"No religious or educated Jew would ever believe in Jesus!"
We at CHAIM Ministry (www.chaim.org) have heard this argument before. But the examples of history say differently. It's not "PC" to speak of such examples in Jewish communities today, but one example: Rabbi Daniel Zion of Bulgaria, is worth mentioning. For this reason, he'll receive our "Honorable Menshen" award this week. ["Menshen" is plural for "mensh", which is German for "man" but also Yiddish for "a person of integrity and honor"]:
A few months ago, I was confronted at 16th and Chestnut Street in Philadelphia by an irate Jewish man who told me that no religious or educated Jew could believe in Jesus as I was passing out Jewish-oriented gospel tracts on the street-corner. I asked him: "If you were wrong, would you even want to know about it?" Those are the only words I could manage to say to him because he didn't want to have a discussion. Instead, he just wanted to "vent".
Most Jews are perfectly happy with Christians who are devout. But what they object to is Christians trying to make "Christians" out of Jews, via missionary activity. The general belief in Jewish communities is that the kind of Jews who convert are those who are weak in their Jewish identity; either that, or they're highly suggestible or even feeble-minded.
Not so! Consider the remarkable case of Orthodox Jewish rabbi, Daniel Zion: born in Salonica, Greece in 1883, when Greece was ruled by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. Ninety-six years later, he died in Jaffa, Israel. Daniel Zion lived through the Holocaust as a rabbi in Bulgaria. In World War II, Bulgaria was a military ally of Nazi Germany in that nation's invasion of the Soviet Union, and Bulgaria's king: Boris, came under tremendous personal pressure from Adolf Hitler to cooperate in the Holocaust by sending Bulgaria's Jews to the death camps of Poland and Germany.
It's difficult to say when Rabbi Zion became a believer in Jesus, but it was before the Nazis occupied Bulgaria. Strangely enough, though he publicly confessed New Testament faith in the messiahship of Jesus, he continued to live a traditional Jewish life; and continued to serve as one of the chief rabbis of Bulgaria all the while. He had a large following.
Rabbi Zion is reputed to have received a vision from Jesus that he was to tell King Boris of Bulgaria to refuse Hitler's insistence to send the Bulgarian Jews to the camps. Through Zion's connection with Bishop Stefan of Sofia, head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, King Boris received this remarkable warning by letter on the day before he was due to meet with the Fuhrer. As a result, Boris did exactly that. He refused Hitler to his face, and significant numbers of Bulgarian Jews were spared.
On May 24th, 1943, Zion addressed a gathering in a Bulgarian synagogue, then joined a mass street demonstration against the so-called "Laws for the Protection of the Nation"; Bulgaria's version of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws of Germany. Two days later, he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp himself. He survived the camp and, after the war, emigrated to Jaffa in what was then British-ruled Palestine.
When Israel became a nation in 1949, Rabbi Zion, despite his belief in Christ, was offered a position as judge on Jerusalem's rabbinic court, the "Beit Din", but only IF he agreed to keep his faith in Christ a personal and private secret. This he refused to do. The Beit Din therefore declared him insane and stripped him of his title of rabbi. Despite this, many Bulgarian Jews still considered him their rabbi, and between morning and evening Sabbath services in his synagogue, Rabbi Zion would hold teachings about Jesus and the New Testament in his home. Before he died, Zion served as President of the Union of Messianic Jews in Israel (Ichud Yehudim Meshihiim Be-Israel).
Understandably, Daniel Zion is not talked about within Jewish communities because they are ashamed of him, (if they've even heard of him at all). But he was highly educated, and as the chief rabbi in Bulgaria during the war years, influenced the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, not only by his teaching but by his example of character and the active measures he took to rescue his countrymen from the gas chambers.
"When the roll is called up yonder" as the old hymn goes, there no doubt will be many obscure saints honored whom most of us have never heard of here on earth. Their fame will have to wait for that glorious day. And for that reason, Daniel Zion is one of the "Honorable Menshen"!
2) Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus - Vol. 1, Michael L. Brown, Baker Books, 2001
3) Mishkan 15, "Rabbi Daniel Zion: Chief Rabbi of Bulgarian Jews during WW II," Joseph Shulam (1991), pps. 53-57.