Rabbi Ralph Messer, Bishop Eddie Long, and the Auschwitz Torah

Beth Duren Lancaster contributed to the writing of this post.

Yesterday I posted the video clip from a January 29, 2012 service at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church featuring Rabbi Ralph Messer and New Birth pastor, the embattled Bishop Eddie Long. During the bizarre service, Messer wrapped Long in a scroll–purported to be a rare, uninsurable copy of the Torah, recovered from Auschwitz death camp after World War 2. Long was then enthroned as some kind of king, lifted from the stage in a “throne,” and carried around the stage.

rabbi ralph messer

"Rabbi" Ralph Messer

While watching the spectacle, I was struck immediately by Messer’s consistent mis-pronounciation of the former Nazi concentration-extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau as “Birkendaal.” This seemed, considering enduring impact of the Holocaust, a little strange to me. I’m not Jewish or German, but I was pretty sure he was swinging and missing every time. (This German example is rendered yerkinau.) The largest Nazi concentration camp was Buchenwald. My initial thought was perhaps he was merely conflating the words, but the differences between the German renderings of “Birkenau” and “Buchenwald” are not remotely close.

With that less than persuasive beginning, the story of the Torah scroll felt increasingly suspicious. Smuggling a scroll that big inside one’s clothes seemed a rather unlikely happening, given what usually happened to people as soon as they arrived at Auschwitz. All those shoes, eyeglasses, suitcases and such did not make it into the barracks. When arrivals were taken directly to be gassed, it was in supposed showers where they were nude. Except in the most extreme circumstances it would have been rather hard to hide a scroll under that condition.

I did find a story of one of the two scrolls ever known to have made it into Auschwitz. One, pictured in the link below, is much, much smaller than the one Messer wrapped around Long. In order to hide it, the owner did not just put it under his clothes, he actually crafted a fake jacket sleeve into which he sewed the scroll. His name was Yaakov Helman and you can read his story here.

Another puzzling element to Messer’s story is how did the material of the 312 year old Torah scroll end up so well preserved only having, as he insisted, some dust from Auschwitz? [The original post has been changed at this point to reflect updated information.]

In a phone interview with Maureen MacLaughlin, Archival Assistant and Librarian at the Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum in Atlanta, she informed me that there were many “Holocaust scrolls” but her description differed somewhat from Messer’s. According to MacLaughlin, the Nazis confiscated any number of scrolls at the gates of the various camps and warehoused them. Their ultimate aim was to create a “museum to an exterminated race” of which scrolls, and other Jewish possessions would be used. Scrolls were also smuggled through the ghettos. Numbers of these kinds of scrolls were retrieved after the war and restored to use in synagogues. (There are complicated consecration and un-consecration rituals to determine what scrolls can be used. Just because a scroll is rescued does not mean it can be used.) Some scrolls were smuggled out of Europe before the Nazis invaded and wound up in safe countries.

Unfortunately, there are Torah scrolls, as with a tremendous amount of antiquities, that are utterly fraudulent. One of the most well known was the “bone box” purported to be the burial box–“ossuary”–that once held the remains of James, the brother of Jesus.

One may find links to a number of stories about a Torah scroll that was supposedly found in a cemetery near Auschwitz. The man who eventually found it (Rabbi Menochem Youlus, the “Jewish Indiana Jones”) claims to have initially searched the cemetery, only to find nothing. Later after discovering old maps demonstrating that the cemetery was once much larger, he found a box containing the scrolls. The Torah that was “found” was missing 4 panels. Youlus claimed to have located them after putting an ad in a Polish newspaper. These panels were purportedly folded, hidden and taken into Auschwitz, yet survived intact.

The Torah was restored by Youlus’s Save a Torah Foundation, then bought by billionaire David Rubenstein for $32,000, and donated to the Central Synagogue in NYC. According to this article, the Torah was taken to another synagogue and the congregants each had a chance to kiss the Torah. (This, and additional information below, contradicts Messer’s teaching that only those of great authority could touch it.)

All of this happened around 2007-2008. In 2010, the authenticity of the Auschwitz scroll was openly questioned since Youlus had no proof of any of his claims, and there was no record to be found of this cemetery ever being larger than its currently size. Problematic for both Youlus and the scroll, he has changed his story a few times. Other Holocaust scrolls Youlus was to have rescued are also suspect.

The director of the group that maintains the cemetery claims no knowledge whatsoever of the scrolls being found there. By the time these concerns had been raised, the Washington Post was questioning the authenticity of several other Holocaust scrolls (not related to Auschwitz apparently) among the more than 500 scrolls Youlus claims to have found. In August of 2011, Youlus was charged with wire and mail fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison for and then siphoned thousands of dollars given to the foundation into personal accounts.

If any Torah scroll had been found at Auschwitz-Birkenau, as Messer seems to say, I cannot find a story about it. Judging by the volume of articles from 2008 when the Youlus Torah was “found”, it should have made the news if others had turned up before it or since. I am open to correction on this point.

In addition to the historical questions, there are other statements Messer makes in the first few minutes of the video (before the parade starts), with plenty of strange biblical and biological claims and theological assertions. In a Huffington Post article, Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D. listed 27 different errors (as she judges) made by Messer in his monologue. Gafney, the Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is also a member of the Dorshei Derekh Reconstructionist Minyan of the Germantown Jewish Center in Philadelphia. She also has co-taught courses with and for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Seminary in Wyncote, PA. Among the problems listed:

1. The claim that Holocaust Torahs cannot be insured “because there are no more” is patently false. They are regularly insured as are other one of a kind objects d’art, i.e. the works of Picasso.
2. The Torah cover is not a “foreskin.”
4. The Torah wrapper is not referred to as a “belt of righteousness.”
6. The claim that “only one of great authority” is given a “finger” to touch the scroll is patently false. Any bar or bat mitvah, girl or boy, woman or man, who has completed the rite of passage, can chant the Torah according to the (minhag) custom in their congregation. Torah scroll pointers, called “hands,” (yadayim), not “fingers” are common gifts and possessions in Jewish families and communities.
10. The point that “these” — presumably Torah scrolls or just Holocaust Torah scrolls are only given to “cities in need of anointing” is false. Individuals, families and religious communities own and commission Torah scrolls and keep or give them as they see fit, to synagogues, Jewish seminaries and other schools and museums.
16. While there are some traditional reflections on the human body — including DNA and chromosomes — in the mystical Kabbalistic tradition, the speaker is crafting a verbal montage without reference to the classical texts or their theologies.
17. He attributes a quote to “Jewish doctors” stereotyping an entire community as conflating cellular biology with his Hebrew mysticism without actually naming or quoting any single “Jewish doctor” who holds such an opinion.
19. The claim that the kings of Israel were crowned with Torah scrolls wrapping them has no foundation in the biblical text. According to the bible’s own chronology the written Torah did not come into existence until the reign of King Josiah in the sixth century BCE (2 Kgs 22), some four hundred years after the time of David. However, the great second century rabbi Hanina ben Teradion, was however wrapped in a Torah scroll and burned alive in his martyrdom. Perhaps he has confused or conflated the traditions.
25. The elevation of Long lifted in the chair by four men seems to have been borrowed from Jewish wedding festivities and has noting to do with coronation; there is no evidence of this practice among Israelite or Judean monarchs.
26. The Aaronic blessing (Num 6:24-26) is a blessing for the people and not a putative leader.

Gafney further notes:

[Messer] may well be some sort of Messianic Jew, a person who claims Jewish heritage and recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, but who is not part of one of the major Jewish movements: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal. He does not, however, represent recognizable Jewish thought or practice in his (mis-) representations of the Torah and other Jewish sancta — or for that matter, New Testament and Christian biblical interpretation and theology.

By his own words Rabbi Messer is a prosperity preacher working from the Torah. From his Facebook page status on Tuesday, January 25, 2012, he says:

The Torah Principles produce LIFE! If you have been undecided, unfocused, and unexcited, then start learning about Principles of God. You can Succeed! You have been Redeemed! Yeshua (Jesus) has a plan for your life! It is called the Torah. You have been Redeemed to walk out a Redeemed Lifestyle. You can learn more about your Hebrew Roots by calling, 1-866-867-2488 or by emailing us at Support@STBM.org. You can also visit us online at www.STBM.org. Remember, a Torah Principle applied accurately will cause you to prosper Financially, Emotionally, Physically and Spiritually.

Can I just say here that you really might want to consider what the New Testament says about the law bringing life?

What I see in Messer is a fellow who is theologically aberrant, historically questionable, and is propagating historically inaccurate or incomplete information about this scroll. In any event, the folks in the service who cheered this mess should be the focal points of much prayer and strongly encouraged to read deep into their Bibles and read up on Rabbi Messer’s stories.

Since this was written, Bishop Eddie Long issued an apology, and a number of Messianic Jewish Rabbis (those who are believers in Jesus as the Messiah) have distanced themselves from “Rabbi” Messer, calling into question his credentials and his teachings.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Thank you so much for the time you have taken to correct this lie from Messer and Long openly. Your rebuke is seen clearly in your writing, as well as a heart that hurts for those Messer was deceiving.

  • Jason Sampler

    Wait a minute, Marty. Are you saying Bishop Long isn’t actually a king now? I am severly disappointed as I thought the end was near now that we have our king. I may have to rethink my whole religious paradigm now.

    Jason

    P.S. I am really disappointed at Gafney’s point #2 :)

    • Marty Duren

      Man, that’s just wrong.

  • Chuck Nation

    This is good theater–what a show!(350K+ YouTube views to-date) But did you notice from the rear view camera shot that the scroll is held together with Scotch tape? That’s hilarious! I thought the vellum of ancient scrolls was sewn together. You would think that an “uninsureable” 312 yr. old scroll would deserve better treatment…unless of course it is just a prop. I think it would have been more appropriate to have wrapped him in a strait-jacket.

    • Jonathan

      What’s the time marker for those shots?

      • Chuck Nation

        4:55 and 5:17

  • Jason Sampler

    From an article on CNN.com (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/03/bishop-eddie-long-crowned-king/?hpt=hp_t2)that I just found:

    “It was not to make Bishop Eddie L. Long a king,” Messer said in the statement. “Lifting him on the chair was to acknowledge and honor him. It is done all the time at Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs.”

    Apparently we misunderstood when he kept pronouncing him as “a king not of this world.” How could we have been so stupid, Marty?

  • Bintang Kejora

    It was a show just like James Macdonald and T.D Jakes

    • Marty Duren

      Not even close. I was at ER2. What MacDonald and the rest tried to do there cannot be compared to this. You are deluded if you think so, and don’t post another link to somebody else making your argument for you.

  • Bintang Kejora

    You middle age white men and women need to repent of your racism against the Bishop,T.D Jakes or Eddie Long.

    Just ask Bryan Crawford Loritts

  • Bintang Kejora

    You were NOT at the Elephant Room 2.
    A church in Nashville that you watched a screen of the Elephant room 2 does not an attendee make you.
    I have the screenshot of you to prove it.

    • Marty Duren

      Dude, being at an official satellite location is considered “attended” “was there” “went to.” If it helps you work through your consternation, “I was at ER2, Nashville satellite location at 4301 Charlotte Ave, hosted by Cross Point Church.” Which, btw, was clear from my Twitter feed.

  • Bintang Kejora

    Marty,
    All I am trying to communicate is that I do not believe either man is any kind of evangelical that I believe we need to be aligned with for the Glory of God.
    You appear to think that T.D Jakes is at least closer to Gospel truth.
    Am I correct in my summation of your position?

    I think they are both repugnant to the Gospel.

    • Marty Duren

      All I am trying to communicate is that I do not believe either man is any kind of evangelical that I believe we need to be aligned with for the Glory of God.

      That did not appear to be the case in anything that you had written, but forgive me for not seeing it.

      I believe Jakes is still too far into prosperity. I’d never have him come to any church that I pastored. (I have heard him speak in two conference situations, though, in which he was thoroughly biblical and powerful.) However, the din of condemnation that arose over what MacDonald was attempting to do bore little resemblance to the gospel either.

      The issue with Jakes at ER2 was clearly–clearly–Trinitarianism. Yet, when he went into a full and lengthy explanation, there was too little thankfulness; more preferred was a quick refocusing of the guns.

      What I’m saying is that MacDonald’s efforts were both honorable and biblical, and that Jakes indicated a willingness to engage on terms and turf not necessarily hospitable to him…for the sake of the gospel. That’s worth something to me.

  • Bintang Kejora

    “What I’m saying is that MacDonald’s efforts were both honorable and biblical, and that Jakes indicated a willingness to engage on terms and turf not necessarily hospitable to him…for the sake of the gospel. That’s worth something to me”.

    We will just have to disagree…..I think Thabiti and Voddie were Biblical in there response to Dr Macdonald et al.

    I just wish you were an equal opportunity offender of both men!

    • Marty Duren

      lol to your last line.

  • Marty, there’s one detail I haven’t seen anyone else mention yet. Maybe I haven’t looked enough. But there’s sort of a throw-away remark Messer makes when he mentions the supposed 39 lambskins that make up the Torah scroll. Very quickly he says, “By (His?) 39 stripes you are healed.” That’s obviously an amended quotation of Isaiah 53:5, but it brings to light an all-too-common misconception about Jesus’ suffering.

    There’s no reason to believe Jesus’ received “39 lashes” prior to His crucifixion. The 39 lashes were a proscription in the Torah for punishment, which was actually supposed to be no more than 40 (see Dt. 25:3). And the punishment was supposed to be against the losing party in a two-person dispute brought before a Hebrew court of law.

    Jesus was flogged – scourged, actually – by Roman soldiers under the orders of Pontius Pilate. These men would not have cared one whit about Jewish law – religious or otherwise – and would have flogged Jesus as much or as little as they liked. The horrifying scene of torture in “The Passion of the Christ” is likely much more true to what happened than any 39 lashes.

    This may seem minute to some, but it’s yet another example to pile upon the heap of lies Messer spews in this video.

  • jack

    Good research, Marty. Thanks for the info. Fight the good fight. I’m still looking for four guys to lift me up at my church this Sunday. Forget the “pastor” stuff…I want to be “king”!

    • Marty Duren

      lol

  • Frank Compton

    Well done, Marty and Beth. This sheds much needed light on this abomination. This whole “kingship” shenanagan somehow feels scripted right out of the pages of the “Left Behind” fictional account of the Revelation.

  • Shell

    Nice work, Marty. Like I’ve said before, you’re my kind of sky pilot.

    • Marty Duren

      Shell-
      I’m consistently thankful that God allowed us to reconnect all these years later. I just wish we could have shared some Krispy Kremes in Riverdale before we both fled the jurisdiction.

  • Thanks, Marty. That video was terrible. Thanks for exposing the lies. I don’t get why we want to worship man. This takes the “celebrity preacher” thing to the next step, doesn’t it?

    • Marty Duren

      Alan-
      Sonya reminded me that Eddie Long stepped down from his position at New Birth last year in the wake of the settlement. Then his wife filed for divorce only a short time ago. I see this as an overt effort to convince the church that he is still qualified to lead, now being above the earth, no one able to speak a bad word against him, and all that other drivel.

      It’s blatant manipulation as far as I’m concerned. As far as Messer goes, he falls under the warning about those who use the word of God deceitfully. I’ve never seen that done quite so literally…