The Testimony of Rabbi Israel Zolli Chief Rabbi of Rome:
Israel Anton Zoller was born in Brody, in the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. His father was a formerly wealthy factory owner. His mother came from a family dynasty of rabbis. He earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Florence.(1) At the same time, he prepared for the rabbinate at a nearby yeshiva.(2) In 1918 he was appointed rabbi of the city of Trieste, whose territory had just been transferred from Austria-Hungary to Italy. He changed his surname to "Zolli" to make it sound more Italian. In 1939, after the "Italians of the Jewish Religion" had succeeded in deposing Zolli's predecessor, Zolli was named as Chief Rabbi of Rome.
Zolli Israele, rabbi and philologist, studied philology and rabbinics in Vienna. He taught Hebrew and Semitic languages at the University of Padua, Italy, and published numerous studies on Jewish history and philology in learned periodicals.(2)
After the war a great debate arose between the president of the Jewish community in Rome (Signor Foa) and Zolli, as to who was at fault for allowing the Nazis to obtain the list of Roman Jews. This list was used when they were gathered, deported, and murdered. Foa blamed Zolli; Zolli blamed Foa.
Rabbi Zolli later described his experiences as follows:
"It was from my father that I learned the great art of praying with tears. During the Nazi persecution, long years afterward, I lived near the center of Rome in a small room. There, in the dark, in hunger and cold, I would pray weeping: 'O, Thou keeper of Israel, protect the remnants of Israel; do not allow this remnant of Israel to perish!'(1)
During the feast of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in October 1944, while leading the service Rabbi Zolli had a vision. He later wrote about it writing, "I saw, with the eyes of the mind, a large prairie, and standing in the middle of the green grass was Jesus, dressed in a white robe... At the sight of this, I felt a great interior peace, and, from the depths of my heart, I heard these words: 'You are here for the last time. From now on, you will follow Me.' I received them in the greatest serenity, and my heart immediately responded, 'As it shall be, so it must be.'... later, after supper, in my room, my wife declared to me, 'Today, while you were standing before the Ark of the Torah, it seemed to me that the white figure of Jesus was laying His hands on you, as if He were blessing you.' I was stupefied... At that very moment, our younger daughter, Miriam, who had gone to her room and hadn't heard anything, called for me to tell me, 'You are in the middle of talking about Jesus Christ. You know, Papa, this evening I saw a big Jesus, all white, in a dream.' I wished them both a good night and, without feeling at all ill at ease, I continued to think about the extraordinary sequence of events."(3)
A few days later, the Chief Rabbi relinquished his duties, and went to find a priest in order to complete his instruction in the truths of the faith. On February 13, 1945, Archbishop Traglia conferred the sacrament of Baptism on Israel Zolli, who chose 'Eugenio' as his Christian name, in gratitude to Pope Pius XII for his decisive action on behalf of the Jews during the war. Zolli's wife, Emma, received Baptism with her husband, and added the name 'Maria' to her first name. Their daughter Miriam would follow her parents after a year of personal reflection.(3)
Shortly after the end of World War II, he and his second wife (his first wife had died years before) converted to Roman Catholicism. He went to the Gregorian University, where he was baptized by Mgr. Luigi Traglia in the presence of Father Paolo Dezza; his godfather was Augustin Bea. Zolli was christened Eugenio Maria Zolli in honor of Pope Pius XII, who was born Eugenio Pacelli. The ceremony was done with much publicity. While Christians often mention Zolli as an example of an observant Jew who found Christ, some Jewish scholars contend that Zolli's conversion was a result of having been ostracized by the Jewish community following the Holocaust, rather than a spiritual awakening.(1)
After Zolli and his wife converted to Catholicism, he was employed at the State University in Rome and at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
As was to be expected, the announcement of Rabbi Zolli putting his faith in Jesus the Jewish Messiah caused a great stir in Jewish religious circles. Overnight, the once venerated, learned Rabbi who had offered his life for "sheep," became to some an ignoramus, and to all a heretic and traitor. The Synagogue of Rome proclaimed a several days' fast in atonement for Zolli's defection, and mourned him as dead, while at the same time they denounced him as a meschumad (apostate, one struck by God) and excommunicated him.(4)
In 1956 he became seriously ill and entered the hospital. While there, he reportedly revealed to a nun that he would die on the first Friday of the month at 3:00 in the afternoon. On March 2, 1956, at the age of 74, he died as he predicted he would at 3:00, after having received Holy Communion that morning. Zolli's 1954 memoir, Before the Dawn, describes the details of his conversion.(1)
Dear Reader, here are some telling remarks, which Rabbi Zolli made in the magazine "Mediator" in 1959. This was originally published in an article "Before the Dawn." "Is conversion an infidelity, an infidelity towards the faith previously professed? To answer hurriedly yes or no would not be just: too much zeal would be displayed one way or the other, and too much zeal is notoriously harmful. Before answering, one should stop and ask himself what is faith? Faith is an adherence, not to a tradition or family or tribe, or even nation, it is an adherence of our life and works to the Will of God as revealed to each in the intimacy of conscience. Was Saul of Tarsus unfaithful? How many Jews he cast into prison! How merciless he was against his brothers, who were guilty only of having accepted the message of Christ! Jews who are becoming converts today, as in the days of Saul-Paul, have much, or even all, to lose in regard to earthly life, and have Much, if not all, to gain in the life of grace."(2)
"Conversion consists in responding to a call from God. A man is not converted at the time he chooses, but at the hour when he receives God's call. When the call is heard, he who receives it has only one thing to do: obey. Paul is 'converted'. Did he abandon the God of Israel? Did he cease to love Israel? It would be absurd to think so. But then? The convert is who feels impelled by an irresistible force to leave a pre-established order and seek his own proper way. It would be easier to continue along the road he was on."(1)
"In the Old Testament, Justice is carried out by one man towards another... We do good for good received; we do harm for harm we have suffered at the hands of another. Not to do injury for injury is, in a certain fashion, to fall short of justice.' What a contrast with the Gospel: Love your enemies... pray for them, or even Jesus' last words on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing! 'All this stupefied me. The New Testament is, in fact, an altogether new Testament".(1)
When the good Rabbi was asked why he had given up the Synagogue for the Church, he gave an answer that showed he had a keen understanding of his present position: "But I have not given it up. Christianity is the integration (completion or crown) of the Synagogue. For, the Synagogue was a promise, and Christianity is the fulfillment of that promise. The Synagogue pointed to Christianity: Christianity presupposes the Synagogue. So you see, one cannot exist without the other. What I converted to was the living Christianity."(4)
"Then you believe that the Messias (the Christ) has come?" the interviewer asked. "Yes, positively," replied Zolli. "I have believed it many years. And now I am so firmly convinced of the truth of it that I can face the whole world and defend my faith with the certainty and solidity of the mountains."(4)
Rabbi Zollis deep learning in the Scriptures and Semitic literature may be seen in the many books he published. Catholic scholars publicly recognized this learning years before his conversion, when they invited him to assist in the work of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and in the compiling of the Italian Catholic Encyclopedia.(4)
Image of Rabbi Israel Zollt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Zolli
2) © Messianic Good News.
Messianic Good News has graciously allowed this testimony published on its web site to be shared with others. This testimony is the shortened version of the actual testimony published in the book "Rabbis Meet Jesus The Messiah." This book contains 20 testimonies from Rabbis who have put their faith in the Jewish Messiah Jesus and is an encouraging read.
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