I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lawrence Duff-Forbes (1899-1964): Australia's First Messianic Jewish Rabbi

As I have mentioned elsewhere I come from an assimilated Australian family of Anglo-Jewish ancestry. After my mother's conversion experience through the preaching of Billy Graham in 1959 along with her sister Faye they became Evangelical Anglicans and part of a Jewish Christian group called in those days "Jewish Evangelical Witness". Later it would be called "The David House Fellowship". Regularly on a Friday night we (my parents, brothers, sister, aunt and cousins) attended the talks of Mr John Brighton of this organisation at the home of Mr and Mrs John (Jack) Ryan and occassionally attended meetings at their centre which I think was called 'David House'. My mother and aunt, who lived next door to each other, received for many years the magazine of this organisation called "The Vineyard". [In fact the first time I became conscious of my Jewish ancestry was when I was about 8 or 9 when I heard my mother and aunt talking to the group about their Jewish grandmother. It seemed strange to me a little Aussie boy that those people on the films about Israel we were always watching were somehow connected to us. I remember the next day asking my mother all about her mother's Jewish family and relatives who had come from the Eastern States of Australia in 1908 to settle in Western Australia.]

The leader and founder of this group was Dr Lawrence Duff-Forbes (b.1899 d.1964) who was also known as Rabbi Zvi ben Abraham. His book "Out of the Clouds" (copyrighted 1952 published in 1957) was one of my mother's favourite books and she and my aunt had a number of copies. Apparently Dr Duff-Forbes was the one to make the term "Messianic Judaism" popular in the 1950's. He also referred to himself as a messianic Rabbi and wore the traditional Anglo-Jewish Rabbi's garb of a black robe and black pill-box hat. I have found evidence that as early as 1940 he attained Australian copyright for a book on Messianic Jewish themes by David L. Cooper the founder of the Biblical Research Society. The "Sydney Morning Herald" newspaper in 1943 mentions him as a Pastor from Victoria who is secretary of the Biblical Research Society (BRS). BRS of Australia is mentioned in 1941 as having its Australasian head quarters in Bendigo where Duff -Forbes seems to have his base at this time. In 1950 the same newspaper refers to him as Dr L W G Duff-Forbes. He left Australia to go to California in 1955 where he established one of the first Messianic congregations called Kehilaat haMashiach Betoch Israel and he also had a regular radio programme.

After some research I found that he served in World War One as a Lieutenant and he was known as Lawrence Walter Gordon Forbes and as Lawrence Walter Gordon Duff-Forbes and his mother Ada Emily Forbes is listed as next-of-kin in his military records. He was a senior cadet officer for 3 years before he enlisted. He enlisted in Hawthorn Victoria in 1917 and was born in Richmond Victoria. The "Argus" newspaper associates him with the Methodist Fitzroy Mission in 1945. He is also listed in the Government Gazettes as a registered minister of the Baptist Union in 1946,1948 and 1950 in Elsternwick and in 1954 in Spring Road Caulfield. Thus he most likely received his theological training at Whitley College in Melbourne where he received his Doctor of Divinity and his Doctor of Letters from Melbourne Univeristy. He married Clara Elsie May Guest [daughter of Alfred R. Guest and Ada Constance Willet] in 1924. She died in Melbourne in 1971. The further I searched the more interesting it became.

Lawrence's father was Frank Wilson Duff-Forbes an actor-producer d.1917[son of Wilson Duff Forbes and Mary Ann Bent]. His mother Ada Emily Windsor Lawrence b.1866 (also spelt Laurence in some records) was also an actress who married Frank Wilson Forbes in 1886. They may have been part of a Hebrew Christian group that existed in Melbourne in colonial days founded by the Methodist Hebrew Christian preacher Rev. Joseph Orton. Ada was the daughter of Robert Windsor (also spelt Winsor) Lawrence b.1833 Sheffield England d.1880 Melbourne a comedian who married Caroline George (b.1846 Launceston Tasmania) an actress in 1864 in Ballarat. Robert was the son of Thomas Robert Lawrence a Jewish weaver and Amelia Winsor. Caroline George was the daughter of William George (b.1815 England) a shoemaker and Mary Ferguson (b.1824 Sligo Ireland) who married in Launceston in 1845. Mary Ferguson may have come from a family who had left America at the time of the Revolution and settled in Sligo. She later left Ireland for Scotland and in Glasgow she was arrested and sent as a convict to Tasmania in 1840 where she married William George an ex-convict (sent to Tasmania in 1833).

Lawrence Duff-Forbes had a sister Guida Duff Forbes b.1889 who died as a baby and a sister Ada Lorna Duff-Forbes b.1890 d.1976 a famous Australian actress (known as Lorna Forbes)who became a Catholic. Records also show that Lawrence and Clara lived in Tasmania in the late 1920's but later returned to Melbourne.

My mother Laurie was very proud of her Jewish ancestry and often spoke of her "great uncle Levi" who owned race horses in New South Wales. She spoke about the Magen David's on her great uncles tombs and how she wanted to have one on her tombstone when she died. Later we learnt from one of our grandmother's cousins in NSW that Uncle Levi would sit in a corner with a black yamulke on and pray from a Jewish prayer book. My mother also had a gold Magen David on a gold chain which I started to wear when I was 13. Unfortunately later I lost it. My mother was always a strange kind of Evangelical as she leant towards the Anglo-Catholic position and had a fascination and respect for the ultra-Orthodox Jews. She spoke in hushed tones about the secret spiritual books that they possessed that could not be revealed to the goyim. She also had great knowledge of natural health remedies and was quite mystically gifted and a woman of great faith and prayer. She was highly intelligent and an avid reader especially of spiritual books and history. She was also a woman of contradictions as she was a strong religious Zionist but opposed to political Zionism and had a deep respect for those ultra-orthodox Jews in London who were anti-Zionist and believed that the Messiah should establish the Jewish state. My mother also always believed in worshipping with her hat or wig on. When I started to become observantly Jewish my parents were happy to keep the Sabbath Eve meal with me and the other festivals. My mother always wore her wig at such times. Eventhough my mother was involved in a group called "Jewish Evangelical Witness" she did not seem to have a missionary attitude towards Jews. When one of my secular Jewish friends came to stay with my parents my father (who had been an atheist) started to talk to him about Jesus and to give him a New Testament. My mother became annoyed with my father and told him to be quiet and to leave my friend alone. She told him and my father that my Jewish friend should read the Old Testament and learn more about Judaism and leave the rest to God.

I do not know if my mother ever met Dr Duff-Forbes but I do know she devoured his writings. If any one knows more details about Dr Lawrence Duff-Forbes I would love to hear from them. I now realise that he as an Anglo-Jewish Australian played an important part in the genesis of the Messianic Jewish movement. He also had a great influence on returning assimilated Anglo-Jews like my family to an interest in their Jewish heritage.

Dan Cohn-Sherbock in his book "Messianic Judaism" writes: "In Los Angeles, the congregation of the Messiah Within Israel was founded by Lawrence Duff-Forbes. A forerunner of the later messianic congregations, this congregation called itself both biblical and Messianic and employed a style of worship distinct from Hebrew Christian churches. Based on the synagogue service, the congregation utilized a traditional form of liturgy. According to Duff-Forbes, the objective of this congregation was to lead the Jewish people to worship the God of Israel. Insistent on the glories of the Jewish tradition, Duff-Forbes sought to fortify the Jewish people through biblical heritage. In order to promote this philosophy, Duff-Forbes published a range of literature including booklets, as well as a quarterly magazine. He also broadcast a radio programme and produced tapes dealing with religious issues. His synagogue held Shabbat services, offered adult Bible classes,and ran a Yeshivat Yahudat Meshichi, an academy of the Jewish Messiah with classes in Hebrew, Yiddish and Jewish history. In 1955 Ed Brotsky encounted Duff-Forbes at the 1955 World Congress of Hebrew Christians. Duff-Forbes invited Brotsky to come to Los Angeles to work with him. For nine months Brotsky served as an associate Rabbi. Even though the congregation was disbanded in 1970, it exerted an important influence on Brotsky's interpretation of Judaism as well that of Moishe Rosen, who at that time was serving with the ABMJ in Los Angeles..."

Moishe Rosen the founder of 'Jews for Jesus' writes: "Another interesting character of this era was Dr. Lawrence Duff-Forbes. His widely circulated booklet titled Out of the Clouds was written in rather flowery prose. Dr. Duff-Forbes was an Australian who came to this country to attend the Hebrew Christian Alliance. He was a mysterious, even shadowy person. No one was sure where he received his doctorate, or in what field it might have been. Nevertheless, he began regular Friday night meetings in the Grauman Mortuary Chapel, where he donned the regalia of a cantor or rabbi. He rented time on a local radio station and proclaimed himself a rabbi in the Jewish messianic movement." Hopefully this blog article has shed a little light on this extraordinary Australian who came from 4 generations of theatrical ancestors. Coming from an assimilated Australian family with Hebrew Christian influences Lawrence Duff-Forbes became Messianic Jewish Rabbi Zvi ben Avraham a light for the Jewish Mashiach in the midst of Judah.

Note: The Scottish Forbes family is said to be descended from the Morrocan Jewish surname Farrabas who came to England from France in the Middle Ages.(see "When Scotland Was Jewish" by Hirschman and Yates)

The Vineyard Magazine

Testimonial on Duff-Forbes


Barry said...

Thank you for your research. I came to Australia in 1971 on leave in the Air Force, back in '72- '73 as a resident and then again in '74 to '75. I was involved in a study sponsored by J.E.W. and read Duff-Forbes wonderful book. I use to receive the Vineyard for many years. I wonder if it is still published?

I also knew a man named Ian Belcher who was with J.E.W. Do you have any contact with him or the organization? This was outside Sydney.

Do you know if Duff-Forbes book is still in print and can be purchased anywhere? I still have a copy of Out of the Clouds, but haven't heard of it recently.

Thanks for your work and God bless you,


Aharon (Athol Bloomer) said...

Nice to hear from you and your experiences. I have put a link to the Vineyard Magazine at the bottom of the article for you. Here in Perth the group is now called the David House Fellowship.

David Howell said...

Hi Aharon
I'm David Howell, 71, living in Upland, California. Until yesterday (Jan 15, 2011) I have not heard the name "Duff-Forbes" for over 55 years. Then yesterday Dr. David Hocking was speaking at a conference and mentioned a book by Duff-Forbes entitled "Peril of the North" that he called a wonderful analysis of end-time events based on a study of the Hebrew scriptures.

I personally knew and loved Dr. Duff-Forbes and here's why. I'm not certain of the year, but perhaps it was indeed 1955 when Duff-Forbes first came to California. He came to Whittier, California (35 miles east of Los Angeles) and used a secretary (for Jewish Evangelical Witness, J.E.W.), Mrs. Joy Payne, who was a personal friend of my mother. (Also Mr. Roy Payne and my father knew each other from the iron foundry business.) Dr. D-F (as I'll call him) was without his wife and needed a place to stay. I was 16 and we had an extra bedroom so D-F stayed at our home in Whittier. I remember him as a delightful person. He gave me a copy of "Out of the Clouds" and also "Tales from Tenach." He also gave me a paperback book "Hebrew Through Pictures" so I had fun learning the alphabet and writing my name in Hebrew. We had other friends from NSW and welcomed the chance to greet another Aussie.

He was a large man, barrel chested, and loved Bobby Burns poetry which he would recite with a strong Scottish brogue. I recall seeing a photo of him in a uniform from WWI (I guess) and the other picture of him in his rabbinical garb was very impressive.

He spoke on the radio several times each week. There were no recordings back then, so he traveled to the studio of station KGER in Long Beach, California, to speak.

We were Baptists but really enjoyed having a Jewish friend who had figured out that Jesus was the Messiah. I never heard the term "messianic Jew" until years later.

After several months he left to return to Victoria and then sometime later he returned with his dear wife. We knew her as "Clare" and I note you've found her name to be Clara. She too was a wonderful, fun, person and they both lived with us. If I had to guess, I'd say they lived with us for a total of 10 months.

It's my impression that they had two daughters in Victoria but I know nothing about them. I had the pleasure of traveling to Australia starting in 1969 and I and my family actually lived in Alice Springs (!) from 1970-1973. (I was on the staff of the infamous "Joint Defense Space Research Facility" at Pine Gap (Alice Springs). We had a wonderful time there.) While we lived there I tried to find someone who had heard of J.E.W. and Dr. Duff-Forbes but it was before the Internet existed and I had no success.

Talking yesterday with David Hocking (a messianic Jew) he said, yes, he had personally met Duff-Forbes several times, but back then, he was young too. So it was mainly his father who knew him. They lived in Long Beach and that probably made it easier for them to become acquainted.

In September 1957 I went off to college ("uni," you'd say) and I really never returned to Whittier. So until I found your blog this morning I never even knew when Dr. D-F died.

You might see if anyone in Oz has a copy of "Peril of the North" since he may(?) have published it in Australia.

Sincere thanks for all the information about my dear friends, the Duff-Forbes.

David Howell

PS: This is the first time I've ever sent a comment to a blog so I hope it works OK. I'm more comfortable with simple emails. Feel free to contact me at david@alumalloy.com . Note that there are 3 "L"s and they all have to be in the right spots.

David Howell said...

Sorry my comments went out twice. I got an error message that my "URL was too long." Huh? I'm not a techie so I didn't think anything got sent. Went thru it again...shortened my comments a tad and got another error message. oops...sorry

Aharon (Athol Bloomer) said...

David for some reason all the comments posted recently have been doubled- I don't know why-but it is nothing to do with you. Thanks you so much for sharing your experience with D-F. It was the time you were in Australia that we used to attend the JEW meetings up until the 80's. I also remember attending some meetings in the 80's at the David House in Perth with my aunt and great aunt at the time I had become an observant orthodox Jew.

Ian Murray Forbes said...

I am Ian Murray Forbes. My father is Ian Lawrence Duff Forbes. His father is Lawrence Walter Gordon Duff-Forbes (the man in your articles). I may be able to find out information about my grandfather from my father if you are interested.

Anonymous said...

Some errors in your research. My grandfather's father was William Walter Duff, from a long line of the Duff family. William may have used Forbes as an acting name, then Grandpa hyphenated it. He had 3 children, 2 boys and a girl, only one of which, my father, is still alive.

Brother G said...

Dear Ian,

Thanks for your imput. I have gone back to check all the records in the Victorian Births Deaths and marriages. It is more of a puzzle. It seems that Lawrence's father used the names William Walter Duff, Frank Wilson Forbes and Wilson Duff-Forbes. His birth certificate calls him William Walter Duff son of William Duff and Mary Ann Bent. However on his death certificate in 1917 it states his name is Wilson Duff Forbes son of Wilson Duff Forbes and Mary Ann Bent. On his marriage certificate his name is Frank Wilson Forbes who marries Ada Emily Winsor Laurence. On guida and Ada's birth certificates their father is Wilson Duff Forbes and their mother Ada Emily (Laurence on one and Winsor on the other) but on the birth certificate of Laurence Walter Gordon Duff b.1899 his parents are listed as William Walter Duff and Ada Emily Lawrence.

It would seem that before his marriage in 1886 William Walter Duff changed his name to Frank Wilson Forbes, by 1889 he has dropped the Frank and is Wilson Duff Forbes. In 1899 he uses his real name of William Walter Duff on the certificate of his son Lawrence or Laurence. However 1917 on his death certificate is Wilson Duff Forbes.

Brother G said...

On William duff's death certificate of 20 jan 1869. it states he is 50 years old and that he married when he was 32 to Mary Ann Jane Bent. it lists his children but the record is smudged here and difficult to read.The first name of the first child is smudged badly but the second name is Jean, then it seems that the next name is Mary Anne who is 16 then William walter, then James Thomas, then George Alexander, then David who is 6, then Arthur who is dead, then Samuel who is 4, then a youngest child who is 2 whose name looks like Margaret but it is badly smudged. Thus According to this record William was born in Perthshire Scotland around 1819-20 and was the son of William and Mary Duff.

Brother G said...

It would seem that William Duff was really 53 when he died and was born in 1816 the son of William Duff and Mary Scobie. William Duff was born 1794 the son of William Duff and his wife Bethia Wilson.This William Duff was born in 1761 the son of Alexander Duff and Anne Dewar.

Ian Murray Forbes said...

It's Ian Murray Forbes again. I am sad to report that my father Ian Lawrence Duff Forbes (son of Lawrence Walter Gordon Duff-Forbes) passed away on 1st November 2012, aged 87.
I am in the process of creating a website in Dad's memory, and I will be providing links back to his ancestors on that site. You can visit it at:
I have found some very interesting information in Dad's files, which will all eventually find its wasy onto the website.

Brother G said...

Dear Ian so sorry to hear of your loss. I know how terrible it is to be in this world without one's parents -both mine are deceased and I miss them more every year. I will look forward to hearing from you in the future.

with condolences Brother Gilbert

Anonymous said...

Hello my name is Antony Duff-forbes, your article was fascinating to me personally, as I have very little knowledge of my grandfather. My late father was Donald Robert Duff-Forbes, who had left all religion and became a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of New England in Armidale New South Wales. I did not get to meet my grandfather.

tTt said...

Hi aronbengilad, I am AndrewArms son of Harold Arms, a colleague of Dr Duff-Forbes, in J.E.W. My love for our Jewish brethren and national Israel, no doubt comes from my father's early connection with Dr D.. I came across this blog while looking for a copy of his book OutOftheClouds, which I saw an old mate reading at a $2 lunch in Newcastle a few weeks back.. When I saw the Duff-Forbes name, the cogs started spinning! Thank you for your blog..

Catholic Jew said...

Great to hear from you Andrew. I wish I still had my copies of Out of the Cloud but I left them in Perth in boxes at my aunt's house and they may have been thrown out by now. It is a really engaging little book. It made a great impact on me when I read it as a young man.