WASHINGTON – American Jews, in shock over the massacre of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, voiced outrage Tuesday after Vice President Mike Pence hosted an election event with a “Christian rabbi.”
Pence took part late Monday in a campaign rally for Lena Epstein, a Jewish Republican running for the House of Representatives, in suburban Detroit.
At the rally Loren Jacobs, who uses the title “rabbi” but espouses Christianity, was invited to speak on behalf of the area’s Jewish community.
Instead of opening up with prayers for the 11 Jews shot dead Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue, Jacobs praised Jesus Christ and then offered prayers for four Republican candidates.
“I pray that you will enable Vice President Pence to fulfill his many and important responsibilities with excellence,” he added.
At the end of the rally, Pence, a devout Christian and hero of evangelicals, invited Jacobs back to say a prayer for the victims as “a leader of the Jewish community here in Michigan.”
Jacobs then offered words for the dead in the form of a prayer to Jesus Christ, without naming any of them.
Jews expressed outrage over social media, noting Jacobs appearance came just days after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue by a man who later told police “I just want to kill Jews.”
The attack was believed to be the deadliest anti-Semitic act of violence in recent U.S. history.
“Messianic ‘Judaism’ is a branch of Christianity & offensive to the Jewish community. Lena Epstein knew this & so did Pence & his team. This wasn’t ecumenical; it was an insulting political stunt,” said Jason Miller, a Detroit rabbi, noting that there are more than 60 official rabbis in Michigan.
The “Messianic Judaism” movement promotes the conversion of Jews to Christianity. One group in the movement goes by the title “Jews for Jesus.”
The movement has the strong support of evangelical Christians, a cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s and Republicans’ voter base.
Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, is a senior figure in the Messianic Jew movement.
Criticizing Jacobs’ involvement in the rally, Danya Ruttenberg, a prominent young rabbi, blasted Pence as a “Christian supremacist.”
“Stop pretending and appropriating my people,” she wrote online.
The White House said Epstein was responsible for inviting Jacobs to the event, and that the vice president “invited him back on stage to deliver a message of unity.”
In her own statement, Epstein made no mention of Jacobs but defended her own Jewishness.
“My family’s history as Jews and my commitment to my Jewish faith are beyond question,” she said.
“I invited the prayer because we must unite as a nation while embracing our religious differences — in the aftermath of Pennsylvania.”