The Shmooze

Jewish Groups, Mormons Reach Agreement on Posthumous Baptisms

By Josh Tapper

  • Print
  • Share Share

If there’s ever been an inter-religious dispute that’s flown under the radar, the simmering, decades-long controversy between the Church of Latter Day Saints and Jewish groups over posthumous Mormon baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims may well be a prime example.

But an agreement struck last week by the Church and the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendents stands to discontinue its practice of “baptisms for the dead” — a religious mandate that permits living Mormons to initiate deceased family members into the Church — which has been in practice since the mid-1800s.

Jewish groups have claimed the proxy baptisms are insensitive, especially to those who suffered during the Holocaust. Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and Anne Frank are among those who have been baptized posthumously. Mormons, for their part, have never admitted nefarious intentions.

“As a result of dialogue and extraordinary efforts of the Church, computer systems and policy initiatives have been put in place that resolve this issue,” the two groups said in a joint statement.

Mormons hold that families can be reunited in death, a belief that has spurred the Church to invest countless dollars in genealogical archiving and research. In 1994, Jewish genealogists discovered that names of Holocaust victims were being placed in the Church-run International Genealogical Index, a sprawling list of records originally created to help manage proxy baptisms.

A Jewish delegation met with Mormon leaders the following year and the Church pledged to keep Holocaust victims out of the database. The names, however, kept popping up and subsequent meetings were held in 2005 and 2008.

Both sides of the mediation are confident the latest round of meetings will be the last. A Mormon can now only enter the name of a Holocaust victim into the IGI if he is a direct descendant and “those descended from a Holocaust victim have to go through a special process to do proxy baptisms for a Jewish relative,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

“This was a much heralded resolution and everyone in the delegation is extremely happy,” said former New York attorney general Robert Abrams, who was involved in the discussions. “This is a very generous and significant effort by the LDS Church to display enormous sensitivity to the Jewish community for victims of the Holocaust and I think members of the Jewish community recognize what the Church has done.”

Others, however, are skeptical the resolution will be successful. Gary Mokotoff, one of the first genealogists to point a finger at the Mormons, said no computer system can curb the inclusion of Holocaust victims.

“The only way this is going to be stopped is by the Church reprimanding individuals doing it — first with a warning, then something stronger — maybe excommunication,” he told the Tribune. “It’s the 55-mph rule of the Mormon Church. It’s on the books, but no one enforces it.”

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: American Gathering Holocaust Survivors, Baptism, Church of Latter Day Saints, Mormon, Posthumous

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love.
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.