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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein's Narrow "Bridge," A Book Review

As I read Zev Chafets' fascinating biography of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, I kept on thinking of various titles to call the review I was to write, like "The Fine Line" or "Tightrope," but in the end played with the book's title, The Bridge Builder.

First of all I must say that Zev Chafets did a great job writing this book. My gut feeling all along, and before reading it, was not to like Eckstein. Even though I know a number of people who do a bit of what Eckstein does, and my husband and I have had dealings with Christian zionists for decades, I'm more negative than ambivalent about the dependence Israel and Jewish social/financial/charity funding has on Christian, especially evangelical money. I must admit that decades ago, many times I had hosted groups of Christians in my home and led them on tours of Tel Shiloh and very happily accepted their monetary thanks. But as time went on I became more and more uncomfortable with the close relations that were being established. Was this all one big, rich Trojan horse? Were they really out to buy our souls?

Apparently Eckstein, too, in the beginning felt that your ordinary Jew could not be expected to know how to counter the theology problem. It's one thing for Jews to accept the money, but there could be theological influences when getting too close to enthusiastic Christians. Too many Jews are too ignorant of Judaism to understand the nuances and protect their Jewish religious identity.

Eckstein confided a lot to Chafets, who wrote of Eckstein's difficult relationship with a cold, critical father. Eckstein found more warmth and acceptance in the Christian and especially evangelical leadership, though he keeps on insisting that he has always remained an Orthodox Jew, praying to Gd, keeping Shabbat and Kashrut.

Eckstein's close relations with Christians, also, caused the Kollel, Torah Study Center, which he had been attending to question his allegiance to Judaism, causing him great emotional and spiritual pain. This was before his stupendous financial fundraising success.

And all along, there have been Jewish groups that while being grateful for the money would refuse to allow it to be revealed that Eckstein's Christian donors were the source. When Eckstein made having a proper sign as recognition, some groups refused the money.  But many more accept and request more and more funds.  The numbers, the millions of dollars donated to Jews all over the world (and also Arabs in Israel) by Eckstein's various funds/organizations stagger the imagination.

Money speaks making Eckstein a very powerful man. He is not the only Jew raising money for Jewish, especially Israeli causes from Christians. Eckstein is the best connected with powerful evangelicals and media personalities.

Zev Chafets makes Yechiel Eckstein into a very likeable person and admits that if he was to have a rabbi, then Eckstein would be the one. There's no claim of objectivity from the author. Yechiel Eckstein is a success story. I know of so many people who tried to make a success at fundraising. Some did well, but nobody reached the volume that Eckstein did, even those who also targeted similar Christians and evangelicals. If you want to know more, then read the book.


Anonymous said...

According to all the gedolei hador through the centuries and millenia, they have always prohibited these types of associations and affiliations. When you read or learn of those who are 'in bed', so to speak, (too comfortable) with them, it's important to question their loyalty to Torah & Hashem. Money usually comes into play; and proves in every way how wise our holy Sages of years ago were.

Batya Medad said...