When the people of Israel sang the special hallel (praise) prayer service last Thursday to praise God for the creation of the state of Israel, new voices joined the chorus. The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) brought 120 representatives of the two religions together for a Day to Praise in honor of Israel’s Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) in Gush Etzion. The recitation of Psalms was done in a very special way in order to fulfill a specific Biblical prophecy.
Though the CJCUC has held such events before, this is the first time the two faiths will join together to recite a psalm in Hebrew, which David Nekrutman, the Executive Director of the CCJUC, explained to Breaking Israel News, fulfills the prophecy of Zephaniah:
For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the LORD to serve Him with one consent. Zephaniah 3:9
Each of the participants read Psalm 117 in their native language, and then read it together in Hebrew. Nekrutman explained that this was a direct continuation of the beginning of the State of Israel.
O praise the LORD, all ye nations; laud Him, all ye peoples.For His mercy is great toward us; and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Hallelujah. Psalm 117
“The Messianic idea does not magically appear on the scene,” said Nekrutman. “Jews believe it is a process, part of a divine-human partnership. This hallel is the beginning of the restorative process for Zion. There have to be parts of the process in which the Jews are leading, and this is an example of that.”
Present at the event were representatives from Bridges for Peace, Christian Friends of Israel, a group of German Christians, another from Oklahoma City, and Lutheran nuns from the Sisters of Canaan from Brazil.
The gathering took place at Gush Etzion Winery, about one hundred meters from Gush Etzion Junction, the scene of many recent terror attacks, and very near where three teen boys were abducted before being murdered in 2014, sparking a summer-long war. The affirmation of faith in a place where Israel’s enemies have attempted to crush the Jewish right to the land made the event especially poignant.
“This gathering is meant as an act of solidarity intended to comfort Israel in the heart of its suffering,” said Nekrutman.
Hallel is a collection of Psalms 113-118, which are said at joyous times. It is recited on the three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, which are based on the Exodus from Egypt and the fulfillment of God’s covenant with the forefathers concerning the Land of Israel. The special service is also recited on Hanukkah, which commemorates Israel’s successful war of independence against the Hellenists and the rededication of the Temple. A later custom arose of saying an abbreviated version on Rosh Chodesh, the new month.
A year after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel ruled that hallel should be recited on Israel’s Independence Day.
Nekrutman explained the significance of Christians reciting hallel on Israel’s Independence Day alongside Jews, relating to Breaking Israel News, “This wasn’t an interfaith gathering. We were coming together in psalms, which is something we have in common, to commemorate the creation of the modern State of Israel, which was transformative for the Christians as well as the Jews, as a miraculous revelation of God’s eternal covenant with the Jews.
“This is something the Jews do anyway. But here, we are asking the Christians to join us in Jewish liturgy, fulfilling the prophecy of Zephaniah.”
Nekrutman also pointed out the relevance of Psalm 117, in which King David prophecies that the other nations will come to praise God for what he does for Israel.
They ended the service with the group singing of the Shema, accepting God as king. Nekrutman explained, “We’ve just celebrated this amazing divine intervention, which we acknowledge through hallel. But we can never take for granted how this was actualized. This is accomplished through Shema.”