The month of Av is the fifth month of the biblical Jewish calendar. Among the many events that have occurred in this month throughout the history of the Jewish people, the Messianic community has a very special event to commemorate — honoring the life and work of Paul Phillip Levertoff. His yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) is 1 Av (5 August 2016).
In Judaism, a yahrzeit is a special opportunity to reflect upon a person's life and to honor the accomplishments they have achieved. Other customs include lighting a yahrzeit candle, studying special passages of Torah, and giving tzedakah (charity) in their name.
Paul Phillip Levertoff, born Feivel Levertoff, was raised in an Chassidic home. His family was Sephardic and was a descendent of Rabbi Schneur Zalman. As a child he attended cheder (Hebrew primary school) and later the prominent Volozhin Yeshiva. While studying abroad after graduating yeshiva, Levertoff obtained a New Testament. Reading it first in German, then in Hebrew, Levertoff was puzzled. The book of the Christians seemed "more his than theirs." After this period of study, Levertoff became a fervent believer that Yeshua of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah.
Levertoff went on to be a prominent pioneer in the early days of the Hebrew Christian movement. He also continued to be involved in the Jewish world of his day, as a translator for the Jewish publisher Soncino Press. He was a prolific writer and teacher, and was appointed the professor of Hebrew and Rabbinics with the Institutum Judaicum Delitzschianum in Leipzig, Germany. With his mastery of Hebrew, Yiddish, Talmud, Jewish mysticism, and anti-missionary polemics, Levertoff more than adequately filled the chair left behind by the late Yechiel Lichtenstein.
Due to the ravages of World War I, Levertoff left Germany and settled in Wales. While there, he was ordained as an Anglican priest. Yet, Levertoff had no intention of leaving his rich Jewish heritage behind, but sought to establish a congregation of Jewish believers in Jesus. Levertoff sought to reach out to "... those Jews who are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ and of their Jewish origin ... to unite as a community ... and institute Jewish Christian services of worship which would present our Faith in terms of the rich background of devotional and mystical Jewish traditions." This was no typical church service. Levertoff donned both his Anglican alb along with a tallit and kippa. Services included readings from the Torah scroll and an authentically Jewish liturgy recited with Chassidic fervor.
The modern Messianic movement stands today indebted to the pioneering spirit and thorough scholarship of Paul Phillip Levertoff. Though he departed in 1954, his influence thankfully has not. May his memory continue to be for a blessing.
(Appreciation goes to Jorge Quinonez for his research on Levertoff and other Jewish believers)
At First Fruits of Zion, we are dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the great saints, teachers and rabbis who have stood for Torah and Messiah in generations past. Notables like David Baron, Rabbi Yechiel Lichtenstein, Rabbi Yitzchak Lichtenstein, Chaim Yedidiah (Lucky) Pollak, Paul Phillip Levertoff, Joseph Rabbinowitz and others are examples of godly men who found faith in Yeshua in the midst of Orthodox Judaism. All of them grew up in Orthodox Jewish homes, all of them received Yeshiva educations and all of them became apostles of Yeshua of Nazareth. Their heroic stories and inspiring testimonies have been featured in the pages of our Messiah Magazine publication.
First Fruits of Zion has undertaken an ambitious project to bring the writings of these nineteenth century Torah giants to the English reading world. Translating their books and commentaries from German and Hebrew and reprinting works that have slipped into obscurity, we hope to resurrect the voices of these pioneers of the modern Messianic Jewish movement.
The Vine of David Luminaries Series already includes four titles that were released in 2009, 2013, and 2016. Learn more about these at the Vine of David Resources section.