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Did Mike Pence Ask a ‘Fake Rabbi’ to Pray for the Synagogue Victims?

The Stream, Michael Brown, October 31, 2018

Did Vice President Pence make a serious error in judgment by asking a Messianic Jewish rabbi to pray for the victims of the synagogue massacre at a Detroit political rally? Did he pour salt in the wounds of an already-traumatized community?

Headlines across the nation answered with a resounding Yes.

  • “Mike Pence Is Under Fire for Appearing with a Fake Rabbi to Commemorate the Pittsburgh Shooting” (GQ)

  • “Mike Pence Causes Outrage With ‘Christian Rabbi’ (ATT)

  • “Pence sets off firestorm with campaign prayer by ‘Christian rabbi’” (NBC)

  • “Honoring Pittsburgh synagogue victims, Pence appears with ‘rabbi’ who preaches ‘Jesus is the Messiah’” (Washington Post)

  • “Rabbi With ‘Jews for Jesus’ Gives Prayer at Pence Rally, Causing Backlash” (New York Times)

  • “Outrage as Pence brings out Messianic ‘rabbi’ to pray for synagogue victims” (Times of Israel)

To sort this out, let’s meet the main players in the latest (certainly unintended) drama involving the Trump administration and the tragic synagogue shooting.

The Main Players

We all know Mike Pence, a committed and unashamed evangelical Christian.

Then, there’s Lena Epstein, a Reform (= liberal) Jew and a Republican candidate in Michigan.

Then there is the rabbi (or do we say “rabbi”?), Loren Jacobs, leader of the Messianic Jewish Congregation Shema Yisrael.

It turns out that Epstein had invited Jacobs to offer a prayer earlier in the rally, part of her desire to be ecumenical in her outreach.

Pence, for his part, heard Jacobs pray and asked him to come out later in the night and offer a prayer for the families of the Pittsburgh massacre.

And Jacobs, for his part, prayed openly in “Yeshua’s name” – also invoking “Jesus the Messiah.” (Yeshua is the original, Hebrew pronunciation of the name Jesus. It is widely used by Messianic Jews, who often refer to him by his Hebrew name.)

Finally, there is the wider Jewish community, which expressed surprise, disappointment, and outrage over the choice to have Jacobs pray. In their eyes, while he may still be Jewish (some would dispute that), he does not practice Judaism and he is not a valid rabbi. And as a Messianic Jew, he also believes that Jews need Jesus to be “saved.” Why on earth choose him to lead a prayer for the Jewish community?

As a Messianic Jew myself, I think I can offer some helpful insights.

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