Yom HaZikaron: Israel’s Memorial Day

By Julie Stahl

“The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die” (Psalm 116:15).

A week after Yom HaShoah (“Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day”), Israelis mark Yom HaZikaron (“Israel’s Memorial Day”) to honor and remember those who died fighting for their country and for those murdered in terror attacks.

A televised state ceremony is held at the Western Wall and neighborhoods throughout the country hold their own ceremonies in public places, with the participation of the youth. 

Israelis stand in the streets for an hour or more as the people who died from those neighborhoods are honored.

Since Israel is frequently under attack—whether by rockets or terror attacks or infiltrations—the day is very real and relevant for most Israelis. Many visit cemeteries and attend other ceremonies on the day. Schools are in session but have special programs to honor the fallen.

Twice, on the evening before Israel’s Memorial Day and the following morning itself, Israelis collectively stand in silence as a siren sounds calling to mind the sacrifices that were made by family and friends for Israel’s freedom and security. 

“I was thinking about all the soldiers from the beginning of the modern State of Israel up until today who had to fight on the frontlines and on the home front,” said Shai Yosipov, a former IDF combat medic.

“It’s so important that everyone understands the price and the responsibility we have for living in this country. We not only remember our fallen loved ones, but we also acknowledge that there has always been a sacrifice that needed to be made so that we could be here today,” says Yosipov.

“During the siren, I was praying for families who’ve lost so many, and I prayed that God would give them comfort from the pain,” says Sarah Rivka Yekutiel, who moved to Israel from Boston many years ago.

“It’s an emotional time for everyone, whether you’ve lost family or not. This day is very heavy and intense,” said Orital Saban, who recently moved to Israel from Canada.

More than 23,000 Israeli and Jewish soldiers and more than 3,100 terror victims have fallen since 1860. 

At sundown on Israel’s Memorial Day, Israelis make an incredible leap from mourning those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, to celebrating Yom HaAtzma’ut (“Israel’s Independence Day”).

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism at Regent University; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. She is also an integral part of CBN News’ award-winning show, Jerusalem Dateline, a weekly news program providing a biblical and prophetic perspective to what is happening in Israel and the Middle East.

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Biblical Israel: Masada

By Marc Turnage

Masada, a palace-fortress built by Herod the Great (Matthew 2), sits on the south-western shore of the Dead Sea, fifteen and a half miles south of Ein Gedi. The fortress sits atop an isolated rock plateau that overlooks the Dead Sea Valley below. This naturally fortified rock was first built on by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (ruled from 103-76 B.C.). Herod the Great made it into a palace fortress that could provide protection if he needed to flee Jerusalem, as well as protecting the balsam industry at Ein Gedi, which provided the cash crop for Herod’s kingdom. 

Herod built two palace complexes on top of Masada, one on the western side (the oldest), and one on the north, which boasted three levels cascading down the northern slope of the rock scarp. Both had functioning Roman style baths, living quarters, storerooms, and decorations fitting for a king. Herod also had a pool on top of Masada, as well as gardens. 

Masada receives on average only an inch to an inch and a half of rainfall annually. The need for water of Herod’s luxuries on Masada required an ingenious water catchment system using gutters, the natural slope of the plateau; he also captured the rainwater that fell to the west of Masada diverting it into channels, which flowed into cisterns along the slopes of Masada. The cisterns on Masada held millions of cubic liters of water ensuring that the residents of Masada could survive along the arid shores of the Dead Sea, as well as enjoying the luxuries of the pool and bathhouses. 

Masada’s popularity derives from the story told by Josephus about the defenders of Masada during the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-73). According to Josephus, a group of Jewish rebels, Sicarii, led by Elezar ben Yair held up in Masada through most of the revolt. A couple of years prior to the fall of Masada, which took place on Passover of A.D. 73, this group of rebels slaughtered the Jewish community at Ein Gedi. 

Josephus tells a tale how the Tenth Roman Legion laid siege to Masada, built a ramp up its western slope (the remains of which visitors can still see), yet when they stormed the mountain, they found that the defenders had killed their families and then themselves instead of facing slavery at the hands of the Romans. Josephus provides our only account of this story, and while it offers a daring and captivating tale, it most likely did not happen in exactly that manner. Nevertheless, visitors to Masada see evidence of the lives of the Jewish rebels. 

Not needing the luxury of Herod’s royal palace-fortress, the rebels converted portions of the palaces into more serviceable and functional purposes. The room that served as the stables for the donkeys used to bring water from the cisterns below, the rebels converted into a synagogue. Archaeologists found ancient scrolls fragments from the remains of the Jewish rebels. Some fragments preserved portions of biblical books, like Ezekiel; other fragments contained portions of other ancient Jewish literature, like Ben Sira. 

Masada offers a fascinating window into the changing political landscape of the land of Israel in the first century. In this way, it enables us to understand themes and trends that we find within the New Testament.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: The Power of Legacy

“I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, because Abraham listened to My voice and kept My mandate, My commands, My statutes, and My instructions” (Genesis 26:4-5 HCSB).

Abraham never saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to his offspring. Yet, because he listened to God’s voice and kept His commandments, God extended the covenant with Isaac and his descendants.

We tend to think about our spiritual lives through the lens of ourselves, through the finiteness of our lives. God needs to bless me. He needs to fulfill His promises to me. If Abraham had had our shortsightedness or self-focus, God could not have used him or his offspring.

Abraham, however, understood legacy. He had a role to play in God’s plan, but when his time was up, he understood that by playing his part, listening and keeping God’s commands, God would continue to bring about His plan, which would bring blessing to all humanity.

Abraham allowed God to give him a big vision of what He wanted to do through him and his offspring. And Abraham trusted God. Isaac, too, did not see the promise fulfilled, but he likewise was faithful to the vision and the promise.

In our individualistic Western society, our vision often begins and ends with ourselves, even our vision of God. Such smallness does not allow God to achieve what He desires through us. He wants us to understand the power of legacy that will benefit future generations because of our faithfulness, because we listened and kept His commandments.

What legacy are you leaving to future generations? Will God be able to renew His promises and say about you, “he or she listened to My voice and kept My mandate, My commands, My statutes, and My instructions? Think of the impact of Abraham’s faithfulness: the children of Israel, Moses, David, the prophets, Jesus, Peter, and Paul.

We are still able to participate in the blessing of God’s promises to Abraham. Why? Because Abraham listened to God and kept His word. God still wants to show Himself to our world and future generations. What legacy will we leave that will enable Him to do so?


Father, may we daily listen to Your voice and obey Your commandments, so that You can bless the world through our obedience for generations to come. Amen.

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Yom HaShoah: Israel Stops and Remembers 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

“If we wish to live and to bequeath life to our offspring, if we believe that we are to pave the way to the future, then we must first of all not forget.” 

–Professor Ben Zion Dinur

Sirens sounded in Israel this morning at 10 o’clock, Israeli time. For two minutes cars stopped on the highways. Drivers stepped out and stood in silence. Crowds walking on sidewalks immediately stopped in their tracks. The nation paused together in silence and stillness as it remembers 6 million Jewish men, women, and children who died in the Holocaust. It is Israel’s annual Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, also called Holocaust Remembrance Day (Hebrew: Yom HaShoah). 

On one of my many trips to Israel, I experienced several Yom HaShoah remembrances that made a deeper imprint on my observation of a living grief that still permeates the vibrant Jewish culture. In 2012, my husband and I vacationed for a few days after one of my professional assignments with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). We had just left Independence Hall, where Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, read the Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, to a crowd that broke out into singing and dancing in the streets. The morning siren went off as we strolled down a Tel Aviv sidewalk. We stopped, aware of the memorial day. As we stood, still and silent, everyone within our view in the streets, sidewalks, and stores was doing the same. Israel was at a standstill. The two-minute pause felt solemn. 

In 1953 the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, instituted Yom HaShoah five years after the rebirth of the modern Jewish state. The word “Holocaust” is derived from the Greek word for “sacrifice by fire.” And indeed, the meaning is terribly true. In 1933 Europe, the Jewish population numbered 9.5 million. After the Holocaust, the stunning loss of life resulted in a vastly reduced population: 3.5 million. Hitler and the Nazis had found a way to carry out genocide on an industrial scale, killing 6 million Jewish men, women, and children. The Nazis put into operation one of the most horrific death machines ever used in order to reach its satanic “Final Solution.” 

It is impossible to even estimate what the monstrous Hitler and his evil accomplices stole not only from generations of Jewish families but also from our world. We will never know the sum of contributions lost, especially from the 1.5 million children who were murdered. The lives of future musicians, artists, educators, innovators, doctors, rabbis, and scientists were snuffed out. Their abilities to bless our world died with them. 

Given the unquestionable facts, it is shocking that anti-Semitism is rising again. “Never Again,” the watchword after the Holocaust, is now morphing into “Now Again” in the United States and other nations. It’s consistently “Now Again” in the United Nations, in the International Criminal Court, and from Iran’s leaders. It cannot be ignored. Some deniers even go so far as to say the Holocaust didn’t happen. We can thank General Dwight D. Eisenhower—who later became our 34th president—for having the foresight to bring a photographer to codify evidence of the horrors when the American forces liberated the prisoners from the concentration camps. Because these photographs are evidence, the outrageous lies that the Holocaust didn’t happen were proved to be just that: lies. Eisenhower himself said the photographs were necessary so that no one could dismiss or disbelieve the terrors that took place in the camps. 

Israeli remembrances take many forms, whether in the schools or synagogues or at official ceremonies. In the United States and other nations, Holocaust remembrances will be held. Thankfully, as anti-Semitism rises, awareness and support are also expanding, in large part due to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Here, they oversee commemorating, documenting, researching, and educating about the Holocaust. Sitting on 45 acres atop Jerusalem’s Mount of Remembrance, the Center includes museums, monuments, educational facilities, and a Children’s Memorial. It also honors the Righteous Among the Nations, courageous souls who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem rests its purpose on Isaiah 56:5—“To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.”

Visiting Yad Vashem should be included in every itinerary. The education the exhibits provide and the facts behind them bolster our ability to oppose anti-Semitism. In 2021, it’s more important than ever to keep the facts in our minds and hearts so that we are better equipped to fight the hatred.

Let’s return to 2012 and that year’s American Israel Education Foundation trip (affiliated with AIPAC). I had recruited a group of 15 Christian leaders and then staffed the trip. We were invited as VIPs to the Jewish state’s official remembrance. Among many sobering parts of the program, six Holocaust survivors were invited to light six torches positioned on the stage. The large torches represented 6 million Jews put to death. Each survivor’s story appeared on film during the moving ceremony. And each year, six other survivors are chosen to light the torches. 

One of the notables who spoke during the event was Shimon Peres, then president of Israel. He made this observation about the Israeli people: “We have gathered unusual capacities which emerged from the depths of the Holocaust and from the peaks of our legacy. We have a commitment towards the betterment of the world and respect for humanity. The strengths of our nation are concealed in its history and contained in the souls of its sons. We used to be a question mark, now we are a strong country.”

Being seated among Israeli citizens was an honor for all of us. Although non-Jews are unable to fully comprehend the grief and sense of loss about the Holocaust, our knowledge and relationships with the Jewish community can serve to motivate Christians to do good. “My Brother’s Keeper” was the theme of the ceremony the year we attended, and the event resulted in an outstanding project for one of our participants. 

Mark Jenkins, a media pastor in Richmond, Virginia, felt compelled to return to Israel every year for this state ceremony honoring the heroes and martyrs of the Holocaust. Until COVID-19 hit, he filmed each year’s ceremony, edited it, and had the Hebrew translated into English. The ceremony is now shown every year on National Religious Broadcasters media outlets and is broadcast in Finland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, the U.S., India, Indonesia, and Taiwan (which transmits into China). Correspondence also comes in from 90 other media and civic organizations as far away as Australia and Argentina. You may view it at

Another example of Christians elevating Holocaust Remembrance is the artistry of Pat Mercer Hutchens (1937-2014). Mrs. Hutchens based her oil paintings on black-and-white photographs from the Auschwitz Album, a 56-page album containing the only surviving photographic evidence of the extermination process from inside a concentration camp. The album documents the arrival of Hungarian Jews in the early summer of 1944 with photos of thousands of Jews disembarking on the train ramp. On their coats are the infamous yellow stars. The photographers were most likely SS officers tasked with taking photo IDs of inmates, yet that would be unusual because the Nazis were careful to keep the “Final Solution” a secret. 

When the artist first saw the black-and-white photographs, she began having nightmares and dreamed about how she could rescue children dying around her. When she awoke, she felt compelled to paint their images—in color—to preserve their memory and mark their last breath. The album’s nearly 200 photos can be viewed in Yad Vashem’s archives and on their website. Mrs. Hutchens chose 40 photos to paint. All are now featured in book form, The Auschwitz Album Revisited, and are available for sale at Even after a diagnosis of cancer, Mrs. Hutchens kept painting until she completed 40 portraits that, color aside, were identical to the black-and-white photos. A permanent exhibit is on display at the Liberty University campus in Lynchburg, Virginia.  

The DNA of the Holocaust remains in Jewish minds and hearts because of the great loss of life and all that was taken away. Despite the past, though, the Jewish community worldwide—and specifically Israelis—have determined to build a culture of life and innovation. Interestingly, in the World Happiness Report of countries, Israel ranks 14th, and among cities, Tel Aviv ranks as the world’s eighth happiest. Israelis exhibit a type of fortitude that has propelled them to draw life out of death—a remarkable example for all of us. 

On this day of Yom HaShoah, I hope the Christian community will take a few moments of silence and stillness asking the Lord how we can contribute to standing against the growing anti-Semitism across the world. Our Jewish friends need us again and we need to stand up in far greater numbers. 

Join CBN Israel in praying for the Jewish nation as they remember the Holocaust:

  • Pray for Holocaust survivors especially during this difficult week. There are 189,000 who live in Israel and roughly 500,000 worldwide. 
  • Pray for an increase in the excellent work of Yad Vashem, which is making an impact in the world to stand for what is right. 
  • Pray that increasing numbers of Christians will seek personal, unique ways to push back on anti-Semitism using the examples of the media pastor and the artist mentioned. 
  • Pray that institutions like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, first founded on justice and peace, will extend these goals to Israel, one of the most persecuted nations in the world.

As Professor Ben Zion Dinur, a former president of Yad Vashem, said in 1956: “If we wish to live and to bequeath life to our offspring … then we must first of all not forget.” Let us keep Yom HaShoah, the nation of Israel, and Jews everywhere in our hearts on this Day of Remembrance.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at

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Remembering the Holocaust

The Holocaust is etched in Israel’s national memory. Each year, its victims are honored on one special national holiday called Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), which begins this evening at sundown. All places of entertainment are closed. In the morning, a siren sounds across the country—and everything stops for two minutes of silence, in memory of the 6 million Jewish lives tragically lost.

Their fight for survival was shaped within the shadows and ashes of Europe’s extermination camps. And it gave those who lived the determination to firmly declare, “Never Again.”

That is why today, thanks to friends like you, CBN Israel honors their commitment. We are helping to expose and stem the tide of rising global anti-Semitism, with CBN’s broad international media platform. Through CBN News, we are sharing a biblical perspective on headlines in the Holy Land—and fighting hatred and misinformation with the truth. Plus, we are producing award-winning documentaries that share the riveting stories of Israel’s past and present.

CBN Israel is also serving Israel’s last generation of Holocaust survivors, most of who are in their 90s. Today, there are about 190,000 survivors left in Israel; sadly, many are alone, and struggle to make ends meet. But we are there, providing groceries, medical and financial aid, home repairs, and during COVID-19, safe visits with needed food, supplies, and encouragement.

You gift to CBN Israel can let these frail seniors know they are not forgotten, as well as being there for immigrants, single mothers, and others in need. So many people in Israel are living week to week.

Your support can bless them by offering food, shelter, job training, finances, and more. Please help us make a difference in this special land!


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Biblical Israel: Dead Sea

By Marc Turnage

The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, at 1,300 feet below sea level. It formerly received six million tons of water daily from the Jordan River. It forms part of the Rift Valley. It is forty-three miles long and nine miles wide. It is deepest on its northern end, at 1,310 feet deep. 

The Bible never refers to it as the Dead Sea; rather, it uses names like the Salt Sea (Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:12), the Sea of Arabah (Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 3:16; 2 Kings 14:25), and the sea of foul waters (Ezekiel 47:8). The first century Jewish historian refers to it as Lake Asphaltitis (Antiquities 1:174). By the latter half of the second century A.D., Greco-Roman writers began referring to the body of water as the Dead Sea. 

Its biblical name, the Salt Sea, derives from the salt-mineral concentration within the water of about 30% (most oceans are about 3% for comparison). The density of the water enables modern tourists to float, and it also means that the water remains relatively calm. In antiquity, the sea was valued for its salt, a valued commodity in the ancient world, and the bitumen found floating on its surface. 

The saltiness of the water, as well as the salt flats around the Dead Sea, give the name, the Valley of Salt, to the land south of the Dead Sea in the Bible (2 Kings 14:7). While the waters of the Dead Sea are too salty for normal life to live, fresh-water springs and oases, like En Gedi and En Feshkah, enabled the growth of vegetation, trees, like date palms and balsam, and agriculture in the region of the Dead Sea. 

The Dead Sea divides into two parts. The boot-shaped peninsula that extends into the water from its eastern bank divides it between its northern part, approximately thirty miles long, and the southern part, about fifteen miles long, but it is only thirty to thirty-five feet deep in this area. 

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14:1-12) resided near the shore of the Dead Sea. Biblical writers, especially the prophets, often used the imagery of the barren, arid, and salty landscape around the Dead Sea to communicate their messages. Isaiah (35) and Ezekiel (47) envision a day when the salty water of the sea will become fresh and sweet, and only the salt flats on its shores remain. 

During the time of the Bible, people used the Dead Sea for travel between the western and eastern shores. Herod the Great (Matthew 2) built two palace-fortresses, one on the western shore (Masada), and one on the eastern shore (Macherus) to protect and watch over the industry and agriculture of the region. 

Today, the mining of the minerals of the Dead Sea by the Israelis and Jordanians, as well as the restricted flow of the Jordan River into the Dead Sea, and natural evaporation is resulting in the shrinking of the Dead Sea. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: He Is Risen

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in gleaming clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why are you seeking the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead.’ And they remembered His words” (Luke 24:1-8 NASB).

The Romans crucified thousands of Jews in the first century; Jesus was one of them. His death on a cross was not unique. It proved to be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). The difference: the resurrection. Jesus walked out of the tomb.

The resurrection became the cornerstone of the New Testament message that Jesus was God’s Messiah. He “was born of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4 NKJV). When Paul stood in Athens addressing the pagan Athenians, he sought common ground to proclaim his message to them—an altar to an unknown god, quoting their poets, not quoting the Jewish Scripture—yet the one thing he could not equivocate on was the resurrection, even though Greeks found it to be foolishness (Acts 17:16-34).

The resurrection of Jesus served as God’s promise to those who are faithful that they too will participate in the resurrection at the end of the Age (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15). It also provided a powerful reversal. The crucifixion and death of Jesus left the hopes of many shattered (Luke 24:21). While Jesus died fully trusting His good and loving Father, His followers did not share the faith of their master. But God specializes in turning the dark into light, making the impossible possible, and bringing life from death.

In the resurrection of Jesus, God triumphed over the grave. He brought life from death; He turned darkness into light. He gave hope. This is why in the midst of our deepest darkness and despair, we do not lose faith. No matter how dark the night, how devastating the diagnosis, how impossible the situation, God will triumph. He will transform death into life and darkness into light; and so, we have hope. Why? Because Jesus walked out of the tomb.

The Apostle Peter firmly declares the hope we have because of the resurrection: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NASB).

Even when we come to the end our lives and face our own death, we have nothing to fear. We have extraordinary hope, for ourselves and our loved ones. Why? Because Jesus walked out of the tomb.


Father, You are our hope. Even in our darkest moments, You bring us light and life, and therefore we trust You. Thank you for the hope we have in the resurrection. Amen.

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Torah Reading Commentary: Sacrifice

By Mark Gerson

In synagogues everywhere this month, we started the third book of the Torah—Vayikra (or Leviticus). Leviticus does not have the deeply engrossing family drama of Genesis, the liberation narrative of Exodus, the moral stories of Numbers, or the magisterial summing up of Deuteronomy. In fact, it is mainly about sacrifices that have not happened in thousands of years. And yet, like everything else in the Torah, it is laden with the most instructive, interesting, practical, and actionable life lessons.

Indeed, there is a Jewish custom to begin the religious education of a child not with the story of creation, the story of the Exodus, or the grand sweep of Moses’ summation—but with Leviticus. Why? As with so much else, there are multiple interpretations—each of which can be true.

One is that children are pure, and the book of Leviticus is about purity.

Another is that we begin Jewish education by teaching about sacrifice and, especially, the indispensability of sacrificing. Sacrifice is necessary for the development of any kind of meaningful relationship, building project, or moral commitment. And so it is here—even before the great stories and lessons that began to define us as Jews—that we begin the great task of Jewish education.

Having established the importance of sacrifices, we ask: What, fundamentally, are sacrifices? The answer is revealed by the fact that the Hebrew term for sacrifice, korban, has the same root as the word lhitkarev—which means to draw close. Lhitkarev is, importantly, a reflexive verb. A reflexive verb is something that we do to ourselves. For instance: She washed her hands. Similarly, the word to pray, l’hitpalel, is also a reflexive verb, which is fitting because prayer replaced animal sacrifice in the Jewish tradition. 

This conception of korban as something we do to ourselves answers several questions about the Levitical sacrifices. First: Why would God want the cattle or the flour that we sacrifice to Him? Answer: God doesn’t, and the sacrifices aren’t about Him. The purpose of the sacrifice is not to give something to God. It’s to do something to ourselves.

Second question: What is it supposed to do? It is supposed to “draw us close” to God. In this, we learn the key to forming strong human relationships and, quite possibly, the secret of love. How do we get close to God? One indispensable way is described through Leviticus: by sacrificing. The sacrifice could be money or time, a relationship or a habit, or even by risking one’s life. 

How, then, can we get close to other people? The first thing that God tells us about other people is that they (we) are created in His image. Thus, the way to get close to other people is sacrifice, along with the other person, for a goal that both people agree is sacred. That is why the term “band of brothers” is so evocative and so true, as it describes a group of people forever bound together by the sacrifices they made for their country and the ideals for which it stands.

And sacrifice is also the context for the first time that the term “love” appears in the Bible. Love does not make its debut in a romantic context, but rather in a parental context—and long before Leviticus. It debuts when God tells Abraham to “sacrifice” his son Isaac (“the one you love”). Love, the ultimate “drawing close,” comes with sacrifice. Perhaps this is why the greatest love in the world, that of a parent for his or her child, is inexorably tied up in sacrifice. Each time a woman carries a child, she is making a huge sacrifice, at least of her physical comfort, and is quite possibly risking her life. And every father is, or at least should be, more than willing to do anything—to sacrifice anything—for his child.

Acts of sacrifice always involve one thing: giving. Again, the Hebrew language enables us to understand the nature of its word. The word for “give” is natan. And natan is a palindrome—it reads the same each way—in Hebrew as when transliterated in English. Giving is not a one-way experience. It goes around, and it enables us to draw close to others, and, in so doing, ultimately to God.

This property of giving is emphasized in a fascinating locution in late Exodus. When Moses tells the people to contribute to the building of the Temple, he tells them to “take” their contributions. Given that he wanted them to contribute their contributions, why did he not tell them to “give” their contributions?  Because, he was essentially teaching them (and us), that when we give we receive. Moreover, the relative weights of giving and receiving in this exchange are reflected in Moses’ word choice. He needed to use one or the other—“give” or “take”—and he chose “take.”

Therein, perhaps, lies the paradox of sacrifice. If we genuinely sacrifice as the Torah imagined, what do we “give” up? Nothing—if giving is defined, as it generally is, as an act that is followed by having less of whatever we gave. For instance, if I have $300 and I hand it to the store owner in exchange for a bike, I now have fewer dollars. What did I give? Three hundred dollars. But what did I sacrifice? Nothing. I have exchanged.

How about if I have $300 and give it to fund a fistula surgery at a Christian hospital in Uganda on Watsi? I have sacrificed $300, but I have received the feeling that I am responsible for a woman being able to live with health, dignity and vitality, along with all of the positive effects on those in her family and community. So what did I take?

All I have to do is a calculation that I do all day every day—price something in dollars. Such a feeling is worth, by any measure, more than $300. So, by giving and sacrificing $300, I have taken—I have received—a lot more than that.

No wonder sacrificing is, perhaps, the best deal of all—and why it might be more intuitive than it seems to start a lifetime of education with instruction in it and its great book, Leviticus.

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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Holy Week and Passover: Centuries-Old Persecution of Jews 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Holy Week took on a new dimension for me on Palm Sunday night. My husband and I attended a Turner Classic Movies Fathom event on the big screen. The epic movie The Ten Commandments was shown as a tribute on its 65th anniversary. Stunning in every way, the movie had two scenes—the engraving of the Ten Commandments and the Red Sea parting—that were especially breathtaking. Seeing the nearly four-hour-long film took us back to the first Passover. One of the scenes showed Moses, brilliantly portrayed by Charlton Heston, at a simple meal in a quite simple dwelling. The tenth plague’s Angel of Death was sweeping over Egypt while the lifesaving lamb’s blood covered the Israelites’ doorposts. This symbolized the Perfect Lamb’s blood sacrificially shed on the tree approximately 1,000 years later outside Jerusalem.

Passover (March 27-April 4), Holy Week, and Easter are in full swing for both Jews and Christians worldwide. Watching The Ten Commandments reminded me that on too many occasions Passover—the Jewish Festival of Freedom—has taken place in dangerous circumstances during Holy Week over the centuries. 

Examples of persecution far exceed the word count here. The 20th-century Holocaust stands alone in Jewish history, the genocide of 6 million Jewish men, women, and children. Yet a glimpse into the Middle Ages shows us how difficult that period was for Jews in dispersion. Christian Holy Week and Good Friday left their shattering marks in history—and eventually transgressed into the evildoings of the Nazi regime.

Biblical New Testament history, though, sets the stage for the facts about Christianity’s early development. Jesus, our Jewish Rabbi, recruited His Jewish disciples and commissioned them to go throughout the then-known world. They shared the Good News about His redeeming sacrificial love expressed on the cross, His resurrection leading to new life, and our eternal citizenship in Heaven. 

Later, God transformed the life of the former murderer, Saul, and renamed him Paul. The apostle became the Jewish point person to share the Gospel with the Gentiles in his world travels and inspired, brilliant writing. 

Then, in the fifth to the 15th centuries, non-Jews extensively established their churches and moved away from Jewish culture. Anti-Semitism began inching its way into their thinking and practices. The medieval era produced the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery, positively revolutionizing society. Nevertheless, the injustices and persecution of Jewish communities in dispersion throughout Europe redoubled. Even their famous paintings often portrayed Jesus as “white,” neglecting His Middle Eastern Jewish ethnicity.

Some medieval churches rightly recognized the Jewish scribes who gave us God’s word under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They enacted laws to protect their Jewish communities during Holy Week, but it meant that Jews were forced to stay inside—especially on Good Friday. Yet violence still seeped in on the local level among lay people, along with far too many pastors and priests—in violation of church rules.

It is easy to imagine that Christian Holy Weeks occurring near or on Passover weeks resulted in Passovers that were more muted and curtailed. Fear accompanied the freedom that Passovers celebrated. Although in various locales civil leaders occasionally set armed guards outside synagogues to protect worshipers, fear still tinged the atmosphere. 

In some European countries, Jews were required to wear distinctive clothing—a particular hat for men, a blue-striped scarf for women—or yellow stars, a forerunner of the yellow Star of David that was compulsory under the Nazis. Discrimination reigned against Jews, barring them from certain professions or serving in the military. In some nations Jews were forced into ghettos, which remained a practice throughout the Nazi terrors.  

One of the worst lies, which emerged in the 12th century, was called the “blood libel.” This occurred especially during Passover preparations, where the Jewish community was accused of killing Gentile children to obtain their blood for unleavened bread—the matzo that we are familiar with today. This accusation is outrageous in every way. 

I view blood libel as one of the worst lies, not only for the Jewish community so directly assaulted but for us Christians, as well. It desecrates the precious, redemptive shed blood of Jesus on the cross. Blood libel was a favorite tool of Nazi propaganda to lull non-Jews into apathy or incite them to hatred. Blood libel accusations still rear their evil heads today and take other modern forms, such as accusing Israelis of poisoning the waters that flow into Palestinian areas. 

Holy Week and Good Friday clearly were not good for Jewish Passovers. Certain liturgies and biblical passages were emphasized, laying the total blame for Jesus’ crucifixion on the Jews. Some chants, known as “the Reproaches,” included a “voice of God” blaming Jews for rejecting Jesus. The medieval church in general neglected Jesus’ Jewishness—as they did His many Jewish followers who carried the Gospel to the world. Although Judaism literally rocked the cradle of Christianity, the disconnect between Christianity and Judaism during the Middle Ages grew even deeper. 

In the 16th century, Martin Luther, the rightly venerated leader of the Protestant Reformation, did an about-face regarding the Chosen People. His kindly 1523 pamphlet, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, transitioned two decades later into the malicious and horrendous book, On the Jews and Their Lies. In a dreadful manipulation of Christianity’s message, Hitler drew from On the Jews and Their Lies in his propaganda against the Jewish people leading up to the Holocaust. 

 In the 20th century, Christians and Jews began entering a different era when the Catholic Church decided it was wrong to accuse the Jews of deicide—killing God. They enshrined this landmark decision in their 1965 document, Nostra Aetate (“In Our Times”). They also recognized that Christianity came from Judaism and stated that the Church “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” The Lutheran denomination also examined its history and hearts, declaring in its German branch, “We state clearly that through omission and silence, we too have become guilty before the Merciful God of the outrage perpetrated against the Jews by members of our [German] people.” 

Thankfully, in the last few decades the relationships between the Jewish and Christian communities have intensified into a closeness that is unmatched. It is as if God has given us Christians a second chance to enact strong relationships between our two communities after centuries of sorrows, slanders, and violence. Yet today anti-Semitism, a term first used in the 19th century, is also intensifying. 

One of the most devastating mistakes in the church’s breakaway centuries ago from our Lord’s Jewishness, His culture, and the Jewish Scriptures is the omission of what I consider a significant Scripture in the New Testament. In John 10:17-18, Jesus declares, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” 

In reading only New Testament accounts, many Christians lacked the historical and cultural context to read the Gospels more accurately. As a result, they assumed there was no difference between the Jewish leaders who argued with Jesus and the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem who wanted Him dead. They also presumed that handing Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, a demand made by the Chief Priests and Sadducees, represented the wishes of the Jewish masses. Consequently, this is how the actions of a few Jewish elites in Jerusalem, who collaborated with Rome and saw Jesus as a threat to their wealth and power, were now transferred indiscriminately to the entire Jewish people. By blaming only the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion, many churches found themselves on the slippery slope of hatred or judgment. Moreover, they missed the crucial words Jesus articulated in John 10:17-18. 

Today, many pastors and churches still subscribe to Replacement Theology, which elevates the status of the church and mostly disregards the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and God’s eternal covenants. In essence, they set aside God’s divine plan of redemption, forgetting the profound debt of gratitude owed to the Jews, God’s chosen people, for our faith. 

While Satan was at work using every means possible to kill Jesus, it was Jesus who had the power and authority to lay His life down. He was not merely another Jewish victim of Roman brutality; He willingly sacrificed Himself to pay the penalty for all human sin and wrongdoing. No one could have touched Him had He not made that choice to follow His Father’s redemptive plan in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

During our 2021 Holy Week, I encourage our Christian community to memorize John 10:17-18. I was so inspired to see The Ten Commandments. Once again I was reminded that we can play a small part as 21st century Christians to promote freedom from the oppression of anti-Semitism for our Jewish friends. We can use the scriptural tool, a direct quote from Jesus, the Ultimate Expert on God’s redemptive plan. We can be the ones to advance Jesus’ own corrective definition of His sacrifice. No one on earth, in ancient or modern times, can reverse the truths of rightly emphasized Scripture straight from God’s beloved Son! 

Perhaps another of the greatest remedies in church history and now today is to embrace the fact that God’s plan included grafting Christian branches onto the Jewish olive tree. In Romans 11:17-20 the Apostle Paul wrote,“ If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble.” 

Christian arrogance has fueled misunderstanding over the centuries that has led to much, if not all, of the persecution that has taken place. Through our Jewish Lord Jesus, we are chosen too! 

Join CBN Israel during Holy Week to pray for Israel and the Jewish people:

  • Pray for ever-deepening relationships between Jews and Christians. 
  • Pray for Christians to proactively denounce anti-Semitism.
  • Pray for wonderful and safe Passover celebrations for Israelis. 

Let us remember 1 Corinthians 5:7—“Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the festival.” He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at

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Biblical Israel: Church of the Holy Sepulchre

By Marc Turnage

The traditional location of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which sits within the heart of the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The origin of the church goes back to the Emperor Constantine. His mother, the Empress Helena, was shown this location by local Christians on a visit to the Holy Land (326 A.D.). They identified it as the place where Jesus’ crucifixion and burial took place. Upon that site, her son built the first church, which was called the Church of the Resurrection. 

Archaeological excavations within the church have uncovered the history of the site. In the 8th-7th centuries B.C., the location of the Holy Sepulchre was a large limestone quarry to the northwest of the walled city of Jerusalem. According to the excavator, the site continued to be used as a quarry until the first century B.C. when it was filled in with soil and stone flakes from the quarry. The site at this time became a garden or orchard that contained fig, carob, and olive trees. At the same time, it developed into a cemetery. Within the complex of the Holy Sepulchre, tombs dating to the first century have been discovered.

One of the challenges for modern visitors to the church is its location within the modern Old City of Jerusalem and its walls. Jesus was crucified outside of the city walls. The modern Old City walls, built in the 16th century, however, have nothing to do with the walls of Jesus’ Jerusalem. Jews did not bury within the walls of city, but rather outside. The presence of first century tombs within the Holy Sepulchre complex indicates that this location stood outside the walls of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. 

Jewish tombs in the first century consisted of two types: kokhim and arcosolia. The most common being the kokhim. A kokh (singular) was a long, narrow recess cut into a rock tomb in which a body, coffin, or ossuary (bone box) could be laid. The typical kokhim tomb was hewn into the hillside and consisted of a square chamber. The entrance to an ordinary kokhim tomb was a small square opening that required a person entering to stoop. The height of the chamber was usually less than that of a person, so they often cut a square pit into the floor of the chamber. This pit created a bench on three sides of the chamber where the bodies of the deceased could be prepared. 

After the chamber and the pit were cut, the kokhim were cut level with the top of the benches and perpendicular to the wall of the tomb in a counter clockwise direction, from right to left, in every wall except the entrance wall. One to three kokhim were usually cut per wall. The kokh had roughly vaulted ceilings and were the length of the deceased or a coffin. After the deceased was placed into the kokh, a blocking stone sealed the square entrance of the tomb. Small stones and plaster helped to further seal the blocking stone. The tomb was sealed in a manner that it blended into the surrounding hillside. 

In addition to the kokhim tomb, arcosolia tombs began to appear sporadically during the first century. The arcosolia is a bench-like aperture with an arched ceiling hewn into the length of the wall. This style of burial was more expensive since only three burial places existed within a tomb chamber instead of six or nine, as typically found within kokhim tombs. Approximately 130 arcosolia tombs have been discovered in Jerusalem and over half of them also contain kokhim. Ossuaries (bone boxes) could be placed on the arcosolia benches within the tombs.

The tomb identified within the Holy Sepulchre as the tomb of Jesus was originally an arcosolium (singular) with an antechamber; however, the centuries of pilgrims and the various destructions of the church have deformed and obliterated the tomb. What visitors see today is a later structure; nevertheless, the tomb originally contained a first century arcosolium tomb. 

The Roman Emperor Hadrian built on top of the quarry-garden-cemetery a raised platform with another platform on it where he built a temple to Venus/Aphrodite in the second century. This pagan temple was removed when Constantine built his church. 

Constantine built a rotunda around Jesus’ tomb. The rock of Golgotha was exposed to the open air in a garden, and on the other side of the garden, he built a basilica church. 

The question arises whether or not the Holy Sepulchre contains the location of Jesus’ tomb. What we can say is this: 1) The site was a cemetery in the first century with first century tombs. 2) From the second century until the arrival of the Empress Helena, the actual tomb had been covered for 300 years. The fact that the local Christian memory remembered this location, where a first century cemetery existed, even though it was covered by the Hadrianic temple strongly suggests the authenticity of the site. 3) When Helena was shown this site, it sat like now within the walled, urban city of Jerusalem, which would have seemed strange to ancient pilgrims as it does to modern. 

Yet, the memory of the local Christian community remembered that this location once lay outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Ten to fifteen years after Jesus’ death and burial a wall was built in Jerusalem that enclosed this area into the city. 

Pilgrims to Jerusalem often wonder if the Holy Sepulchre marks the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The archaeology and tradition of the site support its claims. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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