A campaign event in which Vice President Mike Pence participated on Monday included a speech by a Messianic Jew, sparking anger by U.S. Jews.
Pence attended a political rally in Michigan ahead of the midterm elections, during which Loren Jacobs, a prominent figure in the “Jews for Jesus” movement, led a prayer for the victims of the shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Jews across the religious spectrum reject Messianic Judaism as peddling Christianity to Jews. During his prayer, Jacobs spoke about “Yeshua [Jesus] our Messiah.”
A White House official told Haaretz that Jacobs wasn’t invited by Pence’s office. Rather, they claimed, he was invivted by the campaign of Lena Epstein, a local Republican candidate who is Jewish. Epstein is running for an open seat in Michigan’s 11th district.
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“I invited the prayer because we must unite as a nation – while embracing our religious differences – in the aftermath of Pennsylvania,” Epstein said in a statement on Monday after news of the event prompted Jewish outrage on Twitter.
“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.
Jacobs leads a Messianic group that works, according to their website, to convince Jews in the Detroit area that Jesus is the messiah. Messianic Jews are viewed not only as holding different beliefs then Jews, but also as seeking to convert Jews to them.
The White House official told Haaretz that “this wasn’t planned through our office. We often have ecumenical prayers at the beginning of events that aren’t an endorsement of any particular faith.”
A welter of Jews expressed outrage online at Jacobs’ appearance. “There are over 60 rabbis in Michigan & yet the only rabbi the Michigan [Republican Party] could find to offer a prayer for the 11 Jewish victims in Pittsburgh at the Mike Pence rally was a local Jews for Jesus rabbi?” Rabbi Jason Miller, a Detroit area rabbi, said on Twitter. “That’s pathetic!”
In 2003, Jacobs wrote that he had been associated with “Jews for Jesus” for more than two decades, and that he is grateful to the movement for “imparting a good vision that has stayed with me — a vision of bold, courageous, innovative evangelism, directed to our Jewish people first, but also to the Gentiles — and then equipping me to fulfill that vision.”
The campaign event was meant to shore up support for Michigan Republicans, including an incumbent Congressman Mike Bishop who is being challenged by a Jewish candidate.
Bishop’s 8th Congressional seat is considered a toss-up, as he struggles in his battle against Elisa Slotkin, a former National Security official under the Bush and Obama administrations.
JTA provided background for this story