Conflicting reports are circulating as to whether or not Netanya's largest charity, Kupat Tzedaka Merkazit, has rejected a 100,000 shekel donation from Yechiel Eckstein's organization, IFCJ (Keren L’Yedidut -The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews).
On March 1st, The Jewish Press ran the following story headline: "Netanya's Largest Charity Rejects Evangelical Donation". But on March 7th the original story was updated and the headlines were changed to "IFCJ Denying Report on Netanya Charity Rejecting Donation".
The Jewish Press cited the source of the initial report as the publication HaShabat B’Netanya:
"The donation, according to the local magazine HaShabat B’Netanya, was contingent on the Netanya charity posting a large sign on its office wall announcing the fact that they are supported by the IFCJ – which members of the Netanya organization, after a debate, deemed unacceptable."*
Apparently IFCJ contacted the Jewish Press to deny the reports, claiming they were never approached by Kupat Tzedaka Merkazit.
The Real Story
Jewishisrael read the initial March 1st Jewish Press article with interest and contacted Kupat Tzedaka Merkazit on March 3rd to confirm the story in preparation for this article on this issue. We were told by a PR representative of the Kupa that they were not approached directly by IFCJ. Rather, a Jewish patron said he could arrange for a large donation. When it was eventually found out that this would be done via IFCJ, the Kupa consulted with their rabbanim in Netanya, who told them that Rav Elyashiv Z”L forbade accepting donations from IFCJ. The offer by the patron to arrange for an IFCJ donation was rejected accordingly.
An appalling but effective approach to fundraising
Despite his unquestionable success at raising vast sums for Jewish charitable causes from Christian sources, Yechiel Eckstein's personal approach to fundraising and his methods have, through the years, raised a lot of concern and caused more than a degree of discomfort among Jews across the religious and political spectrum.
For some, it is Eckstein's portrayal of hundreds of thousands of suffering and impoverished Jews which is most discomforting. IFCJ infomercials, which are frequently aired on Christian missionary television networks, send a clear message that both the Israeli government and Jewish community are incapable of assisting their own, and that the Israeli people are in dire straits and absolutely dependent upon Christian aid.
"He [Eckstein] uses Christian money to degrade the Jewish people, to turn them into beggars who need Christian money".---Rav Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba
Representatives, from Israel’s Jewish Agency to Hareidi MKs, have found Eckstein's seemingly insatiable thirst for publicity to be problematic. But the problem goes way beyond matters of press, plaques and photo-ops.
Despite Israel's current needs for humanitarian assistance, respected rabbinic authorities in both Israel and the Diaspora, from the mainstream Orthodox to Lubavitch to the Lithuanian Torah camp, have ruled that accepting IFCJ funding is forbidden and that Eckstein's approach to Christians and Christianity crosses halachic lines.
It appears to be Eckstein's close association with a number of missionary personalities and his radical approach to interfaith dialogue which has caused a number of halachic authorities to draw the line, and ask their communities to forgo the incredible sums being offered.
Missionaries support Eckstein and vice versa
"Although I work with many evangelical Christians, my iron-clad rule is that I never have nor will I ever work with a Christian organization or personality that engages in missionary work aimed at Jews.”
But this is simply not the case, as the very personalities whom Eckstein frequently refers to as friends and partners are active in targeting Jews for conversion and supporting messianic endeavors in Israel.
Not only has he forged an alliance with evangelizing personalities, but early in his career, Eckstein, now referred to as "a renowned Judeo-Christian ecumenicist", laid down the theological and interfaith groundwork which empowered notorious missionaries such as TBN's Paul Crouch and company, and may have enabled these figures to subsequently gain a significant foothold in Israel - where they now own prime Jerusalem property and have been given license to proselytize.
Eckstein broke theological ground and sacred fences by recognizing and sanctioning the evangelical mission to evangelize the Jew. Evangelicals such as Crouch and Hayford admittedly drew lessons from Eckstein on how to bring a Jew to Jesus through love.
Toying with the new testament and "Christianity's Jewish roots" while placing an emphasis on the commonality between faiths has helped to fuel world-wide evangelical interest and a Christian restoration in Israel. And it seems that Yechiel Eckstein takes credit for and is proud of his role as a revivalist:
“I would like to believe that we played a significant role in fostering relations by directing their biblical attention to walking where Jesus walked and highlighting the Jewish roots of Christianity,” finished Eckstein, adding that thankfully he had the foresight to see the potential that “nobody else could see.”
What remains to be seen is if the immense monetary benefits will outweigh the terrible spiritual costs. However, that is an impossible calculation to make, as one cannot place a quantitative value on a Jewish soul.
Missionaries make inroads in Netanya
The rabbis and community leaders in Netanya have very good reason to be suspect of Christian generosity. Kupat Tzedaka Merkazit is not the only food distribution center and soup kitchen in town. The messianic ministry of Yeshua's Fresh Bread, directed by missionaries Brian and Racheli Slater (of Chosen People Ministries), is offering service and conversion to Christianity with a smile. Based on a sampling of their most recent postings, they are enjoying success (sic!).
Last spring the Yeshiva World News warned of "Stepped Up Missionary Activity in Netanya", as the Israel College of the Bible was able to acquire additional building rights to expand their campus in central Netanya.
The Israel College of the Bible is a missionary college "training Israelis for ministry in the Land". It's under the direction of messianic missionary Dr. Erez Soref and the college website makes it clear that "all members of our faculty are believers in YESHUA (Jesus) the Messiah." The college is accredited through the Asia Theological Association and the European Evangelical Accrediting Association.
The college also operates oneforisrael.org, a fundraising Hebrew speaking ministry for evangelism in Israel. Missionary materials are provided by Maoz Israel and Jews for Jesus. OneforIsrael.org is sponsored in part by Campus Crusade for Christ in America.
It seems even conventional institutions for higher learning in Netanya have fallen under the influence of Christian love.
Netanya Academic College (NAC) has received sizeable donations from Pastor John and Diana Hagee. The Jewish Heritage Center at the college carries the Hagee name, as does the Chair for Christian-Jewish Dialogue. In addition to promoting activities on campus to bring Jews and Christians closer, Pastor Hagee was instrumental in establishing the synagogue on campus, and supported the recruitment of the campus rabbi who now directs NAC's Dr. John and Diana Hagee Jewish Heritage Center.
The college hails Hagee as an "icon" and "reciprocates his love without reservations, with boundless love and gratitude". Jewishisrael has no evidence of either covert or overt missionary activity taking place on campus, but certainly an evangelical giant like Pastor Hagee is having an impact and walls are tumbling down. It's telling that Netanya Academic College administrators have appeared on the missionary Daystar Television Network which not only features John Hagee, but also broadcasts messianic Jewish programming in Israel and has a long history of running programming which targets Jews for conversion.
When evangelical pastors start building our synagogues, Judaic studies departments, and recruiting our rabbis, then it appears that the foundations of Judaism could be at risk and appropriate red lines need to be drawn.
The issue of whether or not to accept donations from Christian sources is not simply a matter of "take the money, don't convert". The concerns are numerous and complex for any committed, thinking Jew.
We strongly suggest that those reading this post review a recent p'sak, formulated by a number of prominent rabbinic figures, which thoroughly address the issues and offers guidelines.
Activists and community leaders are especially urged to ask themselves the following before considering whether or not to accept assistance from gentile sources:
1) Is accepting a given donation or voluntary help going to blur lines between Judaism and Christianity?
2) Is accepting a given donation or voluntary help going to cause admiration for the Christian faith or will it empower Christianity in Israel?
3) Is accepting a given donation or voluntary help going to assist - even indirectly - missionary activity in Israel?
It's certainly not easy for any Jewish charitable organization in Israel to turn down an opportunity to receive a substantial donation. Jewishisrael praises Kupat Tzedaka Merkazit for holding their ground under such difficult circumstances and for upholding Jewish principles and the halacha.
On Accepting Christian Funding and Assistance
Rav Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba in Hebrew
Rav Yigal Hadaya of Yad Binyamin in Hebrew
Rav Natan Shalev of Yishuv Mevo'ot Yericho in Hebrew (2009)
Rav Dov Lior of Hebron endorses Rav Shalev's position in Hebrew (2009)
(English translation of Rav Lior's endorsement)
Rav Shlomo Aviner – in English