When Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano kicked off his primary campaign on Jan. 8, he donned a tallit and blew a shofar, despite not being Jewish.
The use of Jewish holy objects was not a one-off affair: The state senator attended the “Patriots Arise for God and Country” rally in Gettysburg in May when nine event leaders blew the shofar to begin the event.
“We have the power of God with us,” Mastriano said at the rally, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. “We have Jesus Christ that we’re serving here. He’s guiding and directing our steps.”
In April, Mastriano appeared at a rally organized by far-right activists Alan and Francine Fosdick, who have alleged that Jews have orchestrated recent natural disasters, including wildfires, through the use of space lasers.
In many of his primary campaign events, Mastriano, an Army veteran, drew from his evangelical Christian beliefs, taking a conservative stance on issues such as abortion access, sex-sex marriage and transgender rights. He attended President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally before the storming of the Capitol Building.
Though he’s rejected the label, Mastriano embodies the values of Christian nationalism, which, according to the Associated Press, is the idea that God has destined America for greatness and will give the country a “divine blessing.” It’s the belief that Christian values should dictate the country’s politics.
Following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Mastriano doubled down on a 2018 statement comparing gun control to Adolf Hitler’s 1930s laws confiscating guns from Jews. (Hitler also loosened gun restrictions among non-Jewish German citizens.)
Combined with his far-right platform, Mastriano’s use of Jewish symbolism and condemnation of the division between church and state has alarmed some Jewish Democrats in Pennsylvania. Is Christian nationalism antisemitic? What about the use of a shofar and tallit in a political campaign by a gentile?
Mastriano did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
According to Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia Regional Director Andrew Goretsky, Christian nationalists, though often not self-proclaimed, believe that American values are inextricable from Christian values.
Though Christianity on the right has been used for the past 50 years — such as part of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority political action group to combat liberal policy and socialism — Christian nationalism has gained traction in the past decade, positioning itself against the “evil forces” of the left.
“Christian nationalists assert that America must remain a ‘Christian nation’ — not merely as an observation about American history but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future,” Goretsky said.
He asserts, though not specifically referring to Mastriano, that Christian nationalism would be antisemitic if it was dismissive of Judaism or if it specifically claimed that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, which Mastriano has not claimed.
The use of Jewish objects by a non-Jew is not inherently antisemitic, Goretsky said, but a politician’s use of these objects in a political campaign could be offensive.
“ADL believes that using a tallit or shofar outside of the ways they are supposed to be used, or in a political context, cheapens their meaning and offends many people who respect their holiness,” Goretsky said.
Jill Zipin, chair of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, was quick to condemn Mastriano’s use of the shofar and tallit during his campaign.
“It’s very problematic because the appropriation of Jewish symbols at campaign events, which is how he has used it, I believe, such as the shofar the tallit is appropriating sacred Jewish items and symbols for political gain,” she said.
Even more concerning to Zipin were Mastriano’s principles of Christian nationalism, which she believed was anti-democracy, favoring one religious group over others.
“At the turn of the last century, Jews came to this country for economic freedom, for religious freedom and for political freedom,” Zipin said. “And Christian nationalism goes to both religious freedom as well as political freedom because it’s an anti-democratic ideology.”
But to Richard Tems, a Doylestown resident and member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Christian nationalism is not antisemitic, as Christian and Jewish values are in line with each other.
“Roots of Christianity come from us,” Tems said. “So they (evangelical Christians) believe that the Messiah came, and we’re still waiting.”
Tems believes that Democrats have manufactured an adversarial relationship between Jews and Christians; to Tems, “Judeo-Christian values” are consistent with Judaism and Christianity.
Because of the religions’ close connections, Tems does not take issue with Mastriano’s use of the shofar and tallit, so long as he does so with intention and respect.
“If that’s what he chooses to do, that’s fine. Does he understand why?” Tems said. “Does he have a clear understanding of the role … Jews have in America? How fundamental we are to this nation, and how this nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles?” PJC
Sasha Rogelberg writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication where this first appeared.