Celebrating a controversial rabbi’s life.
The problems with writing an authorized biography are glaringly evident in this life of Eckstein. Chafets (Roger Ailes: Off Camera, 2013, etc.) is forthcoming about his relationship to both his subject and this book. His advance was partly underwritten by the International Federation of Christians and Jews, an organization Eckstein founded and heads; and his royalties will go to that organization. Eckstein was the author’s major source, but, adds Chafets, “that is not the same as saying that this is an ‘as-told-to’ book,” noting that when Eckstein vetted the manuscript, he asked for only one change: the removal of “an unflattering remark he made about a relative.” Nevertheless, the book reads like an as-told-to biography, with Eckstein’s point of view and opinions dominating the narrative and with no attempt by Chafets to contextualize or analyze the man he so greatly admires. In the 1970s, Eckstein took a position with the Anti-Defamation League in Chicago, where he discovered, to his great surprise, that evangelical Christians harbored “unconditional love for God, Israel, and the Jewish people.” Like Eckstein, they believed that the “creation of a Jewish state in Israel (and its defense by the United States) was a sign of God acting in history and fulfilling biblical prophecy.” Eckstein immediately saw an opportunity for bridge building and, most crucially, fundraising. Supported by Pat Robertson, Jimmy Falwell, Pat Boone, and Billy Graham, Eckstein rose to prominence on televangelist programs and speaking tours. He founded the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which eventually became the IFCJ, funneling major contributions to Jewish and Israeli causes. The author portrays Eckstein’s many critics (including his first wife) as narrow-minded, and he echoes Eckstein’s views about Israeli politics and Christian Zionists.
In 2001, Eckstein self-published a fictionalized autobiography; here, Chafets furthers the rabbi’s efforts to publicize and burnish his image.