Rabbi Michael Rosenthal
was Vicar of St. Mark Whitechapel from 1899 to 1907. A rabbi born in Lithuania, he came to faith by means of a Jesuit while on a tour of Europe fundraising for Jewish charities. The Rabbi was a profound Talmudist, and strict in the keeping of his religion. While on a steamboate he met a very learned and able Roman Catholic man, whom he at first believed was a Jesuit. Rosenthal observed all the dietary laws and Sabbath laws, and took his meals separately. His fellow ridiculed his scruples and one day, when the young rabbi was dining alone, touched his bottle of claret, thereby rendering it non-kosher. Rosenthal was angry, and his co-passenger answered: “Do you really think that God is pleased by your rejecting things that are good enough for the captain and other people on the ship, and that you really serve Him by making yourself so different from anybody else?” In addition he said, “in the last 1900 years the Jews have received no less than twenty-four false Messiahs. Can a nation that has made the gigantic mistake of accepting twenty-four false Messiahs claim to be infallible in rejecting a twenty-fifth?”
Some time after his arrival in England Rosenthal became acquainted with Dr. WIlkinson, then rector of St. Peter’s Eaton square. Wilkinson in turn referred him to Dr. Ewald, a Jewish believer in Jesus who was well versed in Hebrew and Talmud. Rosenthal came to faith and was eventually baptised by Ewald.
He trained at the college of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, where Dr. Ewald was based, and worked from St. Paul Haggerston for 14 years as the hymnwriter Samuel John Stone’s curate, and later as curate of St Peter Eaton Square. Although Haggeston had few Jewish residents at the time, Stone had inherited a passion for this work from his father. A memoir of Stone’s life comments on Rosenthal’s work there:
It was a strange sight to see the boys’ schoolroom filled with a frowsy crowd of unkempt Polish Jews, singing in Yiddish, Ord I hear of showers of blessing: it was a still stranger sight to see an adult baptism, when the converts would be followed into church by a fierc-eyed, muttering crowd of their fellows, who would threaten acts of personal violence alike to priests and converts, thereats which, happily, they seldom if ever managed to put into practice. strangest and most moving of all it was to be present at a choral Hebrew Eucharist, when one seemed, as it were, to be hearing the Church of Jerusalem in the first days lifting up their voice with one accord in praise of the crucified. This Jewish work…made, as might be expected, a deep impression upon the parishioners.
Although at first Rosenthal was received at first with a great deal of hostility, in time the opposition died down and the Lord gave him much fruit in the Jewish community. He said he had himself baptised over six hundred Jewish believers.
Gidney reports on Rosenthal’s work for the London Society from 1872 to 1874, when he worked under Frankel in Damscus: The sale of Holy Scriptures was large in both this and the following year; the printing press was busy issuing fresh Hebrew pacards every week, which appealed to the Oriental desire for something new; the Saturday Hebrew lectures were well attended, the number of those present varying from 20 to 150; enquirers were under instruction, two of whom were baptised. In 1873 teh work was much checked by a cherem. Most unfortunately, on account of the illness of his wife, Frankel had to leave Damascus. Rosenthal remained in charge until ill-health compelled him also to retire, in 1874.”
Bernstein, A. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. 1909. new edition 1999 Keren Ahvah Meshichit.
St. George-in-the-East Church. London. “Jewish Presence (2) – Clergy. www.stgite.org.uk/media/jewishconverts.html
Gidney, W. T. History of the London Jews Society…1908.