|Isaac Lichtenstein was born in an Orthodox Jewish home in northern Hungary in 1824. He was ordained as a rabbi by the age of 20. He married around the age of 30. He eventually became the District Rabbi for the Hungarian city of Tapio-Szele, where he remained for nearly 40 years.
Early in his ministry a Jewish teacher in the communal school of his district casually showed him a German Bible. Turning the leaves, his eye fell on the name "Jesu Christi." He became
Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein
furiously angry and sharply reproved the teacher for having such a thing in his possession. Taking the book, he flung it across the room in a rage; it fell behind others on a shelf where, dusty and forgotten, it lay some thirty-odd years.
About that time a fierce wave of anti-Semitism broke out in Hungary, culminating in the now historic "Tisza Eslar affair". In that picturesque little Hungarian town, situated on the Theiss, 12 Jews and a Jewess were thrown into prison, accused of having killed a Christian girl in order to use her blood for ritual purposes the most tragic part of the case being that a little Jewish boy, who had been kept some time from his parents by the police commissary, was prevailed on by threats and cruelties to appear as the chief witness against his own father (the synagogue sexton) and recite a concocted circumstantial tale of the supposed murdered girl.
As in every other case in which this diabolical charge was ever brought against the Jews, the blood accusation in Tisza Eslar was ultimately demonstrated to be false and baseless. It remains to the glory of true religion that a number of prominent men who were believers in Jesus, notably Dr. Franz Delitzsch, the Messianic Jewish Professor of Leipzig University, rose to the occasion not only to defend the Jews, but also to tear the mask from all who by their acts scandalized Messiah in the eyes of Jewry.
The mental state of Rabbi Lichtenstein at this time is best revealed in his Judenspiegel (Jewish Mirror):
" 'Often have they oppressed me from my youth, may Israel say' (Psalm 129). No long explanation is needed to show that in these few words the Psalmist sums up the bitter experiences and sorrows which we, at least of the older generation, have suffered from our youth up at the hands of the Christian populations surrounding us.
"Mockery, scorn, blows, and all manner of humiliation, have been our portion even at the hands of Christian children. I remember still the stones which were thrown at us as we left the synagogue, and how, when bathing in the river, and powerless to prevent, we saw them cast our clothing, with laughter and insult, into the water.
"Once with sorrow and weeping, I saw my father felled to the ground without the least hesitation by a nobleman, so-called, because he had not quickly enough made room for him on a narrow path. But these sad experiences are known well enough to need no dwelling on; and would to God that such persecution of the Jews by the Christians were altogether a thing of the forgotten past!
"As impressions of early life take a deep hold, and as in my riper years I still had no cause to modify these impressions, it is no wonder that I came to think that Jesus Himself was the plague and curse of the Jews the origin and promoter of our sorrows and persecutions.
"In this conviction I grew to years of manhood, and still cherishing it I became old. I knew no difference between true and merely nominal Christianity; of the fountainhead of Christianity itself I knew nothing. Strangely enough it was the horrible Tisza Eslar blood accusation which first drew me to read the New Testament. This trail brought from their lurking-places all our enemies, and once again, as in olden times, the cry re-echoed, 'Death to the Jew!' The frenzy was excessive, and among the ringleaders were many who misused the name of Christ and His doctrine as a cloak to cover their abominable doings.
"These wicked practices of men wearing the name of Jesus only to further their evil designs aroused the indignation of some true Christians, who, with pen on fire and warning voices, denounced the lying rage of the anti-Semites. In articles written by the latter in defense of the Jews, I often met with passages where Jesus was spoken of as He Who brings joy to man, the Prince of peace, and the Redeemer; and His Gospel was extolled as a message of love and life to all people. I was surprised and scarcely trusted my eyes when I espied in a hidden corner the New Testament which some 30 years before I had in vexation taken from a Jewish teacher, and I began to turn over its leaves and read. How can I express the impression which I then received? "Not the half had been told me of the greatness, power and glory of this Book, formerly a sealed book to me. All seemed so new, arid yet it did me good, like the sight of an old friend who has laid aside his dusty, travel-worn garments, and appears in festive attire, like a bridegroom in wedding robes, or a bride adorned with her jewels."
Rabbi Lichtenstein was about 60 years old when these changes were taking place in his heart. For two or three years he kept these convictions locked in his own breast. He began, however, in his synagogue to preach strange and new doctrines which both interested and astonished his hearers. At last he could contain himself no longer. Preaching one Sabbath from Jesus' parable of the whited sepulcher, he openly avowed that his subject was taken from the New Testament and spoke of Jesus as the true Messiah, the Redeemer of Israel. Ultimately he embodied his ideas in three publications (see "An Appeal to the Jewish People") appearing in rapid succession which created a tremendous sensation among the Jews, not only in Hungary, but throughout the continent of Europe. And no wonder; for here was an old and respected Rabbi, still in office, calling upon his people in burning words to range themselves under the banner of the long- despised Jesus of Nazareth, and to hail Him as their true Messiah and King.
Lichtenstein never took the step to get publicly baptized which after his death allowed him to be buried in the Jewish cemetery despite his being a believer in Jesus. For this reason and because of his desire to keep strong connections with the Jewish community he was criticized by his peers including David Baron and Joseph Rabinowitz. In a letter to Baron in 1898, Lichtenstein writes:
“…my friends… do not understand me. It is a riddle to them that I do not cut my connection with my people, that I still visit synagogues and frequent Jewish circles, in spite of continual insult and humiliation. They do not see that it is in this very way I obtain the opportunity that I wish for, and am able to distribute hundreds of New Testaments and other missionary literature, and thus to sow the holy seed ‘They who sow in tears shall reap in joy.’ [Psalms 126:5]”
"I, an honored Rabbi for the space of 40 years, am now in my old age, treated by my friends as one possessed by an evil spirit, and by my enemies as an outcast. I am become a butt of mockers who point the finger at me. But while I live I will stand on my watchtower, though I may stand there all alone. I will listen to the words of God, and look for the time when He will return to Zion in mercy, and Israel shall fill the world with his joyous cry, 'Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest''"