear it with my brethren.”
This confession caused great discontent to his countrymen, who had him summoned before the police to account for his Judaizing habits – for he continued to live in the way he had until then, and wore the distinctive dress of an Orthodox Jew! His reply to the judge on the accusals brought against him was that Christ commanded us to baptise our hearts and not our clothes! This satisfied the judge, and he was allowed to continue to dress the way he was used. He also showed the goodness of his heart by making over to his son all the little property he had, compensating him as it were for the damage caused him by his father’s baptism. He himself fully trusted that God would provide for him and give him the strength needed to earn his living. He supported himself by selling fruit in the street and continued to visit the Jewish quarters of the city, preaching of Messiah to his people. The police had standing orders to protect him, but at those times he found himself alone in a street he was often pelted with stones and mud. He lived this way for the next fourteen years. He was a man of strong common sense; but humility, zeal, piety, kindness, and gratitude, were the striking features of his character, and these endeared him to all who knew him.
In Schwartzenberg’s day it was commonly believed that every Hebrew-Christian, on his death-bed, recants his Christian profession of faith, by repeating the words, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD;”. When the Jews of Warsaw heard that the elderly rabbi was dying, they crowded his home and bedroom. What were his last words to be?!
“Brethren, you wish to know in what faith I am dying! If every drop of blood in me were vocal, endowed with speech, each such drop would cry aloud that I am dying full of joy and peace, believing in the redemption of Israel, through the Lord Jesus Christ.”
He spoke no more on earth after that. He died, as he had lived, in unwavering faith in the Redeemer.
Bernstein, A. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. O.J.C.I. Palestine House, London 1909. new edition by Keren Ahvah Meschichit, Israel 1999
De le Roi, F. J. A., volume III 123-5
Gidney, W. T. History of the London Society …1908
Margoliouth, Moses. Vestiges of the historic Anglo-Hebrews in East Anglia. With appendices and an apropos essay (1870), London : Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer 1870
Jewish Intelligence, (London Jews Society), October 1842
The Christian Remembrancer, volume XII. London, 1846 click here for link to e-book