Posted by Mark Paredes
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
I’m currently conducting a job search, and have finally found the perfect position for someone with my background: if you’re looking for a prognosticator for the latest round of Israeli –Palestinian peace talks that kicks off this week, I’m your man. I don’t need an advanced degree in political science or a crystal ball. Having served as a U.S. diplomat in Israel at a time when leaders were talking and buses were exploding, I need only to apply the central lesson of the failed Oslo peace process: if you don’t have a negotiating partner, you can’t make peace.
I’ve never understood why Israeli and American leaders tried to convert the terrorist Yasser Arafat into a peace partner, let alone a Nobel Prize recipient. As far as I could determine, the only difference between Arafat and Hitler in terms of anti-Semitism was their ability to act on their beliefs. I once served as a note-taker for a senior State Department official during a detailed security briefing by the head of Israeli military intelligence. When the official remarked that what he was hearing caused him to believe that neo-Nazis were heading the Palestinian Authority (PA), the military chief asked him what he thought would happen if the balance of military power were reversed for a week (i.e., if Arafat and the PA had Israel’s military capacity and vice versa). I’ll never forget the State Department diplomat’s answer, delivered after a rather pregnant pause: “I guess there would be 6 million fewer Jews in the world.” There was no good reason to talk peace with Arafat; the Oslo process was stillborn. U.S. Presidents Clinton and Bush, along with Israeli Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak and Sharon, all learned the hard way that when you don’t have a partner across the table, you can’t create one.
The current Middle East face-off pits right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu against Mahmoud Abbas, former President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). In order for Israel to make meaningful concessions on the major issues (Jerusalem, borders, refugees) and renew a settlement freeze on the West Bank, Bibi will have to face down prominent members of his governing coalition, including hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Such a fight could possibly bring down Bibi’s government and/or force him to govern with a more liberal coalition partner. Even a cursory analysis of Abbas’s political stability shows that there is no incentive at all for Bibi to risk his political future for someone who can’t deliver for his side.
For one thing, Abbas officially holds no power. His term as President of the PNA officially expired in January of 2009, and he unilaterally awarded himself a one-year extension. After the extension expired, he just decided to stay on without a mandate. That’s right: Abbas has absolutely zero authorization to act as president of anything right now, much less to sign peace treaties with Israel. Even the PLO hasn’t authorized him to represent Palestinians: only 9 of the 18 members of the PLO Executive Committee bothered to show up to vote on Abbas’s participation earlier this month, and the PLO charter clearly requires 12 members to form a quorum for such meetings. Abbas’s capable Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, ran in the 2006 parliamentary elections and won exactly 2 seats (out of 132). His number two abandoned Fayyad’s party, leaving him with one seat. Only enormous pressure from the United States and Europe forced Abbas to appoint Fayyad as PM. Who would sign a treaty with these pretenders?
In addition to his lack of a mandate to negotiate for his people (or, for that matter, to be allowed into his office), it must also be noted that Abbas’s illegitimate rule does not extend to the Gaza Strip, whose 1.5 million residents are led by a group of Hamas leaders who forcibly expelled members of Abbas’s political party – their coalition partners—in 2007, killing more than 100 people in the process. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, refuses to recognize Abbas’s extended term as president, and refuses to allow him to negotiate on its behalf with Israel. Since Abbas obviously can’t deliver on any promise he makes to Israel and the U.S. on behalf of all Palestinians, there is no reason for him to be at the same negotiating table with a democratically-elected Israeli Prime Minister.
Unsurprisingly, Abbas is already looking for a pretext to exit the talks. If Israel doesn’t renew a freeze on settlements later this month, Abbas has threatened to end the talks. While I do think that Israel’s policy on settlements is somewhat schizophrenic, this is an obvious red herring. Unlike the PA, Israel has a track record of making painful sacrifices for the sake of peace, including asking Jewish soldiers to evict fellow Jews from their homes. Israel has evacuated settlements from the Sinai Peninsula (as part of a peace treaty with Egypt), from the Gaza Strip (a unilateral action that seems ill-advised in hindsight), and from the West Bank (sporadic police actions to remove isolated outposts). There is every indication that Israel would act to remove settlers from the West Bank again in order to comply with the terms of a final peace agreement. Refusing to negotiate such an agreement because there are more Jews currently living in the West Bank than one desires is illogical.
Not only was Einstein correct (see above quote), but so was Santayana: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. With the peacemaking circus making a stop in Washington this week, we can expect to see more collective amnesia on display. Jews, Mormons, and other people of goodwill continue to pray for peace in the Middle East and a solution to this decades-old conflict, but this prognosticator is betting that their prayers are not likely to be answered as long as the central lesson of Oslo continues to be ignored.
If you would like to be a guest blogger during my September 10-24 European speaking tour, please send me your submission by September 8, along with a photo (if desired). The topic should be of interest to both Mormons and Jews. I will notify you on September 9 if/when you will be published. Thank you.
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August 28, 2010 | 12:06 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. – Exodus 31:16
If you ask a typical Mormon which Jewish practices she most admires, chances are she’ll mention Sabbath observance. We have enormous respect for the Jews’ honoring of the Sabbath day throughout centuries of persecution, and Mormons who have sat at their Jewish friends’ Sabbath tables do not soon forget the glowing candles, childrens’ blessings, challah, and warmth on display. The setting aside of one day a week for worship and rest is an opportunity for members of both faiths to recharge their spiritual batteries and give thanks to G-d. In addition, it is such an important commandment that Sabbath observance serves as an informal indicator of dedication and devotion in both traditions: just as a Jew who drives on Friday nights would not be considered Torah-observant, a Mormon who chooses to work, shop and attend sporting events on Sundays is generally viewed as less devout than Mormons who do not.
Unlike Judaism, Mormonism allows some flexibility on Sabbath scheduling where it is necessary in order to align members’ worship schedules with the local workweek. While Sunday is the Sabbath for Mormons in the United States and in most countries throughout the world, members of the three LDS congregations in Israel go to church on Saturdays, and those in Muslim countries observe the Sabbath on Fridays.
Like observant Jews, Mormons spend the Sabbath day attending worship services (ours last three hours), visiting family and friends, and engaging in scripture study and personal reflection and prayer. In addition, Mormons participate in a 24-hour fast (no food or water) on the first Sunday of each month, and give a donation representing the cost of the meals that they would have consumed – and sometimes much more—to a fund to help the poor.
Unlike most other Christian churches, we do not hold worship services to celebrate Christmas unless it falls on the Sabbath, our day for worship. When Christmas falls on any other day, I usually attend a religious service at another church, usually a traditional Catholic mass or Episcopal service. I must confess to being somewhat jealous of both my Christian friends who can attend services on Christmas every year and my Jewish friends who have many other religious holidays to celebrate throughout the year. For Mormons in the U.S., worship services for holidays are limited to Easter (which always falls on a Sunday) and Christmas when it is on a Sunday. We do not celebrate other Christian feasts like Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday.
Observant Jews set an exemplary model of respect for the Sabbath. In preparation for Friday evening, they change into clean, pressed clothes, clean the house, prepare a special meal, light candles, gather their families together, and bless their children. Although our Sabbath is not as structured as the Jewish one, most Mormon families I know go to church as a family and have a family meal on Sundays. It is an axiom in my mind that respect for the Sabbath has protected and preserved both faiths, and I pray that we will all continue to promote this perpetual covenant as a way to draw closer to our G-d and our families. Shabbat shalom.
I will be delivering pro-Jewish speeches in Europe September 10-24, and would like to publish the essays of at least a couple of guest bloggers during that time. If you are a Jew or Mormon and have a short essay with a topic of interest to both communities, please submit it by September 8 with a jpg picture (if desired). I will notify you on September 9 if your submission will be published. Thank you.
August 25, 2010 | 12:49 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
While attending a training course for Foreign Service officers in Washington, DC, I met a lovely couple at a reception held at the Turkish Embassy. He was a Turkish businessman, she an American writer. I attended a party at their suburban home a week later and immediately noticed large American and Turkish flags atop an imposing flagpole in the front yard. When I paid them a farewell visit months later prior to beginning my first diplomatic assignment in Mexico, I noticed that the Turkish flag was gone. My friends calmly explained that their new neighbors were an Armenian-American couple, and during their initial over-the-fence conversation with the wife, she had told them that she and her husband had both lost great-grandparents in the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish government. The woman made no mention of the Turkish flag, but my friends decided after much discussion that while they certainly had a right to fly the flag on their property, it was more important to them to forgo that right and avoid offending their nice new neighbors. Several days after they took down the flag, a box of Armenian pastries was placed on their doorstep.
I dearly wish that my Turkish friend had gone on to become an imam in New York. As I listen to the heated debate surrounding the proposed building of a mosque and Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks carried out by radical Muslim terrorists, I wish that the mosque’s proponents would stop proclaiming their right to build and focus instead on this question: is it the right thing to do?
Let me be clear: had I been on the zoning board, I would have voted for the mosque because I believe in religious freedom. However, I would also have urged the imam to look for another site. Ordinarily I don’t care a great deal whether people take offense at the construction of religious buildings, whether it be Mormon temples or mosques in Temecula and other cities. However, the site of the greatest mass murder in U.S. history is hallowed ground for our country. If your stated goal as an imam is to promote unity and understanding, it seems to me that you’re undermining that effort by alienating thousands of victims’ survivors (including some Muslim ones) and tens of millions of Americans across the country. Something is wrong when your opponents include both Islamophobes and decent everyday people who do not hate Islam or Muslims but want you to find a different site for your building. I don’t know whether the concept of a Pyrrhic victory exists in Islamic law, but I fear that this will become one for the Muslim community.
I can’t help but reflect on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a 9/11 attack in Mormon history with a similar dynamic of radicals committing atrocities. On September 11, 1857, a renegade militia of local Mormon leaders in southwest Utah brutally murdered 120 men, women and children who were emigrating west from Arkansas. They mistook them for enemies of the Latter-day Saints, and the corpses were left to rot on the ground for two years. Although the church as an institution played no role in the massacre, it continues to be a source of disbelief and shame for thoughtful Mormons. In 2007, a 150th anniversary commemoration ceremony was held at the site, with an LDS apostle in attendance.
Mountain Meadows happens to lie in the Dixie National Forest, which one can assume is not zoned for religious construction. What if the LDS Church decided to ask for a special federal permit to build a chapel next to the site in order to heal wounds and promote understanding? The very idea is inconceivable. Even though more than 150 years have passed, I believe the request would encounter much opposition in the majority-Mormon state. It would simply not be the right or decent thing to do, regardless of whether Utah’s congressional delegation could ultimately obtain a federal permit for the church.
I am heartened to read that moderate voices are now calling for dialogue on the mosque issue. If Imam Rauf’s goal really is to promote tolerance and unity, he should find another site. Not because he has to, but because it will help him to attain his goal and promote goodwill towards his community. While I don’t believe that every objection to the mosque’s location is reasonable or defensible, I’m pretty sure that the 9/11 victims’ memories are not honored by division and animosity in the country they loved.
I’ve finally caught up with the 21st century, and would invite you to follow this blog on Twitter (“jewsandmormons”), where it will be retweeted (I’ve been told that that’s a word). Thank you for your readership.
August 23, 2010 | 1:39 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“WHEN the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee… thou shalt make no covenant with them… Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son… For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. “ – Deuteronomy 7:1-3, 6
“Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world. Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory…f ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.”—Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-16, 33
I’ll never forget the first Orthodox rabbi I met in the LA Jewish community. I approached him at a reception and started making small talk with him in Hebrew. When he discovered I was Mormon, he immediately switched to English and became much more animated. It seems that the daughter of a non-Orthodox Jewish friend was contemplating marriage to a Mormon, and this was definitely not kosher with the rabbi. “I don’t get it,” he exclaimed. “Isn’t marriage outside the faith forbidden to Mormons too? Why don’t we work together to prevent this from happening?” We spent the next 30 minutes comparing notes on our faiths’ embrace of endogamy, a distinguishing feature of covenant peoples throughout history. I’m glad that I had my first conversation about this sensitive topic with an Orthodox Jew; although intermarriage is strongly discouraged in both the LDS and Jewish communities, the theological implications of a Mormon marrying outside the faith can only be understood when compared to those surrounding the marriage of an observant Orthodox Jew to a Gentile.
An Orthodox Jew who selects a non-Jew as a life partner almost always has to abandon the Orthodox community, at least on a spiritual level, since it is difficult if not impossible to keep many of the mitzvoth (commandments) that are required of observant Jews (e.g., maintaining a kosher home). The Jewish spouse is rendered unable to live a full Jewish life. While I know many Jewish couples with differing levels of observance, I have yet to meet an observant Orthodox Jew with a non-Jewish spouse (though I am not denying that such couples exist).
As we move to the more liberal Jewish spectrum, the theological implications of intermarriage become much less dire as long as the children are raised Jewish. Regardless of whether a rabbi will officiate at an interfaith wedding (Conservative rabbis will not, while some Reform and other liberal rabbis will), children born to a Jewish mother are considered to be Jewish. As long as the husband will allow the children to be raised Jewish (i.e., celebration of Jewish holidays, no Christmas trees), I do not see how a serious theological objection can be raised to these relationships from a Reform or Conservative point of view. The Jewish mother and her Jewish children get to practice (non-Orthodox) Judaism to their hearts’ content with the support of their non-Jewish husband and father, who can choose whether and how to participate in synagogue life. If a Jewish man espouses a non-Jew, his children can undergo a conversion ceremony and be recognized as Jews. [If he is a Reform Jewish man, his children will be considered Jews without a conversion ceremony as long as they are raised Jewish]. Once again the Jewish spouse and kids get to practice their religion with the support of the non-Jewish parent. I am not arguing that intermarriage for Reform and Conservative Jews is the ideal. I am merely arguing that there is no major theological objection to such unions as long as the children are raised Jewishly (which is obviously not the case in many homes). Judaism has not engaged in active proselytizing efforts for 16 centuries, and has no expectation that non-Jews should become Jews.
For Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, intermarriage cuts to the heart of our relationship as a people and as individuals to God. We have an expanded understanding of the Abrahamic covenant outlined in Genesis, and that covenant is the source of spiritual protection in this life and salvation in the next. It is also the central theme of LDS temple worship. A Mormon man is expected to marry another Mormon woman who is worthy to be married in a temple, where the couple is “sealed” to each other and to any children they may have for eternity (that is, for this life and the next). The temple sealing ceremony is the highest expression of our faith on earth, and is the goal of every believing Mormon. Children born to a sealed couple are said to be born in the covenant of Abraham, and the couple is promised that if they honor their marriage they will continue to have children in the eternities just as Abraham was promised that his seed would be as the “dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16).” We believe that God has a similar marriage, and that only sealed couples will reach the highest heaven and dwell in God’s presence forever with their family.
The promise of being sealed to one’s children forever is particularly comforting to LDS couples whose children predecease them. They strongly believe that they will be reunited with them in the next life thanks to the sealing power of the temple ceremony. Mormon parents who are not sealed to each other do not have the promise of being with their departed children in the next life, though like grieving parents of all faiths they hope for such a reunion.
Given the importance of a “celestial” marriage to the eternal spiritual development of the individual and the family, Mormons are actively discouraged from marrying both non-Mormons and Mormons who are not worthy to enter our temples (while we worship in chapels on Sundays, temples are reserved for members who meet certain standards of moral worthiness). Temple sealings cannot be performed for interfaith couples, no matter how wonderful the non-Mormon spouse may be. However, deceased couples (including interfaith couples) who were not sealed on earth and who are relatives of living members can be sealed to each other using live proxies in temples. The hope on the members’ part is that their dead ancestors will accept the sealing ordinance in the next life and remain a couple in the eternities if they so choose.
A growing number of Mormons are marrying outside the church, and each active Mormon who does so must come to terms with the theological implications of his or her choice. There is no question that the fullest expression of our faith is a celestial marriage, and Mormons like me who have not yet been sealed to a spouse are reminded of this every time we participate in temple worship or sit in the pews during Sunday services and observe a family with two active LDS spouses seated with their children. As with intermarried Orthodox Jews, unless you are sealed to a spouse in a temple, you are not fully practicing the Mormon faith.
Mormons do not shun or excommunicate members who marry outside the faith. In fact, every effort is usually made to welcome the non-member spouse and include him or her in the activities of the congregation. It is not uncommon to have non-members hold callings in the church (e.g., scoutmaster) that allow them to share their talents with members. My favorite example of this acceptance is an LDS woman’s Jewish husband who sings in our congregation’s Christmas choir every year. This inclusivity is also evident in the increased efforts by synagogues in recent years to welcome interfaith couples and invite non-Jewish spouses to explore Judaism.
Although a marriage “until death do you part” holds no eternal promise for believing Latter-day Saints, I share the hope of those members who do enter such marriages that their non-member spouses will eventually convert and live in such a way that they can be sealed in a temple. If they don’t convert, I have no doubt that a merciful and just God will richly reward in the next life those of all faiths who were loving spouses and parents in this one. Finally, I share the hope of countless other single Mormons that I will someday find myself kneeling across an altar in a temple gazing into the eyes of a beautiful eternal companion. A Mormon one.
August 20, 2010 | 12:18 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
If I needed a blood transfusion in Israel, I would ask to receive Valeria Gannon’s. For years this outgoing, dedicated employee of ARMDI (www.afmda.org), the American fundraising arm of Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross), has helped to raise money to provide Israel’s entire pre-hospital emergency needs, including 100% of the blood requirements of the IDF (Israeli Army) and 95% of the blood needs for Israeli hospitals and the general population. She told me that she wanted to dedicate her professional life to a cause, and couldn’t think of a better one than humanitarian aid for Israel. As you will see in her essay, she is not the first person in her family to work for the benefit of the Jewish people. ARMDI’s western regional office is lucky to have her.
I cannot hope to improve upon Valeria’s own words, so I will gladly grant her guest blogger privileges. Shabbat shalom.
My name is Valeria Gannon and for the past 8 years, I have been working for ARMDI (American Friends of Magen David Adom), a non-profit, fundraising organization for Israel’s 911 Disaster and Blood Service Provider. Being raised as a Mormon in Los Angeles, I have always had a great love of the Jewish people and have had many cherished associates, neighbors and close friends who were Jewish or of Jewish descent. I come by this love naturally, as my grandfather, Thomas Gannon, Sr. was a strong advocate for Jews, writing several articles in Chicago, IL for an Anti-Nazi movement propaganda magazine entitled “The Resolute” circa 1935-1936. This magazine was used to start Anti-Nazi movements in Germany before Hitler came into power and was in direct response to his book “Mein Kampf.” My grandfather’s closest friends were Jewish and because of his support and work on their behalf he later received an honorary membership from B’nai B’rith.
Being LDS I am proud that the Mormon Church is well known for its generous humanitarian and financial support for emergency relief efforts across the globe. In August of 2006 during the Israel-Lebanon War, the Church gave $50,000 for emergency medical supplies to American Friends of Magen David Adom. An additional $30,000 was sent directly to Magen David Adom in Israel in 2007.
David Ben-Gurion said when speaking to Elder Ezra Taft Benson, LDS Leader and former U.S. Secretary, “There are no people in the world who understand the Jews like the Mormons.” There are many similarities between Mormons and Jews: Tradition, Family, Patriarchal Order, Prophets, Temples, Covenants and other choice teachings. This is why we share a love and understanding of the Jews.
I believe in and support the future of Israel. I love working with the Jews because I have come to realize that I am one myself in spirit and relate to them on many levels. They are truly my brothers and sisters and I know that I was meant to work with them so that I could know G-d’s people. I am most grateful for their love and acceptance towards me and for the opportunity of working on the staff of AFMDA, but most particularly, for the privilege to work with Ellen Rofman and Lisabeth Lobenthal, which has been a joy and pleasure. I consider them my friends.
In closing, I would like to quote the following scriptures that state the love G-d has and the promised blessings He has made to Israel:
Isaiah 41:10-13(KJV): “Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
“Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.”
“Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.”
“For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not: I will help thee.”
Zephaniah 3:17-20(KJV), referring to Israel: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
“I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.”
“Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.”
“At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord.”
August 17, 2010 | 7:40 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Did you hear the one about the Jew who moved to Salt Lake City because he wanted to feel what it was like to be a Gentile? Actually, Mormons don’t regard Jews as Gentiles, but they are fascinated with Israel. In fact, more than one rabbi has remarked that Mormons seem more interested in the Hebrew Bible than most Jews.
For Jews, the concept of Israel as a covenant people began with Moses and Sinai. For Mormons, it began in the premortal existence when we lived together as spirits and will continue after death into the eternities. The concept of Israel is central to LDS theology, and Mormons believe they are members of the House of Israel either by blood or adoption (through baptism). Moreover, they believe that Ephraim became the birthright tribe in Israel after Reuben’s misdeeds (1 Chr. 5: 1-2; Jer. 31: 9), and claim that there are two gatherings of Israelites going on today: the physical gathering of Judah to Israel and the United States, and the spiritual gathering, beginning with Ephraim, the firstborn tribe. Special blessings given to Church members by men called as patriarchs reveal in which tribe of Israel the recipient will claim his spiritual blessings. [FYI, an Ephraimite is authoring this column].
I don’t know of any patriarch in the Church who has thought more about this subject than Dellas Lee, a retired law professor who currently serves as a volunteer ordinance worker at the LDS Temple in Lubbock, Texas. His 1,792-page book “Israel The Lord’s Chosen People,” a comprehensive treatment of covenant Israel, was published last year and is currently available at Deseret Book and Barbes & Noble. Mr. Lee was kind enough to respond to a few questions about the book, and I know that his answers will be of interest to many readers.
1) Writing a 1792-page book was obviously a labor of love. Was there a particular person or event that sparked your interest in this topic, or was it a process of discovery?
Yes, there was a combination of seminal circumstances and events that led to the creation of “Israel The Lord’s Chosen People.” Without multiplying too many words I will simply say that I had an interest in the children of Israel before serving a mission to Australia (1954-1956). However, when I was called as patriarch of the Lubbock Texas Stake in June, 1981, a sense of the almost overwhelming love the God of Abraham has for Israel, his chosen people, began to settle upon me. This fired my soul, stirred my spirit, and filled my heart with a great desire to learn more about his chosen people. At the same time I was filled with an irrepressible desire to convey a sense of that love to all people. This urged me to research, make notes, and to write my thoughts and feelings – without knowing where it would lead. Also shortly after my call I felt motivated to organize a seminar on Jewish Law at the Texas Tech School of Law, which I then conducted for more than twenty years. I soon came to understand that Israel are the Lord’s eternal inheritance. (See Deut 32:9-10, and ILCP, Chs 6-9, & 44.) This combination of circumstances over a period of some twenty-five years led to the publication of Israel The Lord’s Chosen People.
2) Would you say that Mormons are generally interested in learning more about Judaism and Jewish history?
Because Latter-day Saints understand that the Jewish people are one of the tribes of the Lord’s chosen people, we do have a natural interest in Judaism and Jewish history. But our interest in the people themselves is greater. By this I mean we feel a kinship to you. We are very sensitive to the fact that we have common grandfathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Judah and Joseph were brothers, so we feel a brotherly friendship toward the Jews as cousins, and we pray for the good of their spiritual and temporal welfare.
3) What are the book’s main themes?
Specific themes might best be described by listing some of what I call the objectives or missions of the book. I point them out here, because a glance at the table of contents (as enlightening as that is: see IsraelTheLordsChosenPeople.com) might miss the mark:
a) The first and foremost mission of the book is to convey to the children of Israel a sense of the God of Abraham’s great love for them and for all mankind – the same sweet spirit of love I felt as I was writing the book.
b) A second overriding mission of the book is to help prepare Israel and all mankind for the Second Coming of the Savior. [Or the First Coming of the Messiah, if you prefer - MP].
c) Third: to connect latter-day Israel with ancient Israel and the fathers. It establishes a sense of kinship and identity between latter-day Israel and ancient Israel and the fathers.
d) Fourth: to define the house of Israel and who the children of Israel are, their opportunities and responsibilities, and the power that comes into the lives of latter-day Israelites who come to know their true identity.
e) A fifth and important mission of the book is to communicate an awareness of the love and the yearnings of the ancient patriarchs (“ the fathers” – our forefathers and mothers) for their children – the house of Israel.
f) A sixth and exceedingly important mission of the book is that it contains the keys to greater knowledge, greater peace, greater happiness, greater prosperity, greater fidelity between husband and wife, and greater hope for heart-broken wives and mothers and despairing fathers.
4) How did you come to teach Jewish law? Is there a principle of Jewish law that especially resonates with you?
After being ordained stake patriarch, the mantle of that calling turned my attention to all things related to the children of Israel. Although I had been teaching various law courses for almost twenty years, I suddenly noticed that Jewish Law was being taught in various law schools around the country. I could hardly contain myself as I contemplated the possibility of being paid to ponder and discuss matters that were of such great interest to me. I was familiar with the Old Testament, but knew very little about Jewish Law per se. So I obtained various teaching materials from professors who were teaching the subject. I chose the materials compiled by Rabbi Elliot Dorff & Arthur Rosett (Prof. U.C.L.A.), which later evolved into the book: A Living Tree, The Roots and Growth of Jewish Law (1988). This became the basic readings for the class.
Yes, there is a body of Jewish Law that especially resonates with me. I had been teaching Torts for many years. As I ventured into conducting a seminar on Jewish Law I was fascinated to note the similarity of some aspects of Anglo-American personal injury tort law, and the Rabbinic Jurisprudence on the same subject. It became obvious to me that much of our tort law (as well as a number of other areas of law) has its roots in Rabbinical exegesis. I was also fascinated by the careful logic used by the Rabbis to resolve legal problems, and with the techniques of interpretation developed by the Rabbis to interpret the Torah – hermeneutics.
5) What are the responsibilities of a patriarch?
The major responsibility of a patriarch is to give patriarchal blessings. We have precedent for this in the case of father Jacob, who blessed his children. (Gen. 49.) An important element of such blessings is the declaration of lineage of the recipient, along with such other words of counsel, comfort and guidance the patriarch may be inspired to give. Of course father Jacob did not have to declare the lineage of his sons to whom he gave blessings, that was already clear enough. However, after the scattering of Israel and of Judah and Benjamin, today the lineage of latter-day Israel is not obvious and must be revealed through the power of the Holy Ghost. The lineage of all people is explained by their premortal life, and is dependent upon the covenants they entered and honored there. The patriarch will state that lineage in the course of the blessing.
A few Gentiles are also coming into the Church. Through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost a Gentile becomes a son or daughter of Abraham by adoption through divine decree, and thus is no longer a Gentile. Through the power of the Holy Ghost he/she is transformed into the seed and lineage of Abraham. (See Galatians 3:26-29; Abraham. 2:10.) In this case the patriarch will be impressed to declare that the recipient’s blessings will come through Abraham or Israel, but a particular tribe will not be designated. Thus we see that the Lord is no respecter of persons, and that our Father in Heaven truly does love all his children with infinite love.
6) Have you been to Israel?
No, not physically. But sort of by proxy. My wife and I have wanted to go. So last year (as a birthday present for my wife) I obtained reservations to Israel through the Mormon Heritage Touring Association – for two weeks in November/December. Then we discovered that our daughter-in-law appeared to have fallen terminally ill. She had always wanted to go to Israel, so my wife suggested that we give our reservations to our daughter-in-law and son, which we did. They had a glorious time, and reported on their journey verbally and with pictures in such detail that we almost feel like we have been there ourselves.
Let us all pray that this patriarch will be able to visit Israel soon, possibly on a group trip organized by a Jewish organization. My guess is that he’ll have even more to write about upon his return.
August 16, 2010 | 12:27 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
On my first day as the new press attaché at the Israeli Consulate General in Los Angeles, Consul General Yuval Rotem took me into his office and playfully wagged his finger in my face. “You’d better behave yourself here,” he warned, “or I’ll tell [LDS Church] President Hinckley on you.” Utah is in the consulate’s district, and Yuval met regularly with senior Church officials, including the Church President. The LDS Church has had an official relationship with the government of Israel since the establishment of the state, which it supported. Indeed, the Church was the first major Christian church to purchase Israel Bonds.
I was therefore pleased to hear of last week’s visit to Utah by outgoing Israeli UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev, who is returning to Israel later this month. It seems she has made many LDS friends in New York City, and they invited her to visit Utah as part of her farewell tour. She toured Temple Square and the Church’s Welfare Square and Humanitarian Center, which are monuments to the good that religious organizations can do around the world.
Ambassador Shalev is the second high-profile Jewish leader to visit Utah this year. In April Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, traveled to Salt Lake City for the first time, where he met with six LDS apostles and sat down with the editorial board of Church-owned Deseret News, the state’s oldest daily newspaper. He praised the Church’s humanitarian service and genealogy programs, and also noted that Jews and Mormons often encounter prejudice and bigotry. In a moment of inspiration, Mr. Foxman said that Mormons and Jews need to become closer through mutual understanding.
With a Jewish Federation, a Jewish Community Center, and seven Jewish congregations in a state that hosts the headquarters of a major Christian faith, Utah may soon become a new stop on the beaten path for Jewish leaders interested in interfaith cooperation and dialogue. As they travel alongside a river named Jordan that joins saltwater and freshwater lakes, they should feel right at home.
August 13, 2010 | 12:21 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“But Jesus was not a victim. He was a conqueror…Jesus conquered death. He wasn’t victimized. He chose to give his life….If he was a victim, and this theology was true, then Jesus would’ve come back from the dead and made the Jews pay for what they did. That’s an abomination.”—Fox television host Glenn Beck, July 13, 2010
When I started this blog, I resolved to avoid writing about Glenn Beck for as long as possible. I don’t watch him or listen to his radio show, and what I do know of his politics doesn’t exactly inspire me to do either. Nevertheless, after receiving more than a dozen requests by Jews and Mormons to clarify Mr. Beck’s recent comments about Jews and deicide, I feel the need to clarify Mormon beliefs concerning this sensitive issue.
On a personal note, I have always found the claim that the Romans bore sole responsibility for the Crucifixion to be rather disingenuous. I understand why Jewish leaders make this claim, but the New Testament does not support it. Although the Romans carried out the execution of Jesus, Christian scriptures clearly indicate that the Jewish “chief priests,” “scribes,” “elders of the people,” and Sadducee High Priest Caiaphas organized His arrest and trial (Matt. 26:3-5, 47, 57, 59-66; 27:12, 20). If there is blame to assign for Jesus’ trial and execution, then those Jewish officials must receive their fair share. However, many Jews did accept Jesus, including almost all of the apostles and chief followers. Presumably, they played no role in the proceedings and cannot fairly be lumped together with Jesus’ accusers. Ditto for the masses who lined the streets and celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Unlike many professing Christians, Mormons do not have creeds. The closest creedal document in our scriptural canon is the Thirteen Articles of Faith, akin to Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Judaism. The Second Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins…” We aren’t punished for others’ misdeeds, so it is obviously unfair to blame “the Jews” for the actions of a group of scribes and Sadducees. Mr. Beck was in the middle of a broadside against liberation theology when he made the above statement, so I’ll assume that he was so worked up that he simply misspoke. Although I don’t know him, I’m willing to bet that he did not mean to imply that all Jews living at the time of the Crucifixion were guilty of killing the Christian Savior. I’ve heard many sermons and Sunday School lessons in my 31 years in the LDS Church, and have yet to hear anyone state that “the Jews killed Jesus.”
Many times in Q&A sessions following interfaith dialogues I am asked about the generational blood oath uttered by the people in Jerusalem (Matt. 27:25) at the trial of Jesus. This verse has probably caused more Jewish blood to be spilled over the centuries than any other. Thankfully, it is not emphasized in the LDS Church. If Matthew is to be believed (he is the only Gospel writer who mentions the statement), the people gathered at the feast in Jerusalem clamored for the release of Barabbas the criminal and pleaded with Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus. When Pilate washed his hands of the affair, saying that he was “innocent of the blood of this just person [Jesus]” (Matt. 27:24), the crowd declared: “His blood be on us, and on our children.” Pilate then ordered the Roman soldiers to scourge and crucify Jesus. For many centuries anti-Semitic Christians used this scripture to justify exacting cruel “revenge” on innocent Jews living in Europe.
My response? Mormons don’t believe in a God who listens to lynch mobs. This was not the Sanhedrin speaking: there is no indication that the crowd had any authority to represent the Jewish people and their offspring, and it is nonsensical to believe that God would somehow feel obligated to persecute generations of Jews because a group of murderous Jerusalemites had once requested that their descendants be held accountable for the spilling of Jesus’ blood.
It must be mentioned here that the Book of Mormon does have a few harsh things to say about the “priestcrafts,” “iniquities” and “abominations” of the Jews, which caused God to punish them and led them to “stiffen their necks” against Jesus. Moreover, the book includes this ringing indictment: “there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God. For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations they would repent, and know that he be their God.” When these verses are considered in the context of a book that recounts how descendants of Israelites came to the Americas, kept the Law of Moses, built temples, and looked forward to the coming of a Messiah, it is clear that they are not anti-Semitic in nature. Rather, they were written in the same spirit as the lamentations of the Talmudic rabbis who blamed murder, idolatry, and sexual sins for the destruction of the First Temple and sinat chinam (baseless hatred) for the demise of the second one. As for condemning the conduct of ancient Israelites, the Book of Mormon can’t hold a candle to Jeremiah.
I will deal with the Jews’ rejection of Jesus when I address theodicy, persecution and anti-Semitism in a later post. For now, it is sufficient to note that there is nothing in Mormon teaching that supports blaming all Jews, past or present, for the murder of Jesus.
August 10, 2010 | 9:46 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Readers of this blog know that I love to introduce Mormon Philosemites
to the Jewish community. Today the spotlight falls on Jason Olson, a
recent graduate cum laude in Hebrew Bible/Middle East Studies from BYU
who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Israel Studies at Brandeis. Jason
plans to study the development and impact of Religious Zionism in
Israeli political history.
Jason has been involved with Israel advocacy for a long time. He was a
delegate for Arizona at the 2008 AIPAC National Policy Conference,
and was recently appointed a delegate for Massachusetts at the 2010
CUFI National Summit. At BYU Jason was also the Vice President for the
Friends of Israel club and was part of an AIPAC-trained group of students at the university.
He had the good fortune to spend 6 months in Israel in 2007, where he
interned at The Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development and
studied Hebrew at an ulpan. On the academic side, he spent his last
year and a half as a research assistant for the ongoing Joseph Smith
Papers project. He used this opportunity to explore Joseph Smith’s
Christian Zionist theology, and is very much convinced that Smith was
and is the most ardent Christian Zionist in Western history.
I have no doubt that Jason will represent us well at Brandeis, where
he will likely be one of the most passionate Zionists on campus. Here
are his own words:
“Latter-day Saints should be proud of their Zionist history—their
prophets have always taught that the restoration of the Jewish State
on its own land is the fulfillment of God’s will and one of the greatest acts of
redemption in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. God is
definitely not neutral when it comes to the protection and support of His ‘ancient covenant people.’
“As all Latter-day Saints know, prayer and belief alone is not enough
to fulfill God’s will, we must be ‘anxiously engaged in a good cause.’
I believe that we must actively support the Jewish People and their
State by encouraging our Senators and Congressmen to support Israel,
as well as encouraging our communities to tangibly bless and assist
Israel as it strives to survive in a world of hostile enemies.
“O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant
people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have
not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things
upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.” (2
Nephi 29:5—Book of Mormon)
Yasher koach, Jason.
August 6, 2010 | 7:43 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I love to visit mosques. One of the sweetest spiritual experiences I have ever had was when I prayed in a mosque in a remote Turkish fishing village. I have worshipped in mosques in Istanbul, Jerusalem, Cairo and Los Angeles, and like many Mormons I have a generally positive view of Islam and Muslims. I have participated in meetings involving Mormon leaders and the heads of both mosques in West LA, and hosted Usman Madha of the King Fahad Mosque when he lectured to my LDS interfaith class in a Mormon chapel. The proposed construction of a mosque in Temecula, CA has generated a great deal of controversy and revealed a pattern of bigotry there that has targeted both the LDS and Muslim communities.
All decent people should have been outraged by the protest last week against the proposed 25,000 sq ft mosque in a city with over 100,000 residents. During Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, a small group, some with dogs (regarded by Muslims as unclean), and all with too much time on their hands, showed up to denounce Islam. Their reasoning? “This is America. This is a Christian country, this is not a Muslim country,” said a protester. “They are known terrorists. Read the Koran. They are trained to kill people from the time they’re in their youth.” Thankfully, pro-mosque supporters outnumbered the bigots. A zoning hearing is scheduled for later this month, though it could be postponed.
Just to be sure there wasn’t an underlying legitimate motive behind the protest, I read the blog of the Calvary Baptist Church pastor whose church would be the mosque’s neighbor. After listing what appear to be legitimate zoning concerns (too few parking spaces, multi-story parking structure needed, etc.), he undercuts his argument by revealing his religious bias: “Our secondary issue is regarding Islam itself. Wherever Islam is dominant, we see very different conditions, and we find widespread persecution against Christians. When we see the reports and read the accounts of the results of Sharia law, we certainly find ample cause to oppose the spread of Islam. There are certainly plenty of people who oppose any spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In America, we still have the freedom of speech to do that. Islamic law does not provide that blessed freedom.” So I guess the best way to demonstrate that freedom of speech reigns in this country is by banning houses of worship whose beliefs you find objectionable.
Unfortunately, the good citizens of Temecula have seen this movie before. The last zoning controversy in the city over a religious building involved—you guessed it—the proposed construction of a Mormon chapel near Linfield Christian School in 2003. The objections raised included increased traffic and “concerns that night and weekend activities at a Mormon church would harm their neighborhood’s quality of life.” After a year and a half of heated debate at a series of hearings, permission was finally granted to build the chapel. An ADL official once told me that the anti-Semites of yesterday are the anti-Mormons of today. While this is often true, it is also apparent that many opponents of Islam persecute Mormons as well.
I hope to attend the groundbreaking and dedication of the Temecula mosque. On my way there, I plan to deliver a highlighted copy of the U.S. Constitution to the Calvary Baptist Church.
August 4, 2010 | 12:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“Mormons and Jews have something in common if they don’t repent and surrender their lives to Jesus Christ.” – reader comment on my recent interview with blogger Menachem Wecker
Following a briefing I gave to a havurah group last weekend in Camarillo, I was asked by a cantor why Jews should accept the support of Evangelicals who believe that they will be destroyed in the last days. This is a common objection made by Jews who are uncomfortable with the thought of close collaboration on Israel with right-wing Christians. I believe it is an unnecessary one. Tens of millions of Evangelicals are fervent supporters of Israel and Jews, and in these difficult times their support should be welcomed, not spurned.
To begin with, it is a gross generalization to claim that all Evangelicals believe that Jews will meet a violent end when the Messiah comes again (or for the first time, if you prefer). Some believe that a mass conversion of Jews will take place, while other believe that a special divine dispensation of grace will be extended to the Jews at the last day (I first heard this theory espoused by Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel). Still others are content to leave the Jews’ fate in God’s hands.
As the above quote makes clear, the subset of Evangelicals who believe that Jesus-denying Jews are going to hell after they die almost always believe the same about Mormons (they claim that we worship a “different” Jesus). Condemning people to hell is not in the Mormon lexicon; we teach moral principles, but the consequences of sin and transgression are God’s to impose, not ours. [We also don’t believe in a traditional concept of hell, but I digress]. When these people call down hellfire upon the heads of Jews, Mormons, and most of the world’s people unless they accept Evangelicalism’s Jesus, Mormons dismiss their condemnation as unauthorized, presumptuous, and doctrinally flawed. We certainly don’t believe that Jews and other non-Christians are going to hell, and we don’t like to be lumped with those Christians who do. The good news is that none of these differences matter when it comes to coming together to support the Jewish people – in this life, anyway. There is no need for Jews or Mormons to worry about what these people believe will happen to non-Evangelicals in the future. I for one am willing to take the chance that they’re wrong. When the Messiah comes (again), we can ask Him for clarification.
We shouldn’t require people to have similar theologies in order to accept their Zionism. During my tenure with the Zionist Organization of America, we welcomed Mormons, other Christians, and atheists to our meetings. The only person we turned away was a Messianic Jew. Her Christianity wasn’t a problem, but her insistence on “witnessing” to people whenever she felt moved to do so was obviously unacceptable. Neither the cantor nor anyone else in the havurah believes that Jews are going to become cannon fodder during Armageddon. In all likelihood, they don’t believe in Armageddon to begin with. Whether a fellow Israel supporter believes in “end times” theology is not nearly as important as her belief in a strong, secure Israel.
Some Jewish leaders argue that Judaism should not be seeking converts, that there is nothing wrong with remaining a small, cohesive group of Torah followers. I am not qualified to give an opinion on their religious argument, but Israel advocacy requires a different mindset of inclusion. I’m positive that Jews in previous centuries would have been overjoyed to have the active support of their Christian neighbors, regardless of their end-time beliefs. I have had many interactions over the years with Evangelical pro-Israel groups (e.g., Israel Christian Nexus, CUFI, Eagles’ Wings), and am fully convinced of their sincerity and deep love for Israel. I have never asked any of their representatives what they thought of my theology, and they have never asked me to evaluate theirs. It is my hope that pro-Israel coalitions around the world will strive to follow the admonition of Isaiah: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.”