Max Wertheimer was born in the province of Baden in Germany, and his devoutly religious father hoped that as a steadfast Jew his son would grow up to be a credit and an honor to his family. To this end he provided Max with a strictly Jewish education. From the age of five he was required to study the Pentateuch in Hebrew together with Rashi's commentary, as well as parts of the Talmud. To ensure that his education was truly comprehensive he also attended the village school. At the age of eleven he gained admission to the Gymnasium at Ettenheim, where he studied for five years. Throughout his years at school he attended the synagogue regularly, and participated in its services. At home he observed the laws and customs, and said the various prayers required of the observant Jew. (1)
A few years later he moved to Buffalo, New York, where he attended the Franklin Street public school. Shortly after his arrival in Buffalo he met the rabbi of the Jewish temple. Through his instrumentality Wertheimer was helped by the temple congregation to enter the Hebrew Union College at Cincinnati, Ohio, in the fall of 1882.
While studying at the Hebrew Union College he was granted a stipend by the board of governors. This was in response to the recommendation of the president of the college, Dr. Isaac M. Wise.
Dr. Wertheimer writes of that period: "My religious views were fostered by tradition, pride, and prejudice. I thought Judaism was the greatest religion and the most rational. I catered to the evolutionary theory and had some modernistic notions of free thought, held some socialistic doctrines, and thought that Moses was the greatest of the prophets and benefactors, and that no one excelled him in originality, genius and perfection..."
In the Hebrew Union College I was in a class of nine students. We studied the T'nach [the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament]; also Hebrew grammar and composition; as well as many sections of the Mishnah and a number of treatises covering many folio pages of the Gemara, mostly from the Babylonian Talmud; the works of Rambam or Moses Maimonides, his Moreh Nebuchin (Guide of the Perplexed) and his Mishnah Torah; the work of the Kusari; also Joseph Albo's writings; the Sulchan Aruch (ritual code); and Dr. Graetz's History of the Jews. Then homiletics, or the science of preaching; and hermeneutics, or the science of interpretation according to rabbinical principles; the laws of Jewish jurisprudence concerning marriage and divorce; also the philosophical and analytical introductions into the various parts of the Talmud.
The president of the college favored Wertheimer in various ways, and chose him as the tutor of the children of his second wife. He also arranged for him to live with him in his country home. Wertheimer graduated from Cincinnati University in 1887 and from the rabbinical seminary in 1889. Rabbi Wertheimer completed the eight year curriculum in seven years.
Following his graduation and period as tutor Wertheimer received his first call to officiate as rabbi. This was given by the B'nai Yeshurum Temple in Dayton, Ohio. He maintained the post for ten years and was held in the highest esteem. In his Friday evening lectures he spoke with authority on subjects of current interest—social, industrial, and economic questions, monotheism, ethical culture, and the moral systems of the Jews. In his Sabbath morning addresses his subjects were the weekly sections of the Pentateuch followed by a corresponding section of the prophets.
During this period the Rabbi married but his wife died an unexpected death and after ten years of being the Rabbi at the Dayton Ohio congregation he decided to step aside and study.
Rabbi Wertheimer writes "... Judaism had no comfort for my trouble. I determined to resign my office and administration and step down and out, leaving the rabbinate. For two years of my domestic sorrow I had tried to get some tangible comfort out of the Talmud, Mishnah, and rabbinical doctrines, but found none that satisfied my soul's hunger and longings. I began to study, to search for more light. I was lonesome, harassed, and full of doubts. Thus ended my ten years' rabbinate!... Bereft of any real spiritual comfort, I became even more conscious of the void in my heart occasioned by the unexpected death of my young wife. Imperceptibly I was drawn into a study of the things of the hereafter."
For long periods Wertheimer locked himself in his library studying, meditating, and supplicating God for light. As he searched the Scriptures his thoughts were repeatedly directed to Isaiah 53. Again and again his attention focused on the central figure of the chapter—"the righteous servant." He knew the rabbinical interpretation of the title "righteous servant," which was said to refer to the people of Israel, because they were required to bear the iniquities of the Gentiles. But as he read and pondered the passage he saw clearly that the prophet could not be referring to the people of Israel, since in his first chapter he speaks of Israel as the most sinful nation on earth.
Other rabbinical suggestions about the righteous servant intruded themselves into his thought, but none were in harmony with the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. In meditation his thoughts were directed to a variety of Scripture passages. He considered "the Son of man" in Daniel 7:13-14:
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Text needs confirmed)
He also studied the phrase, "The LORD said unto my Lord" in Psalm 110:1. In addition his attention was drawn to Isaiah 9:6-7:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Gradually these Old Testament passages, and many others, turned his thought to "the son of man [who] came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45)—the man of Calvary. Previously he had casually read parts of the New Testament, but had never felt any deep interest in its contents, except as a means to demonstrate his erudition at meetings with Christian clergymen. Now, however, he began to study it carefully and prayerfully. And the more he studied it the more he saw it to be complementary to the Old Testament.
Christian doctrine which he had ridiculed as illogical, unnatural, and un-Jewish he now saw as perfectly logical and truly Jewish, although supernatural. He now found that such fundamental articles of faith as belief in the triune God, the divinity of Christ, and the virgin birth, were based solidly on the anticipations of the Old Testament. Dr. Wertheimer writes of the great moment when he reached the conviction that Jesus was Israel's Messiah and the Son of God:
The Rabbi writes "I fell down on my knees... It was...the Holy One of Israel, who was wounded for my transgressions and bruised for my iniquities, and the chastisement of my peace was upon Thee, and by Thy stripes I am healed. Give me faith to believe on Thee and to own Thee as my Savior, Messiah and Lord. Give me courage to confess Thee before men."
He now felt like he belonged to the government and Lordship of Yeshua Hamashiach, ben Elohim, ben David—of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Son of David.
On March 30, 1904, Dr. Wertheimer publicly confessed Christ in the Central Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio. He then entered the Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and graduated after one year of study. After his ordination he served as pastor for five years at Ada, Ohio, followed by two and a half years as pastor-evangelist with the New Covenant Mission in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Finally, he felt called to a wider sphere as a "free-lance" preacher of the gospel to both Jew and Gentile. The greater part of his support in this ministry was provided by the income from his books. He was continually in great demand as Bible teacher, expositor, and evangelist.
Note from JewishRoots.Net: This testimony was shortened for space considerations. Readers are encouraged to read the entire testimony from the book Famous Hebrew Christians, available from International Board of Jewish Missions, Inc., P.O. Box 1386, Hixson, Tennessee 37343.
If you have any questions regarding the Christian faith, feel free to contact Dr. Wertheimer's great-grandson, Rev. Stephen Pribble, Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1301 W. Wieland Rd., Lansing, MI 48906-1895
Other items of Interest may include:
1). Jacob Gartenhaus - Chapter 32 of Jacob Gartenhaus, Famous Hebrew Christians, available from International Board of Jewish Missions, Inc., P.O. Box 1386, Hixson, Tennessee 37343. This book is suggested reading if you want to be inspired by Jewsih Testimonies.