Did Roy Moore’s Messianic Jewish lawyer vote for his opponent Douglas Jones? Not quite. There’s been some confusion in the newspapers involving a case of mistaken identity between two different Jewish lawyers associated with the Moore campaign.
From our perspective, there is also some confusion over the meaning of the term “Messianic Jew.” We try to report national stories whenever Messianic Jews or Messianic Gentiles feature prominently in the news, for better or for worse. In this case, however, it’s not clear that the story should be identified with Messianic Judaism at all. Instead, it seems that the term “Messianic Jew” is simply being used as a euphemism for “Jewish Christian.”
During a Dec. 11 campaign rally Kayla Moore, the wife of politically-embattled Republican Roy Moore, commented that “one of our attorneys is a Jew” in an apparent response to accusations of anti-Semitism against the Roy Moore campaign.
The Washington Examiner initially reported that the Jewish lawyer in view was Richard Jaffe, an Alabama defense attorney hired by the Moores to defend their son, Caleb Moore, against drug charges in 2016. The Examiner pointed out that Jaffe was a long-time friend of Senator elect, Doug Jones, who defeated Moore last month, and that Jaffe campaigned and voted for Jones.
Last week, an Alabama newspaper reported that Mrs. Moore told them the lawyer she was referring to at the campaign rally was not Jaffe but Martin Wishnatsky.
Wishnatsky, however, isn’t just any Jewish lawyer. He’s a Jewish Christian, and he refers to himself as a “Messianic Jew.” When that story broke, Messianic Jews came back into national view, and that’s what caught our attention.
“My story is a simple one and swings on the hinge of a door that God opened in my life in November 1977,” Wishnatsky wrote in a 1999 autobiography. “That was the door that gave entrance to the light of Christ and the truth that he is the Messiah of Israel and redeemer of the world.”
A New Jersey native, Harvard graduate, and son of conservative Jewish parents, Wishnatsky embarked on a spiritual journey in 1977 during a troubling time in his life, according to a 1993 profile by The Washington Post. His early exploration in faith led him to dabble in Mormonism (before writing a book denouncing it), and eventually to Christianity.
“Being Jewish, I did not easily accept this,” Wishnatsky wrote about his introduction to Christianity. “My tradition was set against the religion of the gentiles.”
Despite his hesitations, Wishnatsky writes that it was an anti-abortion pamphlet on the floor of a Manhattan subway station that opened his eyes. Picking up that pamphlet marked a turning point in his life that led him to full-time anti-abortion activism and a deeper engagement with Christianity.
In the late 1980s and early ‘90s Wishnatsky was a well-known member of the Lambs of Christ, an aggressive group of anti-abortion activists that would blockade women’s health clinics with locks and stalled cars to prevent staff from entering.
In his autobiography, Wishnatsky writes that part of the reason he felt so compelled to act against abortion is because of his own family’s experience in the Holocaust. After a 1981 visit with a great-aunt, he learned that his family lost at least fifty members in the Holocaust. The similarities he saw between his own family’s near extermination and the killing of unborn babies compelled him to act.
“As a Christian I had an obligation to oppose and expose this work of the devil,” he wrote.
In the 1993 Washington Post interview, he explained how he saw similarities in both practices. “How many Jews were killed just for who they were?” he asked. “And how many babies have been killed for what they are?”
Wishnatsky spent eighteen months in jail after being arrested for his aggressive tactics along with other members of the Lambs of Christ, but his beliefs have not left him. Now, decades later, Wishnatsky is a staff attorney for the Foundation for Moral Law, which works “to restore the knowledge of God in law and government.” This is the connection that ties him to the Moore family who founded and runs the organization.
The political controversy that brought Wishnatsky’s story into the limelight developed after several women accused Roy Moore of inappropriate sexual behavior toward them when they were teenagers—charges that the Moore campaign, including Wishnatsky, say are not credible.
The New York Daily News reports that he currently attends a church in Prattville, Alabama but identifies as a Messianic Jew. An article in Spin has Wishnatsky providing the definition of the term: “I’m a Messianic Jew,” Wishnatsky said. “That’s the term they use for a Jewish person who has accepted Christ.”
From our perspective, this seems like something of a misappropriation of the term. No one would deny that Wishnatsky is a devout Christian, but by identifying himself as a “Messianic Jew,” does the lawyer mean to imply that he considers himself a part of Messianic Judaism? Probably not. Instead, he seems to use the term in a broader cultural sense—that of a Jewish person who believes in Jesus as Messiah. It’s not clear whether Wishnatsky identifies with or practices Messianic Judaism at all, a distinction too subtle for the media to make, and, perhaps, too subtle for most Hebrew Christians as well.