Every year Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews raises about $100 million dollars from mostly evangelical Christians in the United States for distribution to social-welfare projects in Israel and the former Soviet Union. This is a staggering sum making the fellowship arguably the largest foundation for Jews in need in the world. One would think that we in the Jewish community would show immense gratefulness to our Christian brothers and sisters for such love. I therefore found it extraordinary, not to mention embarrassing, to hear that there is a growing campaign among elements in the Israeli Rabbinate to discredit the organization and forbid Jewish organizations from benefiting from their funds.
The worst of all character traits in the Jewish religion is to be an ingrate. Denying the goodness that others perform on your behalf leads to a closing of the human heart. Noone wants to be taken for granted. So great is the emphasis on appreciation in our religion that our greatest prophet, Moses, is commanded by G-d not to strike the Nile River and turn it into blood in the first plague against the Egyptians because that same river had saved his life when he was a baby. Later, in plague number three, G-d will again warn Moses against smiting the dust of Egypt and turning it into lice because the dust had saved his life when he had to bury the body of a murderous Egyptian taskmaster.
Imagine that. A man who speaks to G-d face to face is told he must show thanks to water and dust. But such is the extent to which Jewish values demands gratitude.
Over the past two decades evangelical Christians have emerged as Israel’s most staunch and reliable friends. Pastors like John Hagee, my friend Pat Robertson and countless others have galvanized colossal Christian support for Israel. Even in the worst bombings of the second Intifada, when tourism to Israel fell off a cliff, Christians still came in their millions. The same is true of stalwart Christian political support for Israel. While President Obama continues to bully Israel over apartments in Israel’s undivided and eternal capital, Jerusalem, American Christians have a litmus test for their elected leaders. Don’t support Israel? You’re out.
As I write these lines former President George W. Bush is enjoying a public renaissance in America with the publication of his new book, Decision Points. The President who was the best friend Israel ever had in the White House makes clear, at the beginning of his book, how he turned his life over to Jesus to be saved, and there can be no question that there is a direct link between his deep Christian faith and his love and unyielding support for Israel against those who, like Mahmoud Ahmedenijad, seek its annihilation.
I am well aware of our immense differences with the Christian evangelical community. I would venture to say, with no intention at arrogance, that I have conducted more debates against leading Christian scholars and missionaries, like my friend Dr. Michael Brown, on the Messiahship of Jesus and the evangelical insistence that only Christians go to heaven, than any other American Rabbi over the past decade, most of which are available on YouTube. Jesus was a devout and observant Jew for every day of his life on earth. He ate kosher, honored the Sabbath, donned tefillin, insisted on the indivisible unity of G-d, and fought for the independence of the Jewish nation against brutal oppression of Rome, beliefs for which he was ultimately crucified. It would behoove our Christian brothers and sisters to conclude that they have much more to learn about the authentic historical Jesus from Jews than any misguided attempts at converting them. Indeed, not only must these attempts be emphatically resisted by the Jewish community with overwhelming scholarship, but precisely the opposite is true. Christians must learn from the Jews to reject any deification of Jesus, which he, as a Pharisee, would have seen as the ultimate sacrilege and which is the subject of my upcoming book on the Jewish Jesus. They must follow Jesus as teacher and prophet rather than divinity. Every human being is a child of G-d, and not just Jesus, as the Bible makes clear in Deuteronomy.
But whatever our theological differences with our evangelical brothers, none of this negates the unparalleled kindness and friendship they show Jews and the Jewish community. To say they do this merely to convert us, or because gathering Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse, is to perpetrate a sacrilegious act of character assassination. Christians support Israel out of deep love and brotherhood. And it’s an act of defamation that even some Christian leaders are guilty of. I was disheartened, in a recent visit to a mega-church in North Carolina, to hear a renowned Christian scholar tell me that the only reason American evangelicals send money to Israel is because they mistakenly believe that the money is being used to proselytize Jews. Bullocks. I meet these evangelicals all the time. I have travelled with great men like Glen Megill of Rock of Africa on Christian relief missions to Zimbabwe, the poorest country on earth, and have listened as they have told me that their first commandment as Christians is to love and protect the Jewish people for no other reason other than G-d commanded it.
The man more responsible than anyone else for building this bridge between Christians and Jews is Rabbi Eckstein, a man whose efforts, with Christian support, feeds thousands of hungry Jewish children and Jewish elderly every day in Israel and abroad.
Israel is a nation that dwells alone, with few friends and many prejudiced enemies. Rather than Rabbis and lay leaders attacking Christians as having nefarious motives for their charity, we should offer thanks and gratitude to hard-working Americans of faith who believe, as the Bible says, that through Israel all the earth is blessed.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach heads This World: The Values Network, which seeks to heal America through universal Jewish values. An international best-selling author of 24 books, his most recent work is “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.