Chaim Yedidyah Pollak, also called Theophilus Lucky—and sometimes even Christian Theophilus Lucky—was a Messianic Jewish luminary, a man of passion, intrigue, and mystery.
Lucky was born in 1854 in Galicia, which now belongs to present-day Ukraine, into a religious home and community. Lucky himself claims that he grew up in a family and community of Chasidim. There are many differing accounts as to how and when Lucky became a disciple of Yeshua of Nazareth, and this is in part due to Lucky’s own hesitation in making the details of this event known. He even made one of his colleagues and fellow Jewish believers Moses Löwen swear to never reveal it publicly.
Whatever the circumstances, Lucky became a believer, but he was adamant that he would not transgress the Torah of Moses or many/most of the traditions. Like other Jewish believers of his time, he was going to remain a faithful, observant Jew.
Lucky proclaims his faithfulness to Torah and Jewish law many times over in his Hebrew journal Edut Le’Yisrael (Testimony to Israel), where he wrote compelling and prolific literature about all topics relating to Judaism and to Yeshua. His journal contained many issues that were published throughout the course of approximately ten years, and its content was both ground-breaking and innovative for its time, as well as ours. As stated, Lucky had a high regard for traditional Judaism that he makes excruciatingly clear many times in many different articles. However, he did admit to parting ways with rabbinic decrees on a few matters, the main one being the messiahship of Yeshua. His views of Judaism are high, and in explaining his stringent but well-vetted views he comically intimates that Rabbinic Judaism is always correct, except for when it isn’t.
Hebrew/Jewish Christians and Messianic Jews
Lucky is a strange character. From one account it appears as though he accepted Christian baptism and conversion, accepting the name Christian Theophilus Lucky while still calling himself Yedidyah ben Aharon, and yet cautioning Jews to never do so. He called himself a Christian—or a Messianic, which were more or less synonymous in his day—and yet a halachically observant Jew. What exactly was he? Was he a Hebrew Christian? A Messianic Jew? Lucky acquiesced to living in the difficult “middle,” but he understood who he was, and he knew himself to be a Jew and a devoted-to-the-death disciple of Yeshua.
For Lucky, the terms Hebrew Christian, Jewish Christian, or Messianic Jew were not as nuanced as they are today. For him it was not so important what he was called, but how he lived, and he called out to his Jewish brothers—believing and non-believing—to be just like him: “An observant Jew who is faithful to the Torah of Moses and the Testimony of Yeshua.” While Lucky was not the only one to pioneer this concept (he was accompanied by greats such as Rabbi Yechiel Tzvi Lichtenstein, Raphael Hirsch Biesenthal, Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, Paul Philip Levertoff, and others), he wrote extensively on this subject, unabashedly promoting his conclusions as the appropriate and most efficacious manner of Jewish discipleship to Yeshua.
While the particulars of Chaim Yedidyah Pollak’s life are somewhat obscure, vague, and at times contradictory from other accounts, his teachings are very compelling and his influence is unwavering and strong. Lucky saw himself as an uncompromising Jew and encouraged all his Jewish brothers to follow his example. He called his Jewish brothers to receive personal and national healing by clinging to Yeshua, to bring the days of exile and torment to an end. He also called to believing Jews to follow the Torah faithfully in accordance with the ancient Mosaic faith and obedience to the prescriptions of Yeshua. These two components, blended perfectly together in his teaching, will bring the resurrection of Israel as a leader and priestly nation, and Israel will be prepared to receive back her Messiah once more.
Lucky wrote his illustrious journal in Hebrew, and his specific teachings have largely disappeared from Messianic Jewish discourse and citation. It is a pity, because he explains difficult theological points from a truly Jewish standpoint, explaining the concept of Yeshua’s atonement, commenting thoroughly on the Sermon on the Mount, and clarifying the apostles’ decrees concerning new Gentile believers. His perspectives on these matters are needed in our spiritual and theological growth in this movement.
Even though Lucky’s audience was Jewish—Jewish believers as well as non-believers—he has something to say concerning everyone. Lucky speaks of Gentile believers a few times in his articles, sometimes merely as a sign to his non-believing Jewish constituency that Yeshua is truly the Messiah, because the nations seek after him and his teaching. His words, even though written over one hundred years ago, can still find relevancy with us today.
Thankfully, Lucky’s voice will not fall into oblivion, and the legacy of his brilliant mind and all-consumed, passionate heart will be preserved. Vine of David is currently working on the translation and anthologizing of Lucky’s works from Edut Le’Yisrael, and his articles will appear for the first time formally in English just in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of this righteous man. More of his teachings, as well as more on the varying accounts of his life, can be found in this forthcoming resource.
Lucky’s righteous soul passed on 1 Kislev 5677 (1916). As we remember his yahrzeit, let us be inspired by this Galician Jew who stood his ground for Torah and Messiah, who never compromised his positions on these two crucial subjects, and who lived his life as a faithful Jew and effective witness. May his memory live on as a blessing and may his example shine as a light in our movement.
- See Edut Le’Yisrael, “This is Hanukkah,” Volume III, Issue 2 (1891).
- Löwen, Moses. “Christian Theophilus Lucky,” 6.