Zionism may mask conversion efforts


The Tribune/September 22, 1984
By Ed Taylor

Jews should be careful about entering into a close dialogue with fundamentalist and evangelical Christian groups that are trying to use support of Zionism as a cover for proselytizing activities, says a Phoenix Jewish leader.

Richard Ross, a member of the national Committee for Cult and Missionary Activities of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, specifically questioned the work of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of Chicago, who has written several books on Jewish-Gentile relations and engages in conversations with such leaders of the fundamentalist right as the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Eckstein spoke this week in Tempe during a visit sponsored be the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.

In an interview with The Tribune, Ross said he is deeply skeptical of the motives of Christian fundamentalists, who he believes are manipulating the Jewish community for their own ends.

"They are involved in Zionism for purely self-interpretation of the Book of Revelation," Ross said. "They see Israel as playing a pivotal position in the end of the world as we know it. This should be of concern to Jews, because such fundamentalists support a violent, volatile situation in the Middle East Peaceful reconciliation between Arabs and Jews would contradict their dark prophesies."

According to the fundamentalists interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the second coming of Christ is predicted upon the establishment of the state of Israel and the rebuilding of the ancient temple by the Jews on the Temple Mount on Jerusalem, he said.

As a result, many American-based fundamentalists and evangelical organizations are promoting the rebuilding of the temple and are even raising funds for the project, he said.

However, the site is occupied be the Dome of the Rock, a holy place in the Moslem religion, and any effort to tear it down and rebuild a Jewish temple on the site would create a furor in the Middle East, he said.

"We should recognize the fact that our goals and their goals for Israel and the Middle East differ sharply," Ross said, "There are few people in Israel who are foolish enough to think that abrogation of the Moslem holy site for the purpose of the reconstruction of the temple is a good idea. It is a volatile issue fraught with serious issues. That is why we must scrutinize the goals of the fundamentalists and evangelicals carefully."

Ross believes that fundamentalist Christians are using their support of Zionist goals to further the process of converting Jews to their beliefs.

"The Jewish community is highly concerned with the anti-Semitic implications of singling out Jews for special conversionary consideration," he said. "There is something that becomes an obvious contradiction when one embraces Zionism an thus makes overtures of friendship to the Jewish community and simultaneously is involved in proselytizing."

Ross cited Falwell and Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Broadcasting Network, as tow fundamentalists who are trying to convert Jews under the cover of supporting Zionism.

He said the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the North Phoenix Corporate Ministry are organizations that promote "positive reconciliation" between Jews and Gentiles.

"They do not involve themselves in conversionary efforts," he said. "They are based on mutual acceptance, respect and tolerance. Without that premise, what can be the positive results of Rabbi Eckstein's dialogue?"

In domestic issues, the social positions of fundamentalist Christians and the Jewish community also are sharply different, Ross said.

"Their agenda includes prayer in public school and equal access for religious groups at high school campuses, which are code words for proselytizing. The majority of the Jewish community will not endorse their social agenda or their theological positions."

The insistence of fundamentalist leaders on blurring the separation between church and state and using political forums to advance their religious priorities are viewed negatively by most Jews, Ross said.

Ross believes that Jewish resistance to fundamentalist proselytizing has been weakened by their support for Zionism.

"There are many Jews who are afraid to react to proselytizing in lieu of losing fundamentalist support for Israel," he said. "Such Jews should broaden their perspectives. The Jewish community will have to respond to all forms of proselytizing and its anti-Semitic implications."

Also of concern to Ross are groups such as Jews for Jesus that attempt to transform the Jewish identity.

"I would liken this to a group calling itself Baptists for Buddha or Mormons for Muhammad," he said. "Likewise Jews for Jesus is referentially incoherent. One can't embrace two different systems simultaneously."

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