Bror Daniel, ein jødisk munk

Ei bokmelding i den israelske avisa Haaretz sette meg på sporet av ei interessant historie. Det handlar om ein polsk jøde som konverterte til kristendomen og blei munk, men som likevel ønskte å behalda identiteten som jøde. Trass i dette endte han opp som ein høgt skatta person i Israel!

Biletet viser klosteret Stella Maris i Haifa, der denne fascinerande personen levde siste del av livet. Historia er undervegs også innom Krakow.

Meet Brother Daniel: A Jew-converted-Christian-turned-monk
The truth behind the story told by Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya, a fictionalized version of the life of Brother Daniel, a Jew converted to Christianity-turned- monk, is so remarkable in itself that it’s not clear why the author saw the need to turn it into a novel.

By Shalom Goldman


Novel in Documents, by Ludmila Ulitskaya (translated from Russian by Arch Tait ) Overlook Duckworth, 416 pages, $27.95

In the struggle over definitions of Israeli and Jewish identity, Oswald Rufeisen, better known as Brother Daniel, was a pivotal figure. The case that Rufeisen (1922-1998 ) took to Israel’s High Court of Justice in 1962 brought the question of «Who is a Jew?» to public attention in a new and startling manner. And the decision in that case, which historian Michael Stanislawski has called «a fundamental episode in the history of the Jewish State,» has influenced Israeli law and public opinion to this day. In it, the court was asked to decide whether Rufeisen, a Polish Jew who had converted to Catholicism during World War II, and had served for many years as a Catholic priest, should be granted citizenship under the Law of Return. In a four to one decision, the High Court ruled against Rufeisen, on the grounds that by joining another religion, he had forfeited his right to fast-tracked citizenship in the Jewish state.


After the war, Oswald joined the Carmelite Monastery in Cracow. The Polish provincial of the order suggested that Rufeisen take the name Daniel, because «he had been like Daniel in the lions» den and survived.» From 1945 to 1949 Rufeisen received training as a monk, taking his vows in 1949, at the age of 27.

Though he was a respected and beloved priest in the Catholic Church in Poland, Brother Daniel had never given up on the dream to live in Israel.


Brother Daniel’s life after he arrived in Israel was in many ways as remarkable as his life had been in Nazi-occupied Europe and Communist Poland. From his arrival at Stella Maris and until his death, Rufeisen lived in the monastery, and served as a priest to the non-Arab Catholics of the Galilee area (Catholics of the Arab community were ministered to by their own Arabic-speaking clergy ). The 1962 trial in which he brought suit against the Israeli Ministry of Interior occupied much of his time in that year, and of course it brought him into the limelight.

In his request to the Interior Ministry, Rufeisen asked for the State of Israel to accept him as a Jew. As he recalled in a 1998 conversation with journalist David B. Green, in The Jerusalem Report, «The interior minister, Moshe Haim Shapira, invited me to talk. I had an hour-long conversation with him, his juridical counsel and the ministry’s director general. He offered me citizenship, but told me: «Don’t go to the High Court, because not everybody will understand. They’ll see it as discrimination against a baptized Jew.'»

In the late ’50s and early 1960s, there were thousands of Eastern European Catholic residents in Israel – many of them Polish (or Romanian, Czech or Bulgarian ) women married to Jewish men. These couples had come to Mandatory Palestine after the war. Realizing that Israeli Hebrew was their common language, Rufeisen established a special ministry for these Christian believers. Interviewed in the 1980s, Rufeisen recalled that, «Eventually, as I worked with these people, I found Hebrew as a common language for all of them. From this grew the idea of a Hebrew Church. This was a gradual evolutionary development.»

Stella Maris monastery provided a place for Brother Daniel to live, but it did not support his many projects. He soon realized that his many charitable and pastoral efforts required him to earn a steady income, and so, from the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s, he guided groups of Christian tourists to holy sites in Israel. Thus from 1965 onwards Brother Daniel supported his projects by serving as a licensed Israeli tour guide. During that period, Brother Daniel was so well-liked and respected by those who took his tours that word of his success reached the Tourism Ministry. The agency soon hired him to teach government-approved tour guides about the history and geography of Christianity in the Holy Land.

By the mid-1980s, Daniel was able to give up his work as a guide. He had attracted his own group of financial supporters, particularly in Germany, who sent him money on a regular basis. With that money he supported his charitable work, which included an old age home that he founded in Nahariya. Brother Daniel died in 1998 and was buried on Mount Carmel in the cemetery of the Stella Maris monastery.

All the episodes and elements that I have described can be found in Ulitskaya’s book, but they appear there in a jumbled and artificial manner. For the reader who has never heard of Brother Daniel, this book provides an introduction to the fascinating life of the «the Jewish monk.» But for those already familiar with his life’s outline, Ulitskaya’s novel will be a disappointment.

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