In Michigan today, Vice President Pence held a rally for congressional candidates Mike Bishop and Lena Epstein. In tow, he brought a rabbi to offer a benediction and prayer of mourning for the eleven Jews killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Only it wasn’t a rabbi, or at least not one who would be recognized as such by American Jews. Rabbi Loren Jacobs is a “Messianic Jew”, better known as ‘Jews for Jesus’. If this isn’t something you’re familiar with these are Jews by ancestry who maintain the trappings of Judaism and some of the ritual law while accepting Jesus as the Messiah and the entirety of Christian theology. They make up an incalculably small number of American Jews and are largely supported, subsidizedand advanced by evangelical groups hoping to convert Jews to Christianity.
People can believe anything they want of course. These “messianic” congregations have the same freedom of religion and belief as the rest of us. But for reasons that are difficult to quite capture outside Jewish religious and cultural experience, most Jews see the existence of these groups as a profound offense and an attack on Judaism itself.
Jews have been persecuted for almost two millennia for refusing to accept Christianity as the rightful successor to Judaism. The best way to capture the raw feelings many Jews feel about this is that it is an attempt to destroy or extinguish Judaism from within. Jews have been converting to Christianity individually for two thousand years. When they do, they become Christians. ‘Messianic Judaism’ is less an attempt to convert Jews as it is to convert Judaism itself by creating a faux Judaism – Christianity in a yarmulke – which masquerades as the real thing.
That point is largely an internal matter for Jews. The beliefs of Jews shouldn’t and don’t prevent these people from believing and acting as they wish. But in the wake of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history, this is a tremendous slap in the face to the entire Jewish community in the United States.
Pence, for his part, is passing it off on candidate Epstein, saying she invited Jacobs and he didn’t know anything about it. Epstein said she invited Jacobs “because we must unite as a nation — while embracing our religious differences — in the aftermath of Pennsylvania.” Anyone criticizing the decision is “guilty of nothing short of religious intolerance.”
From what I can tell, Epstein appears to belong to a Reform congregation in Bloomfield. So it’s not clear why she would invite this guy.
There may be more to this story.