The Bible Society in Israel: Word Comes Out of Jerusalem
Strategically located between the Old City and downtown Jerusalem, The Bible Society in Israel strives to make the Word of God available to all people in the land.
On one hand, it may sound simple enough. Isn’t this the land of the Bible? Isn’t everyone familiar with its story?
But Israel is more than just the Jewish people, and the Jewish people are not all interested in the Word of God. And those that are, don’t always know where to look for it. That is why the role of The Bible Society in Israel remains vital and indispensable.
Spreading the Good News in Israel
The Hebrew and Greek Scriptures – the Old and New Testament – don’t mention any other place in the world as often as Jerusalem. God chose Jerusalem for His name before all generations – decision revered equally by Jews and Christians.
Whether you’ve been to Jerusalem a handful of times or you come back every year, there is something captivating about the Jerusalem Old City walls. And this magnificent view will greet you as you stand at the door of a one-of-a-kind bookstore, The Bible Society in Israel.
The bookstore makes biblical literature accessible to anyone in search of Truth. And The Bible Society of Israel as a whole is dedicated to spreading the Word of God to all people in the land.
Today the Bible Society of Israel operates centrally located stores also in Tel Aviv and Haifa. They also work with a network of distributors and vendors throughout the country. The director, Victor Kalisher, admits:
“From a commercial point of view, [the bookstores] should be shut down. But from a spiritual point of view, these bookstores are the way we can accomplish our mission of making God’s Word available, understandable, and affordable.”
Called and Appointed for The Bible Society in Israel
Victor Kalisher is a former Israeli Naval Officer, son of a Holocaust survivor and a pastor of a Messianic congregation. But he started working at the Bible Society in Israel almost by accident. One day, he was simply walking along Jaffa Street and passed The Bible Society.
“I thought to myself, I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I’ve never been inside,” Kalisher said.
After entering the storefront and speaking with the woman at the front desk, they found a connection in their history. The woman had stayed with Kalisher’s parents for two weeks when she first moved to Israel. Kalisher, who was working for Intel and was wresting with the idea to work in ministry, pondered the conversation.
Kalisher recalls, “She said, “You know Victor, before you came, I was on my knees praying God would send us a new director”. For two years they had been looking for someone new!
He took the job application home and over the next few days began receiving confirmation that he should take this step. The process of interviewing, praying and processing the change took some time. Eventually, Kalisher became the new Director of The Bible Society in Israel.
History of the Bible Society in Israel
But the organization has existed long before the bookstore opened on Jaffa Street. In fact, the work of The Bible Society in the land we call Israel today began already in the 19th century.
Groups of Christians traveled to the holy land to share Bibles with its inhabitants. This generous act of sharing supplies, after all Bibles were still limited back then, grew into a project. Entire depots were built and stocked with Bibles in local languages.
The first of these depots in Jerusalem was established in 1905, right outside of the Jaffa Gate. Amazingly, it was in the same area that the Bible Society in Israel is located today. The program grew from depots of supply to actual printing of the Bibles locally.
Independently, in 1959 the first complete Hebrew Bible was printed in Israel. That was an accomplishment that drew the attention of Prime Minister Ben Gurion. He expressed pleasure that “we can now print the Bible in the Land of the Bible.”
Today, The Bible Society is producing and distributing Bibles in nearly every language. At the same time, they create resources for studying the Scriptures readily available. Managed by local believers, it serves communities of all backgrounds.
“We have the calling of translating the Bible into the heart language of people,” shared Victor Kalisher, Director of the Bible Society in Israel. “This includes expanding the avenues that people can access their resources.”
The Long History of the Hebrew Language
The vision of the Bible Society in Israel comes directly from Isaiah 2:3:
“For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
For many, understanding the Bible in their own language is easy, but for Israelis – surprisingly! – it is much more difficult. You are probably thinking, how is it possible since most of it was written in Hebrew, their mother tongue.
But imagine picking up a book in Old English, from the Middle Ages, and trying to apply it to your own life. You might not even understand half of it, and that which you do, will sound very archaic. That is also the difference between Biblical and Modern Hebrew.
The Bible Society has put great effort into making the ancient Scriptures easier to understand. They help readers relate to and apply God’s Word in their lives.
Building the Body of Messiah in Israel
But the aim of the organization is not only to bring the Bible to society, but also to encourage growth in the body of Messiah. That is why the organization publishes many additional resources for believers.
For example, The Bible Society has released the first Hebrew cross-reference bible. “It’s a parallel bible that has 90,000 cross references that show how the Old and New Testament are one Word of God,” Kalisher explained.
Apart from the literature, The Bible Society has also launched a website called www.haktuvim.co.il, which means “Scriptures.” The website is the only all-Hebrew online source for the free study of scriptures.
Another offer from The Bible Society in Israel that is worth mentioning is The Bible Experience and Media Center. It is an exhibition that takes you through a three-stage journey and a series of films to tell the story of how the Bible came to mankind.
It traces fascinating accounts of: the development of the Biblical languages – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; display of materials used in recording and preserving the Word of God (stone, ceramic, papyrus, and skin scroll manuscripts); and history of print, beginning with the Gutenberg’s first print of the Latin Bible.
Unique Products and Initiatives
A product that The Bible Society of Israel can be proud of is already a blessing to people both in Israel and abroad. It is the Jerusalem Illustrated Bible. It seeks to illustrate the truth of God’s word from an authentically Jewish artistic perspective. The book presents side-by-side Hebrew and English texts.
This 2,200-page Bible contains both the Old and New Testaments, with restoration of original names and meanings. Additionally, it holds some 250 original works of art throughout. It was illustrated by Elhanan ben-Avraham, a Messianic Jewish artist living in the Holy Land.
The most recent accomplishment of the organization is the first ever Hebrew chronological Bible. The meticulous work took about three and a half years. The project was spearheaded by another messianic ministry, Maoz Israel, that teamed up with the Bible Society in Israel.
This new edition of the Bible, called “Brit Olam”, has no traditional chapters and verses. So it can be read as a continuous book. For significant time gaps in the biblical narrative, there are additional articles to enhance continuity. Additionally, a system of footnotes all throughout explains difficult words.
Brit Olam follows a chronological order, breaking down the canonical order of the books, and putting each event in its place.
The Future of the Bible Society in Israel
With its rich history and great vision, there is no doubt that The Bible Society in Israel is not slowing down anytime soon. Their ministry has been a real game-changer in terms of resources available in Hebrew (and more!) for the study of Scriptures.
As the Word of the Lord comes out of Jerusalem, we pray that it reaches every corner of Israel and spreads beyond.
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