Solomon was the second son and one of five children born to Alexander Wolff. His ancestors may have come to Prussia from England, or may have been in Schönlanke for many generations. His education in the Talmud began when he was seven years old, and from age sixteen to twenty, he was a teacher in his community of both Talmud and the German language. He emigrated to England in about 1820, and became a private tutor for a Jewish family in Colchester. Then he became rabbi at Norwich. Here he came into contact with William Marsh, a stalwart of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews (now known as the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People or CMJ).
Attempting to flee Christian influences, he accepted the post of teacher and shochet at Plymouth. He taught Hebrew to the Rev. Benjamin Golding of Stonehouse church. In 1825, he converted to Christianity.
Soon afterwards, he and his wife, Deborah Levy, went to live in Dublin, where he taught Hebrew and was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church in 1827. This was followed by working with CMJ, firstly in Danzig between 1827 and 1830, and then in London between 1831 and 1841.
He was professor of Hebrew at King’s College London from 1832 until 1841 and helped Dr. Alexander McCaul of the CMJ to revise the Mission’s translation of the New Testament into Hebrew in 1835 and to translate the Book of Common Prayer into Hebrew.
In 1841 the British and Prussian Governments as well as the Church of England and the Evangelical Church in Prussia entered into a unique agreement – the establishment of a Protestant Bishopric in Jerusalem. Dr. McCaul, to whom the Bishopric was first offered, declined it on the ground that a Hebrew Christian ought to occupy the position. Consequently, Alexander [Bernstein 82] was selected and consecrated, as first Bishop of the new See, on Sunday, November 7, 1841, in Lambeth Palace, by Dr. Howley, Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by Dr. Blomfield, Bishop of London, Dr. Murray, Bishop of Rochester, and Dr. Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand. A distinguished company was present, including his Excellency the Chevalier Bunsen, as representing the King of Prussia; Sir Stratford Canning, Her Majesty’s Ambassador Extraordinary to the Porte; Baron Schleinitz, Prussian Chargé d’Affaires; the Prussian Consul-General Hebeler; Lord Ashley; the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone; the Right Hon. Dr. Nicholl; Sir Robert H. Inglis; Sir Claudius Hunter, and the Rev. Dr. Abeken, Chaplain to the King of Prussia. The sermon was preached by Dr. McCaul from the appropriate text of Isa. lii. 7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”
Alexander was proposed as the first Protestant bishop. He was appointed bishop of the United Church of England and Ireland in Jerusalem, and was ordained a bishop on 7 November 1841 at Lambeth Palace. He arrived in Jerusalem in January 1842.
Alexander’s position was always a controversial one. He worked alongside the CMJ pioneer, John Nicolayson, in consolidating the Protestant presence in Jerusalem. Various institutions were set up under his leadership, including a School of Industry for training Jewish believers in basic trades, an Enquirers House, a Hebrew College, and a modern hospital for Jewish people. His presence greatly antagonised the Jewish leadership, who considered him an apostate, as well as provoking the other major churches to consolidate their presence in Jerusalem. Both the Roman Catholic church and Greek Orthodox church subsequently sent Patriarchs to Jerusalem to counteract Alexander’s influence.
He died in Bilbeis, Egypt while returning to England. He was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem. He was succeeded by Bishop Samuel Gobat.
He had nine daughters (Sarah Jane Isabella Wolff, Fanny Vincent Steele, Deborah Rebecca Marsh, Anna, Elizabeth, Mary Anne, Louisa, Salome, and Emilie) and two sons (Michael Robert Richard Hawtrey and Alexander Benjamin).
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the life and witness of Michael Solomon Alexander, first Jewish believer in Yeshua to be Bishop in Jerusalem in modern times. Thank you for his life of faith, scholarship and willingness to serve. Thank you for his historic move to Palestine, and the historic initiative taken by him and his family. May Jewish believers in Yeshua be inspired by his example today, and similarly take bold steps towards the restoration of your people Israel through the living out of their callings despite trials, hardship and danger. We lift up his legacy to you, and ask that you will continue to bless and equip those who follow in this faithful witness’s footsteps. In our Messiah we pray – Amen.
Here is the report from the CMJ archives: Jewish Missionary Intelligence, December 1841