Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally, Oct 22, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Pence faces backlash after appearing alongside a ‘Messianic rabbi’

A gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, killing 11 people in the deadliest attack on American Jews in the history of the United States. It’s against this backdrop that Vice President Mike Pence thought it’d be appropriate to appear alongside a rabbi at a campaign rally in Michigan yesterday.

And while that may sound like a nice gesture in theory, the trouble is what happened in practice: Pence stood with a “Messianic rabbi” who invoked Jesus during his prayer.

Messianic Judaism, which believes that Jesus is the messiah and considers the New Testament to be authentic, is not recognized as Jewish by any mainstream Jewish movement in the United States, or by the Chief Rabbinate, the supreme spiritual authority for Judaism in Israel.

Pence, who has often proclaimed himself to be a born-again evangelical Christian, invited Rabbi Loren Jacobs to the stage at a rally in Waterford Township, a suburb of Detroit, for Lena Epstein, a Republican candidate for the open congressional seat in Michigan’s 11th District.

Jacobs, not surprisingly for the head of a Messianic congregation, opened his comments by invoking “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God and father of my lord and savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, and my God and father, too.”

There’s a certain awkwardness in trying to summarize complex theological matters, but I think I can safely say that a fundamental difference between Jews and Christians is over the divinity of Jesus. Not to put too fine a point on this, but those who see Jesus as the messiah are generally identified as “Christians.”

Messianic Jews – sometimes referred to as “Jews for Jesus” – don’t quite see it that way. They describe themselves as Jewish, while at the same time embracing the central tenet of Christianity, which naturally leads others in the Jewish community to see them as being something other than Jews.

With this in mind, it hardly came as a surprise when many saw Mike Pence’s event yesterday as profoundly insulting. Just two days after horrific anti-Semitic violence, the far-right vice president stood alongside a purported rabbi whom most Jews would consider something altogether different from an actual rabbi.

Indeed, the vice president was in Michigan, where there are plenty of synagogues. Event organizers could’ve welcomed any number of Jewish leaders who wouldn’t have offended the community.

They didn’t.

Postscript: NBC News’ report added, “Jacobs graduated in 1979 from the Jewish studies program at Moody Bible Institute, a leading Christian college in Chicago.”

Again, in case this isn’t obvious, for the overwhelming majority of Jewish people, real rabbis don’t graduate from the Moody Bible Institute.