After a video of a recent service in Georgia with the controversial Bishop Eddie Long went viral, Jewish groups and bloggers were left scratching our heads and saying, “Huh?” The clip, found in last Friday’s Required Reading, featured Long being wrapped in a Torah scroll and declared “king” (though of what is unclear). There were all manner of odd moments, though the one that came across creepiest was the removing of the Torah’s cover, which was compared in the video to foreskin removal. Ouch?
Long has since issued an apology, noting that he did not arrange the ceremony, and had no intention of hurting anyone. The instigator was Messianic rabbi Ralph Messer (the Forward article linked above uses the phrase “self-described”). This too shall pass, but it leaves us with a genuine question: what do Messianic Jews think of all this? On the surface, it seems like yet another cue for Jews to shake their heads (or even their fists) at the Messianic Jewish community, which melds Jewish rituals with an evangelical belief in Jesus Christ, and is controversial for insisting on its authenticity without much agreement from the wider Jewish world. It seems, however, that even they are appalled at the implications of what Messer did.
In the blog, “Messianic Jewish Musings,” Derek Leman takes Messer to task for his so-called credentials, arguing Messer’s apparent lack of affiliation or standing with a list of Messianic organizations.
“Ralph Messer is not a rabbi affiliated with the UMJC, the MJAA, or the IMJA. He does not represent Messianic Judaism. Anyone may claim to be a priest, rabbi, or pastor. A friend constantly tells me that there are mail-order and internet ‘Ordination Certificates’ available as cheaply as $5. I have heard of Ralph Messer and from time to time people have sent me material by him. I have regarded it with the same lack of seriousness as a Chick tract (google Jack Chick) or a video of Robert Tilton.”
While Leman concludes the article with a characteristic call for any members of Messer’s congregation to find “true Judaism and/or true Christianity,” at least he makes a compelling point about the willingness to make connections between sensational people and those they claim to represent, even when the connections are unfair. While this incident was unbelievably disrespectful, and relationships between Jews and Messianic Jews are not likely to improve anytime soon, it’s important to note that Messer’s actions aren’t apparently representative of the whole of the Messianic world, nor were they apparently vetted by anyone in a position of authority.
This is not a defense of Messianic Judaism, only an acknowledgement of the precious times when members of two communities who have existed within undeniable friction can come together and say, “That ain’t kosher.” It’s reassuring to know in moments like these, when Jews (myself included) can easily think of Others, “They don’t want to understand us, and they have no respect for us,” the indignation is actually shared, even if for very different reasons. Thank God for those times, however rare.