It’s unfortunate that the first real national awareness of the “Hebrew roots” movement among Christians has to do with an act that trivializes Jewish sensitivities and offends the Jewish people, but it’s not surprising.
Ralph Messer, a self-proclaimed “rabbi” from Colorado, recently wrapped a controversial Atlanta minister in a Torah scroll, which Jews hold as sacred, and proclaiming him a “king” of some sort.
The original video has been removed from YouTube, not surprisingly, but this video of another service is proof enough that Messer has little respect for proper handling of a Torah scroll. No true Jew or lover of Jews would ever handle a Torah scroll like this, unrolling it and passing it over the heads of the crowd, touching it with hands and fingers. For one thing, human skin oils break down the materials over time. For another, it’s always handled with the utmost respect as a revelation from God.
Messer is now saying that the scroll he wrapped the minister in wasn’t a “kosher” Torah scroll, but that makes little difference. Even handling a facsimile is guaranteed to offend Jews. Orthodox Jews even handle books that have God’s name in them with the utmost of care and respect.
And this video shows that Messer likes to do this kind of thing.
The messianic community, for the most part, went ballistic soon after the Messer mess came to light. The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations and the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America have jointly condemned Messer’s actions. and the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues have all condemned Messer’s actions.
The Messianic Israel Alliance, which Messer was part of several years ago but left in 2002, said this in a statement: “We do not want to stand in judgment of Ralph Messer as a man, but we absolutely do want to make it known that the MIA does not endorse his actions, or agree with his errant teachings.”
The Messianic Covenant Community, an organization just formed this year by former members of the MIA declined to comment. “Since we’re a relatively new organization and don’t have any organizational history in working with Messer, we haven’t drafted a statement about that situation at this point in time,” said Ben Diffenderfer, MCC director of communications.
Messianic bloggers that I follow have also condemned the “ceremony” and offered additional insights:
- Daniel Lancaster of First Fruits of Zion: “…many non-Jewish believers in Yeshua have chosen to usurp Jewish identity and claim to be Jews, Israelites, or even Rabbis. They have no relationship with the Jewish community and no respect for Jewish tradition, yet because of their claim to be ‘Messianic Jews,’ they are often conflated with legitimate Messianic Jewish organizations. The Torah is not a prop, like a banner in a charismatic worship service, and Judaism is not a toy box for Christians to rifle through.”
- Rabbi Joshua Brumbach: “Ralph Messer should be ashamed of himself. If it were within my power he would be stripped of his congregation and ministry, defrocked of his self-appointed title, and publicly forced to offer an apology for mishandling a Torah scroll, defaming Messianic Jews, and coronating as king an accused pedophile.”
- Rabbi Derek Leman: “I for one do not believe someone who has gone this far into harmful error and sensationalism has any role to play in religious leadership of any kind at any time in the future. Repentance by Messer would not satisfy me. An apology and early retirement would impress me.”
- Rabbi Michael Schiffman: “First of all, this man, Ralph Messer, is no Messianic Jew, and no rabbi. No Messianic Jewish organization endorses or accepts this man. Second, he isn’t even a Jew. … The sight of a sacred Jewish object being used in a way so far removed from its normal usage, and as no more than a prop for this bizarre ceremony was sickening.”
- Rabbi Stuart Dauermann: “Messer is a self-authenticating lone wolf non-Jew who calls himself a rabbi. His conduct confirms the worst stereotypes promulgated by those who fear, or in some cases, despise Messianic Judaism.”
- Judah Gabriel Himango: “Overall, Ralph Messer came across as a religious showman. And I think that’s shaming the name of Messiah. It’s an embarrassment to Yeshua faith. … He doesn’t represent us, the Hebrew Roots movement, the Two House movement, Messianic Judaism, or Jews for Jesus.”
Hopefully, this controversy will cause some introspection for some segments of the messianic movement, especially the Gentile part, and will actually help those factions come to a more united and respectful expression of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.