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Jews nonplussed as Trump dons tallit at church

Social media users mock, criticize Republican presidential candidate for accepting prayer shawl from Christian bishop

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump wears a prayer shawl during a church service at Great Faith Ministries on September 3, 2016, in Detroit. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)
Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump wears a prayer shawl during a church service at Great Faith Ministries on September 3, 2016, in Detroit. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Republican candidate Donald Trump’s donning a Jewish prayer shawl on Saturday during a visit to a Detroit black church has left some members of the American Jewish community scratching their heads, while others decried the move as “appropriation.”

During an appearance at the Good Faith Ministries International church in Detroit, Bishop Wayne Jackson presented Trump with the garment, known in Hebrew as a tallit, which was reportedly imported from Israel.

The tallit is a rectangular garment with fringes hanging from the four corners.

The origins of the shawl come from a commandment in the book of Deuteronomy, 22:12, “You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.”

While the tallit is most clearly associated with the Jewish people, in recent years some Christian groups have also adopted the garment into their services.

The event prompted ridicule and ire on social media, with notable Jewish Twitter users cracking jokes about the expected response from Trump’s far-right and anti-Semitic supporters. But while some mocked the image of a Protestant presidential candidate receiving a Jewish tallit from a Christian pastor, others saw the incident as pandering to both Jewish and African-American voters.

“You guys, a Jewish prayer shawl–a tallit–is a ritual garment. Meant to be worn only by Jews. This is the worst kind of appropriation,” Conservative Rabbi Danya Rutenberg wrote on Twitter.

Rutenberg, who regularly writes on liberal issues for Bitch, Lilith and other publications, called the move “disrespectful” in subsequent tweets.

“Yes, my people also suffer cultural appropriation,” Twitter user Andy Rivkin added.

Kaili Joy Gray, a communications manager for Planned Parenthood, opted for a simple, “No. Just no.”

In response to the tallit incident, Jewish writer Jordan Freiman referenced a scandal earlier this year, when Trump tweeted an image of rival candidate Hillary Clinton on a backdrop of money with a Jewish star, which he later claimed was “a regular star or maybe a sheriff’s star.”

“Give him a sheriff’s badge, too,” Freiman wrote.

Journalist Jeffery Goldberg cited Trump’s “alt-right” supporters, a group that has been accused of sexism, anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry.

But while many plumbed the tallit incident for political significance, some merely poked fun.

Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the British Guardian newspaper, asked, “Wait, did Donald Trump just get bar mitzvahed?” a reference to the fact that the first time many Jews wear a tallit is at the religious ceremony marking their entrance into man- or womanhood.

During his speech at the black church, Trump promised the congregants that he would bring prosperity and job opportunities to people of color.

“Nothing is more sad than when we sideline young black men with unfulfilled potential, tremendous potential,” Trump said, speaking from notes.

“Our whole country loses out without the energy of these folks. We’re one nation. And when anyone hurts, we all hurt together,” he said.

Trump has been faulted for largely ignoring the black community during his campaign, and bypassing appearances before black churches and organizations in favor of rowdy, largely white rallies.

“I fully understand that the African-American community has suffered from discrimination and that there are many wrongs that must still be made right. They will be made right,” Trump said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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