Help us bless the people of Israel.

Friday, September 10, 2021

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Every week, we post seven to ten news stories from Israel with a suggested prayer focus and scripture for each one, guiding readers how to pray for Israel’s most urgent needs. This Prayer Update is also sent to over 18,000 subscribers every Friday by e-mail. Please contact us at intl.office@bridgesforpeace.com if you would like to receive this Prayer Update by e-mail.

Hamas: Series of Israeli Steps to Ease Conditions in Gaza Are ‘Not Enough’

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Palestinian trucks loaded with building materials enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza

Friday, 3 September 2021 | Hamas has warned that a series of recent steps by Israel to ease conditions in the Gaza Strip are “not enough,” adding to growing tensions along the Gaza–Israel border. Hamas has threatened to expand border rioting disturbances in the coming days.

In a statement released by the terror organization that rules the coastal enclave, Hamas said that “Israel’s easing [of restrictions] on Gaza are not enough” and that “broader steps are required that will generate a real breakthrough in the lives of Gaza’s residents,” Kan news reported on Wednesday.

Recent Israeli steps include permitting the entry of building material for the first time since May’s conflict with Hamas, expanding the Gazan fishing zone to 15 nautical miles and opening the Kerem Shalom border crossing for more equipment and commodities to pass through it into Gaza. Israel also increased Gazan entry permits for traders from 2,000 to 7,000.

Egypt reopened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza after closing it for six days.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Ministry of Defense announced that it had intercepted an attempt to smuggle hazardous material protection equipment into Gaza, which it said was likely intended for Hamas’s tunnel project.

Source: (This article was originally published by the Jewish News Syndicate on September 2, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90/JNS

Prayer Focus
Pray that Israel will take only those steps that they deem fair while remaining attentive to the security of the nation. Pray that they will not capitulate to Hamas’s demands until such time as Hamas can guarantee an end to the violence and the threat of terror.

Scripture

Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your strength. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen up against me, and oppressors have sought after my life; they have not set God before them.


- Psalm 54:1–3

Israel’s First Budget in Three Years Passes First Reading in Knesset

by Janet Aslin

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Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Friday, 3 September 2021 | Late last evening, the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) voted in 59–53 in favor of the two-year budget presented by Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The last state budget was passed in March 2018.

The stakes are high as the coalition government must finalize a budget before November 4. Failure to do so will result in automatic dissolution of the Knesset and new elections.

The preliminary approval of the budget is a significant achievement for the very diverse coalition government.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid praised the government for “holding normal and responsible budget talks” that led to a budget “that is not designed for politicians but rather for the good of the citizens of the State of Israel—for education, security, health, the economy and Israeli innovation,” the Times of Israel reported.

After last night’s vote, the budget will go back to Finance Committee and then return to the Knesset for two more readings and subsequent votes before being finalized.

Source: (Bridges for Peace, September 3, 2021)

Photo Credit: Ralph Alswang/flickr.com

Photo License: flickr.com

Prayer Focus
Praise the Lord that the Knesset was able to create and vote on the first budget in three and a half years. Pray that Foreign Minister Lapid’s remarks will indeed prove to be true, with the Knesset finalizing and passing a budget that focuses on that which is good for the citizens of Israel.

Scripture

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!


- Psalm 133:1

Israel’s Coronavirus Outbreak Ebbs for the First Time in Months

by Yaron Druckman

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Israel’s virus rate appears to be declining

Thursday, 9 September 2021 | Israel’s coronavirus R-number has dropped below 1 for the first time in months, according to Health Ministry data published Wednesday evening, suggesting that the country’s current morbidity wave is on the decline.

This measure gauges how many new infections spurt on average from any single case. Any number over 1 indicates infections are on the rise, while any number under 1 means morbidity is waning. Israel’s R-number stood at 0.95.

Earlier Wednesday, Prof. Eran Segal, a scientist advising the government on its pandemic response and creator of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s coronavirus prediction model, shared to his Twitter page the encouraging news, which has now received confirmation from the Health Ministry.

Meanwhile, health authorities reported 19,985 Israelis have tested positive for coronavirus since Monday. Reporting has been halted since Monday evening due to the Jewish New Year, or Rosh HaShanah.

Data show that a record number of daily tests had been carried on Monday, Rosh HaShanah eve, with 183,000 Israelis tested that day alone, 6% of whom have also tested positive for the pathogen.

The infection stood at 7.22% and 6.3% on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

Israeli hospitals were treating 1,069 COVID-19 patients, with severe cases remaining steady since Sunday at 678. Of them, 171 patients were connected to ventilators.

Since the onset of the pandemic in Israel, 7,260 people have succumbed to the virus, 50 of them since Monday alone.

The number of coronavirus vaccinations dropped sharply over the holiday as only 31,248 Israelis have received their booster shot between Monday and Wednesday evening, compared to 29,798 doses administered on Saturday alone.

In addition, 4,721 Israelis have received their first vaccine jab since the Health Ministry’s last report Monday evening.

Source: (This article was originally published by Ynetnews on September 8, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Engin Akyurt / Pixabay

Photo License: www.pixabay.com

Prayer Focus
Thank God for this ray of hope. Pray that the number of cases will continue to decline, and cry out to God for healing for those who already have the virus, especially those in the hospital and those on ventilators.

Scripture

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.


- Psalm 107:19–20

Israeli President and Jordanian King Meet in Amman

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Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the Israeli Knesset (Parliament)

Monday, 6 September 2021 | Israeli President Isaac Herzog met with Jordan’s King Abdullah last week at the king’s palace in Amman.

The two leaders discussed “core issues in the dialogue between our states,” including an agreement to import agricultural produce during Israel’s shmita (agricultural sabbatical) year, according to a statement from Herzog’s office. Also discussed were energy, sustainability and the “climate crisis,” according to the statement.

Herzog noted after the meeting that it has been a year since the signing of the Abraham Accords normalization agreements, which he said had “created an important regional infrastructure.”

“They are highly important agreements, which are transforming our region and the dialogue within it,” he said.

Such dialogue, he added, is “very important” for Israel’s strategic and diplomatic interests.

Herzog’s meeting with King Abdullah was the latest in a series of recent high-level meetings between Israeli and Jordanian officials.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, on July 8 at the King Hussein Bridge [crossing between Israel and Jordan]. Following the meeting, they announced new agreements on water and trade.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had met secretly with Abdullah in Amman the week before. It was the first meeting between a sitting Israeli premier and the Jordanian monarch in more than five years.

According to Israeli media reports, the two leaders agreed to open a “new page” in relations between their respective countries.

Source: (This article was originally published by the Jewish News Syndicate on September 5, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/JNS.org

Prayer Focus
Thank the Lord that relations between Israel and Jordan are warming and for the various agreements that have been signed that will benefit both nations. Pray that the relationship will continue to strengthen.

Scripture

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Your glory above all the earth; that Your beloved may be delivered, save with Your right hand, and hear me.


- Psalm 108:5–6

Israeli Police in Manhunt for Six Escaped Palestinian Prisoners

by Eli Senyor, Gilad Cohen

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Israeli soldiers on the northern border (illustrative)

Thursday, 9 September 2021 | Israel’s police minister vowed Thursday to capture six prisoners who escaped earlier this week from a high-security prison in northern Israel and deal with any blunders that could have led to the breakout as the nationwide manhunt for the fugitives entered its fourth day.

The shocking prison break on Monday caused Israeli authorities to launch a massive manhunt in the country’s north and the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] after the prisoners—all jailed for serious terror offenses—tunneled out of their cell and escaped from Gilboa Prison in the biggest prison break of its kind in decades.

“We will get our hands on the fleeing terrorists, we will correct the failures that might have led to the escape—and if we find professional negligence, we will take care of that as well,” said Public Security Minister Omer Barlev.

Police in the meantime announced that from now on the investigation into the incident will be conducted by Lahav 433’s Unit of International Crime Investigations, with prison guards to give testimony over worries the six fugitives might have been aided by some of the prison’s personnel.

Meanwhile, riots broke out on Wednesday evening in solidarity with the prisoners in several Palestinian communities, with crowds of youths clashing with Israeli soldiers.

The Palestinian Red Crescent [humanitarian/medical organization connected to the Red Cross] said that 60 people were injured by tear gas during violent protests in the Nablus area in the West Bank.

Shots were also fired at Israeli forces in Ramallah, but no one was reported injured.

Palestinian protesters clashed with security forces at Damascus gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem. An Israeli Egged bus was also pelted with stones by protestors in the capital.

In addition, fires also broke out at several Israeli prisons on Wednesday in protest of the manhunt.

The blazes were started by Palestinian Islamic Jihad prisoners at the southern prisons Ktzi’ot and Ramon amid efforts to try to move inmates as a precautionary measure since five out of six escapees appear to belong to the terror group.

An umbrella group representing prisoners from all Palestinian factions called on inmates to resist being relocated to other facilities and to start fires in their cells if guards try to move them by force. The prisoners group also threatened a widespread hunger strike.

Meanwhile, checkpoint closures connecting Israel and the West Bank were expected to extend into the weekend.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the premier met in the evening with the heads of Israel’s security services in a joint effort to be ready for “any scenario.”

The most well-known among the escapees is Zakaria Zubeidi, 46, who was a prominent leader in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed group affiliated with Fatah [leading secular Palestinian political party], during the Second Intifada from 2000–2005. He was later granted amnesty along with other Fatah-affiliated militants, but was arrested again in 2019 on what Israeli authorities said were new terror suspicions.

The other five prisoners were members of the Islamic Jihad militant group, and the prisoners’ group said four were serving life sentences.

Source: (This article was originally published by Ynetnews on September 9, 2021. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: IDF/Flickr.com

Photo License: flickr.com

Prayer Focus
Pray that these fugitives are captured quickly and returned to prison before they have committed any further crimes and without further rioting. Cry out to the Lord for changes to be made within the prison system that will keep such jail breaks from happening in the future.

Scripture

The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the just.


- Proverbs 3:33

Jewish Population in Israel Nearly 6.9 Million ahead of Rosh HaShanah

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Israeli children on the first day of the school in Jerusalem

Monday, 6 September 2021 | The number of Jews worldwide stands at roughly 15.2 million, according to statistics released by the Jewish Agency for Israel on the eve of the Jewish new year 5782.

That number is up from 15.1 million the last Jewish new year (5781).

The number of Jews in Israel is nearly 6.9 million (compared to 6.8 million in 5781). The number of Jews living in the Diaspora [outside Israel] is 8.3 million, of which 6 million are in the United States, according to an Israeli government press statement.

The percentage of Jews living in Israel out of all the Jews in the world stands at 45.3%, an increase of half a percent over the previous year. The estimated number of Jews in the United States increased by 300,000 following a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The numbers include those who define themselves as Jews and don’t identify with another religion.

When also including those who are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, the world total rises to 25.3 million people, of which 7.3 million are in Israel and 18 million live outside Israel.

The updated estimates by Professor Sergio Della Pergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will be published in the American Jewish Year Book 2021.

Updated Jewish population figures from additional countries include:

France: 446,000

Canada: 393,000

Great Britain: 292,000

Argentina: 175,000

Russia: 150,000

Germany: 118,000

Australia: 118,000

Brazil: 91,500

South Africa: 52,000

Ukraine: 43,000

Hungary: 47,000

Mexico: 40,000

The Netherlands: 30,000

Belgium: 29,000

Italy: 27,000

Switzerland: 18,500

Chile: 16,000

Uruguay: 16,000

Sweden: 15,000

Turkey: 14,500

Spain: 13,000

Austria: 10,000

Panama: 10,000

An estimated 27,000 Jews live in Arab and Muslim states: 14,500 in Turkey, 9,500 in Iran, 2,000 in Morocco and around 1,000 in Tunisia.

Another 38 countries have Jewish populations of 500 or fewer.

Source: (This article was originally published by the Jewish News Syndicate on September 5, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90/JNS.org

Prayer Focus
Praise the Lord for the growth of the Jewish community in Israel and around the world. Pray that the Lord will protect His people wherever they may be on the globe, and cry out to Him that ever growing numbers will answer His call to return to the land of their fathers.

Scripture

But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.


- Jeremiah 23:3

Israeli Navy, US Navy’s Fifth Fleet Hold ‘Historic’ Exercise in Red Sea

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US and Israeli navy sailors during the joint exercise

Friday, 3 September 2021 | The Israeli Navy and the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet held a joint exercise for the first time on Tuesday in the Red Sea, in an event the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] spokesperson described as “historic.”

“During the exercise, the two navies practiced a variety of scenarios including defense and rescue operations,” the IDF said.

“The exercise saw the two navies working side by side, learning together and strengthening the connection and familiarity of the two nations’ fleets. The exercise marks the beginning of joint efforts between the Israeli Navy and the US Fifth Fleet, as part of the transitioning of IDF matters to the US Central Command (CENTCOM). This is the first exercise of many planned to take place in the future,” the Israeli military added.

The IDF released photos of American naval officers visiting an Israeli naval vessel in the Red Sea.

The exercise comes as regional tensions with Iran are high, and following a series of Iranian attacks on vessels of multiple countries.

“Conducting joint exercises with our allies and partners around the world demonstrates the shared goal of protecting and monitoring international waters vital to international trade,” the IDF said. “The cooperation between the two nations’ fleets works to this goal and further strengthens regional maritime security and stability. This partnership creates an opportunity for operational and professional development, and enables Israeli naval superiority in the Middle East maritime arena.”

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, head of Israel’s naval operations, added, “This exercise marks the beginning of a cooperation that will expand and increase the scope of defense and security in the maritime arena to prevent terrorist activities.”

Source: (This article was originally published by the Jewish News Syndicate on September 1, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: IDF/JNS.org

Prayer Focus
Pray that the military cooperation between Israel and the US will continue to strengthen security and stability in the region. Pray that it will indeed “expand and increase the scope of defense and security in the maritime arena to prevent terrorist activities.”

Scripture

In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.


- Psalm 62:7–8

Shmita—a Sabbath Rest for the Land

by Janet Aslin

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A vineyard in Israel

Monday, 6 September 2021 | In the Torah (Gen.–Deut.), God gave Moses explicit instructions for how His people were to live when they arrived in the land of their inheritance. Not only did these instructions tell how they were to conduct themselves in relationship to God and each other, they were also to observe a Sabbath rest for the land every seventh year. This year on Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year), September 7 on the Gregorian calendar, the shmita year will begin in Israel.

What Does Shmita Mean?

The most common word used for the sabbatical year is shmita (שמיטה) which can be interpreted as “release” or “renunciation.” You may also hear the year referred to as shevi’it (שביעית) which means “seventh” in Hebrew. The Torah also specifies that any debts incurred by fellow Israelites were to be forgiven in the shmita year. And, during the Jubilee year (after seven shmita cycles) property reverted to its original owner. We will only look at the Sabbath rest for the land in this article.

Biblical Background

The instruction to let the land lie fallow in the seventh year is an ancient one. To set the scene, we need to start with the Israelites camped at the foot of Mount Horeb, after they had escaped from Egypt. Moses is relaying the instructions he received from God on the mountain.

Exodus 20 begins with the most familiar of these instructions—the Ten Commandments. The following chapters explain how to keep them and live lives pleasing to God. Toward the end of these detailed guidelines we read the following: “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove” (Exod. 23:10–11, emphasis added).

The Concept of Rest

Leviticus chapter 23 lists the moedim (מועדים), or appointed times. The very first is Shabbat (Sabbath), which in many ways is the most important holy day on the Jewish calendar.

Shabbat is all about rest—both for people and for their farm animals as well. Although He did not need to rest, God set an example in the Creation account when He rested on the seventh day.

So, because of the importance placed on rest, it is not surprising that God has specifically extended the concept of rest to a specific Land. We read in Leviticus 25:2, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord” (emphasis added).

Return to the Land

After their exile to Babylon between 597–581 BC, the majority of the Jewish population remained outside the Land of Israel until the late 1800s, when the modern aliyah (immigration to Israel) movement began. After thousands of years away from the land, small rural Jewish communities were being established, and in 1888 (5649 in the Jewish calendar), questions arose about how to keep the biblical command to allow the land a year of rest.

The early waves of aliyah came primarily from Russia and Eastern Europe. The returning Jews didn’t know much about farming, and the land was desolate after centuries under the rule of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. As returning Jews struggled to feed themselves and their families, they felt unable to obey the biblical mandate of shmita.

In the application of Jewish law, preserving life has always taken precedence over its strict interpretation. In this case, where the early farmers faced severe economic hardship and possible starvation, several European rabbis devised a solution known as heter mechira (leniency of sale).

Under this ruling, the Jewish farmers could sell their land during the shmita year and, because it was no longer technically their land, they could continue to farm and be in compliance with the Torah. Heter mechira was intended to be a temporary solution but is still in place and remains one of the more controversial halachic (Jewish law) issues.

Shmita Requirements in Jewish Law

Halachic law is complex and detailed, so only the highlights will be touched on in this article. According to www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org “Jewish law prohibits farming, tilling soil, planting seeds, plowing, harvesting, and pruning during the shmita year, but things like watering, fertilizing, and pulling weeds are allowed.”

Anything that grows on its own can be eaten by the farmer and his family, gleaned from the field by poor or eaten by animals. Grapes and other fruits can be harvested but not sold. Whatever the land produces during a shmita year is considered to have special sanctity and, once it has been picked for personal use, it cannot be wasted or thrown away.

When Moses originally relayed God’s instructions to the Israelites, people lived an agrarian or nomadic lifestyle and ate food they grew themselves. But how does it work today when the majority of Israelis do not grow their own food but rather purchase it at the shuk (open air market) or supermarket? Keeping shmita requires that the food eaten—especially fruits and vegetables—is not grown on land owned by Jews in Israel. “Kosher for Shmita” food may be imported, grown in greenhouses, or harvested in the previous year. For instance, an agreement was reached last month to prioritize agricultural imports from Jordan to Israel in the upcoming year. 

Modern State

While the shmita year is far from universally kept in Israel, let’s look at two specific cases where the owners have chosen to give their land a Sabbath year of rest.

Wineries—The Groat family, volunteers with Bridges for Peace, have longstanding personal relationships with several winemakers in Shomron (Samaria). Ken Groat shared about one of the wineries he knows whose owner will be keeping shmita in its strictest form—the Kabir Winery.

Located in the community of Elon Moreh, the Kabir Winery takes its name from the mountain on whose slopes it was built. In Ken’s words, its wine maker, Eliav, is a man of faith whose relationship with God is deep. During the shmita year he exercises that faith by ceasing from all normal grape-growing activity.

Usually winter is the time when grape vines are pruned, which can greatly affect the quality of the next season’s harvest. Because this work is prohibited during the shmita year, Eliav and his workers will not be pruning. Next summer, when the grapes are ripe, he will open the gates to his fields and invite all who want to pick to enter.

Annual Crops—For those who grow vegetables and other crops that must be planted each year, there are several ways that the shmita laws can be kept. One method is hydroponic farming, where the plant is grown in water. Growing plants in raised containers in a greenhouse as long as there is a sturdy barrier between the land is another.

Ben Rosenberg is an organic farmer who told Israel21c that he normally produces 40 varieties of organic vegetables on his three-acre (1.2-hectare) farm. This coming year he will grow about half of those in greenhouses covering one-quarter acre (0.1 hectare).

Ben continued, “The ground is the best way to grow food because it’s the natural environment, but there’s no doubt that if the land rests it replenishes itself. I saw that when I started growing here 13 years ago.” Like Eliav, he is following the biblical command to allow his land a year of rest.

The Holiness of Shmita

Israel has never been a nation “like all the other nations.” The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has marked this people and this Land as His own. Shmita, a year of rest for the land, brings that to the surface in a way that is difficult to ignore.

Rabbi Zev Whitman’s comment about the shmita commandment provides an appropriate note with which to end the article:

“This difficult commandment was not meant to disconnect us from the land. The sabbatical year teaches us that we are living in a special land. The sabbatical year was meant to plant within us the knowledge that this land belongs to the Creator of the World, Who gave us the great and demanding privilege of living on His land” (emphasis added).

May all who live in this land, Jew and Gentile alike, grow in their understanding of that privilege during this upcoming year.

Source: (Bridges for Peace, September 6, 2021)

Photo Credit: Autumn Groat/bridgesforpeace.com

Prayer Focus
Pray for God’s continued blessing on His chosen land where He is honored before the nations, even throughout the shmita year when all are reminded that the land belongs to Him.

Scripture

And the LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.


- Leviticus 25:1–4