While the faithful in the U.S. grapple with public prayer bans and Bibles in schools, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has embraced the Bible very publicly in his country, this week inviting the parents of three slain teenagers to join him for a Bible study session at his official residence.
Netanyahu, who has in the past called the Bible the “book of books” and “our mandate for our country,” asked the parents of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha'ar and Naftali Frenkel, the teens who were kidnapped and killed over the summer shortly before the military hostilities between Israel and Hamas, to join him on Sunday to study the opening verses of Genesis.
“The cyclical nature of reading the Torah and starting it again from Genesis … symbolizes the renewal of our people in our land,” Netanyahu told those gathered for the session, referring to the upcoming Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, in which Jews around the world finish their annual Bible reading cycle and start again with Genesis. “Despite all attempts to destroy us, each time we build ourselves up again, deeply linked to also growing the tree called the Jewish people, with our deep roots and branches that reach ever higher.”
Netanyahu announced in 2011 that he would renew holding regular Bible study classes at his official residence, a tradition that began with Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and continued with Menachem Begin, but was not maintained in the interim years.
The mothers of the three slain Israeli teenagers, from left to right, Rachel Frenkel, mother of Naftali Frenkel, Iris Yifrah, mother of Eyal Yifrah and Bat Galim Shaar, mother of Gilad Shaar, embrace in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Nof Ayalon, where Frenkel family live, June 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Tomer Appelbaum)
While Netanyahu has said he studies privately every week, he occasionally invites others to join him. This week, Education Minister Shai Piron, himself an observant Jew, joined in with the parents of the slain teens as well.
"I am always stirred by this occasion,” Netanyahu said of the group Bible study, according to Israel's Arutz Sheva. “It was postponed by the [military] campaign that took place in the summer, but I want to tell you that even during this campaign, in this house, we continued to study the Bible. We study it at least once a week. It is a part of who we are.”
When he first renewed holding the Bible study sessions along with public officials and other invited guests at his official residence, Netanyahu said his goal was “to perpetuate love of the Bible.”
The bodies of the teens were found more than two weeks after their kidnapping. The IDF said Hamas activists were behind the abduction, an assertion that was later bolstered by the admission of a senior Hamas official.