Remembering Rabbi Daniel Zion

When HaRav Daniel Zion (b. 1883) passed away in 1979 at the ripe old age of 96 years old, the Bulgarian Jewish community in Israel gave him a full burial with military and state honors. His casket stood in the center of Jaffa with a military guard, and at noon was carried by men all the way to the Holon cemetery on foot. He was buried as the Chief Rabbi of Bulgarian Jews who saved them from the Nazi Holocaust. Rabbi Daniel Zion also believed that Yeshua was the Messiah.

Rabbi Daniel Zion is most honored and remembered for his tremendous efforts during World War II to save the Bulgarian Jewish Community.

According to Rabbi Zion himself, a major change happened in his life one morning while he was praying.  He was looking at the sunrise when Yeshua appeared to him in a vision. Rav Zion came to believe in Yeshua, yet remained faithful to Jewish life, observance of the Torah, and to the Jewish people.

Each Shabbat afternoon, Rabbi Zion began studying the New Testament with a very select, small group of Bulgarian Jews in his home. Among these few were some of the leading members of the Jewish community in Sofia.

Rabbi Zion’s faith in Yeshua as the Messiah became a well know secret in the local Jewish community.However his position was so honored, and his personal services so highly esteemed, that no one openly criticized him. And because he remained well within the framework of Orthodox Judaism and did not stop living as an observant Jew, there was little any of his opponents could point to as heresy.

When Nazi Germany occupied Bulgaria, Rabbi Zion, as the Chief Rabbi and spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Jewish community became the object of persecution and ridicule. On one particular occasion he was taken and publicly flogged in front of the Great Synagogue of Sofia.

Rabbi Zion had built a strong friendship with Metropolitan Stephen, the head of the Church in Bulgaria. As a result of their relationship, Metropolitan Stephen remained a strong advocate of the Jewish community. When intense discussions arose about shipping Bulgaria’s Jews to Germany, Rabbi Zion and his secretary, A. A. Anski, wrote a letter to the King of Bulgaria. In the letter, Rabbi Zion begged the King not to allow Bulgaria’s Jewish community to be taken out of Bulgaria. Rav Zion wrote in this letter that he had seen Yeshua in a vision, and Yeshua told him to warn the King from delivering the Jewish people to the Nazis.

The next day, the King went to Germany for a meeting with the Nazi Government and Hitler himself. King Boris of Bulgaria stood his ground and did not submit to Nazi pressure to deliver Bulgarian Jews to the death camps of Poland and Germany.

Rabbi Daniel Zion was able to continue to save many Bulgarian Jews throughout the War. And although the government of Bulgaria fell to the Russians in September 1944, Rav Zion remained the leader and Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria until 1949, when he and most of the Bulgarian Jewish community immigrated toIsrael.

In Israel, Rabbi Zion continued to serve the Bulgarian Jews and became the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa. In 1954, Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Samuel Toledano, invited Rabbi Daniel to be a dayan, a judge on the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem. However, when rumors started to fly that Rabbi Zion believed in Yeshua, Rabbi Toledano confronted him in his office and asked him personally about the rumors.

Rabbi Zion explained to Toledano his position. He explained that he accepted Yeshua as the Messiah but did not accept Christianity as the true expression of the teaching and person of Yeshua. Rabbi Toledano decided that he could live with this position as long as Rabbi Zion kept it to himself. However, Rabbi Zion refused, feeling that he could not keep it a secret, and Toledano was forced to bring Rabbi Zion before the rabbinical court for the other rabbis to decide what should be done.

Evidence of Rabbi Daniel Zion’s faith in Yeshua was brought before the religious court in the form of four books he had written in Bulgarian. Although the Rabbinical Court stripped Rabbi Daniel of his rabbinic title, the Bulgarian Jewish community continued to honor Rabbi Zion as their Rabbi.

Rabbi Zion was even invited by Kol Israel, the official radio station of the State of Israel, to share his story and his faith in Yeshua:

“More than twenty years ago I had the first opportunity of reading the New Testament. It influenced me greatly. I began to speak about it in a small circle in Bulgaria. I always regretted that Yeshua the Messiah has been estranged from the community of Israel … I must confess that my position as a Rabbi did not allow me at once to come out openly before the world in order to declare this truth, until G-d, in His mercy, set me free from all fear … do not think that I have left my Judaism. On the contrary, I have remained Jewish, and have become more Jewish because Yeshua himself remained Jewish.”

Rabbi Zion continued to serve as a rabbi in Jaffa where he officiated in the synagogue until the 6th of October 1973. He did not often speak of Yeshua openly from the pulpit, yet he would often bring in stories and parables from the New Testament.

Each Shabbat afternoon, Rabbi Zion would bring home a group of his fellow worshippers from the synagogue, and they would study about Yeshua from the New Testament until they had to return to the Synagogue for the evening prayers.

Many times Rav Zion was offered large amounts of money for the use of his name and his story. However, in each case he rejected the offers. He did not want to destroy his reputation within the people of Israel for the sake of money.  If anyone gave him free-will donations with no strings attached, he would accept it and pass it on to charitable organizations for the blind, or to orphans and widows. He himself lived in abject poverty as a result of his faith.

He died on November 13, 1979 in Jaffa.

*To learn more about Rabbi Daniel Zion, read Joseph Shulam’s article. You can also read more about him on HERE.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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18 Responses to Remembering Rabbi Daniel Zion

  1. Debs says:

    Wow, what a story. I love hearing about Rabbi Daniel Zion. His story is so encouraging to those of us who face rejection for trying to hold on to both Yeshua and our Jewish identity. Thank God for this trail-blazing man. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing this important story. I wonder if more Bulgarian Jews came to believe in Yeshua, and what happened to the good rabbi's "New Testament" study group? Did they believe, did they keep their faith, and are they or their descendants Messianic Jews to this day?

  3. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Anonymous-Thanks for the comment.There was actually a whole community of Bulgarian Jewish believers. And many of the remnants of that community are still around. Prominent Messianic Jewish leaders in Israel, Avi Mizrachi and Joseph Shulam are both descendents of this community. Joe Shulam's mother and sister were a part of the community that came with Rabbi Zion from Sofia, and Avi Mizrachi's mother was Rabbi Zion's secretary.

  4. Athol (Aharon Yosef) says:

    thanks for this story. It was great-i have never heard of Rabbi Daniel Zion before.

  5. James says:

    Fabulous story. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Barbara says:

    Thanks for this great post, Joshua! What a wonderful remembrance. There is a book by Michael Bar-Zohar called “Beyond Hitler’s Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews” that tells the amazing story of how Bulgaria, the only Axis-aligned country not to deport a single one of its 50,000 Jews. A great read – hard to put the book down, but it only mentions HaRav Zion a couple times and says nothing about his faith in Yeshua. However, there is no doubt that “something supernatural” kept this particular Jewish community “Beyond Hitler’s Grasp”…!!!

  7. Marvelously said! Thanks for filling us in on details and links we did not know. I have a Bulgarian woman in my congregation who knows of Rabbi Zion, but I don’t think she knows all these details. She will be thrilled. Good job! I wish you were rabbi at MY congregation!

  8. Rabbi Joshua says:

    LOL … Thanks Rabbi Stuart.

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  10. Yael says:

    The very true Jewish is Yeshua HaMoshiach ……..I believe indeed that Yeshua makes
    anyone who is in Him become the true descendant of Avraham,Yitzaac and Yaacob….the true Jewish.
    It is sad…….for many of the Jews…,they are afraid of loosing their Jewishness if they trusted Yeshua as their Messiah….
    They don’t need to be a Christian to believe in Yeshua,…..on the other hand……every Christian who profess Yeshua as his Savior…..,should think to be a Jew and living as Yeshua had lived… 1 John 2:6 ( Yeshua had walked
    as a Jewish Rabbi by keeping the Torah and the Jewish way of life perfectly ).

  11. Andrew T. says:

    Fascinating story!

  12. dan gali says:

    Amazing how the God of Israel works in the life of his children. This afternoon I heard an interview in the Israeli radio Reshet Bet, in which they spoke about the myth that the Bulgarian King confronted Hitler himself on the question of Jewish deportations from his country. the truth is that he got a “suspension” of transport of Jews from Bulgaria because he gave a green light to the transport of Greece and Macedonian jews through Bulgaria into concentration camps in Poland.
    I guess that these evidence shed a different light on the deeds of this king.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:

      Dan,

      Wow, that just might shed different light. So through pressure the king may have saved Bulgarian Jews but apparently at the cost of others.

      • dan gali says:

        Joshua

        In that radio programm the Bulgarian Jew who spoke about that period said that the jews of Bulgaria escaped the brutal destiny of other Europian Jews, mainly through the help of the Bulgarian Church and the Bulgarian people, not the king. and this is partly explained by the conversion of Daniel Zion.
        To be honest, I don’t think that a Jew can become a believer in Yeshu, and continiue to be a Jew. This a paradox that can only be smoothened by christians. but that is a matter that has been debated by the Sages (Chachamim) all along history.

  13. Nikolai says:

    dan gali,

    I would recommend to you to study a little bit more before you make such conclusions about our king. Start with http://savingbulgarianjews.org/ for instance. Hitler called Tsar Boris to come in Germany and give an explanation why the Bulgarian Jews had not been deported. The tsar refused to send the Jews to certain death and he was poisoned by Hitler and died in the plane on his way back to home. As for the deportation of the Greek and Makedonian Jews, read the history. Germany occupied Greece and Yugoslavia, Bulgaria was not. The tsar had no influence whatsoever to prevent this. Bulgaria was not a match for Germany by no means. We did wharever we could to save our Jews. And probably you did not know that the number of the Bulgarian Jews increased during the war making Bulgaria the only country in the world to do that. And the Bulgarian Jews, sadly to say, were the only Jews in the world who forgot what Bulgaria and the tsar did for them.

    • nessi says:

      It is absolutely not true that Bulgarian Jews have forgotten what the Bulgarian people did for them in WW2. I am Bulgarian and I have Jewish friends in Bulgaria and I lived in Israel for a period of time as well, and everywhere Jews have always shown their gratitude and appreciation – they never forget. However, our country is responsible for the transportation of the close to 12 000 Macedonian Jews, as it was Bulgarian troops who did it.

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