Mike Pence scrambles to distance himself from defrocked "Jew for Jesus" rabbi

Days after the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Pence invited a "Messianic rabbi" to "offer a prayer"

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 31, 2018 5:52AM (EDT)

Mike Pence (AP/Mandel Ngan)
Mike Pence (AP/Mandel Ngan)

Vice President Mike Pence is facing harsh criticism over his decision to appear at a campaign rally in Michigan with a so-called "Messianic rabbi" who cited Jesus Christ while mourning the deaths of 11 Jews from a synagogue shooting near Pittsburgh.

Rabbi Loren Jacobs is the founder and senior rabbi of Congregation Shema Yisrael in the community of Bloomfield Hills and prayed for the 11 Jews who died 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," according to NBC News. The most conspicuous group associated with Messianic Judaism is "Jews for Jesus," and the group, in general, believes that the New Testament represents the word of God and that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.

In other words, they are Christians who only claim to be Jews.

Thus Pence has been widely criticized for having Jacobs come onstage to “offer a word of prayer” at a campaign rally on Monday following the massacre at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue just days before. Lena Epstein, the Republican candidate for the open congressional seat in Michigan's 11th District, defended Jacobs' appearance, arguing that she was the one who invited him and blasting those who criticized her choice as practicing religious intolerance.

"I invited the prayer because we must unite as a nation — while embracing our religious differences — in the aftermath of Pennsylvania," Epstein explained in a statement on Twitter. "Any media or political competitor who is attacking me or the Vice President is guilty of nothing short of religious intolerance and you should be ashamed. This was an effort of unity, yet some are trying to create needless division to suit their political goals."

After calling for interfaith unity, Epstein concluded by saying "I am proud of my faith and look forward to serving as the only Jewish republican woman in Congress."

But according to Jacobs' own ordination, the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, he was defrocked 15 years ago.

“Loren Jacobs was stripped of his rabbinic ordination by the UMJC in 2003, after our judicial board found him guilty of libel,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

Coincidentally, Salon actually raised the question of Jewish-Christian relations during an interview with Charlotte Pence, a writer who is also the daughter of Vice President Mike Pence. During the conversation, she was asked about whether she believes that Jews are going to have a negative afterlife if they don't embrace Jesus Christ as the Messiah should he return to the Mount of Olives.

"I’m probably not going to get in the theological arguments," Pence responded. "I think that I go into this in the book a little bit, just about how I think that people of faith can really come together and can find just a lot of common ground. I think the quote you’re referring to in the book is when our Israeli guide showed us around the Mount of Olives and talked to us about how people of different beliefs think about what will happen if the Messiah comes back on the Mount of Olives. When he told me that, I really just found the commonality with him and common ground that I think is really amazing and an important thing that people of faith can share."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump Jews For Jesus Messianic Judaism Mike Pence Squirrel Hill Shooting