Shabbetai Benjamin Rohold’s life was eventful. The first President of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America, he was born in Palestine in 1876 where his father was a Rabbi in Jerusalem. He became a disciple of Yeshua, moved to the United Kingdom and served with the Andrew Bonar Memorial Mission in Edinburgh. From there he relocated to Toronto, Canada, where he led the Presbyterian Missions to the Jews and opened one of the first ‘Hebrew Christian Synagogues’. In the midst of turbulent times he spoke out against the blood libel against Menachem Beilis in Russia and campaigned for the Jewish people suffering in the First World War. He returned with his wife Belle to Israel in 1921, and set up a Medical Clinic in Haifa, the Mount Hermon Bible College, and was an invited guest at the formation of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1925. He died in Cairo in 1931, and his wife Bella continued his medical work until the 1960s.
Rohold was an articulate and fiery writer and preacher. He spoke Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, English, German and other languages, and was not above causing riots when he preached in the streets. He was also a man of letters, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and a compiler of statistics for the International Missionary Review of the World. Along with his great friend and fellow Jewish disciple of Jesus from Palestine, Sir Leon Levison, he co-founded the International Hebrew Christian Alliance (now International Messianic Jewish Alliance) in 1925, and was deeply involved in the provision of training, welfare and emergency aid for Jewish disciples of Jesus throughout the war-torn regions of Eastern Europe in the face of increasing antisemitism and persecution. A strong supporter of Zionism, he saw the return to the Land as complementing the return of his people to the Messiah Yeshua, and he spent his life in pursuit of those two goals.
Jewish disciples of Jesus have much to learn from his life and example. He was a man of prayer and of action, a man of scholarship and practicalities combined. Whilst he was provocative in his preaching, he was compassionate in his relationships with all, and was recognised as a natural leader in the different contexts in which he served. Whilst he opposed, as did the majority of Hebrew Christians of those times, the radical proposals of Mark John Levy and Philip Cohen for a more Jewish expression and life-style which has come to be known as “Messianic Judaism” today, his own Yiddishkeit (Jewish identity and life) was undeniable, and I consider that with the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom of experience he would have modified his position.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the life and ministry of Ben Rohold, whose trailblazing activities paved the way for later generations of Jewish disciples of Jesus. May we live by his standards of dedication and devotion to his Messiah and his service, and may we, as children of our time, effectively model what it means to be your disciples in our generation. In our Messiah Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen
1913 “The Christian and the Jew.” Missionary Review of the World 26(4)267-291.
1914 “The Present Condition of Israel.” Missionary Review of the World 27(12):887-895.
Bernstein, Jewish Witnesses for Christ Rohold, S. B. The story of his conversion is thus told by himself:—
“It was in the well-beloved city of Jerusalem that I was born, and there also my early days were spent. More than half the inhabitants of Jerusalem are Jews, and mostly very pious, having come from all parts of the world to be buried in the Holy City when they die. The belief amongst these Jews is that when Messiah comes there will be the resurrection, and the bodies of those who were buried beyond Jerusalem will have to suffer much rolling until they reach the city. Thus to prevent this they have their burying place in the ancient city, being zealous for their religion, without enquiring as to whether they are really right in doing so. My father’s family was very well known, belonging to one of the most pious sects of Jews in Jerusalem. It was the great delight of my father to speak of his ancestors, who were great rabbis; and for half a century he occupied an honoured rabbinical position himself in Jerusalem (Rosh Hashochatim). My dear mother also, whose ancestors were leading Jews amongst the rabbis, was fond of telling us wonderful stories of her grandfather, who was a famous disciple of the great Geonim of Wilna. Needless to say, both my parents were careful to train their children in the religion of their forefathers. Being the youngest son of the family, I was much petted, and they did their utmost to bring me up in the fear of God, and in all the customs, rites, and rabbinical traditions, whilst they taught me to look upon Christianity as idolatry. Truly my parents loved me very much, and did all in their power to educate me in what they believed to be right, and their one desire was that I might occupy the seat of my dear father, to which all my teachers gave them full hope. Thus the early part of my life was spent in study within the home circle. It was inthe year 1893 that I had conversation for the first time with Christians.
“In that beautiful spot, the so-called Garden of Gethsemane, I one evening met two servants of God, who began speaking to me. At the time it seemed that I had gone into the Garden merely by accident, but now, as one looks back over the past, it can be clearly seen that a loving unseen hand was guiding me. These two Christians explained to me from the Scriptures how that Jesus of Nazareth is in very deed the promised Messiah, Israel’s greatest hope. As they reasoned with me, there was one passage of Scripture which I could not get over, that ‘the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.’
“With this new light upon the Word of God I was given to understand that the promises regarding the coming One told not only of His glory and majesty, but also of His suffering and death (Isaiah liii. and Psalm xxii.).
“Slowly I began to see how great and true Jehovah is, and how that His divine word regarding the Messiah has been literally fulfilled in Jesus Christ. I saw my helpless condition, and realized as never before that my own righteousness was as filthy rags. And oh, what joy came to me, when the gracious promise of God was fulfilled, a promise which came to me now with such a new meaning. ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you.’ (Ezekiel xxxvi. 26, 27).
“Having then accepted Jesus Christ as my own personal Saviour, I began to wish that my own loved ones might know Him, whom to know is life eternal. But I feared to tell them of my new-found treasure, and it is impossible for me to describe the unrest and agony of soul that I passed through in consequence. It was only at the Throne of Grace that comfort could be found, and there I sought the strength and help I so much needed. After this it seemed very clear that the Lord was speaking to me through His Word, and was thus answering my prayer for guidance. The word which came to me was that given to Abram of old—’Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will shew thee.’ (Genesis xii. 1).
“To leave those who are dear to one, the relations and friends, yes, even to leave all for Christ’s sake, is not easy; yet I knew it would be best to do what appeared to be the only right thing. It was a hard command to obey, but still I had the Lord’s promises to take with me,—’Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (St. Matthew xxviii. 20). ‘If ye shall ask anything of the Father in My name, He will give it you’ (St. John xvi. 23). Trusting therefore in God alone, and persuading myself that He would be faithful in fulfilling His promises, I started on my journey. And by the help of Almighty God I came to England, arriving here as a perfect stranger, not knowing the language, and without an earthly friend. It was a time of great temptation, but the God of my fathers kept me. Letters came from my friends and relations in Jerusalem, trying to persuade me to go back, and my dear father said it would bring down his grey hairs in sorrow to the grave if I did not return. Truly I felt the presence of my Redeemer, and realized that He had called me. This joy filled my heart, and the peace which passeth understanding was my portion. I praise God for those Christians who have learned to sympathize with His ancient people. The Lord raised up kind friends who helped me through my difficulties, and daily I learned more of my Saviour’s love, and found that ‘His goodness faileth never.’ His word says, ‘They who put their trust in Him will never be put to shame,’ and as I trusted, so I proved the truth of it. After spending some time in England, the way opened for me to enter the Bible Training Institute, Glasgow.
“Here I had opportunity of studying the Word of God, for which I was very thankful. At length a call came for me to enter active service in the vineyard of the Lord at the Bonar Memorial Mission to the Jews of Glasgow. On this work the Lord was pleased to set His seal, sending friends to encourage me, and in other ways blessing me abundantly.”
•Imber – Saving Scotland – https://www.dropbox.com/s/5qoc24df7pfqq9c/Levison%20Saving%20Jews%20Imber%20thesis.pdf?dl=0 •
S. B. Rohold. The War and the Jew (Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada, 1916),
1915 First Hebrew Christian Alliance of America Conference