Ephraim Ben Yosef Elyakim, a rabbi found rest (1856-1930)

Rabbi Ephraim Ben Yosef Elyakim was born in Tiberias in 1856. His father was a rabbi in the Old City and one of the leaders of the Arab-Jewish community. Ephraim followed in the footsteps of his father, became an diligent student of the Torah and the Talmud and eventually a rabbi and dajan (a member of the rabbinical court). Both Jews and Arabs held him in high esteem. He married the daughter of the chief rabbi and had every reason to look forward to a successful life.

Rabbi Ephraim was always on his guard for Christians, especially missionaries, and did everything he could to avoid them. He even refused to let his wife and children go to the hospital of the Church of Scotland, He was more stringent in this than many of his colleagues.

A Meeting with a Chaplain

One day, Rev. Ewing, chaplain of the Church of Scotland visited the Jewish district in Tiberias and passed by the school where Ephraim was a teacher. He greeted the rabbi in Hebrew. A few friendly words of someone whom he normally viewed with fear and suspicion touched the rabbi’s heart. Several days later he overcame his aversion and visited Ewing. Both men were almost the same age and soon they were engaged in a lively conversation on all kinds of topics, especially the Talmud, the Bible and Yeshua’s claims of being the Messiah. Their conversations took place over a period of time during which the rabbi’s knowledge of the Tanakh proved invaluable.
Slowly the meaning of the prophecies became clearer to Ephraim, but he found it difficult to understand why his own people, which he loved so dearly, had suffered so much throughout the centuries and he asked himself, “What about the promises made to our forefathers? We are God’s chosen people, but the wonderful promises made to us are now being claimed by foreigners.” He posed the question to some of his fellow colleagues, but even they could not give him a satisfying answer. Instead, they started keeping an eye on him.
Meanwhile Ephraim was convinced that some terrible sin was the reason for God’s judgement over his people. Suddenly he saw things clearly about the phrase ‘hate without reason’ (Yoma 9b) and he heard a soft voice within him saying, “Stop hating me, but love me and I shall give you rest.” The battle was won, Rabbi Ephraim found a peace that would never leave him.


The rabbi’s choice was followed by a period of heavy persecution. He was arrested, tortured, falsely accused of theft and imprisoned, but his decision was unshakable. Condemned as a traitor, he was secretly put to work in a Jewish settlement by Lake Hula. Months later someone who worked in the hospital at Tiberias was on a trip in the Jordan valley and saw a pitiable figure working in the hot sun. It was Ephraim. He quickly told them everything he had been through. But he endured everything and waited until God would convince him of what he should do. Sometime later, he was seen in Nazareth where he was baptized, but on his return to Tiberias his wife and children were taken from him, in spite of the fact that his wife loved him with all her heart. With the exception of his eldest son, he never saw his younger children again.

Rabbi Ephraim eventually went to Jerusalem where he was treated suspiciously. He worked as a day labourer building houses, not earning much but he never complained. He was content with what he had and if he had money to spend, he gave it to the poor to whom he also told the Gospel story. In Jerusalem he had a lot of contact with his former pupils, who were now rabbis. They begged him to stop with the heavy labour and become their father and leader again. Although Ephraim was thankful for these friendly gestures, he remained immovable in his faithfulness to the Messiah.


Things changed when Ephraim joined the ‘Christian and Missionary Alliance’. He could now devote himself to proclaiming the Gospel message to his fellow Jews. A meeting place was hired in Jaffa Street, where many a heated discussion took place. Sometimes there were threats of violence, but Ephraim never thought about stopping witnessing of the Messiah. When persecution had no effect, people tried to flatter him with tempting offers. He took every invitation, even from the chief rabbinate, because they were also chances to proclaim the gospel. He spent hours with them expounding the Scriptures, which show who the Messiah is. Most of them were not convinced but some visited him secretly for additional study and prayer. After his retirement, Ephraim remained connected to the Alliance as a volunteer. With great joy he spent every Sabbath in the ‘reading room’ where he spoke with men and boys and in the evening service that he led, he spoke in Hebrew, which had already become the spoken language.

The Rabbi’s final prayer

Rev. Esber Doner writes about the last hours of his illness spent with him, ‘Rabbi Ephraim asked me to pray with him.’ After that he also prayed. “Oh Lord Yeshua, I praise You because You have freed me. I praise You because You have used me in Your service to save souls. I beseech You, Lord Yeshua, to bless Your People and strengthen them. But above all I thank You for the many believers here in Jerusalem. Give them faith and courage so that they shall never waver in their witness. Amen.”
This was on 30 August, 1930. The next day the honourable rabbi was buried at the age of 74. Mr. Gabriel, of the Arabic-Christian community, wrote concerning this, ‘Next to the grave of the rabbi there was another grave for a brother in the Messiah – an Arab. There, a Jew and an Arab lied alongside one another and Jews and Arabs stood with bowed heads next to the open graves, emotional and consoling one another.’