Monday, October 26, 2009

Accepting Charity from Christians

I understand the opposition. I really do. But it is wrong and much of it is based on a misunderstanding of what is really going on. I am talking about opposition to Jews accepting charity from Christians.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is someone I have written about before. He and his organization, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) are once again being attacked. This is not the first time. They have been attacked unjustly many times. Not only by the right – but by many well meaning but misinformed Orthodox Jews.

I am not here to Paskin. But I am here to defend my friend Yechiel. He is an Erliche individual who saw an opportunity to help his brethren in a unique way and grabbed it. He has tapped into a rich resource of heretofore untapped funds for the Jewish people - to the tune of many millions of dollars.

How do I know that he is Ehrlich? For several years he and I were both members of a Daf Yomi Shiur of which he was an integral part. It was led by Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer. This is where I got to know him. He was one of the more intelligent and knowledgeable members of a very bright group and had a very sincere commitment to learning Torah.

Our Shiur was not his first choice. He had originally been a member of the Chicago Community Kollel’s Daf Yomi Shiur. When it was discovered that he was involved with Christian Evangelicals he was asked to take a ‘leave of absence’. After doing some research and much deliberation - and discussion with other Poskim - the Roshei Kollel allowed him back in. But the feeling among the Avreichim of the Kollel was not positive. They virtually boycotted him, including walking out of any Minyan in which he Davened.

Needless to say Rabbi Eckstein was publicly embarrassed by this. He soon left and tried other Daf Yomi Shiurim where he was also rejected. It was upon coming to Rabbi Bechhofer’s Shiur that he was finally and warmly welcomed - both by Rabbi Bechhofer and by the members of the Shiur. Rabbi Eckstein was finally able to reach his goal of learning all of Shas. I know he is eternally grateful to Rabbi Bechhofer for this.

This is not to say that Rabbi Bechhofer approved - or didn’t approve - of what he did. The truth is that I don’t really know. But he did approve of the man and his desire to learn - and he accommodated him enthusiastically.

The question is what about Rabbi Eckstein’s work? Is he – as accused - assisting Evangelical missionizing of Jews? I strongly believe that he is not. I base that on my own observations of Evangelicals and on what Rabbi Eckstein has told me privately and said publicly.

I have written in the past what I believe is going on in the world of Evangelical Christians vis-à-vis the Jewish people. Although they believe in end-times prophecy where only ‘believers’ will be saved via ‘the rapture’ and non-believers will suffer the trials and tribulations of Armageddon, this is not what motivates them. They support the Jewish people because they believe in the bible.

Their ‘Old Testament’ (which is our Tanach) teaches them that those who bless the Jewish people will themselves be blessed. Believe it or not, they take that seriously. They follow suit in providing Israel and the Jewish people with tremendous support – both moral and financial. With no quid pro quo. They also see us as similar to themselves in values. Especially those of us who are Orthodox. Those who say that this is all a ruse to get better access to us for missionary purposes are mistaken. They must contend with the views of an intelligent and Ehrliche man who has been working with them for many years. Rabbi Eckstein knows better than anyone what their true motives are. They are not out to missionize us.

This does not mean they don’t think we should convert. Of course they do. They believe their views are Emes. They want their Jewish brothers to ‘see the light’ and be saved too. But that is not what motivates them. It is a simple belief in the bible. That - and a good and generous heart.

What about missionary groups like Jews for Jesus? Yes they exist and are active but they are not mainstream and have nothing to do with the IFCJ.

Unfortunately there are those among us who point to these groups to ‘prove’ that Evangelical motives are all about converting us. But it isn’t true - at least not in the sense that it applies to most Evangelicals. That does not mean we shouldn’t be vigilant. Of course we should. But we should also realize that the vast majority is not like that. We should accept their generosity - given without any strings attached.

Recently, however, Rav Elayshiv has said that it is forbidden to accept funds from Christian donors. He has in the past made similar statements and has given reasons. From an article in the Jerusalem Post:

The document to which (Rav)Elyashiv added his signature, originally drafted in 2002 by the Eda Haredit, gives three reasons for the prohibition against taking money from Christian organizations. First, publicizing that Christians have given to Jewish charities aggrandizes Christianity, which is a form of idolatry according to many rabbinic opinions. Therefore, it is "close to idolatry." Second, it aids missionary activity by making Jews beholden to Christians. Third, there is a prohibition against receiving charity from a non-Jew when it causes a desecration of God's name.

The truth is that none of these things are extant in Rabbi Eckstein’s IFCJ donations. It is my firm belief that Rav Elyashiv has once again been misinformed by Askanim who have mis-characterized the motives of these Evangelicals based on archaic knowledge of missionary activities of the past. I doubt that his Askanim have the slightest idea about what motivates them now. Nor do they have a clue as to what Rabbi Eckstein does. They rely on information supplied by others with their own agendas and with little real knowledge of the present.

It is sad that such an edict has comes out now when the financial need in the Charedi world in Israel is so great. Rabbi Eckstein’s organization has been quietly funding many of these Charedi institutions.

If they want to stop taking his money - it is their choice. But it will be for erroneous reasons. And those whose needs are the greatest are the ones who will be paying the price.

Rabbi Eckstein is going to publicize the list of the many Charedi institutions he quietly funds. It will be interesting to see what happens. It is my belief that the antagonism towards Rabbi Eckstein is motivated by politics as much as anything else. And that Rav Elyashiv is once again being used by those with their own agenda!

Many people do not know that animals were accepted for sacrifice in the Beis HaMikdash from idolaters as long as it was determined that it was not in service of Avodah Zara and that they were offering these sacrifices to God. I can’t say this is an exact parallel - but it would seem to beg the question as to why accepting charity from Christians whose belief system many hold is not even considered idolatry for them - is of greater concern.