On Saturday morning, the Jewish community in the city of Pittsburgh was rocked by a lone gunman who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue during a Shabbat service. Eleven people were killed in the shooting, and another nine, including four police officers who responded to the scene, were injured.
While most people have responded with shock at the tragic events, showing comfort and support to the families and the surviving congregants, the response from Washington has been somewhat lukewarm. Perhaps most contentious of the reactions from the nation’s capital has been from Vice President Mike Pence.
As reported by GQ, Pence stepped out on Monday at a campaign rally for Lena Epstein, who hopes to win a congressional seat in Michigan when the midterms roll around next week. While speaking at the rally, he invited Rabbi Loren Jacobs onto the stage to mark the deaths of the 11 congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue two days prior.
Unfortunately for Pence, Jacobs invoked Jesus in his opening prayer, and Jews typically don’t believe that Jesus is the prophet they were waiting for. In fact, the belief in Christ is literally the defining distinction between Judaism and Christianity. Members of the community who watched the rally were shocked and outraged by his involvement.
You see, they need to placate Jews and allies who support them without alienating their white nationalist base.— Rafael Shimunov ???? (@rafaelshimunov) October 30, 2018
When Trump first spoke about the synagogue attack, he opened with a joke about how he almost cancelled cause his hair got wet. Then tweeted all night about baseball.
Turns out, Jacobs is a “Messianic Jew,” a sect that believes in Jesus Christ and that he is the savior. To add to that, he was also stripped of his ordination by the sect 15 years ago, according to NBC News.
Epstein praised Jacobs’ appearance at the rally as a sign of unity. The Jewish community, of which she is a part, does not agree with her.
Jason Miller, a conservative rabbi in Detroit, spoke out about the decision to invite Jacobs, of all people, to offer the prayer, per the Daily Beast.
“The Jewish community is offended. Period. They’re allowing their political beliefs to trump their religious sensitivity. Had Lena Epstein or Pence invited half a dozen religious leaders to deliver words of prayer that would have been acceptable and appropriate. The only religious leader present last night was a Christian leader who calls himself a Messianic Jew.”
David Kurzmann, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, added that his organization has been receiving “non-stop calls from people who are deeply offended.”
“He is not a rabbi and to pass him off as one is deeply hurtful. This whole religion is based off converting Jewish people to a morphed Christianity. You can’t ignore the timing here.”
Messianic Judaism is not recognized by any of the mainstream Jewish movements in the United States and, because of their belief in the New Testament and Christ, are widely considered to be a branch of the Christian church.