Forward Thinking

A Mormon Practice That Troubles Some Jews

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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The Mormon practice of baptizing deceased Jews by proxy is nothing new. The Jews called the Mormons on it years ago, and the Church promised to stop doing it. But recent headlines have indicated that some Mormons, unable to suppress their desire to save the souls of dead Jews, are back at it.

Big names — both deceased and living — have been involved. The parents of the late Simon Wiesenthal and relatives of Elie Wiesel have been baptized. Just the other day word got out that Anne Frank had been baptized…again. As would be expected, the Simon Wiesenthal Center spoke out against this, as did Abe Foxman from the Anti-Defamation League. Wiesel called on GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who admitted to performing these posthumous rituals at one point), as the most prominent Mormon in the country to tell his Church to stop the practice.

As distasteful as this baptism by proxy business seems to me, I had originally decided that I was going to refrain from commenting on it. But when I happened upon two related items in the media almost simultaneously on Wednesday, I thought again.

I completely agree with Jeff Jacoby, who wrote in his Boston Globe column titled, “Mormon ritual is no threat to Jews” that it is odious to equate these posthumous conversions to a second Holocaust, as some have hysterically suggested. I also concur that the Mormons’ highly unusual interest in the family trees of every person who has every walked the earth can be very helpful and meaningful to Jews. My mother, an avid genealogist, has made several “pilgrimages” to Salt Lake City to make use of the Mormon’s vast databases.

I am also inclined to concede Jacoby’s point that the Mormons who conduct these rituals are well meaning, nice people. Some of my best friends are Mormons. Really. (Though, I’ll admit it took my moving to Northern California from my Jewish bubble in New York to meet any.)

But it was the other item I read today that convinced me that I needed to not sweep baptism under the rug or follow Jacoby’s lead in thinking that it is just a benign phenomenon. That other item was a news story stating that the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl had also been posthumously baptized by the Mormons.

It was exactly ten years ago this month that I attended the interfaith memorial service for Pearl that was held in New York, an event I have not forgotten, nor will I ever forget. At it, religious leaders from all faiths emphasized that fact that Pearl professed his Jewishness right before he was brutally beheaded by Islamic terrorists. His statement, “My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish,” echoed the recitations of the Sh’ma by Jews who have been murdered throughout history for the mere fact that they were Jews.

“As a Jew, I am less interested in what other religions teach about the fate of Jews in the next world than in how they affect the fate of Jews in this world,” Jacoby wrote. “Outraged by proxy baptisms? Count me out. As my stunted family tree attests, the Jewish people have very real, very dangerous enemies. Mormons undergoing peaceful rituals in their own temples aren’t on the list.”

I wholeheartedly agree that we Jews have some very real, very dangerous enemies to contend with in real life. However, I would argue that there is a very slippery slope between the world to come and this one. I think we have all seen enough religious conflicts to know that if a person of one religion finds a person from another unfit for the afterlife, then it isn’t a big leap for her to render him unfit for this one, as well. Mormons may just be trying to save Jews, but the very fact that they think we need saving raises a red flag.

It’s the radical Islamists, not the Mormon, we really need to be worried about right now. But it’s the principle of the thing. I’m all for live and let live…by only as long as it extends to after we’re dead, too.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mormons, Mitt Romney, Jeff Jacoby, Daniel Pearl, Baptism

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