Apparently oblivious to how offensive this would be to any non-messianic Jew, Atlanta pastor Eddie Long — who privately settled lawsuits with several men who had alleged he molested them as boys, and whose wife recently divorced him for the same reason — allowed himself to be wrapped in a Torah scroll by messianic ‘Jew’ Ralph Messer.
It gets both more outrageous, and more absurd. Messer, speaking “on behalf of the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and the God of Israel,” anointed Long as a “king” to the rousing cheers of the crowd. He seated Long on a “throne” (actually a comfy-looking leather chair) and draped him in a small-size tallit, the kind you find at nice conservative shuls across the country. Messer explained that the Torah scroll was 312 years old, and found at “Auschwitz-Birkendau” (that’s how he pronounced it, several times). “It was a Holocaust scroll,” he said, adding “I collect scrolls.”
There were additional details that doubtless escaped notice of casual visitors, but which get progressively more offensive the more knowledgeable one is. For example, Messer described removing the Torah’s cover as “removing the foreskin.” And at the climax of the ritual, after wrapping Long in the Torah, he placed the scroll’s gartel (belt) around Long himself, stating that Long had become the Torah, become the King. Fascinatingly, this is exactly the corporealizing ritual performed by heretical Sabbatean groups, except here with a Christianizing gloss (“the word become flesh”) that makes Long into the Messiah Himself.
Even if Long weren’t an alleged serial molester of adolescent boys (all the while, of course, preaching vitriolic sermons against homosexuality), this would be a highly insensitive use — some would say desecration — of a Torah scroll, especially if it is indeed from Auschwitz. Now, as it happens, Messer was often way off on his facts, pronunciations, and details — he said that each column of the scroll is made of the skin of a separate lamb (not true), said that Jews touch the Torah scroll with their fingers (not true), suggested that the Temple in Jerusalem had a bimah and that Jesus opened a Torah scroll on it (laughable), opined that 90% of Jews have never come close to a Torah scroll (surely not true), and couldn’t sing the Priestly Blessing with the pathetically off-key cantor brought in for the purpose. So I tend to doubt his Auschwitz claim as well.
Yet regardless of Messer’s laughable ignorance of the religious tradition he purported to represent, surely this is among the most offensive uses of a Torah scroll, “Holocaust” or otherwise, in recent years. Given that Long’s faithful have reinstated him despite all the allegations of child abuse, and given their cheers at his coronation as King Messiah incarnate, apologizing to the Jewish community may seem low on the congregation’s ethical priority list. But it is more than richly owed.