In a small town in eastern Hungary, young Leopold Cohn lost both of his parents at the age of seven. His life became a struggle for existence, and he learned to trust in God with all of his heart. At 13 he decided to study to become a rabbi, and when he graduated from the Talmudic academies at 18, he had earned a record of high scholarship. He finished his formal studies, received smikha or ordination, and became happily married. Devoting himself to further research of the sacred writings and to earnest prayer, he sought to find the solution for the sufferings of his people and Messiah’s long delay.
Leopold Cohn, 1862-1937
Every morning he repeated the 12th article of the Jewish creed: I believe with a perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he tarry, yet will I wait daily for his coming.” Rabbi Cohn’s inner hunger grew. He mourned often over the temple’s destruction and prayed for the coming of the Deliverer. A passage in the Talmud seemed to indicate that the Messiah should have come long ago and, with mounting frustration, the rabbi decided to study the Prophets’ predictions.
Reading in the book of Daniel, he learned from the 24th verse of the ninth chapter that the Messiah should have come 400 years after Daniel received the prophecy of the Seven Weeks. The rabbi saw that the Talmud differed from the Holy Scriptures on this vital matter, and he began to question the reliability of the Talmud. Troubled, he faced the question of whether to believe God’s Word or ignore the truth. He prayed for the Lord to open his eyes.
When he disclosed his discoveries publicly, the rabbi found himself the object of such hostility that his ministry became impossible. He left for America, seeking the freedom to continue his investigations. Soon after his arrival in New York in the spring of 1892, Rabbi Cohn met a group of Jews who believed that the Messiah had already come. The first of these with whom he discussed his search was a trained Talmudist who belonged to a famous rabbinical family. This man gave Rabbi Cohn a copy of the New Testament Scriptures in Hebrew. Opening it to the beginning, Rabbi Cohn read from the Gospel of Matthew, “This is the book of the generation of Yeshua the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
It was a momentous day. He read the book for some 13 hours and later wrote his reflections: “I could at least see that the Messiah’s name was Yeshua, that he was born in Bethlehem of Judah, that He had lived in Jerusalem and communicated with my people, and that he came just at the time predicted in the prophecy of Daniel.”
Though he was filled with joy, the rabbi’s conflict was not over. He despaired at the thought that Yeshua the Messiah, the son of David, was the same Jesus whom the gentiles worshipped. But the Holy Scriptures continued to give him light. He read over and over the 53rd chapter of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of the suffering Messiah. A small voice inside kept telling him that if this Jesus was indeed the Messiah predicted by the Prophets, then he must follow him, no matter what others had done in his name.
He decided to fast and pray, asking God to clearly reveal the truth to him. He was holding the Hebrew Scriptures as he began to pray. The book fell to the floor, and when he bent to pick it up, he saw that it had fallen open to the third chapter of the book of the prophet Malachi, which begins, “Behold I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the Angel of the Covenant whom ye delight in: behold he has already come, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
Rabbi Cohn was filled with awe and felt the presence of the Messiah pointing to the words, “He has already come.” He prayed, “My Lord, my Messiah Yeshua. Thou art the one in whom Israel is to be glorified, and Thou art surely the one who hast reconciled Thy people unto God. From this day on I will serve Thee no matter what the cost.”
It was as if a flood of light had filled his understanding. It was no longer difficult to love his Lord, even though he was sure now that it was Jesus to whom he was talking. The following years were filled with struggle as Rabbi Cohn proclaimed to all he knew that the rejected Jesus was the true Messiah of Israel, and that not until the Jews as a people accepted Yeshua could they find peace with God. But his rejection by his own people could never diminish Rabbi Cohn’s love for the Lord nor erase the truth that the Messiah had indeed come in the person of Yeshua, who, as predicted by the Prophets, had been rejected by his own people and had died and lived again, and who held the secret of Israel’s salvation.