Shalom from Tel Aviv!
Lately the press has featured a number of articles discussing the growing interaction between Evangelical Christians with Orthodox and secular Jews. The subject is a hot item because Evangelicals are currently donating large sums of money to Jewish causes.
Last year, Evangelicals gave over $5,000,000 to the United Jewish Appeal through the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organization founded by Orthodox RabbiYechiel Eckstein. The funds that Eckstein turned over to the United Jewish Appeal are double the amount Christians gave the year before. (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 13, 1998)
Rabbi Eckstein claims that the $5,000,000 was the single largest donation to the UJA in 1997, and the Jewish Agency which administrates the fund is not denying it. Besides that, Evangelicals are supporting Eckstein's various other projects adding up to many millions of dollars.
90,000 CHRISTIANS ARE DONATING TO RABBI ECKSTEIN
"Using extensive TV and radio spots throughout the US, particularly in Bible Belt communities, Eckstein's group has garnered some 90,000 Christian supporters, a budget of $13-$14 million, and an office in Washington, where he regularly delivers opening prayers at sessions of Congress." (Ibid.)
Eckstein's latest program, called Isaiah 58, is being run in conjunction with the Agency's Joint Distribution Committee which helps to feed elderly Jews who have decided to stay in the former Soviet Union. Eckstein raised over $600,000 in just six weeks. His organization's "Wings of Eagles" program has brought hundreds of Soviet Jews to Israel through contributions that pour in from churches and individuals.
Rabbi Eckstein's organization is only one of many avenues by which Evangelicals give large gifts to the State of Israel. It is not uncommon to hear of contributions for hospitals, forests, and even Orthodox institutions. These gifts range from thousands, hundreds of thousands, to even amillion dollars from a single church or Christian organization.
I WILL BLESS THOSE WHO BLESS YOU
Many of these Christians donate funds to Jewish causes because they are firm believers in Genesis 12:3, where God promises Abraham that He will bless those who bless the Jewish people.
"They take that very seriously," Eckstein says. "Most of them feel called to be a blessing to Israel and the Jewish people, period. Some believe that the former Soviet Union is going to close down, and that there is a window of opportunity to get Jews out before anti-Semitism rises there."
UJA Executive Director Bernie Moscovitz expresses gratitude for the massive financial support Christians are giving. "I know that the fundamentalist community cares enormously about Israel. They care about it from the standpoint of the prophecy they believe. Therefore--so I've been told by Christians to whom we've talked--they want to do everything they can to bring the Jews back to Israel." (Ibid.)
However, there are Jewish leaders who feel that "some Evangelicals' efforts to target Jews for proselytization taints all contributions by Evangelicals." In fact, the Jewish Agency has never even officially invited Eckstein to meet with their leadership, even though they receive vast sums from his organization. The problem is that the money is coming from devout Christians.
A senior agency official said that Jewish Agency Chairman Avraham Burg, considered a liberal Orthodox Israeli, does not plan to deal with groups whose fundamentalist agenda contradicts his world view. "Some people," says Eckstein "will take the money, but since it's coming from goyim (Gentiles) they don't want it known." (Ibid.)
TRYING TO CHANGE JEWISH PREJUDICES
Eckstein says he is not out just to help Russian Jewish immigrants, but wants to provide Christians with a tangible way to demonstrate their commitment and solidarity with Israel and their prejudices about Christians. To have them know that there are Christians doing these kinds of things without ulterior motives."
Although Eckstein has been able to persuade Evangelicals to donate millions of dollars, he emphatically explains that he has dodged attempts to get him to work with pro-Israeli Christians who are involved in missionary activities. He says that his guide is "cooperate wherever possible, oppose wherever necessary, and teach and sensitize at all times."
He claims "it's prejudice to try to say that all Christians, or all Evangelical Christians, are just out to convert us, that the only reason they are giving. . .is to bring Jesus in through the back door." (Ibid.)
"A BELLYFULL OF TALMUD LETS YOU WORK WITH OTHERS"
"I would say most of them probably believe that somehow God will unfold things and that eventually all people will believe in Jesus." "But," stresses Eckstein, "I have made a distinction in my life and work between those who believe that will happen, and those who actively try to bring it about." He explains that the reason he can work comfortably with Evangelicals is because he is so secure in his Orthodox faith. "Once your belly is full of the Talmud, you can work with other faiths," he said.
There are some Jewish organizations which oppose conservative Christians giving to Jewish causes under any circumstance. In an article titled "A Holy or Unholy Alliance?", the Jerusalem Post quotes Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith, saying that it is a gimmick of the Christians to be able to say, "Look, we have Jews who like us." In 1994, the ADL issued a highly critical report calling the Christian right "exclusionist" and a threat to American democracy."(Ibid.)
EVANGELICALS, MESSIANIC JEWS AND OTHER JEWS
Most worrying to non-Messianic Jews are the Messianic Jews. They cannot tolerate the thought that Jews who believe in Yeshua are still Jewish. And when they see Evangelicals and Messianic Jews working together in any form (such as with Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice), there is a knee-jerk reaction.
It must be remembered that part of the reaction stems from the fact that in countries where there was fierce persecution of the Jews (for example, during the Spanish Inquisition), Jews who had converted to Catholicism or other historic churches were among the strongest antagonists of the Jewish people. Today, a Jewish person who does not have a personal relationship with God finds it hard to differentiate between born-again Christians and pious Christians who may be very sincerely religious, but have not had their natures changed by the miracle of the new birth.
The Jewish people have suffered horribly under the direct attack of the historic church in western countries for nineteen centuries, and they are unable to see how this could pern1anently change. Therefore there is always a deep fear of Christians and Christianity that resurfaces at the slightest sign of united Christian activity--especially if it relates to the Jewish people.
This in no way justifies the prejudice of Jewish people, but it does make some of the spiritual blindness understandable. In fact, the Jewish people have been so wounded by fanatical religious Christians that they are rarely able to discern who their true friends are. They have trusted in some of the liberal strains of Christianity that are now dropping their support.(Ibid.) At the same time they are suspicious of Evangelicals who are, in our estimation, the closest friends that Israel and the Jewish people have today.
SOME CHRISTIANS DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM MESSIANIC JEWS
Wanting to prove their friendship to their Jewish friends, and knowing of the aversion that most Jews have to Messianic Jews, some Christians choose to distance themselves from any kind of association or financial backing of Jewish ministry in Israel or elsewhere. Most of the 100 or so fellowships in Israel are dirt-poor, to put it mildly.
A Jewish evangelist visited us not long ago. After seeing our congregation and the potential here, he exclaimed, "Man! What an influx of funds would do to the Messianic landscape in Israel!" Potential is everywhere, but the funds are not.
It is good to bless Israel by giving to various worthy projects. But our Jewish people must be given the opportunity to hear the proclamation to turn back from their sins, and see what the Bible says concerning reconciliation with God. When the work of God is stymied by a lack of funds because some Christians are afraid that in supporting Messianic Jews they will anger Jewish religious leaders, who will bring them salvation? How will Israel have a chance?
How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?
And how shall they hear without a preacher?
And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
"How BEAUTIFUL are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!" Rom. 10:14-15, Isa. 52:7
WHERE ARE CHRISTIAN FUNDS GOING?
Furthermore, most Christians are not aware that a very high percentage of the funds they donate to Israeli causes (not, of course, including the Messianic Jews) goes to the Orthodox sector of Israel. About 20-25% of Israel's 4.7 million Jews consider themselves ultra-Orthodox. (The number is increasing.) This section of the population receives far more government aid and benefits than any other sector of Israeli society. We have never seen a media article attempt to spell out just exactly what the Orthodox do receive because it is literally impossible to compute.
The Orthodox are politically very powerful because they have made an art of selling themselves to the political party that will give them the most. And usually the Orthodox political parties, though relatively small, have enough votes to make or break a ruling coalition in Israel. Therefore, they receive funds from virtually every government agency in power on both the national and municipal levels.
Consider this: 60% of Ultra-Orthodox Israeli men do not work. 40% work full time or part time. 51% of the average Orthodox family's income comes from public support. Where does this money come from? (Ibid., Jan. 8, 1998)
Essentially three places:
1. Taxes paid by the rest of Israel's non-Orthodox citizens;
2. Foreign aid by the US and other western countries earmarked for Israel;
3. Donations by western Jews and now from a growing number of Christians.
A NEW PROPOSAL PENDING TO OUTLAW SHARING THE MESSAGE OF SALVATION IN ISRAEL
What Christians need to know is that a good part of their donations are going to finance the Ultra-Orthodox Jews, the very ones who are at this moment trying to outlaw all expressions of the Messianic Jewish movement in Israel.
Look at this report!(Adapted from the Messianic Action Committee (MAC) Report, Jan 16, 1997)
On December 10, 1997, Knesset Member Raphael Pinchasi proposed to the Plenum that it consider presenting a bill which would forbid all forms of proselytizing in Israel, as well as conversion from any Faith to another. The subject was referred for further consideration to the powerful Committee for Internal Affairs, which met on January 13. They announced that they look favorably upon such a bill. The sum of the deliberations of this last meeting is a bombshell.
1) Freedom to convert from Judaism is a threat to the Jewishness of the State. The majority of the Committee members present also agree that "freedom of religion" means that all religions are free, not religious persons. Religions should be free from challenge and should not have to defend their positions. Individuals should not be free to change their religion, and all conversions should be forbidden (even though Messianic Jews in no way consider accepting Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah as constituting conversion to another faith.)
2) All persons who believe that Yeshua is the Messiah and share their faith with anyone are "rotten missionaries". Restrictions must be imposed on their freedom to present their message. The existing law which forbids the offering of social and material benefits in exchange for a conversion of religion is insufficient. Many of the Committee members present agreed that freedom to share belief in Yeshua as Messiah must be outlawed.
3) The Committee will ask the Attorney General to advise it in the course of its next meeting on the subject, as to which steps it should take to achieve passage of the bill.
In other words, the Knesset is now being asked to push Israel back into the darkest of the Middle Ages, where today only nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia are to be found, and where men and women are to be jailed for conscience' sake because they dared brave the rancor of Israel's controlling religious and political powers. If such a bill--or anything even remotely similar to it-- is allowed to become law, Israel will lose its right to describe itself as a democracy, and will push believers underground or imprison them.
Israeli politicians are convinced that the pro-Israel and Evangelical community will accept such a step with open-mindedness, even if there is an initial protest. They are further convinced that the world will understand such an act of "self defense" and quickly learn to accept it.