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By Alex Johnson
Vice President Mike Pence was roundly criticized on Monday for appearing at a campaign rally in Michigan at which a Messianic rabbi invoked Jesus in mourning the deaths of 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
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, the founder and senior rabbi of Congregation Shema Yisrael in nearby Bloomfield Hills, opened 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.”
(“Yeshua” – derived from a Greek spelling that eventually became “Jesus” in English – is the name by which many Messianic Jews refer to Jesus. You can watch C-SPAN’s video of Jacobs’ prayer here.)
Shema Yisrael is a Messianic synagogue – one that recognizes the New Testament as authoritative scripture and believes that Jesus is the Messiah.
Messianic Judaism is strongly rejected by most mainstream Jewish movements, and it is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, the supreme spiritual authority for Judaism in Israel.
Perhaps its most visible manifestation in the United States is the organization Jews for Jesus, which was founded in 1970 and declares that “Jesus the Messiah was eternally pre-existent and co-equal with God the Father.” Jacobs has contributed a number of columns to the Jews for Jesus publication Issues.
Many people excoriated. Pence for what they said was insensitivity, at best, toward Judaism and, at worst, a deliberate offense. Several characterized Jacobs as a “fake rabbi” and a “Christian rabbi.”
Epstein defended the vice president on Monday night, saying in a statement that it was she who invited Jacobs to “The event, not Pence,” because we must unite as a nation. “
” Any media or political competitor who is attacking me or the Vice President is guilty of nothing short of religious intolerance and should be ashamed, “she said.
Pence’s deputy chief of staff, Jarrod Agen, told NBC News that Pence heard Jacobs give a prayer at the beginning of the event and invited him back to the stage so the entire audience could hear him.
“We often have Ecumenical prayers at the beginning of events that are not an endorsement of any particular faith, “Agen said.
Jacobs could not be reached for comment Monday night. Congregation Shema Yisrael did not answer a call seeking comment.
Jacobs graduated in 1979 from the Jewish studies program at Moody Bible Institute, a leading Christian college in Chicago, and was ordained as a rabbi at the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, an association of about 75 Messianic Jewish congregations with headquarters based in Boca Raton, Florida.
In a first person essay for Jewish Testimonies, a Messianic Jewish website, Jacobs wrote that “in coming to know the Messiah, I discovered a dimension of Jewish spirituality that I never dreamed possible! “
Elyse Perlmutter-Gumbiner contributed.