Vice President Pence's asking a Messianic Jewish rabbi to pray at a political rally in Detroit ignited a controversy this week, given the Saturday massacre of 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
At a Monday rally for Republican Congressional candidate and Reform Jew Lena Epstein, who invited Loren Jacobs — leader the Messianic Jewish Congregation Shema Yisrael in the Detroit area and is active in Jews for Jesus — to pray in an apparent attempt to be ecumenical, the Messianic Jewish rabbi prayed openly in "Yeshua's name," which is Jesus in Hebrew and referred to Jesus as the "Messiah" while praying for the victims of Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh.
Many Jews were incensed, called Jacobs a "fake rabbi," and continue to express their displeasure. Most mainstream Jewish groups do not regard Messianic Jewish believers as legitimate Jews.
Pence's spokesperson said he did not know that Jacobs was Messianic.
If elected, Epstein would be the only Jewish Republican woman in Congress.
Left-wing media outlets were most upset.
In a Huffington Post column Tuesday, historian Neil Young opined that the choice of "Christian rabbi" Jacobs was another move to maintain favor with evangelical Christians in the lead-up to the midterm elections.
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"While Pence's coy use of Jews and Judaism to signal to his evangelical base is certainly not as brazen as Trump's loud siren calls to his white nationalist supporters, it may be just as dangerous. In more ways than one, Pence has provided important religious cover for Trump to conservative evangelicals, using his exaggerated righteousness to distract from the president's own louche character and shady personal life," Young wrote.
"It's grossly offensive to use another's religion, especially in such a tragic moment, to announce one's own religiosity. But what's really destructive is the message beneath the message, to both Trump's evangelical base and those who might carry out further anti-Semitic violence, that to this administration, there's only one religious faith that really counts."
Others who were upset by the Jacobs appearance and at Pence pushed back at the notion that he was hostile to Jews.
"'Jews for Jesus' is obviously false advertising. But it's wrong to depict VP Pence as somebody insensitive to anti-Semitism and Jewish concerns," tweeted political commentator and author David Frum, along with a 2017 video of the vice president helping a work crew clean up a Jewish graveyard in St. Louis Missouri that had been vandalized.
"Who thinks PENCE invited him? He was probably as surprised as anybody. And now madder than anybody, since he's wearing all over his shirt front that 99% he had nothing to do with," he added, speaking of the fallout, in a subsequent tweet.
And even some who share Pence's faith in Jesus considered the invitation mistaken, but not motivated with any ill will.
"My assumption is that it was an innocent error on his part," commented Michael Brown, a Messianic Jewish scholar and host of the Line of Fire, in a Wednesday article on The Stream, explaining that the move was indeed offensive to Jews worldwide.
"Given his love for Israel and the Jewish people, I can't imagine that he would intentionally offend American Jews," Brown continued.
Despite the politically contentious climate, the Line of Fire host believes some good has emerged.
"[T]he same demented murderer who shouted, 'All Jews must die!' at the Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh would have the same vitriolic hatred for people like Jacobs and me. Our faith in Jesus-Yeshua has only deepened our solidarity with our people," he said.