Jacob Jocz (pronounced “Yotch” and rhyming with “Scotch”) was a third-generation Jewish disciple of Jesus, a refugee, evangelist, pastor and theologian. Whilst his father perished in the Holocaust, Jocz’s escape from Poland led to his work as a Anglican minister in London, mission leader and theology professor in Toronto, and as President of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance. His legacy lives on in his family, his writings, and in those who are indebted to him.
Kelvin Crombie’s recent book tells the story of Jocz’s family. Jacob’s mother, Hannah, had come to faith in her early teens following in the footsteps of her father, Yochanan Don, a milkman from the Shtetl of Zelse, near Vilna/Vilnius/Vilno, now in Lithuania. Following Yochanan’s early death, her mother Sarah moved the family to Vilnius and supplemented her income by renting a room to a young yeshiva student, Bazyli Jocz. As he courted Hannah he had this conversation with her:
“Hannah, I have a secret.”
“What is your secret?”
“My secret is that I am a Jew who believes that Yeshua haNotzri is the Moshiach of Israel” Hannah looked at him and said, “I too have a secret.”
“What is your secret?”
“My father also was a believer in the Messiah. Before he died, he told me never to forget about Yeshua.” (Crombie 2021:32)
Clockwise from left: Bazyli, Paul, John, Jakob, Anna
They married in on 11 November 1905, a week before Anna’s twenty-fifth birthday, and first child Jakob was born on 14 October 1906 followed by Jerzy (George) in 1909 and Pawel (Paul) in 1911. With the upheavals of the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the social and political uncertainty the family moved to Warsaw in 1921 and joined the staff of CMJ (the Anglican Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People), ministering to a growing Hebrew Christian community.
Joan & Jakób in Warsaw 1938
Many were coming to faith in their Messiah. Jocz wrote in one report:
“Before we started, the church was filled and a bigger crowd was sent home than the one which was inside … We had before us a crowd of good-looking and well-behaved young men and women, who did not come out of curiosity, but who really sought something which could fill their lives. Mr Wolfin addressed them in Yiddish, and I spoke in Polish on the text, “I am the way”. It was indeed a very inspiring meeting”. The Hebrew Christian Alliance in Warsaw of which Jocz was President was popular and well-attended, and helped many.
Jacob trained with the CMJ Mission in Warsaw, the Evangelisches Predigerseminar in Frankfurt and finally at St. Aiden’s College in Birkenhead, UK. He was ordained an Anglican Priest in 1935 and returned to Warsaw the same year to take up duties for CMJ. He married Joan Gapp, a British volunteer with CMJ in 1936.
Jocz was providentially saved from the Nazi invasion of Poland, when he remained in England in the summer of 1939 to speak at a conference whose key speaker had been taken ill. His wife was there to have her first baby, and together they were spared the horrors of the war. But hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish disciples of Jesus in the Warsaw ghetto were murdered, alongside their people. After the war, Jacob learned that many of his family did not survive, although his mother and his brother Paul had. His father had been betrayed to the Gestapo and shot.
Jacob stayed in the UK working with CMJ and completed his PhD at the University of Edinburgh. His thesis would be published as The Jewish People and Jesus Christ, a detailed and comprehensive study of the history and theology of Judaism, Christianity and Jewish disciples of Jesus.
In 1947 Jacob was appointed Vicar of St John’s, Downshire Hill, in Hampstead, London, where “by chance” he met and discipled Eric Lipson, whose own Jewish background led the two to become great friends.
In 1955 Jocz became President of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance. The following year he took charge of the Toronto Nathanael Institute, a large Messianic centre in Toronto. From 1960 he taught systematic theology at Wycliffe College, an Anglican theological seminary in Toronto until his retirement in 1976. He died in 1983, and his favourite hymn, “I feel the winds of God today”, with words by Jessie Adams and set to the traditional folk song, sung at his funeral, is below. Do listen to it as it captures some of the inner sensibility of this man of courage, faith and service.
Jocz’s writings are comprehensive and challenging. His style is both scholarly and rich in spiritual and theological insight. Coming into the Hebrew Christian Alliance in the 1930s he builds on the vision and passion of Leon Levison and others with critical reflection and theological depth. His theology is built on a key concept, what he called “The essential difference between the Church and the Synagogue”, the different perceptions of Jesus as the Incarnation of God. For Jocz this constitutes the “dividing line” between Judaism and Christianity and set him firmly in his own “Hebrew Christian” identity which saw itself as separate from a religious practice of Judaism. His scholarship, his theological influences (particularly that of Karl Barth), and the implications of his views for modern day Messianic Judaism and Post-Supersessionist theology, are as relevant today as they were in his lifetime, and continue to repay careful study.
“To wrestle with theologians of the past is to honour their memory as predecessors who cannot be ignored. Jakob Jocz stands as a giant of the Hebrew Christian movement which preceded Messianic Judaism. He is a link in a chain of scholars, a chain to which I seek to be attached. I am profoundly grateful for his life and work.” (Mark Kinzer)
Jocz’s favourite hymn, sung at his funeral
1 I feel the winds of God today;
today my sail I lift,
though heavy oft with drenching spray
and torn with many a rift;
if hope but light the water’s crest,
and Christ my bark will use,
I’ll seek the seas at his behest,
and brave another cruise.
2 It is the wind of God that dries
my vain regretful tears,
until with braver thoughts shall rise
the purer, brighter years;
if cast on shores of selfish ease
or pleasure I should be,
O let me feel your freshening breeze,
and I’ll put back to sea.
3 If ever I forget your love
and how that love was shown,
lift high the blood-red flag above;
it bears your name alone.
Great pilot of my onward way,
you will not let me drift;
I feel the winds of God today,
today my sail I lift.
Source: Voices United: The Hymn and Worship Book of The United Church of Canada #625
Jacob Jocz – The Essential Difference between the Church and the Synagogue
Elizabeth Myers The Literary Legacy of Jacob Jocz
Joan Jocz Memoir – here
Arthur F. Glasser, ‘The Legacy of Jakob Jocz’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, April 1993, p. 66.
Daniel Nessim. The History Of Jewish Believers In The Canadian Protestant Church, 1759-1995 . MA Thesis, NorthwestBaptistTheologicalCollege,1986.
Theresa Newell – Profile of Jacob Jocz
Jocz’s books available on Jocz website
- A Theology of Election 1958
- Christians and Jews: Encounter and Mission 1966
- Is It Nothing To You? 1940, 1941
- Judaism and the State of Israel 1950
- Religion and the Gospel 1952
- Religion Without God 1964
- Syncretism or Faith 1967
- The Connection Between the Old and the New Testament 1961
- The Covenant 1968
- The Jewish Christian Dialogue 1967
- The Jewish People and Jesus Christ 1949, 1954, 1974
- The Jewish People and Jesus Christ After Auschwitz 1981
- The Spiritual history of Israel 1961
Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/Jacob-Jocz-229813590507816
Ephraim Radner Yachad BeYeshua Webinar on Jocz – https://www.yachad-beyeshua.org/webinars/june2021
Ben Volman’s recollection of Jocz – https://mcusercontent.com/205825fb2f2dece42c2dd19d3/files/14064b78-c27a-786c-2422-81c52468acd7/Ben_Volman_on_Jakob_Jocz.pdf
Many thanks for reminding us of Jacob Jocz’s legacy. We all owe him a debt! Martin