Some Notes on Rabbi Ralph Messer

The recent “enthronement” of Bishop Eddie Long by “Hebrew Roots” Rabbi Ralph Messer continues to garner journalistic fascination. The Florida Courier reports:

Orlando, Fla. is abuzz with word that Rabbi Ralph Messer is allegedly coming to New Destiny Christian Center, founded by the late Zachery Tims, to make Paula White a ‘queen’ during a Super Bowl Sunday service.

No evidence is forthcoming, but Messer is certainly known to Paula White and her ex-husband Randy – in 2007, Messer was on hand with his Torah scroll when Randy White returned to the pulpit of Without Walls International Church following the divorce announcement. On that occasion, though, White merely “clutched” a Torah scroll (according to Tampa Bay Online) – unlike Eddie Long, he wasn’t wrapped in it. There is a popular trend towards the use of Jewish devotional items in evangelical Christian worship, as I discussed here.

Messer’s links to the Whites show that Messer is more than a marginal figure, despite his eccentric religious teachings. In his presentation at Long’s church, Messer made a number of bizarre assertions that owe little to either Judaism, Christianity, or science: these have been systematically debunked by Wil Gafney, and include the claim that a Torah scroll is kept hidden from view and that only one with “great authority” is allowed to touch it; that the scroll’s cover is known as its “foreskin”; that scrolls are only given to cities “in need of anointing”; and that DNA chromosomes look like Hebrew letters. Clearly, Messer’s religion is centred around the notion that a Torah scroll  is essentially a fetish object, imbued with magical and phallic power.

However, these strange beliefs have not isolated Messer from larger religious currents: rather, he has carved an exotic niche for himself. According to his Simchat Torah Beit Midrash (STBM) website:

For more than 30 years, Rabbi Messer has facilitated inter-faith discussions between denominations, cultures, and various groups, across the country, and internationally as a popular keynote conference speaker and minister. In addition, Rabbi Messer is a frequent host on cable/satellite networks such as Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), God’s Learning Channel (GLC), and Daystar Television Network. 

Other versions of this blurb reference particular evangelists:

…STBM has ties with other international ministers including Rev. Kenneth Copeland, Pastor Paula White, and Bishop T.D. Jakes.

Messer also has links with churches in the Caribbean,and an advert posted by Messer’s organisation to Youtube urges Jamaicans to “Learn more about your Hebrew Roots”. However, this is not some kind of Black Israelite theology – these Hebrew Roots are “something greater than bloodlines”, and come from a proper understanding the Torah. This will lead to personal empowerment prosperity, “thriving and becoming the true kings and priests of this kingdom on the earth”.

Messer’s Torah-wrapping antic with Eddie Long caused particular offence because of his claims about the scroll’s provenance – he asserted that it had been rescued from Auschwitz-Birkenau (or “Auschwitz-Burkendau”, according to his pronunciation), having been thrown from one of the transport trains by Jews as they were being led in. Messer claims to “collect” such scrolls, which he  says are too valuable to be insured – a video here shows him presenting another scroll, also supposedly rescued in the same way, to Bishop Keith Butler of Word of Faith International Christian Center. According to a comment on another site:

was there when they gave him the SCROLLS. The last time I was there theey were kept in a secure case in the lobby.

The Florida Courier article carries a quote from Keith Johnson; Johnson (formerly NFL Minnesota Viking chaplain) is a United Methodist pastor who also has a interest in the Hebraic origins of Christianity, but he is scathing of Messer and of his associations with black Christians:

“Ralph Messer has been exploiting African-Americans and making a mockery of the Hebrew roots of the faith for years…” 

“For the past ten years, I have seen Messer continue to throw around Hebrew terms he does not fully understand and misuse holy objects such as Torah Scrolls to manipulate people and bring them under his authority as a “rabbi” and a supposed ‘representative of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.'”

Johnson also accuses Messer of dishonesty, after charging a friend for Hebrew lessons that never materialised:

“I then challenged Messer to read from my Hebrew Bible and he responded by making excuses for an hour about why it was ‘dangerous’ to learn the language. I continued to insist he read from my Bible in Hebrew and with great effort, Messer managed to slowly sound out the first verse of the Bible one syllable at a time. It was obvious to everyone present that Messer did not possess the knowledge to read the Hebrew language let alone to teach it.”

Messer’s website biography gives no indication of his personal background or of how he came to be a “rabbi”. However, some purported details can be gleaned from hostile religious websites. A certain Kathryn Kern presents a convoluted backstory about a dispute within the wider “Hebrew Roots” movement, which includes the following detail:

Also, the situation of the conversions of Michael and Joyce Detwiler, their sons, Boaz and his wife, and Ralph Messer and his wife, was told to me, directly by the man that gave them their conversions, Nathan Lerer.

That a Christian would feel the need to be “converted” by Rabbi may seem rather unorthodox; however, according to Kern:

None that were converted had to deny Jesus/Yeshua/Yehoshua/Yahushua/etc., directly, since Lerer never asked.

Lerer was the subject of several critical articles in the Intermountain Jewish News in the 1990s. A later story from 1999 which references these articles has been reposted elsewhere:

Nathan and Temima Feldman came to Denver’s Orthodox Jewish community, a youthful couple professing a search for deeper, more meaningful Judaism.

…Feldman says the desire of he and his wife to become authentic Jews came despite the fact that his wife’s father, Danny Miller, leads the Congregation of the Living G-d, which, like all Messianic or Hebrew-Christian groups, is based on belief in the divinity of Jesus.

…They went through what they believed was a formal conversion to Judaism under the auspices of a man who had served as a consultant to the Congregation of the Living G-d, Nathan Lerer, Feldman says… In 1991 and 1992, the IJN ran two long investigative articles on Lerer (“Temple New Israel,” Jan. 4, 1991; “Temple New Israel includes ‘Beth Messiah,’” March 13, 1992). These investigations revealed that conversions performed by Lerer — formerly the leader of the Conservative congregation Mt. Sinai in Cheyenne and the Messianic Temple New Israel in Denver — were not recognized by Israeli or American rabbinical authorities.

The IJN also revealed that Lerer’s own ordination to the rabbinate was suspect. 

It should be noted that the IJN takes a polemical tone against alleged “missionaries”, and the claim that Lerer’s ordination was “suspect” leaves the matter dangling.

Lerer died in 2002, and his father in 2004. The IJN carried an obituary of his father:

Rabbi Samuel Lerer, who some say converted more people to Judaism than anyone in the past two centuries, has died at age 89.

…The Conservative rabbi reached out to Mexicans who believed they were descended from Spanish Jews forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition.

….The rabbi’s son, Nathan Lerer, who became a familiar face and name in Colorado and Wyoming, had a similar penchant for conversion but in a considerably more controversial sense. The younger Lerer, who passed away in 2002, was accused by the regional Jewish community of improperly mixing Judaism and Christianity in his congregations and in the way he conducted conversions. He was also charged with claiming rabbinical credentials under false pretenses.

24 Responses

  1. This Great controversy must occur because we must become one in Him. Everyone including both sides Jews and Christians know that G-d ordains and a leader who teaches can be called Rabbi by the students or congregation.

  2. […] Some Notes on Rabbi Ralph Messer ( […]

  3. I just saw this video about Messer, check it out….

    • I can understand the uproar from the 14 min youtube clip. However, I think it would be useful if everyone would watch the whole service that he did so that you can put the situation into context. The title, “Taking Torah to the Nations.” – With Rabbi Ralph Messer. Not only will you be able to see the whole sermon in Atlanta but you will also hear Rabbi’s commentary on the whole situation including his apologies for the misunderstanding.


  4. You have a very smutty mind. You hear the word foreskin and right away you think sexual. You are of a sick mind. The New Testament speaks of removing the foreskin from our eyes, was it saying to removed something sexual ? It is obvious that you are unlearned when it comes to Spiritual issues. Stick to what you do best and remove you smutty thinking from that which spiritual.

    • I’m aware of the NT concept of the “circumcision of the heart”, but “foreskin of the eye” is new one on me. I think you’re getting mixed up with the scales that were removed from St Paul’s eyes.

      But the NT is irrelevant – Messer is talking about how Jews supposedly regard the Torah. Why would the Torah have a “foreskin”, when that’s the one thing male Jews have removed? Makes no sense.

  5. Just a few months ago Paula White tweeted about the awesome experience of having a Torah scroll wrapped around her. I don’t remember exactly when it was and I’m sure the Tweet has been removed due to all this contraversy but she did say she had been wrapped in the Torah scroll.

  6. […] Comments Previous Member on Broock No CriticismMr Fryed on Broock No CriticismCandy on Some Notes on Rabbi Ralph Messermo roecker on Some Notes on Rabbi Ralph MesserJames on Some Notes on Rabbi Ralph […]

  7. He had done nothing wrong with the Torah Scroll. You people are getting caught up in man’s tradition of the scroll. The scroll is just like the bible. The Rabbi Rambam one of the greatest Jewish Sages who all rabbis go by his teachings says anyone can touch the Torah Scroll even a women who’s in her cycle. The person isn’t dirty it’s the Torah Scroll that is unkosher because it’s made out of lamb skin. What he did is wrap Eddie Long in the word of God that’s all it represented. These rabbi’s who’s talking against him uses the Torah like it’s God and there so caught up in tradition they can’t recieve blessings as they should. Listen to the whole video and do some research for yourself and you’ll see what I’m saying is true.

  8. Earl: wrapping someone in the Torah scroll is beyond sacreligious in the Jewish tradition. Christians may not understand this, but to see a christian pastor wrapped in a handwritten Torah scroll is akin to you watching someone urinate on a cross. You may think that’s an extreme comparison, but ask any Jew if what Messer did was an acceptable practice and they’ll tell you no. Messer is a televangelist who uses the hook of Hebrew roots theology to bilk followers out of money. Old story.

    • To have the Nt scriptures linked to the
      OT is wrong to Jews. to say that the promise messiah or seed spoken of in Genesis to have come from Abraham to be Jesus is wrong to Jews. For christians to say that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah is even more damaging to Jews than wrapping someone in Torah scroll. There is tons of things that Jews can complain about how Christians do things..fact of the matter is that what I’ve seen from thew entire video and not just 11-14 min of it, I see nothing wrong what the rabbi did. Problem is that people even christians are so quick to judge without getting full knowledge..always to sides to a story. IMHO he didnt crown Long as no King but showed how God sees us all…he just did it in a more illustrative in regars to the wrapping him in a scroll he again was very illustrative in showing how we as christians are guarded by the word of the Lord. The biggest issue here with the Jews is that they have a problem with a non kosher person touching the scroll when even there greatest rabbi’s have no problem. The biggest problem is that these Jesus believers are desecrating their scrolls because they believe in Jesus and christians are buying into this nonsense!

  9. Bishop Long Rabbi Messer Video

    Why does Messer or Long have to apologize to anyone?
    Did they commit some horrendous crime that actually hurt the complaining parties?

    What about all the good both these men and their congregations have done down through years – the Lord knows.
    Jesus said, “ I have other sheep which are not of this fold.” Messer and Long does not have be of “OUR” fold to do something in the Name of Jesus.
    We have no right to judge another Man’s servant. Jesus is that Other Man!

    Does not Messer and Long and their respective congregations have the same freedom of speech and freedom to practice their Religion as they see fit?
    What evil acts did they commit in that service where Messer simply tried to build up and encourage Bishop Long and his congregation after all the scandal that they had been through.
    His rituals were not bizarre as some have complained, however they were a creative and a prophetic approach used to encourage and to lift up Pastor Long and the New Birth congregation.
    Rabbi Messer has freedom of speech and religion and he has the right to be as creative as anyone else.

    Since each Pastor and each Congregation are accountable to Jesus Christ for their own actions individually, why did all these Christian and Jewish Organizations who plainly stated they have no ties with Messer or Long feel they have the right to rebuke them? Are all these organizations and individuals who want to punish Long or Messer so self-righteous as to think that they have no sin in their lives and churches that the Lord could not also expose and condemn them for?

    In the story of the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery, Jesus who had every right to scandalize her, rebuke her, shame her, condemn her and punish her DID NOT. He instead built her up and encouraged to go and sin no more. Jesus was not too proud to identify with this woman even though she had already been scandalized.

    Have we become so self-righteously proud, that we can no long reach out to those who have sinned? If we are truly righteous and spiritual, are we not called to restore brothers, sisters, sinners, Churches, Bishops or whoever that have been overtaken in a fault (Galatians Chapter 6)?

    If what I say is true, then perhaps it is us who need to apologize to them. We need to apologize to Rabbi Messer for trying to be a Restorer and we need to apologize to Bishop Long when Jesus has already picked him up and told him to go and sin no more. None of us are as good and perfect as we think we are, we need to reach out to these Ministers of God’s word with love mercy and compassion. We have the ministry of Reconciliation, not alienation. We should be the ones who lead the way in Restoration and Reconciliation, not Condemantion.

    • Concern what the Messiah may have said about it all—-the greatness command is to love. Restoration and reconciliation are the highest levels of love.

  10. […] Some Notes on Rabbi Ralph Messer ( […]

  11. […] (background here) achieved notoriety last year, when he involved scandal-hit evangelist Eddie Long in a bizarre […]

  12. […] (background here) achieved notoriety last year, when he involved scandal-hit evangelist Eddie Long in a bizarre […]

  13. Can I just say what a relief to find a person that genuinely knows what they’re talking about on the net. You definitely understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people really need to check this out and understand this side of your story. I was surprised you aren’t more popular given that you definitely have the gift.

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