- Written by Ron Friedman
As I came up from the subway tube at Aldgate on the eastern edge of London I encountered the weather for which England is most famous: crashing sheets of rain. I had left my umbrella back in my suitcase, but I was determined to keep my date with the oldest synagogue in England. Battling as best I could against the buckets of precipitation that poured down on me, I followed the directions I had been given to the Bevis Marks Spanish-Portuguese Sephardic Synagogue.
With some free time during our evangelistic visit to England, I had called for an appointment to see the historic eighteenth-century synagogue. Still in use, it was closed to the public out- side of regular worship times.
Zachary, the person to whom I had spoken on the telephone earlier, opened the weather- beaten wood door for me. As he led me into the building I was glad to note that we were of approximately the same age. I hoped he would be easy to approach should the talk turn to theology.
Zachary brought me into the sanctuary and switched on a short cassette tape that told a little about the old synagogue.
The interior had been completely restored to its original 1701 condition. I took in the details of the vacant sanctuary—the brightly varnished ark for the holy scrolls, the Dutch brass chandeliers, the silver Torah pointer and the memorialized chair of the late Sir Moses Montefiore. I could only think that despite all its history and elegant beauty, how futile a road to heaven the synagogue was without the proclamation and knowledge of Y'shua.
I prayed silently for the salvation of all who would enter its doors, then returned to Zachary's room just outside the sanctuary to retrieve my things. He lived there as a caretaker. Being a bibliophile, I scanned his bookcase as I put on my sweater. One title leaped out from all the rest.
Jesus As a Jew! What kind of book is that?" I asked.
"Oh, that! It was written by a rabbi who sort of reclaims Jesus as a Jew, not a Christian," Zachary explained.
"Oh, well, that's not so bad," I answered.
"Yeah," he said. "It's nothing like that Jews for Jesus stuff."
(Praise God for his comic genius!) "That's not so bad either," I said.
At that, Zachary asked if I was one of "them."
"Yes," I admitted, "actually I'm with our music team, The Liberated Wailing Wall, and we are touring England right now."
He asked if now I was a Christian.
"Well, theologically, yes," I said, "but I'm still Jewish. You know, it's funny. The first 'Christians' were all Jews. They worshiped the God of Abraham, and they followed the Jewish Messiah."
After that opening I had a great opportunity to talk with Zachary about biblical faith. He asked me how much Jewish education I had received. I turned the question back by asking him how much Jewish education he thought Joseph got in Egypt. Was he a Jew? I did not want to debate rabbinic points from the pages of the Talmud, so I asked Zachary if he had a Bible. (Naturally, he did.)
I showed him verses in Leviticus 17 that spoke clearly of the need for blood atonement for sin. Then I read to him from Leviticus 5:17, one of my favorite passages:
"And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; though he knew it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity."
I ended by stating that the penalty for sin is death unless we have the atonement in the blood, and that since the destruction of the second Temple, we have had no atonement.
Several times during our discussion I asked Zachary, "So where's the blood? If you are happy with what the rabbis say about prayer being enough, fine. But that's not what God says here. He never changed his Word, so unless God is a liar, the rabbis are wrong!"
I am old enough in the Lord to know that I cannot change someone's heart. I understood when Zachary refused my offer to mail him some of our literature. Perhaps he thought his wife in the next room would hear. Whatever the reason, I know that if in his heart Zachary sincerely seeks to know God, then God will reveal himself to him.
I left England's oldest synagogue hoping and praying that what I had explained during my visit would culminate in Zachary's becoming London's newest Jewish believer. As I strolled back to the tube station, I was warmed by my experience and by the beautifully warm sun that seemed to have defeated the rain clouds.
*ASHKENAZIC: Jews of Eastern European origin.
*SEPHARDIC: Jews of Mediterranean or Dutch origin.