Still missing (left to right): Eyal Yirfah, G
Still missing (left to right): Eyal Yirfah, G Courtesy of the families

Israeli rabbis from all streams have issued a joint call for Jews to start Shabbat earlier than usual Friday, in a spiritual show of support for the three kidnapped teens.

The Jewish Sabbath starts on Friday evening, but according to Jewish law it is both possible and considered praiseworthy to extend Shabbat by starting it earlier as a sign of dedication.

According to some Jewish mystical sources, ushering in Shabbat earlier than sundown is an act which furthers redemption - hence the call by Israeli rabbis for the entire Jewish nation to do so together for the sake of the kidnapped boys. 

Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, who is widely considered the leading rabbi of the Ashkenazic hareidi stream, called on the Jewish public to both begin Shabbat early and to start prayers earlier as well - using the gap between the mincha (afternoon prayers) and kabbalat Shabbat prayers to learn Torah in the merit of the captive boys.

Rabbi Haim Kanievsky - another leading hareidi rabbi - and prominent religious-Zionist Rabbi Haim Druckman both backed Rabbi Shteinman's calls.

Rabbi Druckman, who heads the global Bnei Akiva religious-Zionist youth movement, added that he will be delivering a Torah lecture on the topic of pikuah nefesh (lit. danger to human life) at his Ohr Etzion yeshiva Friday in the merit of the kidnapped students.

The religious-Zionist Tzohar rabbinical institute threw its weight behind the initiative as well. In a public letter, Tzohar head Rabbi David Stav wrote that "in these days, as the people of Israel pray for the healthy, peaceful and speedy return of our sons, I call on communal rabbis to join the call of Rabbi Shteinman shlita and to usher in Shabbat a quarter of an hour earlier, to institute Torah lectures during that [extra] time period and to increase their prayers and Torah studies."

Synagogues throughout the country have already begun to respond to the calls, with communal leaders changing prayer times and some instituting extra "avot ubanim" father-son study sessions on Shabbat eve.

As IDF soldiers and intelligence services continue the hunt for the teens and their kidnappers, dubbed Operation Brothers' Keeper, Jews in Israel and throughout the world have held regular daily prayers for the safe return of the abducted students: 19-year-old Eyal Yifrah (Eyal ben Iris T'shura), and 16-year-olds Gilad Sha'ar (Gil'ad Micha'el ben Bat-Galim) and Naftali Frenkel (Ya'akov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah). 

Today marks a full week since their abduction last Thursday night in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem.

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