All Love: A Biography of Ridley Herschell
by Geoffrey Henderson
Two hundred years ago, in one of the most Orthodox Jewish communities in the world, a Jewish child was born who would excel as a scholar familiar with every facet of rabbinic religion but who would also become one of the most colourful figures in nineteenth-century English Evangelicalism and a founder of CWI.
Haim Herschell was born in Strzelno, Poland in April 1807 to the daughter-in-law of the town’s rabbi, Hillel Herschell. His earliest ambition was to be a rabbi and, along with the other boys of the town, Haim diligently studied the Torah and the Mishnah and Gemara.*
Away from the other-worldly insularity of the Polish Hassidic community, Haim was quickly seduced by the urbane secularism of the German capital. However, in another secular and sophisticated European capital he was drawn back to the God of his fathers. Haim was living in Paris when, poverty-stricken and miserable, feeling forsaken by God, he noticed that an item he had bought was wrapped in the pages of a book. His attention was drawn to the words, “Bienheureux ceux qui sont dans l’affliction, car ils seront consoles”; “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted”. In France, the cradle of the Enlightenment, the Bible had no more value than cheap wrapping paper, but these words from Matthew’s Gospel would mark the beginning of a new life for Haim Herschell, later to be Ridley Haim Herschell. He would go on to become a national celebrity as well as a Christian scholar, a preacher, a pastor, a missionary and a founder of both the Evangelical Alliance and Christian Witness to Israel.
All Love has been a labour of love for the author Geoffrey Henderson. His great-great-grandfather came to faith through Herschell and they became good friends. The book is a gripping and moving account of a relatively brief life lived with courage, conviction, spiritual zeal, integrity and love. It is a delight to read. Henderson has done British evangelicalism an inestimable service by reviving the memory of a forgotten spiritual and intellectual giant. I recommend it to all readers of the Herald.
*The Mishna (Repetition) and Gemara (Completion) make up the 63 tractates of Talmud (Teaching), a massive compendium of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs and history.
HTS Media. 190 pages.
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This article first appeared in the March 2007 edition of the Herald