Fake Rabbi Showdown
Those were more or less my thoughts while watching the spectacle of Atlanta megachurch pastor Bishop Eddie Long proclaimed king “on behalf of the Jewish people” by a fellow calling himself “Rabbi Ralph Messer.” As seen in a video now going viral (and as noted by my RD colleague Anthea Butler), the crowning ceremony occurred last weekend. It includes such cringe-inducing moments as Messer unrolling a Torah scroll and wrapping Bishop Long in joined sheets of inscribed sheepskin he claims were rescued from Auschwitz. As he removes the cover from the scroll, Rabbi Messer says (really), “I’m gonna pull off the foreskin of this.”
This guy’s a rabbi like I’m the pope, I thought. And the only people he was fooling were the 25,000 members of Bishop Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. When Messer broke into Hebrew song as Long was paraded aloft in a chair, carrying the Torah and draped with a prayer shawl, it was like watching a summer stock revival of Yentl performed by a cast that had never met any actual Jews.
The coronation of a controversial megachurch minister as a Davidic king by a man who claims “dual citizenship with Israel” as sufficient authority to speak “on behalf of the Jewish people” is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable displays of pluralism gone awry in recent memory. But Long is far from the first non-Jew to make use of a so-called rabbi to bolster his spiritual authority.