On one level, the outlook for the religious landscape in the US is bleak. According to trends illuminated in the most recent Pew Study on religious life, over time, an increasing number of American adults say they do not identify with any religion and there are a shrinking number of people who describe themselves as Christians and Jews. Additionally, there is a clear downward trend in the importance of religious life in older people compared to younger people – and this trend is also growing over time.
From 2007 to 2014, belief in God declined from 92% to 89%. Those who pray daily decreased from 58% to 55%. Those who deem religion as “very important to them” decreased from 56% to 53%. And those who attend services at least monthly went from 54% to 50%.
However, if one looks to the purchasing patterns of Bibles and Judaica, the trends paint a different picture of the landscape of religion in the United States. According to Christian media maven Brandon Gaille, 20 million Bibles are sold each year in the United States. “That’s more than double the amount that was sold annually in the 1950s,” he noted.
This figure does not include the number of Bibles that are given out. According to Gideon International, the Bible publisher that popularized the tradition of placing a Bible in hotel rooms, the publisher distributed more than 82.5 million copies of the Bible worldwide in the 2017 fiscal year, including 10.1 million in the United States alone, largely to youth, colleges and hospitals.
CEO and President of the Christian Publishing House, Edward D. Andrews, has noticed an increased interest in Bible inquiries in recent years. In addition to running the publishing house since 2005, Andrews has written 95 commentary books on the Bible. He reports that his clientele has developed increased interest regarding “interpretive translations” of the Bible, books about how to defend the Bible, as well as Hebrew Bibles, he told Breaking Israel News.
“Christians are mostly interested in prophetic works of the Hebrew Bible,” he said. “They want to understand if the Old Testament and New Testament contradicts one another. There is not one single contradiction between the New and Old Testament,” Andrews posed. “Not one iota.”
Perhaps these two parallel trends, seemingly contradictory, are not contradictory at all. According to Donna Jollay, co-founder of educational platform Yeshiva for the Nations, which teaches non-Jewish students about the Hebrew Bible, Jewish history, and Israel, both the trend away from religion as well as Christians returning to their Jewish Biblical roots were prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. “Amos prophesied that there will be a famine, not for food but the word of God,” she told Breaking Israel News.
“A time is coming — declares my God — when I will send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of Hashem.” (Amos 8:11)
“Though the word of God is available, we are very much in that place where we see a falling away of the next generation and ignorance regarding Israel,” she said, arguing that it’s not enough to have a Bible or even read the Bible – we must hear the word of God, and hearing is incumbent upon action. “Within the Hebrew Bible are instructions for non-Jews for how they should be interacting with the Jewish people, provoking a response to wake up to the Redemption that is happening,” she said.
Many Christians are doing just that – learning Hebrew and engaging with the Hebrew Bible. Rabbi Tuly Weisz, Director of Israel365 and publisher of Breaking Israel News and The Israel Bible, reported seeing positive trends of Christians studying the Bible and Biblical Hebrew in recent years, as a result of Internet access and growing Christian Zionism. The Israel Bible, Weisz told Breaking Israel News, is the world’s first Hebrew Bible to highlight the special relationship between the land and the people of Israel, published by Jews for a Christian audience. The Israel Bible has been selling at a steady increase since its inception marking Israel’s 70th anniversary in April 2018.
Weisz maintained that this is not only a fascinating trend – it’s prophetic. “Zephaniah predicted that in the end days, all nations would speak ‘pure speech,’ Hebrew. They are learning Hebrew for one purpose – to be able to read the Bible in the language of creation.”
“For then I will make the peoples pure of speech, So that they all invoke Hashem by name And serve Him with one accord.” (Zephaniah 3:9)
“This verse is another incredible example of an obscure prophecy that has come to prominent fruition in our generation, as millions of people all over the world, both Jews and gentiles, are learning Hebrew in order to speak lashon hakodesh (the holy language),” reads the passage commentary in The Israel Bible.
As religious life continues to decline in the United States, Weisz said, not only are Christian purchasing patterns of Bibles a compelling anecdote telling a different story, but the trend is also an antidote to Biblical illiteracy. “The Israel Bible became the top new release on Amazon shortly after its release. There is a thirst for a Bible like this among Christians that explains the importance of the land and the people of Israel in a way that non-Jews can appreciate.”
The same can be said of trends of Christians purchasing Judaica. According to Israel365’s Director of Business Intelligence, Ayal Kellman, Israel365’s web store has “performed steadily over the last several years.” Online store manager Orly Gibson, who has managed the store for the past four years, noted that Christian purchasing of Judaica increase during the Jewish holidays and festivals. “Christians around the world are getting more plugged into the Jewish calendar, buying seasonal products from Israel corresponding to different holidays.” For example, she noted, “natural honey from Israel is always a best seller around Rosh HaShana (the Jewish New Year).”
Gibson attributed the sales to a “Bible awakening among Christians,” maintaining, “Christians are going back to their roots, the Hebrew Bible and connected to Biblical holidays. The Israel365 Store makes it possible for Christians to incorporate Judaica and Jewish ritual items into their celebration of Hanukkah, Passover and other holidays,” she told Breaking Israel News.
Ordering products from Israel online, she said, is a great option for people who are looking to connect to Israel and the Bible as well as “a wonderful way to support the Israeli economy and small businesses.” Indeed, the trend of supporting Israel through Judaica and further engaging with the Hebrew Bible could offer the perfect remedy for a “famine of the word” within the religious landscape of America.