The Story of Rabbi Tzvi Nassi
James Scott Trimm
Rabbi Tzvi Nassi (Hirsch Prinz) was born in Breslau, Silesia, on August 11th, 1800, he was the son of a rabbi and the youngest of six children. He was left an orphan at the age of fourteen and followed in his father’s footsteps as a Rabbi. In 1824 he published Predigten fur fromme Israeliten (“Sermons for Pious Israelites”).
In these early years Rabbi Nassi came to the conclusion that Yeshua was in fact the Jewish Messiah of Judaism and when he was about twenty-five years of age he began to introduce his congregations to readings from the New Testament. Rabbi Nassi had hoped to establish within the Jewish community, a synagogue of Jewish believers in Yeshua as the Messiah. Instead he was outcast from the Jewish community, alleged to have lost his mind. (In recent years anti-missionaries have claimed there is no evidence that Nassi had ever been a rabbi, saying that claim was a recent invention of Messianic Jews, but in fact the obituary published shortly after his death records his past as a rabbi.)
Having failed to restore a community of believers in Yeshua as Messiah within Judaism, Rabbi Nassi ultimately joined a Christian church and entered the ministry, under the name Christian William Henry Pauli. Despite this, Nassi never truly left his Jewishness behind and continued to immerse himself in his studies of the Targums, the Talumds, Midrashim, Sefer Yetzirah, the Bahir, the Zohar and Rabbinic commentaries.
Later he came to England, he was for some time a student in the University of Cambridge, and enjoyed the friendship of the late Rev. Charles Simeon. While at Cambridge he received an invitation from friends in Oxford. This he accepted, and on arriving at the latter University, he was appointed Lecturer in Hebrew. This post he held for thirteen years. Many of the undergraduates also attended his private classes for the study of the Hebrew language. At this time he published a Hebrew Grammar “Analecta Hebraica,” which became well known and much used by Hebrew students.
In 1863 Rabbi Nassi created quite a stir when he published his monumental work, “The Great Mystery or How Can Three Be One?” which uses the Zohar and other Rabbinic sources to explore the truth of the deity of Messiah and the Three Pillars of the Godhead from a purely Jewish perspective. The title is taken from the following passage in the Zohar:
How can they (the three) be One?
Are they Truely One because we call them One?
How Three can be One can only be known
through the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
A book which came to be passed around and studied secretly by Orthodox Jews for generations.
I was first exposed to Rabbi Nassi’s amazing treatise around 1988, at a time when I was struggling myself with the very issues discussed in the little book. At the time I was studying under my mentor, Rabbi Moyal, an Orthodox Rabbi from Israel, who had himself become a believer in Messiah. He gave me a copy of this little book which had been reprinted in Israel in 1970 and 1974. I was amazed at what I learned in such a short booklet.
In May 1874 Rabbi Nassi retired to Luton, in Bedfordshire, where he died on the 4th of May. He was the author of several works : “Sermons for Pious Israelites”; “The Great Mystery,” and a translation of the Aramaic Targum of Isaiah. During his last illness he we was reported to be overheard having conversations with “my Savior,” as he called Yeshua, as though he were visibly present to him, and by his side. His last words were “My Savior is nigh.”
While the Gentile Christian world came to know him as Reverend Christian William Henry Pauli, I will always remember him as Rabbi Tzvi Nassi.
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