Israelis sat on the floor earlier this week and fasted on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, known as "Tisha B'av" (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av). On this day, we commemorate the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem, among other tragedies of Jewish history.
In one of the prayers, we read about the burning of 24 cartloads of Jewish books in the 13th century. In the days before the printing press, books were written by hand and so the destruction of these precious manuscripts threatened to cut off all knowledge from European Jews completely. This was precisely Pope Gregory’s motivation behind the burning of all known copies of the Talmud in France and 10,000 volumes of other Hebrew manuscripts in 1242.
Anti-Semites over the years tried not only to harm individual Jews, but often went out of their way to attack Judaism by undermining our connection to the Bible.
I have argued in this column and elsewhere that we are now in the golden age of Jewish Christian relations. While anti-semitism is still a problem, primarily in the form of anti-Israel sentiment, there are tens of millions of Christian Zionists all over the world who now stand with Israel and the Jewish people.
A powerful example of the revolutionary time period we are now in, is the recent launch of a website where Christians come to learn about the Bible and Judaism from Jewish teachers and rabbis.
Called the "Yeshiva for the Nations" (a yeshiva is a Jewish school for religious study), the new website was spearheaded by one of my colleagues, a Christian lover of Zion herself. The idea behind the initiative comes from a passage in Isaiah, "And it shall come to pass in the end of days . . . many nations shall go and say: 'Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of God from Jerusalem"(Isaiah 2:2-3).
The site offers courses in Bible, Jewish lifestyle, Hebrew language, Jewish history, and other topics of interest to non-Jews.
Bible study is an age-old practice by Jews and Christians, and seems to be increasing lately, though it is rare to see Jews and Christians study together. Christian members of President Trump’s cabinet recently started weekly Christian Bible study meetings, composed of influential lawmakers, bringing the Bible to the White House in a way not seen in 100 years, according to the founder of Capitol Ministries and leader of the study sessions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also hosts a regular Jewish Bible study group. It is often attended by his wife Sara, who comes from a long line of Bible teachers and scholars.
So while Christians are studying Bible with other Christians and Jews are studying with other Jews, the Yeshiva for the Nations is one of the first times in history that Jews are teaching the Bible to Christians and that they are engaging together over holy Scripture, our shared heritage.
Even though the news coming out of the Mideast is often full of hostilities that are the result of centuries old religious warfare, every once in a while there are momentous positive turns that need to be celebrated.
Let’s hope that the days of book burnings are long over and appreciate the fact that Israel is emerging as the center for Biblical studies, not just for Jews but for Christians as well.
Rabbi Weisz is the director of Israel365, which connects 2 million people to Israel every month. He founded the I365 newsletter, is publisher of Breaking Israel News, and editor of The Israel Bible. He lives with his family in Ramat Beit Shemesh. To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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