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Joseph Rabinowitz and the Messianic Movement: The Herzl of Jewish Christianity.

Kai Kjaer-Hansen. Tr. David Stoner, additions tr. Birger Petterson. Edinburgh: The Hansel Press Ltd.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995 (rev. and enlr. from orig. - Josef Rabinowitsch og den messianske bevoegelse [Arhus, Denmark: Forlager Okay-Bog, 1988]). Pp. 262. $16.99, paper.

The life of Joseph Rabinowitz (1837-99) - scion of a distinguished hasidic family, founder of the "Israelites of the New Covenant" Movement in Kishinev, and convert to Christianity on his own terms - is fairly assessed in Kjaer-Hansen's book, although the designation of Rabinowitz as "the Herzl of Jewish Christianity" is a misnomer. Whereas Rabinowitz's younger contemporary, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the founder of the Zionist movement, successfully predicted that within fifty years of the founding Zionist Congress in Basel (1897) a Jewish state would be established in the land of Israel, Rabinowitz turned his 1882 visit to the Holy Land into a zealous mission to persuade other Russian Jews that "the key to the Holy Land lies in the hand of our brother, Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord Jesus Christ." Rabinowitz's announcement that he would "go to Palestine and make Jerusalem the centre of my activity" by establishing a center for "Messianic Jews to bring the Jews as a nation to faith in Jesus" failed, since, in the mission's assessment, no Christian dogmas would be taught there, only "Christ and his glorious return."

Kjaer-Hansen correctly perceives that Rabinowitz's determination to be both Jew and Christian met with approval among only a minimal number of economically deprived Jews. Rabinowitz's insistence on retaining his and his congregation's Jewish identity as well as certain Jewish practices ultimately prevented any permanent results from Rabinowitz's missionary activities, the author suggests. He notes that Rabinowitz was a successful preacher who managed to bring Jesus into the center of the Jewish world, but he was a failed missionary whose own death soon spelled that of his Kishinev movement.

Kjaer-Hansen's attempts to understand what happened to Rabinowitz in Jerusalem, as well as the latter's need to retain his Jewish identity while becoming an adherent of Jesus, are considered and objective. He does not minimize Rabinowitz's failures with the Russian government, with Jews, or with other missionaries and missions who alleged that Rabinowitz's missionizing methods and motives were not necessarily altruistic.

The author's use of available primary sources, including Rabinowitz's own written testimonies, sermons, and correspondence, as well as negative articles in the Hebrew and Yiddish press about his activities, is impressive. This reader, however, found this otherwise well-researched and -documented book somewhat flawed by minor but disconcerting points: the author's consistent use of the initials rather than the full first name of influential figures in Rabinowitz's life, the sometimes-stilted and inconsistent translations and transliterations, and the too-concise endnotes. Moreover, this reader would have liked to learn why European and Russian missions were so active among the Jews, especially following the traumatic upheavals in Jewish communities from the 1880's through the Kishinev pogroms of 1903 and 1905 some years after Rabinowitz's death and dutifully deplored by Christian missions at the time as "unchristian," eventually culminating in the Nazis' preoccupation with rendering the area judenrein.

Nevertheless, this work documents Hebrew Christianity a century ago through Rabinowitz's preachings. His words, "I have two subjects with which I am absorbed: one, the Lord Jesus Christ; the other Israel," should help contemporary Messianic Jews examine whether these two objectives are as mutually exclusive today as they were then.

Libby Garshowitz,University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Garshowitz, Libby
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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