Seder rehearsal sponsored by JA, IFCJ
Seder rehearsal sponsored by JA, IFCJIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The Binyamin Region Rabbinical Council on Thursday issued a ruling against accepting funds from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) for a summer program that the Education Ministry is sponsoring. The program is called “A Summer of Friendship,” and, said the rabbis, “after extensive examinations and consultation with rabbis – and in the wake of comments on this matter by Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Tzefania Drori, and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, leaders of the Religious Zionist community – we have come to the conclusion that it is forbidden to take part in this program. Communities must not accept budget money from this program.”

Quoting a Talmudic saying, the rabbis wrote “we do not seek their honey, and we do not seek their bee sting,” a simile to the problems that could emerge, along with the supposed benefits.

The rabbis stress that the issue is not the fact that most of the Fellowship's money comes from Christians, but because the organization takes a strong policy interest in how its money is spent. “We should be accepting money from church organizations,” as opposed to individual donations, the rabbis said, but “we are concerned over the increasing involvement of these groups in the educational content they are funding.” Jewish education, they declared, must remain independent, and as such communities must not accept funds from the Fellowship.

The ban includes not just funds that are given directly by the Fellowship, but also funds that the group is donating to the Education Ministry for the summer program. Programs for third graders and above that are fully funded by the Fellowship's money must be cancelled altogether; for programs in younger grades, schools must reject the portion of the budget coming from the Fellowship, that together with Education Ministry money is funding the programs.

“Those who refuse these monies will merit the blessings of Heaven, and about them will be said that they are 'courageous to do the work of G-d,'” the rabbis said. “We call on all those involved in the matter to speak out on this and emphasize the danger of accepting funds from this group to the Education Ministry and to schools throughout the country.”

In 2009, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv z"tl, one of the top Torah authorities in the haredi-religious world, ruled that the public may not take money from the group. Groups that take money from the fund are flouting the Torah's prohibition of idolatry, Rabbi Elyashiv said, and they even aid future missionary activities and grant them legitimacy. “We regret to say that we have learned that several institutions, organizations and charity groups have made mistakes of this nature,” he added. Taking money from this fund is an “unclean” act, the elderly rabbi said. Other rabbis who made similar decisions include R. Samuel Auerbach, R Nissim Kerlitz, R. Ovadia Yosef, R. Mordechai Eliyahu and others, he said. 

The IFCJ is directed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, an Orthodox rabbi, who has called the allegations that the group is primarily interested in converting Jews to Christianity as "nonsense." Other Orthodox groups, including Chabad, have accepted money from the group for humanitarian and educational projects, with no ill effects.