Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Holocaust and Antisemitism

When I was in college I took a course called "The Holocaust and Antisemitism." The professor, Ken Waltzer, explained that you can't learn about the Holocaust without having a thorough understanding of the history of antisemitism. He was correct.

I'm now teaching my own college course about the Holocaust and much of my syllabus is based on Professor Waltzer's course from over twenty years ago. A few weeks ago I took my class on a tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center of Metropolitan Detroit (the nation's first freestanding Holocaust museum). As we walked around the museum I explained to the students that while the Holocaust is a historical event that happened decades ago, the antisemitism that led up to it continues to this day.

There were 1,879 acts of antisemitism in 2018 according to the Anti-Defamation League, including the attack on the three congregations sharing the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Over the past week alone, we have seen the antisemitic incident of anti-Semitic graffiti carved into a door and drawn on a stairway at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington. We have seen Amazon.com selling Christmas ornaments, towels and mousepads with glorified photos of the Auschwitz death camp. Jewish students are threatened on college campuses and the Jews in London are considering emigrating en masse if Jeremy Corbyn is elected.




Yesterday as I was on a conference call discussing the upcoming #WeRemember campaign that the World Jewish Congress is launching for the 4th straight year in observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I walked into the university building where I teach my weekly Holocaust class at the University of Detroit Mercy. It was ironic that I was about to teach 34 non-Jewish students about the Holocaust while I was talking about the need for more Holocaust education so the atrocities of the Shoah won't be repeated. Still on the phone, I walked down a stairwell and saw a swastika drawn on the wall next to six neo-Nazi Wolfsangel symbols.

I brought my entire class into the stairwell and we crowded there as I showed them the symbols of hate on the wall of their university. I asked them what they thought we should do about it. I asked them how they would take what they learned over the course of the past semester in our Holocaust class and use that knowledge to educate their peers, their future children, their future coworkers. How sad is that only seven decades since the Holocaust there is still so much senseless hate in this world?

Sunday, December 01, 2019

The 5 Most Important Books to Be an Educated Jew

Moment Magazine recently asked me to choose what I thought to be the five most important books to be an educated Jew. This was not an easy request and I took it seriously, going through my Jewish library several times and narrowing down the list. Obviously, the primary texts of our tradition, the Torah, the Talmud, Midrash, and the legal codes, are all necessary to be an educated member of the Jewish people, but I understood that Moment Magazine wanted me to extend beyond those texts.

I considered important books of Jewish history, books about the Holocaust, Jewish cooking books, and even books about Jewish athletes (an educated Jew must know about Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg). Ultimately, these are the five books I chose to recommend. Of course, I could have chosen hundreds more since we are the "People of the Book," but I think this is a good starting point.

The Sabbath, by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Heschel, one of the great theologians of the 20th century, published The Sabbath as both about theology and spirituality as well about modern Jewish life and Jewish law. I first read this short yet eloquent book when participating in a discussion with other Jewish high school students.  At summer camp I recall that the study session brought much meaning and spirituality into my Shabbat experience. Heschel brilliantly explains how our faith is about balancing space and time, creation and rest. Originally published in 1951, Heschel’s words are just as powerful and meaningful today as they were almost seventy years ago.



As a Driven Leaf, by Rabbi Milton Steinberg

To understand the Talmud, one first must understand Jewish life in 2nd century CE. Certainly, this could be accomplished with history books, but it’s much more enjoyable to get this knowledge from Steinberg’s beautiful novel. The protagonist is Elisha ben Abuyah, a Talmudic rabbi who was excommunicated for heresy. Steinberg takes this little-known character and allows us to enter his confused head and heart. We become immersed in the community of scholars who gave voice to Rabbinic Judaism and we see the clash between religious faith and the modern, secular society of Rome. Steinberg’s novel is not only captivating but also a wonderful theological and philosophical work.



When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner

One cannot understand Jewish theology without reading Kushner’s well-known work. Published in 1981, less than five years after Kushner’s son died from an incurable genetic disease, the book addresses the problems of theodicy. If we believe that God creates and controls the world and is good, how are we to explain evil? Why is there pain and suffering if God loves us? Kushner offers his own theology.




Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish TextsEdited by Dr. Barry Holtz

Back to the Sources is more than a primer. The authors explain the text and then dissect examples to teach the reader how to learn that core text. Holtz, one of my teachers at the Jewish Theological Seminary, believes that each text requires a different learning approach. In editing Back to the Sources, he found foremost scholars to explain the importance of the text and how it informs Judaism. I first used this book in college, referred to it again many times in rabbinical school and have recommended it to countless others.




Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

I was tempted to simply list five of Telushkin’s works here because one can learn just about everything there is to know about Judaism from his books: Jewish Literacy, Biblical Literacy, Jewish Ethics, Jewish Wisdom and Jewish Values. I chose Telushkin’s book about Jewish humor because these jokes teach us more about the Jews and Judaism than most history books. Telushkin chose the best Jewish jokes and then analyzed them to explain their source, why they are funny and why they’re accurate. The book is funny but is also an informative read on important topics like anti-Semitism and other faith’s view of the Jewish people.

This article originally appeared in Moment Magazine

Monday, November 11, 2019

What We Won When We Lost at the JCC Maccabi Games

Another exciting professional baseball season has come to an end. The World Series showed us that the champion can come from behind. And the playful nature of the Washington Nationals, particularly watching grown men sing “Baby Shark,” showed us that there is joy to be found in the game itself.

For me, one of the clearest experiences of relationship building through sports is as a three-time participant, multi-year host family, coach, and parent for JCC Maccabi Games. I have seen the myriad of ways that the JCC Maccabi experience promotes Jewish engagement for young people. Using sports competition as its hook for Jewish teens, JCC Association of North America, through JCC Maccabi, offers real relationship building, which was demonstrated to me this year.

Players from the Detroit and Boston baseball teams at the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games


This summer, the Metro Detroit Jewish community hosted the JCC Maccabi Games and by all accounts, it was a very successful weeklong event. As coach of Detroit’s 16U baseball team, I can attest to the fact that while neither team boasted winning records, their players left the games with wonderful memories and a life lesson about camaraderie and sportsmanship.

After our team was eliminated from the tournament, I led our boys to the bus back to the Jewish Community Center. As fate would have it, we would be sharing the bus with Boston’s 16U baseball team and the bus hadn’t yet arrived. As we waited in the hot sun, I met the Boston coach, Aidan Arnold. I already knew three of his players since I was hosting them in my home for the week.

Guide to Writing a Critical Review of a Book Chapter

Sponsored Post

The educational curriculum in university assumes the performance of various assignments. They are designed to form the students’ competence and contribute to the comprehensive development of the individual. The book review is one of the least favorite assignments among students. They don’t venture into the details of the assignment and therefore receive poor grades. And in such a way, the rumors about a book review as the most confusing task spreads around the studentship.
The book or book chapter review is a widespread assignment among students. Those who learn humanities face this assignment, especially frequently. Unfortunately, there’s no sufficient information about the correct preparation of the critical review. Teachers often carefully define what they want from students to include in the paper. But it is useless for those who have hardships with critical evaluation of literature.
The review of one single chapter is a lot easier than the whole book. But students still continue to be afraid of this assignment. First, you should understand is that the review doesn’t equal the summary. It’s the most common reason for bad grades. The summary is the simple statement of the main points of the plot. The critical review or analysis also may contain it. However, their main focus is the critical evaluation of style, content. You also may analyze the author’s ideas and express your impression after reading.
If you have no time to write a critical review by yourself, a professional team of academic writers from WriteMyPaperHub will write a book report for you - fast and effectively. Their writers are experts and can write even the most complicated paper to satisfy your teacher. This book report writing service established low prices to be available for all students. The clients’ contentment is the sign that their work is successful.
The Key Steps to Successful Book Review
The book review is a great way to express your opinion about a book and show your knowledge to the teacher. It’d be stupid to waste this possibility.
  1. Read the chapter carefully. It’s better to read it a couple of times, of course, if you want to write a good review. Pay attention not only to the content. You should notice the features in the style of writing, the author’s remarks, and possible parallelism to real-life or historical events. Use your critical thinking and base on the details of the assignment. Write down the things you think to be important.
  2. Start writing. Describe the details of the plot, which corresponds to the main idea of your critical evaluation. Then state the theme, idea. Finish your introduction with a thesis statement - the author’s main point. A good thesis statement is the basis for further writing.
  3. List the evidence and arguments. Provide the evidence according to the following scheme: a piece of evidence - the explanation for it. You can use direct quotations as evidence, but be careful. Don’t use more than two quotations. The review is your own writing, not the citing. Remember that each point should be written in a separate paragraph. Express how the author supports the stated ideas and arguments. The more detailed your analysis is - the better would be the final grade.
  4. Information about the author. You may include this paragraph in your review. Don’t retell the whole biography. Write the information connected to the idea of the book, the author’s background, and everything that made the author write his book.
  5. Personal evaluation. It’s the second important part of the review. Here you can include your personal impressions after reading. Maybe you found the details, which helped you understand the topic deeper. What did you know about the historical epoch from this piece of literature? Did the author justify your hopes and disclose the topic? Is the plot relevant to our life?

All you have to do in the end is to proofread and edit the flawed places. Make sure that you wrote not a summary, but a review. It’s crucial. It appears that the critical review isn’t an impossible task. Follow the guide and impress your class with a top-notch paper!

Is It Safe to Get Your Essays Written by Professionals?

Sponsored Post

Today, one may notice online requests about the possibility to get an essay for money. They are left by desperate students who aren’t able to cope with their academic tasks and duties. Some tasks are too difficult and others consume too much time. Besides, students have some personal troubles that interfere with their studies. Therefore, the help of professional writers or writing websites is a reasonable choice.

However, the matter of safety worries many young minds. Students have heard a lot about fraud websites or individual users who spread personal data about their clients or even steal their money. Therefore, when asking who will do my essay for me online, you should be very cautious if you decide to use online assistance.

Nevertheless, it may be quite safe as well. You ought to do some research to find trustworthy writers or writing platforms. There are many such essay writing services and the choice impresses. If you find a highly reputed website, it will protect your private data. Such resources never share private data about their clients to any other people, third-parties or websites. Besides, they use effective safeguards to protect their databases 24 hours round the clock.

To identify a trustworthy writing company, undertake several measures. Firstly, find special informative resources, which make an independent review of the best writing companies. They give an honest rating and describe the quality of every service offered by the company.
Secondly, read customers’ reviews. People who dealt with such companies leave their impressions concerning every service and benefit. Perhaps you have some mates who also used several platforms. Ask their opinion to define the best option.

Major dividends offered by professionals

After you define several variants, you ought to make the final choice. The task won’t be easy if you don’t know the criteria to evaluate such websites or private freelancers. We can help you. There are several important dividends every respectful writing website or writer is obliged to ensure. We have already discussed the matter of privacy. Now, it’s time to review some other conditions.
Make allowances for the following advantages:


  • Top-quality. First of all, pay attention to the quality of papers written by an expert. If your personal helper is qualified, he/she will easily match the highest academic standards. Such writers are familiar with the latest editions to academic requirements and meet them all. Moreover, they are able to compose merely every piece of writing. These should be all essay types, dissertations, case studies, laboratory reports, speeches, and so on.
  • Diversity of services. Approved experts likewise offer different academic services. It’s essential because you may not always have problems with writing. Your helper is supposed to rewire, quote, edit, proofread, create lists of references, find relevant data and something of the kind.
  • Timely deliveries. Time is of huge importance for every student. You know that your assignments have a clear deadline. It cannot be violated or you’ll lose most or even all your grades. Therefore, check whether your helping website is able to manage orders quickly. Read reviews and rates of speed. Besides, you can place a small but urgent order to see how quick your helper is.
  • Unique content. Another compulsory demand is to write only authentic papers, which have no signs of plagiarism. Accordingly, your helper must write from scratch and compose 100% authentic orders. How to receive proofs? Ask your writer or editor to send your screenshots and copies of the links of plagiarism checkers he/she used. Of course, you should also use the same checker(s) to identify the truth. It’s better to use several plagiarism checkers to ensure the results of the testing.


Additional benefits

You should likewise look for some additional benefits. There are a few more conditions that increase the trust and comfort of clients.

Consider the following priorities:

  • Fair pricing. How much to pay? It’s a matter of great concern for many students. Most of them have limited budgets and so, they choose carefully. Don’t go too cheap because the quality will be insufficient. Seek a moderate price policy. The most respectful websites set fair prices and also allow full customization of orders. This puts you in full charge of the final sum. Change the demands in the application form until the price suits your pocket.
  • Monetary compensation. Check whether your website returns the money. It’s a dependable sign that you can trust. If your conditions are accepted, all of them must be obligatorily fulfilled. In case something is wrong, your website is obliged to return your money. The sum of refunding may be full or partial. Define this matter as well.
  • Customers’ support. Sometimes, users don’t understand the company’s rules and restrictions. The others don’t understand how to place an order and so on. Therefore, a team of support is exactly what you need. Choose a website or writer that is always available. Websites surely work 24/7. Their technicians provide clear answers about any policies. If you choose a private freelancer, create a flexible and fixed schedule when you can get in touch and ask your questions.
  • Free revisions. It’s vital to select a website or writer that provides free samples. Thus, you can verify the quality of your helper on your own.


Obligatorily include these points to your criteria of selection while choosing a professional essay writing company. They are of great importance and prove that a writing website or individual freelancer is trustworthy. Thus, you’ll definitely make the right choice.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Planning a Simcha in the Digital Age

This year will mark the thirtieth anniversary of my bar mitzvah. As I reflect on that memorable life-cycle event, I think about how much has changed in the planning of a bar/bat mitzvah since then thanks in no small part to technology. In fact, technology has improved so rapidly that much had even changed from my oldest son’s bar mitzvah in early 2017 to my twins’ b’nai mitzvah in late 2018.



The planning process for a bar/bat mitzvah or a wedding, including the hiring of vendors, has become much easier because of the web and mobile apps. This is true when it comes to wedding planning as well. From sending out invitations and getting responses back to creating table assignments and figuring out who wants the vegetarian meal, there is no shortage of applications to help make planning a simcha (Jewish celebration) go smoothly in the 21st century. There still will be stressful moments, but technology has certainly alleviated much of the simcha planning anxiety.

The creators of the web applications that help us plan bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings experienced the hassles of those endeavors themselves. It was that anxiety-producing experience that led them to find ways to disrupt the party planning industry using new technology. Let’s look at some of the innovative ways you can save time and energy planning your next simcha.

RSVPify – Managing your guest list and keeping track of responses can really add to the anxiety of planning a simcha. Now that it’s considered appropriate to use online invitations and responses for weddings and mitzvah parties, RSVPify has stepped in as the most advanced online RSVP website. With RSVPify, you can still use traditional invitations, but your guests can respond to the invitation online. This makes it easier to keep track of your guests. RSVPify also has secondary events management to help you keep track of additional events during your party weekend, like a Shabbat dinner, Sunday brunch or rehearsal dinner. Additionally, you can ask your guests custom questions, like whether they require a special meal or home hospitality for Shabbat, size of giveaway clothing, or who needs a ride from the airport. RSVPify also has clever features like a seating chart maker, built-in menu options for dietary needs and food allergies, and the ability to send reminder emails to guests who haven’t responded. Guests are even able to give a monetary gift or make an online donation directly from the invitation. https://rsvpify.com

Mitzvah Organizer – This website really has it all when it comes to planning a bar/bat mitzvah. It is created by Mitzvah Market, an online vendor directory that has ideas and resources for parents planning a mitzvah. The Mitzvah Organizer costs $69.95 and allows you to manage the guest lists for all aspects of the celebration weekend. The user interface looks like nothing more than a branded Microsoft Excel database, but it allows you to effortlessly manage everything in one app including table assignments, a candle lighting ceremony, party favor sizes, the song list for the DJ, the synagogue honors for the service, and many other things that are easy to forget. For many parents, Mitzvah Organizer’s budget feature will help them figure out which vendors have been paid and which are still owed, in addition to how close they have kept to their original budget. Plus, the budget feature allows you to compare the costs of different vendors. Mitzvah Organizer has predesigned reports that will prove helpful to stay organized and to provide necessary information to the vendors. Like most online apps, Mitzvah Organizer can be used on a desktop, tablet or phone. https://www.mitzvahorganizer.com/

Zola – Wedding websites like Wedding Wire and The Knot are nothing new. They’ve been around for a long time and continue to add more features. Zola seems to have taken what those websites offer up a notch. Zola is a free service and does not charge for couples to create a custom wedding website. The company does sell invitations and charges a fee if wedding guests use the website to gift money to the couple. In addition to an online wedding registry (something Wedding Wire and The Knot offer as well), Zola offers expert advice for weddings, like which venue to use and how to find an officiant, how to create the guest list, what creative innovations to include in the ceremony, which activities to offer before and during the wedding weekend, reception d├ęcor, and how to choose the right photographer. Couples can send updates to guests, have a countdown clock on their website, and post videos to get their guests excited for their big day. These customized wedding websites also make it easier for the out-of-town guests, as well as guests at a destination wedding, because everything they need to plan their vacation is on the wedding website. https://www.zola.com/

Technology has changed so much about bar/bat mitzvah planning for the better and it’s done the same for weddings. Personalized wedding websites have dozens of features that weren’t even dreamed of when I got married twenty years ago. The Jewish people will continue to celebrate life-cycle events like mitzvahs and weddings, as we have for generations, but thanks to the Digital Age, we’ll be doing it easier and in a more organized way.

This article originally appeared in the Detroit Jewish News. Rabbi Jason Miller is a local entrepreneur and educator. He is president of Access Technology in West Bloomfield and officiates at weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. Visit his websites at www.mitzvahrabbi.com and www.rabbiforweddings.com.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Israeli Technology is Answer to Flint Water Crisis

Earlier this year I stumbled upon an intriguing company exhibiting at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The company, Watergen, had an impressive booth that drew attendees in, but they had an even more impressive claim. The company, which is only a decade old, creates fresh drinking water from thin air using ground-breaking Israeli technology.

As I listened to the spokesperson tell me about how Watergen can create clean drinking water for entire cities, I naturally thought about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which is an ongoing problem for the residents there even if the news coverage has declined recently. Rather than trucking in countless plastic bottles of drinking water to Flint, why not allow Watergen to set up their innovative technology and end the crisis? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to think of this solution.

Yehuda Kaploun, who is the president of Watergen USA and responsible for coordinating strategic development and partnerships throughout the United States, also was puzzled as to why his company wasn’t putting their solutions into place in the one American city that needed it most. Apparently, Watergen tried to convince city officials in Flint to use their technology, but they were resistant. They were content with continuing to distribute plastic water bottles to Flint residents, which is obviously not the best financial solution or the most environmentally-conscious option.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Social Media Conundrum

I recently binge-watched CNN’s three documentaries on Netflix, which focus on the three final decades of the 20th century. Watching “The 70s,” “The 80s” and “The 90s,” I was left thinking about how CNN would characterize the current decade. No doubt, our love-hate relationship with social media would be a principal highlight this decade.

As an early adopter of social media and an active user, I find the love-hate relationship that people have with social networks intriguing. The people who condemn social media as an evil that has plagued our way of life are the same people who scroll through their Facebook feed before they fall asleep at night and while eating breakfast in the morning. There are aspects of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et. al. that we despise, and there are aspects that we have embraced and don’t know how we managed without. This social media conundrum is fascinating to me and I have been curious as to how we can view it through a Jewish lens.

Jewish people are less than 0.2% of the world population and yet most of those who have led us into the social media universe are members of the Jewish faith. Sergei Brin and Larry Page founded Google, which opened the door to Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook and Noah Glass joining his friends to launch Twitter. Certainly, their intention wasn’t to do harm in creating new forms of communication, search and sharing.

Mark Zuckerberg Jewish Shabbat Family


Zuckerberg was an avowed atheist who has begun to embrace his Judaism more since becoming a father to two daughters. His public posts about celebrating Shabbat and Jewish holidays with his family have led some to question whether core Jewish ethics are at odds with the way Facebook is run as a company and how this social network has created harmful outcomes in our culture. In its almost fifteen years in existence, Facebook has been blamed for an increase in teenage depression and suicide rates, altering a presidential election, giving racists and anti-Semites a platform to spew their hate, disseminating false news reports and suppressing actual news, ruining millions of friendships, and Russian intervention of our political process.

There’s no doubt that Zuckerberg, along with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, has been in the hot seat for the past few years. Both have demonstrated they are strong proponents of free speech and they also believe in core Jewish ethics. Have those two mantras come into conflict at Facebook? How can the Jewish community see the light amidst the darkness in social media? While Facebook, under the leadership of Zuckerberg and Sandberg, has pledged to correct the harmful aspects of the network, they have largely failed. But should they be held responsible?

If there’s one thing that Judaism has taught us over the millennia, it is that there are shades of grey in everything. The social network that Zuckerberg created has a lot of positive aspects to offer us as a civilization. It has helped us communicate with people around the world and find ways to bring us closer together. Facebook allows us to keep in touch with long lost friends, wish each other birthday and anniversary greetings as well as condolences on the death of a loved one, view photos and videos of our family at life’s celebrations, and engage in respectful dialogue over the issues that matter most to us.

Sadly, Facebook and other social networks have also aided those who perpetrate evil. Social media has a dark side as we know all too well. It has amplified the voices of those who hate and threaten our democracy. It has given a much louder voice to bullies, who damage our wellbeing and sanity. However, social media hasn’t created anything new. It has just brought more of that darkness into the mainstream.

We must recognize that social media, whether in the form of Facebook and Twitter or something else down the road that will replace those networks, is now part of our world. It is up to us to use these tools for good and to shut out the evil that tries to enter through our internet connections. Ultimately, we must remind ourselves that social media engagement will never replace real-life human interaction.

In a recent New York Times piece, Bari Weiss wrote that it seems “the organizations and the people who get the most attention are destructive. On social media, this isn’t just speculation. Outrage and negativity are the most ‘engaging,’ and so that’s what we’re fed. The disciplined among us — and I’m hoping to get there — might get off these platforms entirely. One thing we all can do is make the effort to engage in real life.”

I don’t believe quitting social media activity cold turkey is the solution to what plagues our society. I think we must seek out the positive outcomes that exist in our experiences on social networks like Facebook while working to collectively shut out the darkness that has been so pervasive. While Zuckerberg might have created this game-changing network, he shouldn’t be fully blamed for where it has taken our society. We must show responsibility and direct social media toward the light – overwhelming the evil with good. That is the Jewish ethic.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Best Hanukkah Videos of 2018

The number of Hanukkah music videos has really gone down the past few years. There was a time when I would come up with a list of at least a dozen fun and creative Hanukkah videos. This year, there are really only two that are worth mentioning. Six13, the Jewish a capella group from New York clearly has this year's best video for Hanukkah... and maybe the best one for the entire decade. With the recent success of the biopic of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, Six13 was very smart to use Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody for their Hanukkah video this year. Of course, The Maccabeats produced another great video this year for Hanukkah, which is more of a mishmash of different type of music. Happy Hanukkah everyone!


Six13 - Bohemian Chanukah (a Queen adaptation)





The Maccabeats - I Have a Little Dreidel - Hanukkah



Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Understanding Jews for Jesus After the Mike Pence Rally

When a member of the Jews for Jesus messianic movement who refers to himself as a "rabbi" was asked to give a prayer in memory of the eleven Jews who were murdered at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, there were a lot of questions about this group and why this was offensive to the Jewish community. The event was a rally for Republican candidates in Michigan and featured Vice President Mike Pence. A Jewish woman running for Congress, Lena Epstein, claimed responsibility for inviting the Messianic "Rabbi" to the event in the name of unity and claimed that if people are critical of her invitation, then they are religiously intolerant.

Loren Jacobs, a Messianic Christian, delivers a prayer at a rally in Michigan with VP Mike Pence


After I heard the Messianic "Rabbi" speaking at the event on C-Span, I tweeted that it was pathetic that a mainstream rabbi wasn't asked to offer a blessing (NY Times, USA Today, AP). The issue wasn't that a non-Jew offered a prayer for the Jewish men and women who were murdered, but that a Christian was being referred to as a rabbi. It would have been more acceptable had there been several faith leaders including a rabbi.

The Detroit Jewish News asked me to explain to its readers why there was such an uproar over a Messianic “Rabbi” delivering a prayer at a political rally. What follows is what I wrote in the Detroit Jewish News:


Trying to Make Sense of Messianic “Judaism”

With the recent controversy of Loren Jacobs, a leader of a Bloomfield Hills church who calls himself a “rabbi,” delivering a politically-charged invocation at a Republican party rally featuring Vice President Mike Pence, there has been a lot of questions regarding the messianic “Judaism” movement.

The first time I had ever heard of messianic Jews or the group called “Jews for Jesus” was as a high school student. Preparing us for the college campus, teachers at my synagogue’s Hebrew High School informed us that there are proselytizing Christians who claim to be Jewish and seek to convert Jewish students to Christianity. Some of these “Jews for Jesus” adherents, we were taught, were in fact apostate Jews who had left our faith and believe Jesus is the messiah.

While I don’t recall any direct encounters with any proselytizing Christians during my four years at Michigan State University, I did have an unusual experience in a course called “The Foundations of Judaism.” The course was part of the Religious Studies Department and the teacher, Mark Kinzer, did a wonderful job teaching a wealth of material in the course. At that time, I was already planning to apply to rabbinical school and the lectures and reading material helped prepare me. My eight years at Hillel Day School were good for a foundational understanding, but Prof. Kinzer went much deeper into the history of Judaism. I presumed the instructor was Jewish, but I was not certain. On the final day of class, I asked him which denomination of Judaism he affiliated, and he simply stated, “it’s complicated.” I didn’t pry.

Several years later, after I had become a rabbi, I was working at the University of Michigan Hillel Foundation. I encountered Prof. Kinzer at a meeting for campus religious leaders. It was there that he explained he was a Messianic “rabbi.” I felt duped and confused at that moment. (He never alluded to his own theology during the class and never mentioned Christian messianism.) He explained that he was not part of the “Jews for Jesus” group and didn’t seek to convert anyone. While I appreciated Prof. Kinzer’s academic integrity and I learned from him, had he been introduced as a rabbi at an event, I would feel just as insulted as I felt after watching Loren Jacobs’ prayer.

So, how do we understand messianic “Judaism” and Jews for Jesus? And, why has the Jewish community been so upset that a so-called messianic “rabbi” offered a prayer at a recent political rally in Michigan?

Throughout the centuries, Jewish people were subject to intense missionary activity by the Catholic Church and various Protestant groups. Many Jews left Judaism and converted to Christianity, either by force or voluntarily. In early twentieth century America, attempts to convert Jews to Christianity were common, but often unsuccessful. In the 1970's, a new organization sponsored by Protestants was formed called “Jews for Jesus.” Other smaller groups, calling themselves “Messianic Jews,” followed.

Members of “Jews for Jesus” are encouraged to consider themselves to be “Completed Jews.” Some members are born Jews who accepted Jesus as their Lord, while others were not born Jewish, but consider themselves to now be Jewish. Essentially, this group’s mission is to convert Jews to Christianity.

Historically, Jews who converted to Christianity were often interested in staying far away from being identified with Judaism. However, “Messianic Jews” stress their Jewishness and demand to be recognized as Jews by the Jewish community. The members of “Jews for Jesus” or any other messianic “Jewish” group who were legitimately Jewish at first would now be considered apostate Jews, the term used for one who has taken the definitive step of professing and joining another religion.

An apostate is the term the Jewish community would apply to Loren Jacobs, the individual who delivered the prayer at the rally featuring Vice President Mike Pence (it was originally an invocation and then he was called back on stage to offer a memorial prayer for the victims of the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh). Some have questioned why the Jewish community was so offended by Jacobs being asked to offer a prayer. Some in the Christian community were confused as to why the Jewish community couldn’t treat Jacobs’ words in an ecumenical fashion.

The issue for many in the Jewish community is that Jacobs self-identifies as a Jewish rabbi, which is offensive to Jews because he has chosen to become an apostate, recognizing Jesus as his Lord and savior. The fact that Loren Jacobs was introduced as a rabbi and Jewish leader was an affront to the Jewish community. It was unacceptable and insensitive. Had a non-Jewish faith leader been asked to deliver a memorial prayer for the Jewish victims who were murdered while in prayer, that would be have acceptable. Although, the ideal situation would have been to have a rabbi deliver the prayer or a variety of faith leaders offer prayer as has been the case in many of the memorial vigils around the world.