RABBI TULY Weiss poses at the first printing of The Israel Bible.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sukkot is one of Israel’s peak tourist weeks.
For generations, this has been a prime time to visit the Holy Land, as the Feast of Tabernacles is one of the Jewish people’s three pilgrimage festivals. Jews from around the world would flock to Jerusalem during the close to 1,000 years during which the two Temples stood.
Ancient pilgrims and modern tourists alike ascended to Jerusalem in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, answering God’s commandment as described in Deuteronomy 16:16: “Three times a year – on the festival of Pesach, on the festival of Shavuot, and on the festival of Sukkot – all your males shall appear before Hashem your God in the place that He will choose,” a presumed reference to the Temple in Jerusalem.
While those of us who grew up in the United States remember finding Bibles neatly stowed in the nightstand drawer of our hotel rooms, this wonderful tradition has not yet arrived in the Jewish state.
In the late 1800s, three traveling businessmen founded Gideons International, hoping to spread Christianity by supplying Bibles to hotel rooms across the country.
Nearly all American hotels began placing Bibles in their rooms throughout the 20th century, touting stories about people nearly committing suicide while on the road but changing their minds after reading these Bibles in their rooms.
Two billion Bibles later, with the help of Gideons International, holy books in hotel rooms became the standard. The Gideon Bibles were highly desired, representing the most commonly stolen book, each one touching 10 lives, on average, before being taken from the hotel room or worn out.
Following in this tradition, Marriott International announced last month that by the end of the year it will be placing 300,000 Bibles in its Sheraton, Westin and Starwood hotels.
Responses have varied. Those who applaud the decision say that finding Bibles in hotel rooms adds a sense of familiarity and comfort to their stay, and that the teachings of the Bible will now reach many more people.
However, the decision was also widely critiqued in the media. Many people told reporters they oppose the move, arguing that such religious material may offend a diverse population and that publicly traded companies should not promote religious materials.
Whereas Americans used to request the Bible, they are now asking hotels to remove them. Hotels are following suit.
ACCORDING TO STR Global’s hotel industry insights, the percentage of hotels that tuck away religious material in their rooms has dropped from 95% to 48% in the last decade, with luxury, urban and resort hotel percentages dropping even more.
This may not come as a surprise, considering religious life in America has been declining over the last decade as well, with non-affiliation rising 7% and Christian faith declining by 8%.
This is a sad reality, as a shift away from the Bible represents a shift away from Judeo-Christian values that have positively impacted American society – a shift away from America’s founding principles as well as the biblical values that Jews hold central to our identity.
Perhaps the Jewish state can learn from Marriott and set a trend by providing a Tanach (Hebrew Bible, or “Old Testament”) in every hotel room. Doing so could re-shift religious life for Israeli domestic hotel guests, while proudly proclaiming our biblical heritage to Israel’s many foreign visitors – Jews and Christians – whose roots lie in the Hebrew Bible.
The Land of Israel is where the Bible was written, and we must be exceptionally proud of its vital role as the birthplace of the values of life, liberty and honoring each other and God. Adding Bibles into every Israeli hotel room could foster a greater sense of unity and purpose surrounding our shared cultural experience and history as a people.
Marriott’s decision to place hundreds of thousands of Bibles in hotel rooms throughout the United States is certainly a step in the right direction. But I would contend that such a move is even more needed in this country, which should be the proudest of its biblical foundations.
The Hebrew prophet Zachariah promised long ago, that in the future, not only would Jews come to Jerusalem for religious inspiration at this time of year, but the nations of the world would as well: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations who came up against Jerusalem, shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the God of Hosts, and to keep the holiday of Sukkot” (Zechariah 14:16).
It is time to reclaim our connection to the Tanach. A first step would be to put a Bible in every Israeli hotel room by next Sukkot.Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365. com and the editor of the newly released “The Israel Bible” co-published by Koren Jerusalem’s Menorah Books and the #1 new release Bible on Amazon.
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