By Zeke Miller and David Eggert, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A rabbi invited to pray at a Michigan campaign stop with Vice President Mike Pence for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre referenced “Jesus the Messiah” at the event.
Rabbi Loren Jacobs of Messianic congregation Shema Yisrael on Monday offered prayers for the 11 shooting victims. Messianic Jews follow Jewish law but believe that Jesus is the Messiah, a tenet of Christianity.
The major Jewish denominations reject Messianic Judaism as a form of Judaism, and Jacobs’ participation was condemned by Jews on social media.
A Pence aide told The Associated Press that Jacobs was invited to pray at the event in suburban Detroit’s Waterford Township by GOP congressional candidate Lena Epstein. The aide said Pence did not know who Jacobs was when he invited the rabbi back onstage to offer another a prayer for the victims, their families and the nation.
The aide was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
At the event, Pence called Jacobs a “leader of the Jewish community here in Michigan.” Jacobs, while standing next to Pence, then prayed and ended by saying, “in the name of Jesus.”
Epstein, who is Jewish, said in a statement that she invited Jacobs’ prayer “because we must unite as a nation — while embracing our religious differences — in the aftermath of Pennsylvania.” She said anyone attacking her or Pence over the prayer is “guilty of nothing short of religious intolerance and should be ashamed.
“This was an effort at unity, yet some are trying to create needless division to suit their political goals,” Epstein said.
Detroit-area Rabbi Jason Miller said on Facebook that there are at least 60 rabbis in a directory of Michigan rabbis and “yet the only rabbi they 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? That’s pathetic!”
Jordan Acker, a Jewish lawyer who is running for the University of Michigan Board of Regents as a Democrat, criticized Epstein on Twitter. He said she was “deeply insensitive for bringing a group on stage whose entire mission is to convert Jews,” days after the worst instance of anti-Semitic violence in American history.
Epstein is running against Democrat Haley Stevens for a House seat opening with the retirement of Republican Rep. Dave Trott. At the same rally, Pence also campaigned for candidates such as Rep. Mike Bishop, who is facing a challenge from Democrat Elissa Slotkin.
Eggert reported from Lansing, Michigan.