WASHINGTON — When images of Donald Trump sporting a Jewish prayer shawl during his September 3 visit to a Detroit black church hit the web, the reactions on social media ranged from amusement to shock, and, in some cases, outrage.
“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,” declared Conservative Rabbi Danya Rutenberg on Twitter.
“Wait, did Donald Trump get bar mitzvahed?” asked The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs, while The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg observed that the anti-Semitic alt-right movement supporting the real estate mogul must be “paralyzed by this photograph.”
But for the pastor who presented Trump with the tallit, wearing the traditional Jewish garment is standard practice at the congregation he leads, the Great Faith Ministries International.
“This was not anything that is unusual for us,” Bishop Wayne Jackson told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “You go to my church, and you’ll see a lot of people with them on. I have several of them. I have a Jewish lawyer who gave me his personal tallit. I have about five or 10 of them for myself.”
In fact, there are other Jewish traditions the congregation observes. It was no accident Trump visited for a ceremony on a Saturday rather than the normal Sunday church service. “We do worship on the sabbath, because I do recognize the holy days,” Jackson said.
And a broadcast interview that Trump did with the pastor for the Christian Impact Network station “happened to be on the Saturday he came, so he sat in on our sabbath service.”
Great Faith Ministries follows a Pentecostal tradition in which it is common for clergy and worshippers to wear the religious garment with fringes hanging from each of its four corners, which has its origins in the Book of Deuteronomy.
Jackson also cited a verse from the Book of Numbers, in which he described: “God told Moses to command the people to take a garment and put fringes around it and those are supposed to represent God’s covenant and mercy to them, and also to remind them not to go around in service of a strange God.”
“And, of course, the founder of faith is our messiah Jesus, and he wore a tallit,” Jackson added. “So this is a common thing in the gentile church or the Christian faith.”
Jackson is known to be a proponent of “prosperity theology,” which entails the belief among certain sects of Christianity that an individual’s financial standing and physical condition come from the will of God, and that proper faith will tip the scales in their favor.
In his visit to the church, Trump sought to court black voters amid criticism he only discusses the plight of African-Americans to predominantly white audiences, and for what many regarded as his derogatory description of their collective condition.
‘This was nothing to be offensive. I love Israel. I love the people of God. The prayer shawl was meant to do nothing but to show the power of the holy spirit’
“You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” Trump had asked black Americans earlier last week.
In an effort to alleviate the fallout with the very demographic with which Trump was supposed to be broadening his appeal, his campaign reached out to Jackson to schedule an interview for his network and and an address in his church.
During a private meeting, Jackson said he told Trump he was discomfited by his characterization of black lives in America. “He can’t paint the entire black community as being in neighborhoods that are ghetto, neighborhoods that have all kinds of shootings and murders and crimes,” he said. “No that’s painting all blacks with one brush.”
At the service, Jackson not only gave Trump the tallit, but also a Jewish Heritage Study Bible, which the bishop said talks about the foundation of the Christian faith. “You know, a lot of Christians who sit in church don’t even know that the foundation of the Christian faith goes back to God’s covenant with Abraham,” Jackson said.
When Jackson learned that many Jews took exception to the tallit being used not only in his service, but also being placed on the man who has garnered the support of countless self-proclaimed white nationalists, including former KKK grand wizard David Duke and the head of the American Nazi Party, he was adamant to emphasize the regularity of the ritual.
“Christians wear that,” he said. “This has not been new, and I understand that many of our Hebrew brothers and sisters may not know this, but this is all over the United States.”
Indeed, John Hagee, the televangelist Christian leader and pastor of a mega-chuch in San Antonio, Texas, has worn one on multiple occasions, and a number of evangelical churches throughout the country sell them in their gift shops.
Jackson also stressed: “This was nothing to be offensive. I love Israel. I support Israel. I love the people of God. The prayer shawl was meant to do nothing but to show the power of the holy spirit.”
According to Jackson, Trump was not briefed beforehand about what the service would entail. When presented with the shawl, he “loved it,” Jackson said. “I told him I had one for him and one for his wife.”
The Christian leader said that bestowing the candidate with the garment was also intended to shore up his feeling for the Jewish state. “You know, this man may carry the government on his shoulders. Who knows? He may be the most powerful man in the world, if he becomes the president. And we want him to love the nation of Israel.”
“I want to make sure that Mr. Trump or anyone who might lead this nation … I want to make sure that they love Israel,” Jackson said, while also adding: “It was all about the love that was displayed in that service. It was the love there in that room that had Donald Trump leave feeling the love of Yeshua [Jesus].”
Jackson said that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has been extended an open invitation to address his congregation.