We are often told how one small act can have a great impact, how the actions we choose every day will not only affect ourselves, but also those around us. Many great stories have started with the impact of the simplest of actions.
Franz Julius Levy Hirsch was just such a person, whose simple actions made a huge impact. Few in our Messianic community know of him, yet his investment changed the face of pre-World War II Messianic Judaism.
Levy Hirsch was a Jewish man with a meager income—an antique bookseller—and he shared his home in Leipzig with the Delitzsch family. Naturally, the Delitzsch and Hirsch families bonded and when young Franz Delitzsch was born, Levy Hirsch was asked to be his godfather. Along with this privilege young Delitzsch was given the name Franz Julius Delitzsch after Levy Hirsch himself. During those days it was unheard of for a non-Yeshua following Jew to be the godfather of a Gentile Christian, but the bond between Levy Hirsch and his Christian host family was so strong that they extended him this honor. Little did they know just how seriously Levy Hirsch would take his new responsibilities.
As young Franz grew up Levy Hirsch invested greatly in his education, teaching him Hebrew and Jewish literature as a young boy and, even though Levy Hirsch was not wealthy, sending him to a prestigious school where he could receive a higher education. In doing so, Levy Hirsch enabled the young Delitzsch to pursue a higher education that would one day put him in a position to complete his most famous work: translating the New Testament from the Greek into Hebrew, leading many Jews to belief in Yeshua, many of whom we now recognize as our most revered Messianic Jewish luminaries.
Levy Hirsch did not become a believer in Yeshua until shortly before his death. An initial search online for Levy Hirsch’s grave led to the discovery that he had been buried in the same city as Delitzsch. Toward the end of Levy Hirsch’s life he had been baptized into Christianity, and because of this we found that he was buried in Alter Johannisfriedhof (Old St. John’s Cemetery) in Leipzig, and not in a Jewish cemetery.
As we entered into Levy Hirsch’s cemetery a deep somberness entered as well. The graveyard was fairly spacious and the graves were sparse. There were no rows of tombstones, no columns, no apparent order. There were graves here and there in this quaint churchyard that belied centuries of history. We methodically searched every grave. We looked at every name, anxiously waiting to see the name we were searching to honor: Franz Julius Levy Hirsch.
We never found it.
After further research of the cemetery itself we found that Alter Johannisfriedhof has been in existence since the year 1278 and is the oldest cemetery of Leipzig. The graveyard had seen multiple wars, including the Battle of Leipzig, in which Napoleon was defeated and then subsequently exiled, along with unmarked mass graves of thousands of soldiers who died in that battle. The ground on which we stood was most obviously not the original ground of 1278, or even later on in the 1500s and 1600s, rather, the plot of land where we stood contained graves buried beneath graves—nearly a thousand years of Germany’s dead lay beneath our feet.
Our research led us to the devastating news that the graveyard had been destroyed and cleared several times throughout history. The latest during World War II.
Franz Julius Levy Hirsch died in 1845. His tombstone was no longer there.
Our hearts sank as we realized that we would not be able to visit the spot where his body was laid to rest. The work and investment that he gave to the young Franz Delitzsch affected each of our own lives personally. Today we young Messianic Jews read from the holy Gospels in the tongue of our heritage each week, alongside our holy Torah, because of Delitzsch’s work. This is all due to the investment of his godfather: Levy Hirsch.
We came to visit a Jew who loved his Gentile Christian godson with such a powerful love, that he sacrificed everything to give him the highest education he could afford. In doing so, Levy Hirsch enabled one of the most beautiful and significant Hebrew works to ever come into being: Delitzsch’s Hebrew New Testament. One small sacrifice, one purposeful action, led to raising up a great man from amongst the nations whose work would bring countless Jews to faith in Yeshua, and whose words would defend the integrity and the chosenness of the children of Israel.
As we left the graveyard, we stopped at the entrance, feeling the weight of the destruction of war and mourning the fact that not even a Jew’s headstone remained by which we could remember him. We said the Kaddish together in unison. His bones were here, that was for sure. His memorial stone was not. We prayed that HaShem would allow his memory to be a blessing, that his name would never fall into oblivion even though it has been erased from the stone on which it was chiseled. We prayed that HaShem would allow us to continue living in love and humbleness as this gentle soul had done, and that one simple action of ours could cause the same kind of tidal wave of blessing.
Levy Hirsch would never know the blessing that he spread throughout the whole earth by pouring his life into the gifted young man named Delitzsch. May the repercussions of his actions be felt for thousands of generations the world over.
After the intense work of republishing The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels, Vine of David printed a special edition in honor of Delitzsch’s teacher, the Levy Hirsch Edition. In commemoration of him this work is distributed amongst Jewish communities world-wide.
We will never be able to give Levy Hirsch the honor of having his grave visited. War took that from us. But may his name continue in each generation and may the works in which he invested help strengthen the faith of many in our Messiah Yeshua.