The rabbi saves his people

By David Lazarus

Rabbi Daniel Zion, the late Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria, is one of Messianic Judaism’s greatest heroes. The son of a yeshiva head, Daniel was selected to be Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria in the early years of World War II. It was during this period, he later ex-plained, that Daniel had a revelation. “I was pray-ing at sunrise and saw a vision of Yeshua the Messiah. I asked other rabbis what it meant. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t say.” Trying to understand the vision, he visited a Bulgarian Orthodox bishop who providentially encouraged the Chief Rabbi to focus on the Jewish heritage of Yeshua, and not the teachings of traditional Christianity.

     Rabbi Daniel never joined a church, but continued living out his faith in Yeshua as an Orthodox Jew. Though his faith in the Messiah became well known, Daniel was able to maintain his position and even gain great respect as Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria.

Joseph Shulam, a Messianic Jewish pastor from Jerusalem whose mother and sister were members of Rabbi Daniel’s synagogue in Bulgaria, tells the story:

     “When Nazi Germany occupied Bulgaria, Rabbi Daniel Zion became the object of persecution and ridicule. He was publicly flogged in front of the Great Synagogue of Sofia. Rabbi Daniel walked upright before the fascists, and his only reaction was to call upon God. My own mother and sister were present during at least two of these occasions, and they retold this story many times. The entire experience had made them proud to be Jews. When there was talk of shipping the Jews to Germany, Rabbi Daniel wrote a letter to Boris, King of Bulgaria. Rabbi Daniel wrote that he’d had a vision of Yeshua telling him to warn the king against handing the Jews over to the Nazis. On the next day, the king left for Germany to meet with Hitler himself. King Boris stood his ground and did not submit to Nazi pressure to deliver the Jews of Bulgaria to the death camps of Poland and Germany.

     “In 1949, Rabbi Daniel, along with most of the Bul-garian Jewish community, immigrated to Israel. In Israel, Daniel was immediate-ly accepted as the Rabbi of the Bulgarian Jews. In 1954, Rabbi Samuel Toledano became Chief Rabbi of Israel, and he invited Rabbi Daniel Zion to be a judge on the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem. When the rumors started to fly that Rabbi Daniel Zion believed in Yeshua, Rabbi Toledano questioned him. Rabbi Daniel explained that he accepted Yeshua as the Messiah, but that he did not accept Christianity as the true expression of the teach-ings and person of Yeshua. Rabbi Toledano said that he could live with that position, so long as Rabbi Daniel kept it to himself. When Rabbi Daniel said that he did not think such a message could be kept secret, Toledano was forced to take Rabbi Daniel before the Rabbinical Court. There, the other rabbis would decide his fate.

     “Evidence of Rabbi Daniel’s faith in Yeshua was presented in the form of four books he had written in Bulgarian regarding the Messiah. When given the opportunity to publicly defend himself, this is what Rabbi Daniel told his peers on the Rabbinical Court: ‘I am poor and feeble, persecuted and vulnerable. Yeshua conquered me. I stand here alone in my faith; the whole world is against me. I give up all earthly honor for the sake of the Messiah.’

     “The Rabbinical Court stripped Rabbi Daniel of his title, but the Bulgarian Jews continued to honor him as their rabbi. A Russian Jew who was one of the early Zionist settlers in Rishon LeZion, and who had also become a believer, provided Rabbi Daniel Zion with a building in the heart of Jaffa. In that new synagogue, Rabbi Daniel officiated until October 1973.  Many Christians visited Rabbi Daniel Zion in his Jaffa home, and on occasion would even offer him large amounts of money for the use of his name in their own ministries. In every instance, Rabbi Daniel rejected their offers. He did not want to damage his witness to the people of Israel for a handful of dollars.

     “When Rabbi Daniel Zion passed away in 1979 at the age of 96, the Bulgarian Jew-ish community in Israel gave him a funeral with full honors. His casket stood in the center of Jaffa with a military guard, and at noon was carried by foot all the way to the ceme-tery in Holon. He was buried as the Chief Rabbi of Bulgarian Jews who saved them from the Nazi Holocaust. May his name, and the name of his Messiah, be remembered in Israel.”