Evangelical use of Jewish ritual objects isn’t new.
Neither is Ralph Messer’s bizarre history of invoking Jew-ish rituals. His latest shtick — a veritable Superbowl halftime show of cultural misappropriation circulating via YouTube — has angered the Atlanta Jewish community.
On Jan. 29, 2011, Messer, a self-designated rabbi who preaches Jesus as lord and messiah, recently ‘coronated’ embattled Atlanta bishop Eddie Long, who was accused of sexual misconduct with several young men he counseled as spiritual leader of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
The all out ritual blitz included a metaphoric allusion to the Torah cover (Yiddish: mantel) as foreskin, hoisting Long in a chair bar mitzvah style, and enveloping him in a Torah scroll, which Messer claimed was 312 years old and rescued from Auschwitz and "Birkendol."
Much like his botched pronunciation of the extermination camp, many viewers — even some messianic Jews — have taken issue with Messer’s over-the-counter improvisations of Jewish ritual. [For a thorough sacking of his antics, see Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D.’s smackdown on the Huffington Post.]
It turns out Messer’s Auschwitz Torah shtick isn’t new.
On Jan. 31, 2011 — one year prior to the latest gaffe — Messer delivered a similar invocation at the North Dakota House of Representatives with what appears to be a different "Auschwitz Torah."
The Bismarck Tribune reported the displeasure of Jewish groups:
The Jewish Community Relations Council contacted House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, saying Messer’s prayer was disturbing in its mischaracterization of the Jewish faith.
“It concerns us because it projects an inaccurate representative of Judaism, whether that’s Jewish rituals, objects or beliefs,” said Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council…
Messer said the Jewish Community Relations Council’s complaint reflects the delicate line he must walk in trying not to offend Jews or Christians, both religions of which influence his own thought. Still, he said, his Jewish practices are more in line with Orthodox Judaism, but includes New and Old Testament teachings.
"More in line with Orthodox Judaism?"
If Long were an Orthodox Jew, he likely wouldn’t be called to the Torah for an aliyah — let alone wrapped in one.
Archive notes: In June 1987, Kitty Dukakis, Jewish wife of Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis, was given an aliyah at the Bar Mitzvah of a Soviet refusenik. While she felt "very proud of my religion and ethnic roots," she said during the campaign that she did not expect people to vote for her husband, who is not Jewish, just because she is.