This year, 2015, the Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures celebrates its 75th anniversary. Founded in 1940 — probably the worst year possible of the last century — the Lord’s work through the Society began and continues to this day.
The Second World War had begun and 1940 saw the Dunkirk evacuation, the Battle of Britain and Battle of the Atlantic being waged in earnest. It was greatly feared Britain would be invaded and preparations for that were urgently in hand.
The founder of this Society, Mr Joseph Yoelson-Taffen, expressed his belief in autumn 1939 that Germany would lose the war and afterwards there would be a new state of Israel. Both proved to be true, as we well know. He believed Hitler would lose because he had put his hand upon the Jewish people in accordance with the promise of the Lord to Abraham in Genesis 12:3; ‘And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee’.
Consequently, on 12 January 1940, the Society was founded with the express objective of presenting the Word of God to every Jewish home. The basic principles on which it was founded, and which obtain to this day, are as follows. First, the Scriptures would be bilingual, in Hebrew and a language appropriate to the recipient. In the first case, a Hebrew-English New Testament was published.
Second, the Scriptures would be of good quality, to convey the value placed on them by Christian believers and in part repayment of the debt owed by Christians to the Jewish people for the Word of God, both Old and New Testaments. All Testaments published are in hardback, with gold blocking on the spine and cover. The paper is very thin to facilitate postage, distribution and storage.
Third, all Scriptures were, and still are, given free of all charge to or for Jewish people. The Society makes no appeals for funds and places no envelopes for financial response in its magazine. Prayer is the foundation upon which it was founded, and so it continues the same to this day.
Mr Yoelson-Taffen was a Jewish believer born in Riga, Latvia, in 1887, we believe. He came to this country towards the end of the nineteenth century and, prior to the First World War, worked for the Trinitarian Bible Society. Throughout that war he served in the British army and in 1921 joined the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, as a missionary to his own people.
After founding the Society in 1940, he left the service of the Mildmay Mission to give himself full time to the Society. The war years and particularly 1940 were very hard, but the Lord’s work will always proceed at his behest, no matter what circumstances appear to prevail.
Early print runs
Money and paper were both in short supply, but enough of each was found to print 20,000 copies of the Hebrew-English New Testament by 1942. The first copies went to a synagogue in Edgware, Middlesex.
Before long, a Hebrew-French New Testament was required and other languages followed: Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Romanian, Yiddish, Hungarian, German, modern Hebrew and Italian, all bilingual format and hardback.
In the late 1980s, by the Lord’s guidance, the Society decided to publish the Tanakh (Old Testament) in bilingual format and this proved a milestone in the history of the work. In turn, this produced an increased demand for the New Testament.
Some may think that Jewish people have the Old Testament, but many do not and, specifically, do not know it. Apart from the duties imposed upon them by rabbinical Judaism under the Law (Genesis–Deuteronomy), they know virtually nothing about the rest of the Old Testament.
In 1993 the first Hebrew-English Old Testament was published and, soon after, a call came for a Hebrew-Russian edition, then Hebrew-French, Hungarian, Spanish, Yiddish, German and, in July 2015, Portuguese.
The Society also produces a CD with the whole Bible in 18 languages, distributed freely on the same basis as all other publications. Since 2005, nearly 200,000 have been given to Jewish people all over the world.
With the digital age fast carrying us along, we also have three websites from which Scriptures can be accessed, and an app for mobile phones. The Scriptures can be accessed on these sites and also ordered in printed form.
After seeing the list of our publications, you might be wondering how Jewish people receive the Scriptures! Many years ago, it was difficult to give the Word of God to Jewish people. Old prejudices remained against the New Testament and, of course, the memories of the Holocaust did not help.
Today everything has changed in a remarkable way that we can only attribute to the Lord beginning to open closed eyes. For ‘blindness in part is happened to Israel’ (Romans 11:25) and spiritually Jewish people are coming back to life.
Everywhere we go to distribute or send Scriptures, they are received gladly. Sometimes just the offer of the Word of God brings tears to the eyes of the recipients. They do not realise of course what they are experiencing is the love of their own Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The take-up of Scriptures offered is well over 90 per cent and many particularly want to read the New Testament. We know from the prophetic Scriptures that Israel’s and the Jewish people’s troubles are not over, but we believe that, through the distribution of his Word, the Lord is preparing them for that time yet to come when ‘they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn for Him’ (Zechariah 12:10).
The Society has the opportunity to distribute widely in Israel, and consequently more Scriptures are sent there than to any other country. Since 1993, the Society has regularly visited Israel to exhibit at the bi-annual Jerusalem International Book Fair. Here we always have a warm welcome; this year was a record year for Scriptures given, especially New Testaments.
We have distributors to the Jewish people in Canada, USA, Caribbean, Surinam, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa, Israel, India, Australia, New Zealand, Ukraine, Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands. In addition, Jewish communities in many other countries where we have no representation have been visited and the Scriptures distributed.
Our headquarters are at Joseph House, 1 Bury Mead Road, Hitchin, SG5 1RT. Early in the work, the Society was kindly accommodated in the premises of the Trinitarian Bible Society in Bury Street, London; shortly after that and until 1972, at a peppercorn rent in two offices, over a large shop at the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and New Oxford Street, London.
Outgrowing these caused a move to Edgware and the purchase of 1 Rectory Lane, where the Society obtained a small warehouse and offices. By the late 1990s, this became too small for the growing number of titles and in 2001 the Society moved to much larger premises in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.
However in late 2013, it was realised that the storage space in these larger premises would not be sufficient for two new publications, the Hebrew-German and Hebrew-Portuguese Old Testaments!
The Lord wonderfully enabled the Society to purchase a similar sized building, just along the road, which has enabled us to double our storage space. There is easy access between the two premises to transport Scriptures as required.
We give the Word of God freely to Jewish people. We give our magazine, Lamp & Light, freely to those who wish to prayerfully support what the Lord is doing (obtainable from address above or [email protected]).
The magazine includes news of the work, and personal accounts of distribution and how the Word is received. If there are readers who have Jewish friends and wish to give them the Word of God free of charge, please contact the Society.
We are full of praise to the Lord for his guiding, providing and accomplishing hand of these 75 years and are delighted to use the words of Mark 7:37, to proclaim of the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘And [they] were beyond measure astonished, saying, “He hath done all things well”.’ ‘This is the Lord’s doing. It is marvellous in our eyes’ (Psalm 118:23).
Eric R. Browning is General Secretary of the Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures