Posted by Mark Paredes
I would be remiss indeed if I did not take this opportunity to note the recent passing of two important figures in the LA Jewish community, both of whom I had the honor of knowing.
Gen. Shimon Erem (bio), the “patriarch” of our city’s Israeli community, was one of the pioneers in Jewish outreach to Evangelical Christians. He realized before many other Jewish leaders did that Christians needed to be welcomed into the pro-Israel fold, and traveled around the world to promote Jewish-Christian ties. I spoke with him privately on a few occasions, and was blown away by his passion, energy and vision. He told me several times that he held Mormons in high esteem, and regretted that he was not able to conduct meaningful outreach to the LDS community due to anti-Mormon sentiments expressed by some of his Evangelical supporters. Shimon was a mensch, and I will miss him.
LA Activists on the left side of the Israel debate have generally mastered the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable (e.g., David Pine of Peace Now). This was not a priority for Arthur Stern (bio), the co-chair of Peace Now’s LA chapter. He and I debated once at a dinner sponsored by the Hillel students at CSUN. Neither the students nor I found his arguments particularly convincing, and he refused to shake my hand afterwards. When he saw me on another occasion after I had started working for the ZOA, he used an ugly epithet to describe my new employer. However, I found it impossible to dislike Arthur. As far as I was concerned, a Holocaust survivor who attended two Jewish seminaries before coming to this country and enjoying remarkable success in electronics was entitled to hold whatever views he wanted on the peace process.
One of the things I love about the Jewish community is its passionate debates about all aspects of Jewish life, including Israel. Two irreplaceable voices on both sides of the Israel debate have now been silenced. I have no doubt that Shimon and Arthur are now resting from their many labors in the olam ha-ba. May their memories be a blessing for all of us.
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10.13.13 at 11:28 pm | The title says it all
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12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important (250)
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May 28, 2012 | 12:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?
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.
Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? – 2 Nephi 29:4-5 (Book of Mormon)
This year more Jews than ever have asked me whether Shavuot has any meaning for Mormons. It may be that the Romney campaign is causing more members of the tribe to want to learn more about LDS beliefs and practices. After all, if Mormons believe that they’re latter-day Israelites, doesn’t the giving of the Torah to Moses have deep meaning for them? Indeed it does.
I have often said that while history shows it is possible to read the Old and New Testaments and still be an anti-Semite, it is impossible to read the Book of Mormon and the Bible and remain a Jew-hater. As the above verses in the Book of Mormon suggest, Mormons have enormous gratitude and respect for the Jews’ role in bringing Torah truths to the world. If it were not for their role in preserving the Hebrew Bible, both Jews and Gentiles would be spiritually impoverished.
Like many Jews, Mormons believe that Moses came down from Sinai with the first set of plates, saw the golden calf, broke the plates, and came down a second time from Sinai with a different set of plates. I’ve been unable to pin down exactly how Jews believe the second set of plates differed from the first, but for Latter-day Saints the plates represented a different set of laws and commandments for the Israelites.
The first set of plates (pre-calf, that is) contained commandments tied to the laws of the higher priesthood, named after Melchizedek. These are the laws that govern LDS priesthood, temples and worship today. Since the Israelites showed that they were incapable of living the higher law, God gave them commandments tied to the lower order of priesthood, named after Aaron. They involved animal sacrifices in temples and other rituals designed to point Israelites toward the ultimate blood sacrifice, which Mormons and other Christians believe was made by Jesus Christ.
There’s no question that most Mormons would be very supportive of a holiday that encourages Jews to read from and celebrate the Torah, the foundational text of both of our faiths. My wife and I are planning to read the Torah this year once again, only this time I’ll be reading it in Romanian. Hag sameach to all of my Jewish friends on a holiday that I wish were universally observed.
May 22, 2012 | 1:50 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
The speakers at Citi Field said that if improperly used, the Internet can destroy families, with gambling, pornography and other addictions. But mostly, surfing the Internet is a colossal waste of precious time young people could spend working or studying. – Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, Brooklyn
I raise an apostolic voice of warning about the potentially stifling, suffocating, suppressing, and constraining impact of some kinds of cyberspace interactions and experiences upon our souls. The concerns I raise are not new; they apply equally to other types of media, such as television, movies, and music. But in a cyber world, these challenges are more pervasive and intense. I plead with you to beware of the sense-dulling and spiritually destructive influence of cyberspace technologies that are used to produce high fidelity and that promote degrading and evil purposes. – Elder David Bednar, an LDS Apostle
When my wife told me that tens of thousands of religious men had gathered at a stadium in New York yesterday to hear sermons on the dangers of the internet, I was sure that some kind of LDS priesthood meeting had been held. It turned out to be a gathering of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, and the speakers were rabbis instead of apostles and prophets. Nevertheless, the unprecedented event highlighted the desire of religiously observant leaders throughout the country to warn their congregants of the downside to a wireless world.
In recent years it seems that at almost every large LDS conference, at least one speaker condemns online pornography. When my former stake president (= Catholic bishop) began his service, one of the first things that he did was to establish a pornography self-help group for members of the stake (= diocese). He had been a bishop (= rabbi) for many years, and after counseling many pornography addicts he had decided to help them.
Of course, Mormons are avid users of the internet (as are many ultra-Orthodox Jews). The LDS Church itself has a large online presence, and Mormons use the internet to promote their values and beliefs to a worldwide audience. However, we are regularly reminded by our leaders to be careful about the websites we visit and the online contacts that we make. If the Jewish gathering in New York is any indication, our mutual concern over internet abuse may lead to fruitful collaboration in the future between the LDS and Orthodox communities.
As a postscript, I’d like to add my firm belief that the extension of First Amendment protection of political speech to pornographers is one of the greatest legal fictions of our time.
May 14, 2012 | 12:42 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it.
Ye shall observe to do therefore as the Lord your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.
The recent decision by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem to admit gay and lesbian students is about the best example of Mormon/Jewish divergence that can be found in contemporary Judaism. The Conservative seminary’s statement affirmed that it is “bound by Halacha [Jewish law], whose inclusive approach allows for a variety of halachic opinions.” In other words, Schechter considers itself bound by Jewish law, which for millennia has condemned homosexual behavior, while also considering itself free to invent new Jewish law to which it will be bound. Mormonism and contemporary Conservative Judaism diverge widely on this issue, which highlights the role of continuing revelation (or the lack thereof) in the development of a religion’s theology.
To begin with, let us state the obvious: Schechter is free to make whatever admissions and ordination decisions it wants. It’s not for me to say whether the seminary should admit gay Jews, pork-eating Jews, or atheist Jews. Some of the most energetic and passionate rabbis whom I have met are gay, and I have no doubt that they will make significant contributions to Jewish life wherever they serve. I write a blog about religion, and am primarily concerned about the theological justifications used to back the change. In this case, I was very disappointed.
A recent interview conducted by Jewish Journal writer Shmuel Rosner with Professor Hanan Alexander, the chair of Schechter’s board of trustees, is very revealing. When asked how exactly the seminary’s decision is compatible with “religious Jewish law,” the professor inexplicably (and inaccurately) states that “Jewish law has always allowed for the possibility that more than one interpretation is correct.” Alas, this principle is completely absent from the Hebrew Bible, where prophets were the only ones authorized to declare God’s word. No authoritative dissenting interpretations of Jewish law are recorded from Genesis to Malachi. From the time of Moses (~1400 BCE) until at least the time of the Mishnah (200 CE), halachic pluralism did not exist. By way of example, the Pharisees and Sadducees may have promoted contradictory halachic interpretations, but they viewed the other movement’s views as erroneous and even heretical. It is correct to say that Rabbinic Judaism has always allowed for halachic pluralism, but it is erroneous to assert that Jewish law has always done so.
For Mormons, the question for Conservative rabbis who support the liberal shift on issues related to homosexual conduct is whether they claim that God has inspired the movement to do this. Is it God’s will that Conservative rabbinical courts approve gays and lesbians for ordination? If the answer is yes, then there’s nothing more to say. However, to my knowledge no Conservative rabbi has made this claim. Unlike Mormons, Jews don’t believe in continuing revelation – for them direct revelation from God to prophets stopped over two thousand years ago. While I understand this, it’s still hard to understand why a Conservative seminary professing fealty to Jewish law would claim the right to override a biblical prohibition on conduct that Leviticus called an “abomination” that defiled nations and the land itself. Many years later rabbis would put homosexual conduct in the category of “gilui arayot,” sexual acts that are forbidden to both Jews and Gentiles.
The Conservative movement has adopted two responsa, or rabbinic onions, on homosexual conduct: one upholds the traditional ban in Jewish law, while another overrides it by claiming that all male homosexual conduct except for a specific sexual act were not prohibited by the Bible but by rabbis. The responsum goes on to argue that a rabbinic, though not a biblical, ban can be trumped by consideration for “human dignity” and “respect for others.” This mirrors the evolution on gay issues in the Reform movement, whose leading rabbis wrote opinions opposing gay marriage until the 1990s, when they stopped citing Jewish law and began appealing to justice and equality (please see this useful database on the website of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation if you doubt this). The difference is that Reform Judaism does not regard Jewish law as binding; Conservative Judaism does.
Of the three major Jewish movements, the Conservative position on homosexual conduct is the hardest one to respect. Orthodoxy retains the ancient halachic prohibition, and Reform Judaism says it doesn’t care what halacha says about it. Conservative Judaism tries to have it both ways, and the halachic contortions it engages in to justify acceptance of this conduct results in a confusing, schizophrenic policy. When Conservative leaders make a sincere effort to find out what God wants Conservative Jews to do in this regard, I’m sure they will adopt a policy worthy of the movement that produces the most erudite, impressive rabbis in the country.
May 7, 2012 | 9:33 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
On this blog I occasionally profile people whose work should be known by both Mormons and Jews. When I heard that there was a rocket scientist in Alabama who is working on a Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon, I knew that I had to find out more. By day Tom Irvine analyzes shock and vibration data from rocket vehicles for NASA. In his spare time, he translates the Book of Mormon into Hebrew. Since Mormons believe that the book was originally written in “reformed Egyptian” characters by people who also knew Hebrew (leading most LDS scholars to claim that it was written in either Egyptian or in Hebrew using an Egyptian script), this translation project promises to be an interesting one. At his request, I have posted Tom’s comments in full and unedited.
Q: You’re a rocket scientist. Where does your interest in learning Hebrew come from?
A: My Interest in Hebrew developed over a period of many years. I have felt a melancholy emptiness in LDS Church meetings, where most of the membership is drawn from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. I have concluded that Ephraim and Manasseh without Judah is as the sound of one hand clapping.
The Book of Mormon teems with scriptures proclaiming that it must go forth unto the Jews, starting with its very title page. Elder Russell M. Nelson reaffirmed this in his October 2010 conference talk. Elder Nelson is a member of the “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” in the LDS Church.
Like Elder Nelson, I believe that the Book of Mormon can be the instrument for uniting the tribes of Israel.
The prophet Isaiah wrote that the Ephraim and Judah must reunite. Isaiah 11:7 proclaims “. . . and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” The lion represents Judah, and the ox is Ephraim. This chapter is repeated in the Book of Mormon.
Members of the LDS Church must embrace their Hebraic roots in order to prepare their hearts and minds for this reunion.
Q: Why did you decide to translate the Book of Mormon into Hebrew?
A: I set a goal some years ago to read the Book of Mormon in Hebrew. I then discovered that the LDS Distribution Center does not currently offer one. So I decided to make my own translation and share it with others.
Q: How many more chapters do you have to go?
A: I have finished about 2/3 of the translation in terms of a first draft, which I began in August 2007.
Q: Are you being paid to do this?
A: I am not being paid in earthly cash, but the Lord has blessed me in many ways.
Q: Does the LDS Church already have a Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon? Is it sponsoring your translation project?
A: The LDS Church briefly offered a Hebrew Book of Mormon in the early 1980s. But it was withdrawn so that the LDS Church could establish its BYU Jerusalem Center. Ultra-orthodox Jews at the time had protested that the BYU Center would be used for missionary work. So the LDS Church made an agreement that no proselyting would be conducted in Israel.**
The LDS Church is not supporting my translation. Mr. Rob Jex, of the LDS Scripture Committee in Salt Lake City, called me on March 26, 2012 to inform me that LDS Church objects to my translation. He requested that I “pull my website.”
That evening, I took a long walk and prayed about the situation. I received a burning in my heart from the Holy Ghost that I should carry on. Jews will be familiar with the Holy Ghost as the Still, Small Voice which inspired Elijah. (1 Kings 19:12)
I state this only for disclosure. I do not seek controversy. I respect Mr. Jex, and I respect the Church’s position.
I am not making the translation for the LDS Church. Rather I am doing it for the House of Israel.
Q: Have any Jews objected to your labor of love?
A: None has complained.
Q: What have you learned from translating this book of scripture into Hebrew?
A: Jesus the Messiah is the Torah made flesh and dwelt among us. Synthesis of 3 Nephi 15:9 & John 1:14.
The Jews are the Lord’s chosen people (2 Nephi 29:5). He will honor all of His covenants with them.
Members of the LDS Church must embrace the Hebraic roots of their faith. They can begin by praying for peace in Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). They can also learn the Shema which Jesus himself recited in Mark 12:28-29.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad - Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
The theology of the Book of Mormon is richer in Hebrew than it is in English. As one example, the title Lord is stated as YHWH in the Hebrew Book of Mormon. YHWH is a form of the Hebrew Hayah (I AM) and is pronounced as Yahweh. The equivalent name in English is Jehovah.
The Hebrew Book of Mormon should thus be as much value to LDS members as it is for the Jews.
Q: When you complete the translation, do you plan to publish it?
A: I am currently self-publishing the translation in pdf format at my website. I do not have any plans for printing hard copies.
Q: Where can people go to view the ongoing translation? Do you need proofreaders?
A: Yes, I need proofreaders!
The ongoing translation is posted at:
Q: Are you active in any Jewish or pro-Israel organizations?
A: I have participated in Torah studies and Shabbat services in Jewish Temples from time to time. My favorite part is singing the Shema.
Richard N. Holzapfel, a Hebrew scholar, is the current LDS Mission President in Alabama. I once asked him before a church meeting to recite the Shema in his talk. I was delighted that he did so.
I also support Yad Ezra V’Shulamit, which distributes food baskets to families in Israel. I am mindful of scriptures such as Genesis 12:3 and Isaiah 40:1 which remind us to give our support to the Jews.
And I visit cemeteries to place stones on Jewish grave markers. I have posted some photos at:
**There is freedom in religion in Israel, where proselytizing has always been legal. In order to obtain permission for ongoing construction at the BYU Center in Jerusalem in the 1980s, the LDS Church signed an agreement not to proselytize “so long as such activity is prohibited by the government of Israel.” Since the government of Israel does not prohibit proselytizing, the reason that Mormons aren’t preaching in Israel now is because their leaders voluntarily choose not to do so, not because they don’t have a legal right to share their beliefs.
May 6, 2012 | 12:57 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
In a recent article in the Jewish Journal, Professor Jonathan Zasloff proposed that young Jews be encouraged to perform two years of “korban” (tikkun olam, or community service) after graduating from college in order to draw closer to God through altruistic service. There is much in his article to interest Mormons, including its title and references to LDS missionary service as a model to emulate. While I certainly applaud his desire to involve young Jews in an extended period of tikkun olam, as a former Mormon missionary I’m fairly positive that his stated goal – to “strengthen” Jewry and “re-energize Torah” – cannot be realized within his proposed framework. The reason? If you want to connect people to their faith, service by itself is a poor substitute for an intensely religious experience.
Professor Zasloff, a rabbinical student, starts off his essay by trying to define the problem that the korban program will seek to remedy. He certainly draws a chorus of “amens” from Mormon readers with the following statement: “When we as a people lost korbanot [i.e., ritual sacrifices performed in ancient Israelite temples], however, we lost something deeply profound — and our relationship with God demands that somehow we recover it.” So far so good. However, I have no idea why he would write that “Modern Judaism replaces sacrifice with prayer.” Did the ancient Israelites not pray as well? The Book of Psalms is a collection of 150 prayers, and Isaiah says that the temple “shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” The truth is that both ancient and modern Jews use(d) prayer to draw close to God. However, unlike ancient Jews, their contemporary counterparts don’t have sacrifices, temples, priesthood, or prophets. Rabbinical Judaism has replaced them with nothing (indeed, it can’t—how do you replace Moses and the Temple?), and tikkun olam can’t make up for their absence.
I have long advocated that Jews once again become active proselytizers, so I disagree with the professor’s desire to keep the korban program focused on service, not “increasing membership.” For good measure he slams LDS missionary efforts by declaring that “We come close to God by giving of ourselves, not by building institutions.” A greater understanding of the LDS missionary program reveals that it is possible for a young adult to do both at the same time.
As I see it, the primary purpose of the LDS missionary program is to establish a spiritual base for a young man/woman’s life, with a secondary goal of preaching and converting. When I was serving in southern Italy, the average baptism rate per missionary was less than one – for the entire two years. While I didn’t have much success with conversions, the spiritual habits that I developed have stayed with me until today.
Prior to serving a mission, a typical teen attends church for three hours a week, participates in scripture study each weekday morning for four years, obtains a patriarchal blessing declaring his Israelite lineage, is ordained to the priesthood (if male), and performs certain rituals in an LDS temple. During the mission, he gives up dating in order to focus on scripture study, fasting, prayer, and service to current and future members of the LDS Church. Two years later, the results are life-changing. My wife and I are both former missionaries (you’re never really an “ex-missionary” in the Mormon Church), and like many LDS couples we pray together five times a day, study the scriptures together daily, fast together at least once a month, have a weekly family night, etc. Would we be doing these things if we had spent two years in a program that stressed service to others but lacked an intense religious component? I doubt it.
Based on the LDS experience, if the good professor really wants to “re-energize Torah” through korban, he will ask participants to participate in daily hevruta (companion scripture study), deliver lectures to non-Jews on Judaism, fast for others every month, and pray several times a day in addition to the laudable service that they will perform. The Torah will not become re-energized unless it becomes the center of young Jews’ lives. As much as I applaud Professor Zasloff’s idealism and altruism, I’m afraid his proposal is incomplete.