Father Isaac Jacob, Benedictine, was of Jewish American origin and arrived in Israel in 1975. He is fondly remembered in the Hebrew-speaking communities, especially in Beer Sheba where he regularly celebrated mass when there was no permanent priest.

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Isaac Jacob’s Vision
by Sister Gemma Del Duca, S.C.

Those of us who were Isaac Jacob’s friends and colleagues are constantly being drawn forward with his vision for the Church in Israel, the Church’s theological relationship with Judaism.  As one of his most faithful disciples put it:“Isaac. . . had a certain gift that could not be institutionalized. . . . Yet he loved the Church/being a Benedictine.”(1)  In his last formal writing, an article published in The American Benedictine Review (December 1994), Isaac Jacob summarized in a sense twenty years of intensely living the Rule of Saint Benedict, for him the Rule had become “a bridge to Israel.”(2) 

But the process had been one of discovery, sometimes physically difficult and spiritually lonely.  From 1975 until his death in 1995 he worked, prayed, celebrated at Tel Gamaliel, in the beginning a very isolated, abandoned hilltop, with no water, electricity, telephone, located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He lived there with sister and brother religious, Christian families and individuals, always using the Rule as the focus of life lived together. Great effort was made to pray the psalms and read the Sacred Scripture in Hebrew and to live within the vibrant context of contemporary Hebrew-speaking Israel. This was the milieu that brought great creativity to Isaac’s theological thought and interpretation, whether reading the newspaper, watching TV, talking to the local Israelis in the Bet Shemesh “mercaz,” or going to a movie. With his prophetic passion for Israel and love for the Hebrew language, Isaac moved with great enthusiasm into some of the classical texts of Judaism and tried to bring some of this learning into the every day life of the community, especially at meal time conversation and weekly discussions. 

Isaac’s study and reflection led him to see the Rule as “a clear Christian embodiment of Judaism, and, given the teaching of the Church since the Second Vatican Council, Judaism is of contemporary theological importance.”(3) From his first years in Israel Isaac Jacob celebrated Shabbat with those who were gathered around him and read the weekly portion of the Torah. At the same time he emphasized the necessity of preparing throughout the week the texts of the Sunday liturgy, especially the Gospel and the Psalm with a daily reading from the Rule.(4)  

In Isaac Jacob’s teaching and writing, the Rule became more and more the instrument that “witnessed to a shared submission to the word of the Lord.  Now, with the return of Jewish national life in the Land of Israel . . . both Synagogue and Church must struggle for a contemporary theological sense of how each is bound by the word of the Lord now, in our times.”(5) There is not doubt that Isaac Jacob, O.S.B., contributed his life to that “struggle.”  Now we who still remember him and are inspired by his words must continue to build on the firm foundation of his love and life.

(1) Ralph Dowdy, personal letter to Gemma Del Duca, S.C., April 10, 2007.
(2) Isaac H. Jacob, O.S.B., “The Rule of Benedict: Bridge to Israel, “American Benedictine Review”45:4 - Dec. 1994, 399.
(3) Jacob, 399.
(4) The Rule of St Benedict was translated into Hebrew for the first time under the direction of Isaac Jacob, O.S.B., translated by Gabriel Grossmann, O.P., and published in 1980,
(5) Jacob, 403.