Jewish media company puts biblical spin on news for evangelical Christians

Naphtali “Tuly” Weisz was a newly ordained Modern Orthodox rabbi in Columbus, Ohio, when he began dialoging with evangelical Christians. At first, they met at the local Jewish Community Center. Later, he invited them into his synagogue, Beth Jacob Congregation, where he had taken over the pulpit from his late, long-serving grandfather, Rabbi David Stavsky.

This interfaith dialogue was satisfying, but the Yeshiva University-educated Weisz did not at that point consider non-Jews central to his work.

Then came a life-changing phone call. It was from a Christian woman he had met for the first time the previous evening at his synagogue. She wanted to buy $50,000 worth of Israel Bonds.

The fundraising potential notwithstanding, Weisz suddenly realized the extent of the devotion and commitment to Israel of this woman and other Christian Zionists. The revelation led Weisz to reexamine his own religious Zionism and to embrace the participation of non-Jews in the process of building and sustaining the State of Israel. He decided to devote his career to communicating with Christian Zionists.

Like the Christians he was increasingly interacting with, Weisz saw the return of Jews to Israel as part of a redemptive process.

“The fulfillment of the messianic process is fundamentally tied to the Jewish return to the Land of Israel. When the State of Israel was re-established in 1948, and then with the miracles of the Six Day War, it became apparent that prophecy, as stated in the Torah, was being fulfilled,” he said.

“Today, when Nefesh B’Nefesh helps Jews come on Aliyah, that’s a part of prophecy — the ingathering of the exiles. When JNF [Jewish National Fund] plants millions of trees throughout Israel, that’s the flourishing of the land, as described throughout Tanach [the Hebrew Bible],” said Weisz.

In 2011, Weisz immigrated to Israel and started Israel365, a Jewish-owned and run “media company.” The company and its subsequent spin-offs target the 700 million-strong evangelical Christian worldwide community interested in connecting with the Holy Land from biblical and prophetic perspectives.

In addition to his immigration, “the work we do at Israel365, enabling non-Jews to support Israel financially, diplomatically and politically is also described as part of the redemptive process in Jewish tradition,” said Weisz.

In many ways we’re not all the different from established Christian media that connects faith with journalism

There are Israel-based Jewish media outlets aimed at religious Jews, and there are evangelical Christian news companies producing news out of Israel — but Weisz wanted to cross the ecumenical divide.

“In many ways we’re not all the different from established Christian media that connects faith with journalism, but what we are doing doesn’t exist within the Jewish media. The religious Jewish media is really just secular news geared toward a niche market. For instance, they may omit pictures of women, but the news itself is essentially no different from what you would read in the mainstream,” Weisz said.

“What we are doing is pioneering a new genre of biblical journalism. The Jewish perspective is very rich. We’ve been reading the Tanach [Hebrew Bible] since it was given, whereas Christians have been studying the Bible in translation with outside forces that have influenced their perspectives,” he said.

‘The most authentic perspective’

Donna Jollay, a Christian Zionist entrepreneur, partners with Weisz on an online Torah academy for non-Jews venture called Yeshiva for the Nations. She agreed that Weisz is doing something new and unique.

“I could read the Christian media, but what Tuly is providing is the most authentic perspective,” she said.

Israel365 began in 2012 by connecting people to Israel through a daily newsletter and an online store. The Beit Shemesh-based company now has 15 employees and has spun off into a number of brands, including Breaking Israel News, a site that launched in 2014 with dispatches and opinion pieces written from a biblical perspective, and Israel Media Network, a digital marketing agency helping Israeli organizations to reach Christian audiences which launched in 2015. Israel365 also began publishing its own Bible in 2015 and has invested in Yeshiva for the Nations, the initiative co-founded by Weisz and Jollay.

For those interested in keeping up with what’s happening in the Holy Land, website Breaking Israel News publishes articles related to Jerusalem, the IDF, and US-Israel relations. It also has sections titled “Christian Zionism,” “Biblical News,” “Bible Prophecy,” and “End of Days.” The articles all cite biblical verses, and most frame current events — including increased Jewish-Israeli birthrates, Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, and Iranian and North Korean nuclear threats — in terms of prophetic fulfillment.

“Those who have been more supportive are people who are more open-minded, not afraid of what Christianity represents, and are more in tune with the needs of the modern State of Israel,” said Weisz. “I’ve found that Jews in Israel have given more thought to Christian support to Israel than have Jews in America.”The response from the Jewish community has been mixed — everything from skepticism, to bewilderment to support, said Weisz. He’s received support (and lack thereof) from Jews of all different backgrounds, from ultra-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, to secular.

As a religious Zionist, Weisz, 37, believes his job is to reach out to non-Jews and help them engage with their biblically prescribed role in the ingathering of the exiles and rebirth of Israel.

“I don’t believe these things will happen miraculously. It will require a lot of work and organization. There are many passages in the Tanach about the non-Jews recognizing the true role of the Jews,” Weisz told The Times of Israel.

There are many passages in the Tanach about the non-Jews recognizing the true role of the Jews

“Once I started to read the Tanach carefully, I learned how this is not inconsistent with the Jewish experience, with our mission to be a light unto the nations,” he said.

A vast, engaged audience

According to Israel365 director of publishing Maayan Hoffman, Breaking Israel News has 100,000 subscribers and the sixth largest amount of traffic for any English-language news website out of Israel.

“Our audience is vast and engaged. It’s not uncommon for one of our 1,000-word articles to generate 10,000 words of comments,” Hoffman said.

Not everyone agrees that Breaking Israel News’s articles, with their biblical and prophecy angles, qualify as journalism.

“It’s not fact-based journalism. It is opinion and can be regarded only as that,” said University of Toronto professor journalism professor Jeffrey Dvorkin after looking at Breaking Israel News at The Times of Israel’s request.

The definition of ‘news’ is not what was taught in journalism school back in the day

“The definition of ‘news’ is not what was taught in journalism school back in the day. Everyone has an agenda today,” Weisz claimed.

He gave the example of the history of the Temple Mount, saying that some look at it from former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s ascent in 2000 sparking the Second Intifada. Others use 1967 or 1948 as starting points.

“Our perspective is 3,000 years back to King David, who inaugurated the Temple Mount. The Bible has relevance to today and tomorrow. Prophecy and the news is not an oxymoron,” Weisz said.

Crossing a fine line?

David Parsons, spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, participated in a Prophecy in the News Conference hosted by Israel365 in Jerusalem in June that attracted an array of Jewish and Christian right-wingers, messianists, and Third Temple advocates. Parsons warned against the sensationalism and speculation that he said gives prophetic and biblical news a bad reputation.
At the same time, Parsons agreed with Weisz that there is no need to apologize for putting trust in the Bible as the word of God, and in trying to use that as a way of understanding the news.“It can be a game of guessing what’s next, and that’s where we try to be cautious,” Parsons said.

“This is nothing new. People have been doing this for centuries. The Templars were doing it, as were members of the Palestine Exploration Fund founded by Queen Victoria,” Parsons said.

Parsons thinks the mainstream media often mocks evangelicals and ends up missing “an incredible story in terms of the sweep of history by ignoring the prophetic aspect of the news.”

He lamented the fact that so much of the news out of Israel is strictly about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and praised Weisz and his team for “telling a story others aren’t.”

While Weisz may be telling a story, even he admits it isn’t the full story. He believes his responsibility is to report the good, but not necessarily the bad and the ugly.

“Prophecy in the news is about God controlling events. It gives many people a tremendous amount of hope and positivity,” Weisz said.

Accordingly, some of the biggest stories in the mainstream Israeli press are conspicuously absent from Breaking Israel News.

“We don’t report on negative news stories on Israel. For instance, we don’t cover Israeli politicians getting investigated or arrested for corruption,” Weisz said.

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