Why It’s Absurd for a Pastor To Give Donald Trump a Jewish Prayer Shawl

This article does not represent my ideas in total, I have placed comments in [] where appropriate.


Trump, who had just addressed the Great Faith Ministries, a black church, in an attempt to make inroads with African-American voters, accepted the gift with a smile. Immediately, the Jewish Twittersphere exploded — not just because of the inappropriateness of this appropriation, but probably also because it was especially galling to see Trump, a man who has stoked “alt-right” anti-Semitism in this country, wearing this symbolic Jewish garment.

But what about the pastor — what was he thinking? Does he, like some other Christians, think that adopting elements of Jewish ritual makes their worship more “biblical,” and therefore more authentic? Does he think that Jesus wore this same type of “prayer shawl,” and therefore Christians should wear it to emulate Jesus? If so, the pastor badly needs a history lesson, because this whole business with the tallit is historically ridiculous. Imitating Jesus by wearing a modern Jewish prayer shawl during morning prayers? Just…no.

In the religion [is it a religion?] known as rabbinic Judaism [is there such a thing?], rectangular garments are required to have knotted tassels on the corners, following the Torah. According to the scholar Dafna Shlezinger-Katsman, in Jesus’s era, people in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire routinely wore a rectangular thing called a pallium, and therefore people who wanted to observe rabbinic Judaism probably put tassels on their pallia. (In more fashion-forward parts of the empire, they wore togas, which were elliptical and therefore didn’t require tassels.) A tassel-equipped pallium is what the early rabbis were probably referring to when they said “tallit.”


[photograph shows(left) the development of the pallium and the pope (right) wearing a pallium, not very convincing Forward Magazine!!]


Image result for priest's stole

[A priest’s stole (left) is more convincing]

In a sense, this tallit was a bit like a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. For the initiated, it signifies membership in a particular group. For everyone else, it’s just a cap with a slogan. According to Steven Fine of Yeshiva University, the tassels on the religious Jews’ pallia probably stood out to those in the know, but those who weren’t savvy to the significance wouldn’t have cared especially.

Jesus may or may not have worn a tallit, depending on whether he was the type who wore pallium and whether he was inspired to mark himself as part of the rabbinic in-group by attaching tassels to it [be careful here Forward magazine your hatred of things orthodox is showing!]. We might recall that Matthew was not overly keen on that kind of social parading (see chapter 23 of his gospel); quite possibly Jesus, too, thought there were more important issues to focus on.

But this kind of tallit, the tasselled pallium, is just like wearing a baseball cap with a slogan on it — it’s something you might routinely wear, adapted in a way your in-group cares about. It is not a “prayer shawl,” a garment associated with worship services. Having a special rectangular garment with tassels that you wear during prayer seems to have been a late medieval development, according to scholars like Elisheva Baumgarten. Jewish tradition today is influenced by two millennia of developments in practice, including medieval ones, and this kind of tallit (a “tallit gadol,” in Jewish terms) is used by contemporary Jews at certain times to accentuate the experience of prayer.

Image result for Moses at Dura EuroposSome Christians (and some Jews) labor under the impression that Judaism as practiced by Jews today is an exact reproduction of Judaism in all historical periods, going back to Moses. This misconception isn’t new, as Steven Fine points out: a third-century fresco of Moses at Dura Europos anachronistically depicts Moses in Roman pallium with tzitzit. And so some Christians who want to imitate the actions of the historical Jesus suppose that he worshipped exactly as modern Jews do, and thus a mass-market prayer shawl “straight from Israel” somehow, nonsensically, becomes imitatio Dei, behavioral emulation of the Divine.

Jesus didn’t wear a “prayer shawl,” but if you believe he did, you can buy a tallit and put it on and play dress-up-as-Jesus. You can put a tallit on your presidential candidate and pretend that makes him just like Jesus, with all the character traits you want in a leader. Certainly buying a few Jewish ritual items from an online store is a lot easier than persuading Trump to develop the character traits that originally endeared Jesus to his followers[I personally think that Trump is a lot like Jesus: a capricious egotistical megalomaniac but what politician is not?].

Jen Taylor Friedman studies the material culture of ancient Judaism at McGill University.


[Regardless of the possible inaccuracies pointed out above it is still a classic example of the misappropriation and a misapplication of things Jewish].


One thought on “Why It’s Absurd for a Pastor To Give Donald Trump a Jewish Prayer Shawl

  1. Why should we be shocked by this when the Messy-antics (xians who play Jewish Dress up) have done this for more than 40 years? It’s appropriating (okay.. downright COPYING) elements of Jewish worship and devotion and infusing it with that which is outright idolatry for a Jew. And how do we really know what Jesus wore when the earliest gospel wasn’t penned until 40 years after his supposed death? The Messy-antics and their supporters always seem to want to create the illusion that they are somehow connected to the early movement that allegedly began in the 30s CE.

    But what is most sinister and a point I don’t think the article fully addresses (and would never address) is the blatant arrogance and outright Anti-semtisim of this “co-opt Jewish elements” movement. It’s not that they assimilate Jewish elements into their brand of theology; it’s that their theology disavows what I’ll call “Kosher” Judaism. Xians believe that what Jews practice is “Rabbinical Judaism”. That’s not a nicey-nice term. It’s a charged catch phrase. As I’ve said before, these xians think that what the Jews practice is a religion formulated by Rabbis and therefore doesn’t have divine sanction, while these xians think who play Jewish dress up at their Pessach tea parties are the truer and more Divinely-approved of the two. The whole NT is nothing more than a polemic and that polemic predicated upon this demonization, separation and nullification of not only the Torah, but also of the Jewish people. These xians claim they are “true” Jews and are “Biblical Jews”; never mind what is espoused could hardly be called monotheism in its truest sense, let alone “Jewish”.

    But yet it’s almost comical that everything these xians and Messy-antics keep is “Rabbinical” (meaning it comes from Rabbinical sources — based on the Torah) and everything they don’t keep is “Biblical”. None of them keep Shabbat or the laws of family purity, or any of the other Mitzvot, nor do they recite the Brichat HaMazon. They celebrate Hanukah and Purim, which really aren’t Torah-mandated Holidays. And they do everything that the Jewish people do except believe in the True G-d of Israel. Oh, they pay lip service to the notion, but they have to have their Jesus as part of that worship. The entire raison detre of the Messy-antic movement and now the Hebrew Roots (which really has no roots in Judaism), is to discredit and deride Orthodox Judaism; while advancing that they are the “true” Jewish people. It doesn’t help when you have Jewish organizations (even Orthodox ones) almost fawning over xians and their “support”.

    So you can’t expect those who fawn over these “Tallit Fashionistas” to actually report the facts of the movement or what its implications have always been and will always be.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s