Part 2: Joseph Rabinowitz Pioneer of the Messianic Jewish Movement


Rabinowitz-on-Mount-of-OlivesJoseph Rabinowitz on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem 1882

Shalom Radio UK



(The Herzel Of Jewish Christianity -Joseph Rabinowitz And The Messianic Movement,     Kai Kjæ –Hansen, The Harvest Press, Edinburgh, UK, 1995).


Dr Max Rosvally’s Testimony

yeshua by B.R. Burton

Orthodox Jewish man praying


Russian Jews fleeing persecution in South-Western, Russia (1882-1883)screen-shot-2015-09-23-at-11-52-46

A selection of publication produced by Joseph Rabinowitz:



Joseph Rabinowitz Pioneer of the Messianic Jewish Movement

Joseph Rabinowitz was not only willing to explore and pursue answers to questions vexing him personally, but he actively sought answers to the continuing challenge facing the Jewish Question in Russia.

The Jewish Question: What do we mean by the Jewish Question?

Jewish being and existence is a philosophic question and has an impact on many different aspects of Jewish life that at times is hard, perplexing, insecure and challenging. It has something to do choosiness – “the chosen people” motif tells us that they were chosen by God to be his prototype people to display to the world God’s purpose not only for them, but all humanity. For it was to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob (not Ishmael and Esau – though they each in turn did receive a promise and blessing from G-D), that the Jews were raised up to be God’s covenant people and through them to display God’s grace and mercy to all humankind. God said to Abraham, that those who bless you (his offspring through Isaac), they will be blessed and those who curse you, they will be cursed.

Returning to Rabinowitz’s story, he had moved from a strict narrow Chassidic world to and Enlightenment outlook and made a big leap of faith by embracing “our brother Jesus.”

Because of his deep compassion and empathy for his fellow Jews, he felt impelled to share what he had found with them. This led to the development of a new approach to how Jews may embrace faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while remaining Jewish.

We need to explore how the occurrences and his quest to answer these questions developed and the profound impact that this had on the Jews of South-Western Russia and further afield.

An important question that we wish to seek the answer to is:

What may we learn from the movement of “Israelites of the New Covenant” and how may we apply some of these principles to our 21st Century expression of faith?

As part of his spiritual development Rabinowitz grappled with the question as how to give expression to his new found faith in the context of being Jewish.

After his return to his native Russia he embarked on an intense reading and study of the New Testament. As a result of him grappling with the many questions that he faced in his desire to give expression to them, he formulated his 13 Theses:

1 The present moral and material condition of the Jew in Russia is very bad.

2   For us to sit idle and inactive at such a time is tantamount to consenting to the total ruin of our Jewish brethren in Russia.

3 An improvement of the condition cannot come about through the money of the rich, or the teaching of the rabbis, or the enlightenment of the learned. Such people do not think of the welfare of Israel, but only worsen the condition.

4 It is of no help to leave our native Russia and emigrate to Eretz Israel, and of just as little help to become assimilated with the Gentile population of Russia.

5 Salvation and help can only be obtained here in Russia by our own efforts and with the aid of the Lord who is mighty to save.

6 The material state of the Jews cannot be improved until they are healed of their moral depravity.

7 To put right the moral state there must be a deep spiritual renewal. Our idols, love of money, must be cast out, and instead our hearts must have love of the truth and fear of evil.

8 For this renewal a leader of firm character is needed.

9 This leader must be of the of Jacob’s linage, love Israel, and have given his life for God’s holy name’s sake and for the sake of the law and the prophets. He must be a man known by all the inhabitants of the earth. On the one hand he must understanding of his brethren who boast of the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and who pride themselves on the knowledge they have received through the law of Sinai. On the other hand they must be acquainted, with their tendency, in good times, to forsake their heavenly Father, the living God and chose new gods for themselves: love of money and power over impoverished brethren through knowledge and mammon.

 After through searching in the historical books of our people, we have found the man who this solely in the man Jesus of Nazareth, who was killed in Jerusalem before the destruction of the last temple.

11 The wise men of Israel could not understand the good counsel he gave to his brethren the to keep the law in matters concerning the intellect and heart, and not to lay stress on outward acts which may alter according to locality and the political situation of the Jews. We Jews live in the year 5644 can positively see that Jesus is the man. Only he sought the true welfare of his brethren and spoke peace to their kindred.

12 We feel bound for our great love for our brethren to keep holy and to honour the name of our brother Jesus and to study the holy words which have been recorded in the renowned writings, the Gospels. These should be inculcated into our children at school; whenever we are with people, we should speak about them, and the Gospel writings should be gathered as a treasure in our homes along with all the holy scriptures which have been handed down to us a treasure by our wise men in all generations.

13 We hope that the words of our brother Jesus, which were spoken in righteousness, love, and gentleness to our brethren, will take root in our hearts. The fruit of righteousness and salvation, will be love of truth and goodness. Then the governments and nations will change their attitude and will permit us existence and establishment among the other living nations, overshadowed by the European laws, which derive from our brother’s spirit, who gave his life so that the world might thrive and to keep wickedness from the earth (p 47-49).

While some of the content of the first 8 Theses may seem harsh and very critical of Jews and Jewish life, we must remember that the Russian Jews of the late 19th century were aware of self-criticism if anyone was. This criticism does not place Rabinowitz outside the Jewish community, nor can he be accused of being anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic. Up to that point any Jew of the Enlightenment/ Haskala persuasion would have nodded in agreement with his criticism of the spiritual and physical condition of many fellow Jews and Jewish life of that era.

From the 9th Thesis, onwards the tone changes and he begins to address the issue of the one who was spoken of in the Holy Scriptures, foretold in the law and the prophets, who would be a descendant of Jacob. When we get to the 10th Thesis, Rabinowitz declares that the long expected one is Jesus of Nazareth, our brother Jesus.

While the Thirteen Theses does not yet place Jesus as central, this was work in progress and if we consider that a thesis is not yet a proven hypothesis – the later 12 Articles of Faith that was later formulated for the emergent Messianic Jewish movement of Israelites of the New Covenant, is a much clearer declaration of their faith. Rabinowitz and his fellow believers took to heart the need for greater clarity in giving expression to what they believed.

The strongest reactions to Joseph Rabinowitz’s 13 Theses came from the Lutheran Missionaries leader Faltin and some of his colleagues that questioned his orthodoxy who had followed the emergence of his movement with active support. In addition Professor Delitzsch (German Theologian of Leipzig and long time supporter of the Jews), had taking a keen and active involvement in fostering this new movement.

Rabinowitz was even accused of heresy and even apostasy (1883-1884), however, in 1885 he said this about his own development:

“I first honoured Jesus as a great human being with the compassionate heart, later as the one who desired the welfare of my people, and finally as the one who bore my sins” (p 52).

From the perspective of reading the New Testament, it would be a bit like viewing the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matthew 5-7; Luke 6-7) and taking that to be the complete teaching of Jesus. This view would give one a false impression that that was the complete theology of Jesus the Nazarene. The Sermon when analysed on its own gives a restatement of the Law’s teaching with an even stricter interpretation. The message and mission of Jesus moved way beyond a restatement of the law, as Jesus expounds and demonstrates grace and mercy in the face of God’s divine judgment when viewed in the light of the whole gospel’s teaching.

So too, with those who were quick to condemn Rabinowitz, a hasty judgement based only upon his 13 Theses, certainly does not give the whole compass of the man’s theology and neither does it give any place for his further theological development.

Joseph Rabinowitz responded to the challenges to his 13 Theses and subsequently produced 12 Articles of Faith followed by 10 Articles of Faith, 7 Articles of Faith (this was a brief summary) and finally 24 Articles of Faith.

For the purpose of this talk, we will consider the 7 Articles of Faith:

1 I believe, with a perfect faith, that our heavenly Father, is the living, and true, and eternal God, who created heaven and earth and everything visible and invisible through His Word and His Holy Spirit. All things are from Him, all things in Him, all things to Him (cf. S 12 of The 12 Articles).

2 I believe, with a perfect faith, that our heavenly Father has according to His promise to our forefathers, to our prophets, to our King David, the son of Jesse, raised unto Israel a Redeemer, Jesus, who was born of the Virgin Mary, in Bethlehem the City of David, was crucified, dead, and buried for our salvation, rose again from the dead, and sitteth at the right hand of our heavenly Father, from thence He shall come to judge the world, the living and the dead. He is the appointed King over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His dominion there shall be no end.

3 I believe, with a perfect faith, that by the counsel of God and His foreknowledge, our fathers have been smitten with hardness of heart for sin an for rebellion against our Messiah, the Lord Jesus, in order to provoke the other nations of the earth unto jealousy, and to reconcile all through faith in Christ, by the word of his Evangelist, in order that knowledge of Jehovah (YHWH/ LORD/HaShem) should cover the earth, and HaShem be King over the whole world.

4 I believe, with a perfect faith, that through faith in Jesus, the Messiah alone, without the works of the law a man may be justified; that there is but one God, who justifies the circumcised Jews by faith, and the uncircumcised through faith; and there is no difference between Jew and Greek, between bond and free, between male and female. They are all one in Christ.

5 I believe, with a perfect faith, in a Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

6 I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.

7 I wait for the resurrection and the renewed life of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

This creed was included in the liturgy at the close of worship, coming after the sermon and before the saying of the Aaronic Benediction. The influence of Maimonides 13 Articles of the Jewish Faith and the Christian creeds is evident.

What may we conclude from these 7 Articles of Faith?

When compared with his 12 Articles of Faith, there is no mention of Sabbath observance or observing the Passover, neither is there a strong Trinitarian affirmation, in Article 1 of the 7 Articles, Father, His Word and Holy Spirit are declared as being part of the Eternal God, though the unity of God’s person is evident.

This is much more that could be said, but it is sufficient to observe that Rabinowitz was clearly within the framework of orthodoxy. Furthermore the strong nationalistic emphasis of his 13 Theses are no longer a part of his affirmation of faith.

It is very clear that although the Israelites of the New Covenant were organised in a separate congregation and worshiped and lived a Jewish lifestyle, they also shared much in common with Protestant beliefs concerning the person and work of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), though their approach to worship and lifestyle was much more in keeping with their Jewish heritage.

While initially, Rabinowitz’s spiritual encounter and conversion on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem was clouded in mystery – “what exactly took place there?” This could no longer be said of him, for his progressive articulation of his belief became apparent.

Not all Jews who came to faith find the path the way Rabinowitz did. For example the testimony of Dr Max Rosvally, a Jewish Medical Doctor who came to faith in America around 1876 describes in his book A Short Sketch of the Life and Conversion of a Jew, published in that year. Rosvally outlines his journey to faith. While Rabinowitz strove to remain within a Jewish context and live out his faith among his fellow Jews in South-Western Russia, Rosvally had no such inclination or opportunity to give expression to his faith in a Jewish way.

His testimony clearly outlines a “conversion” experience, but unlike Rabinowitz, Rosvally all but repudiated his former faith as a Jew, fully embracing his new-found Christian faith, which found expression in 19th century American revivalist style. His main arena of engagement was to rescue alcoholics of which he himself had been prior to his conversion after which he was not only freed from the bondage of drink, but assisted many others to find freedom in Christ and salvation.

Rosvally however, did not totally abandon his Jewish heritage and people, as he did seek to organise local Hebrew Christians, holding meeting occasionally for other Jewish converts like himself.

Unlike Rabinowitz, Rosvally had no perception or apparent desire to live as a Jew, nor did he encourage other Jews to do so, except holding an annual Passover Seder for fellow Hebrew Christians.

On the other hand, Joseph Rabinowitz only a few years later in 1882 and in another part of the world, South-Western Russia pioneered one of the earliest Messianic Jewish movement.

What were the motivating factors that brought this approach about that Rabinowitz spearheaded?

As we recall the circumstances that Rabinowitz faced in Bessarabia were turbulent and increasingly so after the death of Czar Alexander II (1882-1883), the life of the Jews of that part of the world was under constant threat and danger. While emigration to Ottoman occupied Palestine did not offer an attractive option, Rabinowitz grew in conviction that help for the Jews lay in the hands of our brother Jesus.

There were also others who played an important part in encouraging the development of a fresh expression of faith relevant and attractive to Jews. While Rabinowitz and his associates did not always see eye-to-eye, there was a healthy dialogue. He also displayed a sharp intellect and a strong determination, even in the face of both Jewish and Christian opposition to develop a new way of approaching faith in Jesus in a Jewish context and culturally appropriate and attractive. He was willing to challenge the status quo and while some took offence, others gladly hailed his pioneer work as a valid way for Jews to remain Jews, while at the same time embracing Jesus as more than just “our brother Jesus,” but Messiah and Lord. He particularly stressed Jewish male circumcision and the keeping of the Sabbath for the Jewish believers who joined his movement.

So what may we learn from the movement of “Israelites of the New Covenant” and how may we apply some of these principles to our 21st Century expression of faith?

Firstly, we discover that it is possible to be Jewish, believe in Yeshua and live a Jewish lifestyle as Rabinowitz did and subsequently he encouraged others to do so.

In belief our faith should be biblically rooted and just as Rabinowitz formulated his Articles of Faith as given in the summary of the 7 Articles of Faith, but also seek to continue to live as a Jew.

While the pressure to assimilate and take on the majority Gentile culture of the Christian church is strong, a Jewish believer can choose to swim against the tide and give expression to their faith in a Jewish way.

Unlike, Dr Rosvally and many of his fellow Hebrew Christians, there was little if any choice in1876, but in 2017 there are many alternatives now available and a Jewish believer may choose to live his or her life in a Messianic Jewish way.


Not just a whim or flutter, Joseph Rabinowitz and his Messianic Jewish movement of Israelites of the New Covenant, began with him discovering “our brother Jesus” – and in his own words:

“I first honoured Jesus as a great human being with the compassionate heart, later as the one who desired the welfare of my people, and finally as the one who bore my sins” (p 52).

His tenacity and determination to share this great discovery with both Jews and Gentiles demonstrates that Joseph Rabinowitz stands as one of the spiritual giants of his age.

What started as a small stream, has become a great river like the mighty Mississippi River, that rises in northern Minnesota in the Allegheny Mountains in the east to the Rocky’s in the west, with a length of 2350 miles. Not only is it the fourth largest river system in the world, but it sustains life for countless species from the plant and animal kingdom (Mississippi River Facts).

We should take encouragement from Rabinowitz’s example and not despise the day of small beginnings. And as a good friend of mine says: “onward and upwards…” and I add, “looking unto Yeshua, the author (originator/ pioneer) and finisher of our faith.”


Shalom Radio UK

It is sponsored by MTMI

(Messianic Teaching Ministry International)

It is an independent internet based broadcast


Joseph Rabinowitz & The Messianic Jewish Movement

Shalom Radio UK presents:

The Herzel of Jewish Christianity –

Joseph Rabinowitz and the Messianic Jewish Movement

417pK8aq4JL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_                 Joseph-Rabinowitz

Movers and Shakers: Pioneers of Messianic Judaism

The story of a pioneer of the Messianic Movement in South-Western Russia:

Material based on the above book by Kai Kjaer-Hansen

A Wikipedia article with a major contributor – Roni Mechanic:

Shalom Radio UK is an independent internet based radio programme produced by

Roni Mechanic & Mike Petty

Sponsored by MTMI

(Messianic Teaching Ministry International)