Friday, September 09, 2016

TOP STORY >> Trump visit to church moving

Leader executive editor

Donald Trump made a carefully scripted visit last Saturday to Great Faith Ministries, a black church in Detroit, where he called for a new civil rights agenda to raise America’s black population from a life of crime and poverty.

Trump read a handwritten speech to a half-empty church, whose pastor, Bishop Wayne Jackson, presented him with a Jewish prayer shawl with the corner fringes as prescribed in the Bible. The pastor said the prayer shawl came from the Holy Land.

Trump may have been caught by surprise, but he seemed comfortable after a while and even humble, with the traditional garment over his shoulders. Growing up in New York, he must have attended plenty of Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs and may have borrowed a prayer shawl a time or two during services.

The pastor may have chosen the tallis, as it’s called in Hebrew, because Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism and whose husband is Jewish. Trump’s grandson was circumcised eight days after he was born earlier this year.

Christian churches are major supporters of Israel, but black churches feel a special bond to the Jewish Bible, particularly Exodus and the story of the Israelites escaping from bondage in Egypt.

Great Faith Ministries holds services on the Jewish Sabbath, as do Seventh Day Adventists, the church Dr. Ben Carson belongs to. Carson, who has befriended Trump after losing the Republican nomination to the New York businessman, is said to have arranged Trump’s visit to the Detroit church.

Several black Hebrew churches were founded in Harlem, including the Commandment Keepers, and spread throughout the United States. Some consider themselves Christians, while others follow Jewish Scripture.

Thousands of Ethiopians who claim to be descendants of the lost tribe of Dan have moved to Israel and were recognized as Jews by the chief rabbinate and did not require conversions.

Many Christians wear prayer shawls at church services in this country. Pastor John Hagee, an outspoken supporter of Israel, wears a prayer shawl during his televised sermons at his Cornerstone megachurch in San Antonio.

I have Christian friends who wear the smaller fringed tzizitt as commanded in Deuteronomy 22:12: “You shall make yourself twisted cords on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.”

Jesus must have worn tzizitt, but not the tallis, the prayer shawl, which became part of Jewish services much later.

The tradition continues in synagogues and churches, worn by Jews and gentiles. More than 70 years ago, the Nazis tormented their victims before murdering them by making them wear their long tallis, which are bigger than the prayer shawls. They burned Jewish ritual objects but saved some items for a Jewish museum for an extinct people the Nazis planned to build after they won the war.

The Nazis are long gone. The survivors of the greatest genocide in history live on. There is a powerful symmetry to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse, and all the people on earth will be blessed through you.”

Now, at least one presidential candidate wears a prayer shawl on the campaign trail. No word yet if Hillary Clinton will don one in a reform synagogue, where women, too, can wear tallis on their shoulders.