Posted by Mark Paredes
Current policy states that applicants who are married to or in committed relationships with non-Jews will not be considered for acceptance to this program. – “Admission Requirements” page for the Rabbinical School at Hebrew Union College
If you want to become a rabbi, marry a Jew. That is the clear message – an unobjectionable message, one would think -- that Hebrew Union College sends to its prospective and current rabbinical students. If someone wants to apply to HUC’s rabbinical school, he has to be either single or partnered with a Jew. This policy seems a no-brainer to this interested outsider, since a rule requiring a future rabbi’s partner to be Jewish communicates the same message that a rule requiring a future rabbi to be Jewish does: Being Jewish is important.
Given that only 12% of Mormons marry outside the faith, more than one Jewish commentator (including, most recently, Naomi Schaefer Riley) has suggested that Jews look to see whether there is something Mormons are doing to promote intrafaith marriage that can be imitated or adapted by Jews.
One thing that church leaders do to promote temple marriages, the Mormon ideal, is to call men to lead congregations as bishops (= rabbis) who have been married in an LDS temple. I have never met a bishop who was not a partner in what we call an eternal marriage. When bishops discuss the importance of marrying in the temple with teenagers or young single adults, they have instant credibility because they have shown by example how important it is to them. I’m trying to imagine how a similar presentation on temple marriage would be received if it were made by a bishop who was married to a non-Mormon.
You could make the case (as a Reform rabbi does) that Mormons who have married outside the faith might view a bishop who is married to a non-Mormon as more approachable. However, since most Mormons I know in this situation would give anything to have their spouses convert and then be sealed to them in a temple marriage, I think it helps to have someone to guide them during that process (if and when it happens) who has already done what they would like to do.
Another message that is transmitted by a bishop who is married in a temple is that it’s important to be a Mormon. There are wonderful people of all faiths (and none), and there are good Mormons who have married outside the faith. However, a bishop who has married his wife in an LDS temple shows his congregants by his actions how necessary it was for him to marry someone who could be “sealed” to him in a Mormon temple. Had he chosen to marry, say, a nice Jewish girl instead, it would then become a difficult case for him to make that being a Mormon is very important. In addition, it is important, especially for young Mormons, to see that the leader of their congregation could have dated and married a wonderful Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or Buddhist girl, but chose not to.
By way of contrast, it is difficult to find a compelling reason – besides making his mother happy -- for a man who is Reform to limit his wife search to Jewish women, as long as the prospective spouse agrees to raise their children as Jews. After all, the Reform movement accepts patrilineal as well as matrilineal descent, so a child doesn’t need to have a Jewish mother in order to be considered a Jew. Religious practices that might turn off a Gentile spouse, like keeping a kosher home, are not normally a problem for Reform Jews, who can usually find a level of observance (and an accommodating synagogue) that is comfortable for them. As long as the children are raised as Jews, I’m unaware of any Jewish religious teaching that says that Jews who are married to non-Jews are entitled to fewer blessings in this life or in the olam ha-ba.
As someone who fervently believes that there should be more, not fewer, Jews in this world, I hope and pray that HUC retains its policy. It’s not too much to ask that someone who aspires to be a spiritual leader in the Reform Jewish community, one that is struggling to deal with a high intermarriage rate, should show his commitment to Judaism by marrying/partnering within the tribe.
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June 15, 2013 | 12:57 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. – Micah 7:18-19
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds. – Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-11
I’ll be speaking in church this Sunday, which will be a Father’s Day with a special meaning for me and my lovely pregnant wife. The prospect of becoming a father in three months, after years of wondering whether life had fatherhood in store for me, has focused my mind on the things that really count.
After meeting with several congregants who have come to me for help with various problems, I am more convinced than ever that giving and receiving forgiveness is essential for all of us. This is especially true when close family members are involved. Life is hard enough when we are surrounded with family and friends who can support us, encourage us, and comfort us when necessary. It becomes unimaginably difficult when no one has got your back. Of course, reconciliation with those who have loved – and hurt – us the most is never easy, though it can be a life-changing process.
For Mormons, it is necessary for us to forgive everyone – whether or not they ask for our forgiveness -- and to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed before seeking God’s forgiveness. In this we differ somewhat from rabbinic concepts of forgiveness, which I have always found fascinating.
Like LDS Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism does embrace the concept of teshuva, or repentance, which involves elements that are familiar to Mormons: recognition of sin, confession of sin, restitution (where possible), feeling remorse for sin, and abandonment of sin. However, rabbis teach that God can only forgive sins that we commit against Him; He cannot forgive those that we commit against other people. In order for people to forgive each other, the offender has to seek the forgiveness of the person he has wronged. If the latter sees that the offender is truly sorry and has taken steps to correct the wrong done, then he is obligated to allow the offender to ask for and receive his forgiveness. However, if the person who is offended does not feel that the offender is serious about his repentance, he is under no obligation to forgive him.
According to LDS teachings, God can choose whether to forgive us. He is omniscient, knows our thoughts and desires, and can render a perfectly just judgment of our actions here on earth. Since we are not omniscient and cannot judge another person’s intentions and thoughts with certainty, we are obligated to give him the benefit of the doubt by granting him our forgiveness. Even if people do not seek our forgiveness, we are obligated to grant it. There is nothing in our scriptures that requires us to forgive immediately, but forgive we must. Needless to say, Sunday School lessons on this topic are among the most interesting ones in the church.
In contrast to rabbinic tradition, our prophets teach that God is able to forgive sins that we commit against Him and against other people. In practice, when a Mormon offends another person, the two concepts are combined: he must seek her forgiveness before seeking God’s.
In my experience, people who are quick to forgive are usually the most pious and devoted members of their faith communities. As I prepare my Father’s Day sermon in my capacity as the “father of the ward [congregation],” I can’t help but think that increasing our capacity to forgive each other would be especially pleasing to our common Father.
Happy Father’s Day to all men who are worthy of the title.
June 8, 2013 | 8:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
When Jews share their religious beliefs with others, they don’t automatically assume that they are familiar with Judaism, and usually do a beautiful job of expressing their thoughts using secular terms that can be understood by all. However, well-meaning Mormons who discuss their beliefs with Jews often sound like they’re writing or speaking to other Mormons, not to non-Christians. Many a Jewish acquaintance or reader has contacted me after hearing a Mormon explain a religious principle using language that didn’t resonate with him or her. In my experience, this often happens when Mormons use Jewish instead of Christian terms to describe their beliefs and practices.
I recently came across an essay penned by a Mormon that referred to the LDS sacrament as our “kiddush.” According to Mormon doctrine, bread and water (the sacrament) are blessed and passed to congregants during a special weekly meeting to remind them of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Those who eat the bread and drink the water take upon themselves the name of Christ and promise to always remember Him and keep His commandments. Needless to say, these concepts are very far from the minds of Jews who recite kiddush on Shabbat or Yom Tov. The best way to convey to Jews what the sacrament means to Mormons is to explain – plainly and simply – its symbolism and sacredness. There is no need here to seek a Jewish counterpart, because there isn’t one.
For many years I have avoided referring to Jesus as the “Messiah” during religious discussions with Jews. The difference between their concept of a messiah and ours is so great that no single word (or title) can bridge the gap. Like other Christians, Mormons believe that Jesus was the Son of God who led a perfect life, founded a church, and atoned for our sins on a cross outside of Jerusalem. This belief is the cornerstone of our faith. It goes without saying that contemporary Jews completely reject this idea of a messiah, so it is neither fair nor accurate to imply that Jews and Christians share the same messianic definition.
In order to avoid confusion, it is sometimes also necessary to avoid using specifically Mormon terms to describe our practices. The most obvious – and controversial -- example is our “baptism for the dead” temple ceremony. Given their history of forced conversions to Christianity and persecution by Christians, Jews’ strong aversion to the word “baptism” is understandable (anyone ever heard of Jews objecting to proxy temple marriages for the dead?). We can explain the significance of these ceremonies to Jews until we’re blue in the face, but in the end no self-respecting Jew would consent to have his ancestors “baptized” by Christians, no matter what explanation they are given. I prefer to use the term “proxy immersions” with Jews, and have found that it is both a more accurate description and less off-putting to them.
So long as they don’t feel that they are being targeted for conversion, Jews are generally willing to listen to their Mormon friends and neighbors share their beliefs. When this is done in an atmosphere of respect, great things can happen. The main purpose of this blog is to facilitate mutual understanding between the Jewish and LDS communities, and finding out how to talk to each other about that which we hold most dear is the foundation of this dialogue. Shabbat shalom.