Black Christians, Donald Trump and a Jewish Prayer Shawl

Monday, September 05, 2016 |  David Lazarus

Trump does it again. The unfathomable Republican nominee, in response to accusations of racism and bigotry, strolled into a neighborhood Black Christian church in Detroit, donned a Jewish prayer shawl (Tallit), and sermonized about the unity of all peoples. According to the Jewish proverb, he managed to kill three birds with one shot. 

When you think you have seen it all, watch the presidential nominee, Donald Trump, donning the Tallit in a church as people in the audience shout for joy.

What is so exciting about putting on a Tallit? Do people understand its meaning? Were Jews who watched also applauding?

I am sure that many Jews would be proud to know that one of their most revered traditions is being embraced by Christians around the world. We like to think that others are finally learning to appreciate, and even respect, our ancient and endearing traditions, especially Christians who are rediscovering the Jewish roots of New Testament Christianity.

I distinctly recall the first time I was allowed to wear the Tallit in my synagogue. My grandfather placed his own prayer shawl, passed down to him through the generations, on my shoulders during my Bar Mitzvah. It was an incredibly moving experience, especially knowing that this very Tallit had survived on the prayerful shoulders of my people during the Holocaust. 

For us, putting on a Tallit means coming into the presence of God to pray. Jesus himself warned that these emblems of faith and prayer should not be used “to be seen by men.” (Mt. 23:5)  Rabbi Hezekiah  taught that, “When the children of Israel are wrapped in their prayer-shawls, let them [ feel ] … as though the glory of the [divine] Presence were upon them, for . . . Scripture does not say: ‘That ye may look upon them’ [the fringes], but That ye may look upon Him (Midrash Tehillim 2:99).

While we can appreciate that the Detroit pastor perhaps had sincere intentions, it just didn’t feel right watching him put our Tallit on a politician in church. Jews are extremely careful when using the Tallit. The use of these prayer shawls requires proper etiquette. When Christians are unaware, or irresponsible with these symbols, it can be insulting to Jews.

Jesus gave the church their own sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and there are major requirements before performing either of these. Should we not require some manner of commitment before bestowing one of the most important emblems of the Jewish roots of our faith on someone?

The local church is the earthly expression of Jesus among men. Could it not have been more meaningful to have offered to hang a cross around Trump’s neck? Or better still, lead the Republican nominee in a meaningful prayer asking God to help him become a better Christian, leader or faithful servant to the Lord?

Of all the wonderful passages in the Jewish Bible the pastor presented to Trump, he chose to read from Mark 9:23 – “If thou can believe, all things are possible?”

When did the church stop challenging the leaders of this world? A pastor truly committed to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, could have quoted from the Hebrew prophets, or even Jesus, and their call for politicians and government leaders to repent from their ungodly ways. I wish Trump could have visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and listened to the pastor Dr. Martin Luther King. I can only imagine what a powerful message would have sounded. It is time church leaders once again rise to challenge men and women everywhere, and stop pandering to politicians providing them with unchallenged pulpits to sell their wares.

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