JERUSALEM — In 1903, American evangelist and Christian Zionist William E. Blackstone sent Theodor Herzl a personal Bible. It was a gift with a specific message.
Blackstone had heard that at the Sixth Zionist Congress Herzl had proposed a territory in East Africa as a haven for Eastern European Jews. Opposed to the Uganda Scheme and convinced that a Jewish homeland should be created only in the Holy Land, Blackstone highlighted for Herzl the biblical passages referring to the restoration of the Jews to the Land of Israel.
One hundred and fifteen years later, “The Israel Bible” does for today’s readers what Blackstone did for Herzl — and more. Centered around the Land of Israel, the people of Israel and the dynamic relationship between them, this new Tanakh provides explanations and commentaries that amplify Blackstone’s message and bring it up to date 70 years after Israel’s founding and a half-century after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, resulting in Israel’s capture of the biblical heartland and unification of Jerusalem.
“The Israel Bible” speaks to all who believe in biblical prophecy and that the Jews have a G-d-given right to the entire Land of Israel. Religious Zionist Jews are an obvious target audience, but so are the world’s 700 million evangelical Christians.
“The Israel Bible” editor Rabbi Tuly Weisz predicts it will be a game changer. “The Bible that has been a source of division between Jews and Christians can now be what brings unity,” he said.
Weisz is founder and publisher of Israel365, an Israel-based, Jewish-owned and run media company targeting evangelical Christians interested in connecting with the Holy Land from biblical and prophetic points of view. “The Israel Bible,” published by Menorah Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, uses the Masoretic Hebrew text and a modified version of the 1984 New Jewish Publication Society English translation. Key names and places appear in transliteration, as do all highlighted verses denoting G-d and the people of Israel’s connection to the Land of Israel or Jerusalem.
Commentaries range from the teachings of classical Torah scholars such as Rashi and Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel, to snippets of speeches by Israeli prime ministers Menachem Begin, Golda Meir and Benjamin Netanyahu.
A representative commentary comparing Israeli settlers in Hebron to the biblical Caleb emphasizes loyalty to G-d and willingness to fight for the land. It mentions the anti-Jewish violence and terror that have plagued the city for decades and how these settlers “bravely preserve both their own community and the rights of the entire Jewish people to pray in the holy Cave of the Machpelah” in Hebron.
The book includes maps showing the entire biblical Land of Israel as belonging to the modern state of Israel. Though many contemporary maps used in Israel show the same, Israel’s own government has never formally recognized the West Bank as part of Israel.
Inspired by the account of Blackstone and Herzl, Weisz began a project that would eventually lead to the publication of “The Israel Bible.” He carefully read through all 24 books of the Tanakh, making note of every single mention of the Land of Israel. He ended up highlighting at least one verse on almost every page, and found hundreds of mentions of Jerusalem alone.
This was enough to convince Weisz to leave Columbus, Ohio in 2011, make aliyah and to establish Israel365 as a way to engage non-Jews in their biblically prescribed role in the ingathering of the exiles and the rebirth of Israel.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking to write a book for Christians. Our staff is Jewish and we wanted it to be authentic,” he said. “But it was important for it to speak in a universal way so that non-Jews could understand the references and nuances.”
Rev. David Swaggerty, senior pastor at Charisma Life Ministries in Whitehall, Ohio, recently toured Israel with a copy of “The Israel Bible” in hand. “This is a necessity for the library of any student of the word of G-d,” Swaggerty said.
Swaggerty emphasized that most evangelicals already believe wholeheartedly that “G-d gave the Land of Israel to Abraham and his seed.”
“However, this Bible solidifies this for those who question. And the contemporary commentaries, like those of Netanyahu and [Jewish Agency Chairman Natan] Sharansky bring it up to date, showing that the prophecy is unfolding today and nothing can stop it,” Swaggerty said.
Rabbi Shomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat and founder of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, who contributed a foreword, views “The Israel Bible” as a tool to ensure biblical literacy among Jews.
Rabbi Riskin wrote, “If we are to truly enjoy the Land of Israel, it is incumbent upon us to continually study the Torah. ‘The Israel Bible’ provides us the lyrical content to express our joy in living in the Land that G-d calls holy.”