Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, has never shied away from speaking about his Christian beliefs, which include support for Christian nationalism and an apostolic, prophetic theology. His views on Judaism, however, are less clear.
Mastriano made many comments about his opponent’s Jewish practice and identity. Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate, is an observant Jew who sends his children to Jewish day school — one of many facets of his life and beliefs that Mastriano and his campaign have decried, with comments that often sound like to anti-Semitic dog whistles.
Yet Mastriano’s senior adviser Jenna Ellis also criticized Shapiro for not being Jewish enough, call the candidatewho keeps kosher, “at best a secular Jew”.
Mastriano and his far-right Christian nationalist comrades have a soft spot for Judaism — or at least something close to it. During Mastriano’s campaign announcement in August, he had a shofar blown by a man wearing a tallit. At a rally the day before Election Day, a woman played a guitar tribute to Mastriano to the tune of “If I Were a Rich Man” excerpt from “Fiddler on the Roof”. And at the same event, a man presented as Rabbi Mitch Triestman blessed Mastriano in Hebrew.
Last day of campaign #PAGov: At a Mastriano rally in Bucks County, a woman on stage sings the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof with lyrics full of praise for Mastriano
“We want you to be the governor. That’s what everyone prays for.
— Jacob Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) November 7, 2022
But none of these seemingly Jewish rituals had anything to do with Judaism, nor involved Jews. The preacher who blew the shofar, the woman who strummed the guitar and the so-called rabbi, which is not ordered and wrote books including “Abraham the Committed Christianare all followers of Messianic Judaism, a Christian sect that co-opts Jewish tradition and ritual.
Messianic Judaism is distinctly Christian, as it centers on belief in Yeshua, which is the Hebrew name for Jesus. This makes joining easy for Christians like Mastriano, whose embrace of Christian nationalism leaves little room to support any religious practice that does not accept Jesus as the messiah.
Mastriano pointed to his use of Jewish ritual as proof that he is not anti-Semitic after accusations began to fly due to his associated with the anti-Semitism-filled social media platform, Gab and its openly anti-Semitic founder Andrew Torba.
“We had a shofar, a prayer shawl,” Mastriano said in a Facebook livestream. “Like, make up your mind! You know, you have too much Jewishness in your events, now you are anti-Semitic. He went on to say that it was “weird” that he was, as he put it, criticized for having “too much Jewish symbology”.
Many Jews, however, view Messianic Judaism as offensive and even anti-Semitic itself, given that Messianic congregations often seek to convert Jews.
Still, Mastriano and those close to him seem to feel they have the power to determine what makes a “good” or a “true” Jew. His wife, Rebbeca Mastriano, recently responded to accusations of anti-Semitism by saying that “we probably love Israel more than many Jews.” And, of course, there’s this comment from his adviser, implying that Shapiro isn’t religious enough to be considered a true Jew — even though Shapiro keeps kosher, a commitment to religious observance that many Jews do not take.
It seems likely that Mastriano defines Jewishness based on ideas that correspond to his own religious worldview and affiliation – a style of worship and belief in God parallel to his Christianity, merely with a different dress. This is becoming an increasingly common trend among a certain strain of fundamentalist evangelicals like Mastriano, who seek religious ritual closer to what they believe to be biblical observance in an effort to enhance the perceived authenticity of their practice.
The framing of Jewish practice as good and bad echoes Christian rhetoric that criticizes Jews for not embracing Jesus as the messiah. Christians often point to passages from the Hebrew Bible that they read with a supersessionist bent to demonstrate that Jesus is the messiah predicted by the Jewish texts. The Jews’ refusal to accept Jesus as their messiah is labeled as stubbornness and misguided religious observance.
Mastriano is unlikely to win this race, but his headline-grabbing beliefs about Jews are unlikely to go away so easily. Blowing shofars and other gestures towards Jewish ritual have become more and more frequent in right-wing spaces, including Jan. 6 before protesters attacked the Capitol building. These gatherings which often include anti-Semitic conspiracies alongside stolen election conspiracy theories – a sign that love of Jewish ritual is not correlated with love of Jews, no matter what Mastriano says.
Nevertheless, non-Jews are becoming more and more emboldened to define what, exactly, makes someone a true Jew. Recently, defenders of Kanye West’s anti-Semitic remarks attempted to placate his critics by stating that the rapper was seeking to attract “non-religious Jewish brokers,” and non-religious — and, by implication, not real — Jews.
It is unclear whether Mastriano understands that his messianic pastors are not Jewish. Perhaps he missed the note that belief in Jesus is a disqualifying factor.