Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey

The story about the ‘rabbi’ Pence appeared with gets a little worse

I didn’t really intend to return to the controversy over the “Messianic rabbi” who appeared alongside Vice President Mike Pence this week, but NBC News reported on some additional details that seemed worthy of note.

The “Messianic rabbi” who outraged many Jews by invoking the name of Jesus while delivering a prayer in memory of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre victims was also spurned Tuesday by the organization that ordained him.

Loren Jacobs, who was invited onstage by Vice President Mike Pence to speak at a rally in Michigan for a GOP congressional candidate, was defrocked 15 years ago, according to a spokeswoman for the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.

“Loren Jacobs was stripped of his rabbinic ordination by the UMJC in 2003, after our judicial board found him guilty of libel,” Monique Brumbach said in an email.

As part of the same report, Rabbi Marla Hornsten, past president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, told NBC News, “We don’t even recognize him as a rabbi. Even to call him a rabbi is offensive.”

In other words, the overwhelming majority of Jews, here and around the world, wouldn’t consider Loren Jacobs to be an actual rabbi – or even Jewish – and his own small Messianic Jewish movement doesn’t consider him a rabbi, either.

And yet, there was Mike Pence, standing alongside Jacobs, with head bowed during a “rabbinical” prayer that ended up insulting many Jewish people.

If you missed yesterday’s post on this, Jacobs appeared at a campaign rally in Michigan, where he invoked “Jesus the Messiah” during his prayer – which probably should’ve been the first sign of trouble.

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 this week 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 – and whom we now know was also rejected by the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.

NBC News’ latest report on this added that Loren Jacobs was invited to the event by Lena Epstein, a Republican congressional candidate this year, and a longtime member of a Detroit-area synagogue. “Mainstream Jewish leaders and experts on the faith said they could not fathom” why Epstein extended the invitation to a man they see as essentially a fake rabbi.

Mike Pence and Religion

The story about the 'rabbi' Pence appeared with gets a little worse