After being wrapped in a Torah and declared a king, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, apologized for the ceremony that many Jewish leaders found offensive.
A Youtube video of the Jan. 31 event shows Long being wrapped in a Torah and later lifted in a chair by four men who carry the bishop around the stage in front of a worshipping congregation.
“He is now raised up from a commoner to a kingship,” said Rabbi Ralph Messer, who performed the ceremony. “He’s raised from earth into a heavenly realm.
“He is a king,” Messer said. “God’s blessed. He’s a humble man. But in him is kingship. In him is royalty.”
In an apology to the Jewish community, Long said, “The ceremony was not my suggestion, nor was it my intent, to participate in any ritual that is offensive in any manner to the Jewish community or any group.
“Furthermore, I sincerely denounce any action that depicts me as a king, for I am merely just a servant of the Lord,” Long said. “I apologize for any action on my part that may have caused damage to the Jewish faith.”
Long said he understands that the ceremony caused harm to the Jewish community, but believes Messer had “good intentions.”
Messer’s website says he is the president and founder of Simchat Torah Beit Midrash, a congregation and school based in Colorado. He is described as an internationally acclaimed Bible teacher, conference speaker and Spirit-filled minister who teaches the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith.
Rabbi Joshua Heller, of Congregation B’nai Torah in Atlanta, described the ceremony as “a misuse and abuse” of the Torah.
“When I saw the video online, I was really disturbed,” Heller said. “The way we are lifted by the Torah is by reading it and following its teaching, not by using it as a garment.”
“There is nothing in the Jewish tradition where we would wrap someone in a Torah,” Heller said. “There are cases in history where Jews were burned alive wrapped in a Torah, but clearly that is not anything someone would want to emulate.”
Heller said Messer is “a self-declared rabbi.”
“The title for him is something of a misnomer,” Heller said. “He is not regarded as a rabbi by the vast majority of the Jewish community.”
Heller said he was “really disturbed, offended, put off, confused” by the ceremony.
“What is portrayed is not really reflective of Judaism or Christianity,” Heller said. “It is outside the bounds of both.”
Heller said it is possible that the Torah used in Long’s ceremony could be one of the “thousands of Torah scrolls that survived the Holocaust.”
“Even if it were a Holocaust Torah, it is upsetting to see it used that way,” Heller said. “I wouldn’t want to take the ritual objects of another faith and use it in my worship.”
Rabbi Michael Bernstein, of Congregation Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta, said Long’s ceremony “doesn’t represent anything of the religion that I represent.
“I don’t think that it represents Christianity either,” Bernstein said.
People who understand the Jewish traditions “relate to the Torah and show a lot more respect than to use it for a ceremony that is self-aggrandizing,” Bernstein said. “There isn’t going to be anyone in the Jewish community …that sees the Torah as a symbol of coronation.”
The Torah was “used as a prop in a ceremony that doesn’t have connection with anyone’s religion,” Bernstein said. “I don’t find that appropriate.”
Rabbi Steven Lebow, a reformed rabbi in Cobb County, said that “wrapping Bishop Long in a Torah scroll is a cynical attempt to shore up his failed ministry.
“Bishop Long, by having himself declared king, has sunk to a new depth in the history of religious hypocrisy,” Lebow said. “The guy exhibits an incredible sense of chutzpah. He is a legend in his own mind.”
Messer could not be reached for this story, but New Birth released a statement from Messer, who said his message was about restoration and encouragement for Long.
“The presentation of the scroll of Torah was simply a way of bringing honor to a man who had given his life to the Lord and had given so much to his church, the Atlanta metro area and throughout the world,” Messer said. “It was not to make Bishop Eddie L. Long a king.”
Messer said lifting Long in the chair was a way to “acknowledge and honor him.”
“It is done all the time at Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs,” Messer said.
Rabbi Joseph Prass, of Temple Emanu-El in Sandy Springs, said the lifting of the chair is never done during a worship service.
Messer’s ceremony was an “awkward and odd blending of Jewish elements,” and the incorporation of the Torah in the ceremony was an “inappropriate and made-up use,” Prass said.
“Jews and people of faith take great strides to ensure that the Torah is not touched,” Prass said. “To wrap someone in a Torah is to show disrespect. To wrap it around Bishop Long is just a careless and disrespectful treatment of a scroll.”
Rabbi Fred Greene, of Temple Beth Tikvah, said the video “was not easy to watch.”
“I find it to be really sad and quite offensive to use a sacred text…to repair his image,” Greene said. “The whole act was disrespectful.”
New Birth church members were “sold a phony bill of goods” by Messer, Greene said. “The leadership should know better.”