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Monday, January 7, 2008

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the IFCJ

Among the more persistent intruders into my e-mail inbox there is a frequent missive from IFCJ, which I have taken to call IFcich but which its senders insist stands for an International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The missive is always signed by, or makes reference to, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. The prose, to this student of the sociology of religion, is reminiscent of Evangelical Christianity. The message invariably asks for money, and seems to insist, for reasons I cannot fathom, that I have a Christian duty to help Israel. For those who are not fortunate enough to be on the rabbi's e-mail list, the IFCJ also maintains a blog.

Who is Rabbi Eckstein ? A left-wing Israeli member of Knesset, Ran Cohen, quoted by the Jewish Week, seems to think that Eckstein is a convert to Judaism, but that is almost certainly incorrect. A New York Times writer thinks that Eckstein is the son of a "Chief Rabbi of Canada," but since I never heard of such a position in my 31 years of residence in that country as a practicing Jew, this latter press report, like the former, seems, well, spurious.

What does seem well established is that Rabbi Eckstein has quite a bona fide ordination from Yeshiva University but that he has angered many other orthodox rabbis by his inordinate communing with Evangelical Christians. On the other hand, Rabbi Eckstein has molded his IF organization into a major fund-raising group for Israeli charity. The funds seem to be mostly raised from Christians and the benefits seem to go mostly to Israel and needy people in Israel. And the big news now -- top item in the December 28, 2007 issue of the Jewish Week -- is that in return for a donation $45 million over the next three years from IF, the Jewish Agency has agreed to give Rabbi Eckstein a seat on its Executive Board. The Jewish News suggests that this deal means that Evangelical Christians and their agenda now have a say in the top councils of Zionism.

The Israeli writer Zev Chafets, writing in the New York Times Magazine of July 24, 2005, gave an informative and amusing account of the IF rabbi, although, to this reader, the article could have been stronger with a little less sneering.

There is also a quite informative piece by Marvin Schick about Eckstein. Schick is a free-lance columnist who contributes (apparently unpaid) advertisements of his pieces to the Jewish Week, and now also runs a blog.

Addendum, Feb. 18, 2008: David Brog has written a very informative book-length description of the Christian Evangelical support for Israel, together with an insightful analysis of the various Jewish responses to this effort.


Anonymous said...

Rabbi Eckstein, through his commercials, has introduced my husband and me to the knowledge of the life that many Jews in the former Soviet Union live in.
I am grateful that we have given thousands of dollars to the fund that supports these Jews specifically. Yes, there are many who want Aliyah, but many just want to eat. Our motives are diverse. No two Evangelicals think alike. We personally do it just because we owe a debt to those who founded the Christian faith. However, there's something deeper involved: A common bond of being the "little guy" in the midst of a cruel world.

Unknown said...

The IFCJ infomercial just popped up on my tv. WOW. i am all for helping out impoverished people no matter their creed, but this organization goes about it the wrong way.

the infomercial and website is over the top biased. IFCJ blatantly edits footage of poor elderly jews in siberia with stock footage and photos of nazi germany, radical islamists, and soviet russia. Not only does it reinforce the stereotype that islam and terrorism are synonymous, IFCJ looks for any reason to continue the idea that the Jews are the most persecuted people on earth. the infomercial goes as far as to claim that a new holocaust is in the works, that radical islam will sweep the world. that russia will return to its soviet ways to once again hunt the jewish people.

the organization's marketing campaign does nothing but paint a picture of terror, blaming islam, latent nazism, and a supposedly surging soviet russia. of course, this tactic has proven extremely successful. the evangelical right can be argued to be the number 1 critic and enemy of radical islam. by continually using the image of islamic terrorism, the evangelical right is galvenized into doanting money. last year, the IFCJ totaled about $72 million in contributions, holding onto $12 million in assets.

using fear mongering to gain financial support is wrong. there is no justification for reinforcing a stereotype that terrorism and islam are one in the same.

*as a note, i am neither jewish nor islamic. frankly i am not religious. just a concerned citizen who dislikes it when international organizations exploit fear and reinforce hate.

Anonymous said...

Is not the previous blogger "Blatantly Agnostic"? What then could he possibly discern about two of the world's oldest systems of belief - having never taken the time to search God's word for clarity.

Its not my intention to be cruel here, but wouldn't the writer condemn a Christian or Jew if we commented on a matter for which we possessed little or no clarity?

I will agree that the honorable Rabbi is "Blatant", but in mercy and not falsehood.

Anonymous said...

This groups takes money mostly from Christians and builds settlements illegally on Palestinian land.

Marie, your money is supporting genocide. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

see, we all try to find just a certain element in someone who is doing good in order to destroy him. is not this man yechiel eckstein doing good. why can't turn our weapon of hatred and destruction towards the evil within our own heart and the ones raging mankind. we have so much time to criticize someone who is doing good, and we probably do not have time to do any good in the world at all. Jesus is the Son of God, and prettey soon christians and jews will become one.

Anonymous said...

I live in Israel and when visiting America I seen one of these commericals. Israel is nothing like this. It makes us look bad. It paints a bad stereotype that most christians and jews have anti islamic views. The problem here is not our so called enemy but our government not wanting change. We made sacrifices in the past not its time to make a sacrifice for Peace!

Anonymous said...

In regard to the previous comment, the land of Israel belongs to the Israeli people. It should not be sacrificed for a false peace that is promised by a government that always breaks its promises. God divinly gave the land to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants FOREVER. It does not belong to a Palestinian people who have no historical claim to the land. There never was a Palestinian people living in the land of Israel when Israel took possession of the land. There were the Caananites, Perizzites, Hittites, Hivites, Jebusites, Girgashites, and Amorites. These were 7 nations that were greater and mightier than the people of Israel, BUT GOD , Himself, delivered these nations into the hands of Israel. God gave the land to ISRAEL. God created the land and has a right to give it to whom He will. Where are these nations? Does anyone know any Amorites, Caananites, Perizzites, Girgashites,Jebusites, Hittites, or Hivites? No? That's because they don't exist anymore. The,so called, Palestinian people are Arab peoples who have moved into the land.
*Of couse, I mean no offence to the Arab people. But the land belongs to Israel. It has belong to Israel for about the past 4 thousand years.

Anonymous said...

Betty said
As a serious student of the Bible and a Christian, I also support the Jewish community. We must keep a safe haven for the Jews in the United States as well as support Isreal. What I can never understand is how the Jewish leaders can take the support of the Christian community and be a member of the Democratic Party. To me this is an oxymoron as the Democratic Party contains those in this country that would not defend Isreal, nor allow religious freedom, if they ever obtain the political control. The only free speech is that which agrees with them. The Cristian is the conservative that is fighting to preserve our country under the Judeo-Christian Constitution as it was written.

Anonymous said...

Check into this organization and have a look at what the rabbi pays himself as an annual salary from money collected. Yeah, thats what the bible teaches, help those in need but only if you can do it with other peoples money and are able to keep plenty of it for yourself.

Skripkaman said...

Now, from the cynical Jewish perspective: I found this site while looking for the 411 on Eckstein because I have been watching his T.V. commercials and wondering if he was a Jew for Jesus, one of these mixed-up converts that call themselves "messianic Jews" (like the "rabbi" Glenn Beck uses as a go-to guy for the "Jewish opinion" about something he wants the Christian opinion propagated on.) While in the chair of my Orthodox Jewish dentist (who uses TV to distract patients from the reality of dentistry G-d bless him) the commercial came on and I told him "this guy is not Kosher and I can't put my finger on it. I think he is a J4J." That got me a "hmmmm....maybe" from the dentist who went right back to work. Between Eckstein and the dental instruments I chose to focus on the dental instruments and that tells much. So please, my Evangelical FRIENDS, do not judge rabbis by him, and I won't judge you by the least of your lot as well. May G-d Bless You and Keep You, and May G-d find a way for Eckstein's work to be for the good regardless of his personal ethics.

Reflection88 said...

A previous commenter claims: "God gave the land to ISRAEL...The, so called, Palestinian people are Arab peoples who have moved into the land...But the land belongs to Israel. It has belonged to Israel for about the past 4 thousand years."

Really? Claims of divine support for tribal or national ambitions were common in the ancient world. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all cited divine inspiration for their conquests. As historian Frank Epp notes: "Every phenomenon and process of life was attributed to the agency of a god or gods...of good land being promised to better people by superior gods." [Epp, "Whose Land Is Palestine," p. 38, 41]

No court of law or world body today would honor as legal a title of ownership based on a claim that purported to come from God. [Guillaume, "Zionists and the Bible," p. 25-30] Also: Nakhleh, "Encyclopedia of the Palestine Problem," p. 953-70]

Even for those who take the biblical grant literally as God's grant, biblical scholars such as Dr. Dewey Beegle of Wesley Theological Seminary point out that the ancient Jews failed to be obedient to God's commandments and therefore forfeited the promise.

As for the presumed historical claim, Jews were not the first inhabitants of Palestine, nor did they rule there for as long as a number of other peoples did. Archaeologists now generally agree that Egyptians and Canaanites inhabited Palestine from the earliest recorded days of around 3000 B.C. to around 1700 B.C. [Bright, "A History of Israel," p. 17-18]

There followed other occupieres such as Hyksos, Hittites, and Philistines. The Hebrew period of rule started only in 1020 B.C. and lasted until 587 B.C. The Israelites were then overrun by Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Egyptians, and Syrians until the Hebrew Maccabeans regained partial rule in 164 B.C.

However, in 63 B.C. the Roman Empire conquered Jerusalem and in 70 A.D. destroyed the Second Temple and scattered the Jews into other lands. In sum, ancient Jews controlled Palestine or some major parts of it for less than 600 years in the 5000 year period of Palestine's recorded history -- less than Canaanites, Egyptians, Muslims, or Romans. ["The New Oxford Annotated Bible," p. 1549-50; Beatty, "Arab and Jew in the Land of Canaan," p. 85]

The U.S King-Crane Commission concluded in 1919 that a claim "based on an occupation of two thousand years ago can hardly be seriously considered." [Grose, "Israel in the Mind of America," p. 88-89; Laqueur and Rubin, "The Israel-Arab Reader," p. 34-42]