Posted by Mark Paredes
As I viewed the picture of Mitt Romney standing at the Wailing Wall during his current trip to Israel, I clearly remembered my first time at the wall. It was one of the spiritual highlights of my life. Like many Mormons who have traveled to the country, I feel like Israel is my second home. I’m sure that Mitt was moved by the wall’s otherworldly grandeur. As a devout Mormon, it’s likely that he was pondering some of these thoughts as he offered up his written prayer to God:
*LDS apostles have dedicated the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jewish people on many occasions, beginning with Elder Orson Hyde in 1841. In 1845, all of the apostles called on the Jews “in the name of the Messiah, to prepare, to return to Jerusalem in Palestine; and to rebuild that city and temple unto the Lord.” Today there is an Orson Hyde Memorial Garden on the Mount of Olives.
*Netanya Academic College has Orson Hyde Square, which features an olive tree planted to honor each prophet of the LDS Church.
*Israel is the only country in the world whose creation was expressly called for and supported by Mormon leaders. George Albert Smith, LDS Church President at the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, publicly and privately assured many Jewish leaders of his support for their efforts to establish a Jewish state.
*Israel Bonds were first issued in 1951. One year later, Church President David O. McKay purchased $5000 of Israel Bonds on behalf of the church, stating that he was doing this “to show our sympathy with the effort being made to establish the Jews in their homeland.”
*Brigham Young University has been sending students to study in Israel since 1968. It currently leases land from the Israeli government for its magnificent Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, which looks down on the Old City.
*Two presidents of the LDS Church (Spencer W. Kimball and Howard W. Hunter) and an apostle (LeGrand Richards) have been awarded the Jerusalem Medal.
Whether it’s Mitt or Glenn Beck, I’m always pleased to see prominent Latter-day Saints get warm receptions in Israel. I take great pleasure in knowing that If Israelis could decide the winner of November’s election, Mitt – the Mormon candidate—would win in a landslide. As more and more Jews and Israelis become familiar with the history of LDS-Jewish relations, they will better understand why Mormons feel a special closeness to them. In the case of Mitt, I believe that his religious beliefs and his strong support for Israel and Jews can’t be separated; they merely feed off each other.
12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important
11.21.13 at 11:23 pm | While everyone knows that Jews can say who's a. . .
11.4.13 at 10:43 pm | Greater expectations need to be placed on Jews,. . .
10.18.13 at 11:26 pm | My friend Brian offers an eloquent explanation of. . .
10.13.13 at 11:28 pm | The title says it all
9.30.13 at 11:32 pm | The Santa Monica Daily Press missed the mark in. . .
12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important (705)
6.5.12 at 11:26 pm | Marlena Tanya Muchnick, a Jewish convert to. . . (58)
11.21.13 at 11:23 pm | While everyone knows that Jews can say who's a. . . (38)
July 18, 2012 | 12:52 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
In a case of using questionable means to achieve a noble end, pro-life pastors and activists in Kansas are planning to incorporate a full-size replica of the Western Wall in their proposed International Pro-Life Memorial and National Life Center. The wall will have 60 crosses in front of it, each one representing one million dead babies. The organizers have said that they want to include the wall because it is a symbol of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, and they believe that another holocaust is taking place in the nation’s abortion clinics. While I sympathize with the organizers’ intent, they are misappropriating a powerful Jewish symbol that has nothing to do with abortion or the Holocaust to make their point.
As a Mormon, I agree that abortion is a great moral evil. The LDS Church considers abortion a serious sin, and it can be grounds for excommunication. However, the church does recognize that exceptions can be made in certain cases (e.g., when the mother’s life is threatened) after prayerful consideration, and it does not consider abortion to be murder. Moreover, it is possible for Mormons who have participated in abortions to repent and obtain forgiveness.
Notwithstanding my support for the organizers’ goals, I object to the Jewish theme of part of the proposed memorial, which my wife and I will definitely visit after it is dedicated. The Western (Wailing) Wall is Judaism’s holiest site. The placement of 60 crosses in front of the wall could be offensive to many Jews, for whom the cross represents additional Jewish suffering during centuries of Christian pogroms and persecution. In addition, while the wall is a symbol of Jewish suffering, it is not normally associated with the Holocaust, which happened 2,000 years after the wall’s construction. If the good pastors want to link the killing of babies to the Holocaust, it would be more accurate to include a gas chamber in the monument.
Here is where I must tread softly. I was 100% on board with the abortion-as-modern-Holocaust argument until I went to Auschwitz a few years ago. I can’t explain why exactly, but for me there is a difference between the herding of living, breathing human beings into gas chambers and the killing of babies in utero. There certainly are parallels – for example, in both cases some people decide that others’ lives are expendable. This is especially true of viable, third-trimester babies. I get the pastors’ Holocaust argument, and admire their desire to promote the sanctity of all innocent life. That said, when you’re standing in a gas chamber at Auschwitz, something about their reasoning falls flat.
Of course, many Jews have also objected to the inclusion of the Wailing Wall, which one national pro-abortion Jewish organization has called “an outrageous affront to the Jewish people.” Truth be told, nothing that the pastors have proposed is nearly as “outrageous” as support for the killing of babies by people who claim to have Jewish values. Jewish law and tradition do not support the killing of the unborn in most cases, and there is nothing Jewish about being pro-abortion. On this issue the pastors are much more in tune with traditional Judaism than liberal Jews are.
This is a project that my wife and I would like to donate to if it gets off the ground, and I wish the pastors much success with fundraising and other activities. However, I do hope that they will reconsider their inclusion of the Western Wall.
July 12, 2012 | 12:54 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
According to the church’s official website, a semiannual General Synod of the Church of England “debates matters of national and international importance.” Given the current state of the world, there should be no shortage of items to discuss. However, the Eurozone meltdown, Syrian civil war, Iran nuclear talks breakdown, and other crises inexplicably failed to make the cut. In fact, only two international matters have been deemed worthy of discussion at the synods held this year: Muslim attacks on Christians in Nigeria and the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme (EAPPI), which takes people to the West Bank so that they can experience life under “occupation” and supports the anti-Semitic BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign against Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Board of Deputies of British Jews may vote to sever ties to the Church of England at its next meeting. Good for them.
Attendees at recent gatherings of liberal Protestant churches can be forgiven for wondering why Israel is always in their crosshairs. The Anglicans’ shameful vote to strengthen ties with the EAPPI comes on the heels of the Episcopal Church’s call for a negotiated two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, a schizophrenic vote by Presbyterians to reject a divestment resolution while boycotting products made in West Bank settlements, and the rejection by Methodists of yet another divestment initiative. It’s quite clear that these liberal leaders lack an appreciation for the Jewish state, and it’s also obvious that political activism, not divine guidance, is fueling their unhealthy Israel obsession. I can’t imagine why anyone would care what liberal Protestant committees think about Israel, and admire Jewish organizations for their patience and forbearance when dealing with them.
The response of the Church of England’s interreligious affairs adviser to the synod’s vote was very telling: “Many Synod members abstained, not willing to dismiss EAPPI, but presumably registering that they understood the negative implications for Jewish-Christian relations of a positive vote.” In other words, the well-meaning synod voters didn’t object to the substance of the resolution, but feared that it might harm relations with the Jewish community.
I think that we can cut to the chase on the Israel issues by asking attendees at upcoming meetings of liberal Protestants to vote on the following question: Is the Abrahamic covenant valid today? They will deny that it is. Mormons believe that the covenant remains valid, and that is why the LDS Church has sent apostles to dedicate the Land of Israel on many occasions for the gathering of the Jewish people. Jews believe in the continuing validity of the covenant as well, which is why they have worked so hard to establish and preserve their state. Mormons and Jews may disagree on what the terms of the Abrahamic covenant are and on what one needs to do to receive the blessings of the covenant, but they agree that the Abrahamic covenant is 100% in force today. As a result, you don’t see LDS leaders debating divestment from Israel out of a misguided search for “justice” and “peace.”
There is no reason to expect that liberal Christian synods and conventions will adopt a more comprehensive view of injustice in the world in the near future. Each year brings new phraseology and new resolutions, but the underlying message is the same: The Abrahamic covenant is not valid for Jews today, and Israel is one of the worst countries in the world. Once Jews realize this, more of them will emulate the actions of the British Jewish leaders by looking elsewhere for fruitful dialogue on Israel.
July 2, 2012 | 12:36 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Last week a Jewish journalist contacted me about Mormon outreach efforts to the Jewish community. His email came just after an LDS leader interested in reaching out to Jews had called for a briefing on the “ABC organizations” that make up the organized Jewish community. Their queries caused me to reflect on the prospects for future LDS-Jewish collaboration, which I believe will ultimately prove to be most fruitful with Orthodox and pro-Israel groups.
Through my professional involvement with the Jewish community, I have seen firsthand the positive results from LDS-Jewish interfaith outreach. Jews are the best coalition builders in the country, and are always willing to work with Christians who love and respect them. Many Mormon leaders have longstanding relationships with prominent Jewish leaders and organizations, Mormons are working and blogging in the Jewish community, and the thorny proxy baptism issue has largely been put to rest.
However, there are many movements and communities in the Jewish world, and they vary greatly in the degree to which they are willing and able to engage in meaningful interfaith collaboration with the LDS Church. The Orthodox community is the most appealing partner because its moral vision is closest to the LDS ideal. Orthodox leaders joined forces with the LDS Church during the Prop 8 battle in California, they oppose abortion in most circumstances, they denounce pornography, and they largely share Mormons’ preference for a society of strong families based on traditional Judeo-Christian values. The Orthodox have also started to echo LDS leaders in stressing the importance of religious freedom in a pluralistic society. I have given the D’var Torah (sermon) from an Orthodox bimah and conducted a public theological dialogue with an Orthodox pulpit rabbi, so I know firsthand that the Orthodox are willing to extend a hand to Mormons who care deeply about Jews and Judaism. There is no limit to how much good the collaboration between our two communities could accomplish.
Generally speaking, LDS dialogue with Reform and Conservative Jews, while wonderful and even inspiring, is on a different level. While more liberal Jews usually more open to interfaith outreach efforts than the Orthodox, it is sometimes difficult for them to overlook differences they may have with the LDS Church on gay marriage, abortion, and other controversial moral issues. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. For example, one Reform rabbi was considering inviting a few Mormon leaders to his synagogue to hold a forum on how to raise good kids, a topic of great interest to his congregation. During the first planning meeting, a Mormon woman presented to the group a pamphlet explaining the LDS Church’s youth program. The reaction from some of the Jewish participants was so negative that the good rabbi had to nix the proposed forum. To them the Mormon ideal for religious youth education was so different from theirs that it precluded dialogue on the issue. With one exception, on the few occasions when I have encountered hostility towards my church in the Jewish community, it has come from secular or Reform Jews over political/moral issues.
What is often missing in the LDS dialogue with more liberal Jewish movements is a Jewish component. When Mormons ask about large Jewish organizations, most of which are liberal, they are usually shocked to learn that many of them support abortion rights (including partial-birth abortions), gay marriage, etc. One LDS local leader in a private conversation called a well-known Jewish organization “the ACLU with a yarmulke.” When it comes to moral issues, liberal Jewish movements are not bound by traditional Jewish law, which does not sanction third-trimester abortions or same-sex couplings.
Don’t get me wrong: I know a lot of wonderful Reform and Conservative Jews, and their dedication to tikkun olam (service to others in an effort to repair the world) is truly inspiring. It’s just that when a Mormon ward and a Reform congregation work together to, say, staff a soup kitchen together, the common bond is a desire to do good and to serve others. As laudable as this is, I fail to see any distinctly Jewish component here. In other words, when Mormons and Orthodox talk about collaboration, the conversation includes words like Torah, Judaism and morality. When Mormons discuss collaboration with Reform Jews, they could just as well be talking with Methodists, Muslims or Episcopalians. Again, I have nothing but praise for interfaith collaboration that involves service and doing good. However, there is nothing distinctly Jewish about these concepts, so the “dialogue” that takes place is not as meaningful as it could otherwise be.
Another promising area of cooperation between Mormons and Jews is Israel. Although the LDS Church doesn’t take sides in the Middle East, most Mormons in this country are solidly pro-Israel and would welcome the chance to work with Jews on Israel advocacy. The only glitch here is that most Jewish organizations seeking to promote Jewish-Christian ties on Israel have already partnered with evangelical organizations that are unwilling to fully accept Mormons into the coalition. The best solution would be for Mormons to create their own version of CUFI (Christians United for Israel) with a distinctly Mormon vision.
With the possible election of a Mormon for president this year, Mormons are anticipating many questions from the public on Mormon beliefs and doctrines. In addition, I believe that as more and more Jews meet more and more Mormons, the former will come to appreciate a philo-Semitic church whose members believe that they are modern-day Israelites. Mormon outreach should be directed to Jews from all movements (and none), but I’m betting that in 20 years the most fruitful efforts will prove to have been those made to bring Mormons and Orthodox and/or Israel-loving Jews together.
June 18, 2012 | 1:00 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
ἄρα γε ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς (“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them”) – Matthew 7:20
And even I, myself [King Benjamin], have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne…” – Mosiah 2:14 [Book of Mormon]
My stock portfolio and I were very relieved to learn that Greeks had voted to save their economy by giving the New Democracy Party a narrow win over the delusional Syriza Party. Now that European governments have breathed a great sigh of relief, they can prepare to negotiate the final terms of the Greek bailout package. While I’ve seen plenty of reports on the country’s economic ills, few of them have highlighted the country’s spectacular moral failings. The sad truth is that almost all of them can be laid squarely at the gilded doors of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ, to which 98% of Greeks belong.
There is little de facto separation of church and state in Greece. Greeks don’t just have a constitution: its official title is “The Constitution of Greece – In the Name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity.” This holy constitution establishes Greek Orthodoxy as the country’s “prevailing” religion, and the state pays for the clergy’s seminaries, salaries, and pensions. All of this largesse would be understandable if the government were getting inspiring moral leadership in return. Even a cursory review of Greek’s current situation shows that this is hardly the case.
I have blogged before about the Orthodox Church’s shameful record on anti-Semitism, and it bears repeating: surveys show that Greece is among the most anti-Semitic and anti-Israel countries in Europe. Matters were not helped any when the Orthodox Metropolitan of Piraeus (a senior bishop on the public dole) declared 18 months ago that “Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire.” [In a “statement of clarification,” the Metropolitan added, “My public vehement opposition against International Zionism refers to the organ that is the successor of the ‘Sanhedrin’ which altered the faith of the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Righteous of the Jewish nation through the Talmud, the Rabbinical writings and the Kabbalah into Satanism.”]
Regular readers of this column won’t be surprised to learn that Mark’s First Principle of Persecution – those who dislike Jews also dislike Mormons as well – is operative in Greece. According to the U.S. State Department, at least eight LDS missionaries have been arrested in the last four years. Six were released within two hours, and two missionaries spent two days in jail before being tried and acquitted of all charges. Former missionaries in Greece whom I contacted confirmed stories of police harassment and hostility towards church members and missionaries stoked by local Orthodox bishops and priests.
In addition to anti-Semitism and religious intolerance, Greeks are well-known for having a corrupt government and an aversion to paying taxes, the latter a primary focus of economic reform proposals. Clearly the Orthodox Church is not engaged in serious moral teaching and/or the people aren’t listening. Since only a quarter of Greeks attend church regularly, my guess is that their spiritual needs aren’t being met by the priests that they’re supporting.
I have two solutions for this disconnect. First of all, the best spending cut that the Greek government could implement would be to cut off funding for the salaries and pensions of all Orthodox priests, deacons and bishops. Ditto for Orthodox seminaries. Both the New Testament and The Book of Mormon provide examples of spiritual giants (e.g., the Apostle Paul) who supported themselves through hard work. One reason why Mormon bishops and other local leaders are unusually successful in their moral teaching efforts is because they all have day jobs, which allows them to relate very well to their congregants. [While it’s true that rabbis, like Greek Orthodox priests, are also supported by others, they have been much more successful in preaching moral values to their flocks than their Orthodox counterparts in Greece.]
My second suggestion would be to tone down the church’s nationalism. I recall visiting a Greek Orthodox church in Santa Barbara a few years ago and leafing through an official church publication. Several articles discussed political issues related to Cyprus and Macedonia, and their tone was so biased that they could have been written by the Greek Foreign Ministry. This kind of material doesn’t belong in a magazine published by a universal apostolic church. In the end, nationalism is a poor substitute for inspired moral teaching, and the empty pews throughout Greece bear witness to this.
One of Israel’s official titles is “Light Unto the Nations,” a reminder that from the days of the prophet Isaiah Judaism has been expected to provide moral and spiritual leadership to the world. Rightly or wrongly, Israel’s actions – good and bad – are often seen as a reflection of Judaism’s ethics and morality. Although most Israelis are not religious, and Jewish law doesn’t govern the country, Jews’ image and ethics are constantly on trial when three quarters of a nation’s population is Jewish. The Greek Orthodox Church deserves similar scrutiny, since almost every Greek is a member.
If one were to give an evaluation of the moral teaching of this national church of a country on the brink of financial ruin, one would have to conclude that it has utterly failed to provide moral and spiritual leadership to millions of Greeks. In LDS theology, spiritual leaders have a solemn responsibility to teach correct moral principles to their congregants, lest God hold them responsible for the people’s sins. Greek priests would do well to follow this principle. In this case, the kindest thing that the Greek government could do for Orthodox leaders (as well as for the country) is to ask them to increase their moral preaching, nix the nationalism – and get a day job.
June 13, 2012 | 11:50 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Not many people were aware before today that one of the country’s leading anti-Mormons has been running for the Republican presidential nomination. Fred Karger, whose signal electoral exploit so far is having beaten Ron Paul in Puerto Rico, was the brains behind the “Californians Against Hate” group that targeted the LDS Church for its opposition to gay marriage during the Prop 8 campaign. He has criticized Mormons and the Mormon Church on many occasions, and his recent campaign trip to Utah was a good indication of why few people in the country have faith in his ability to exercise good judgment.
In an effort to challenge Mitt Romney in the upcoming Utah primary election (sure to be a nail-biter), Mr. Karger chose to spend a few days in the state. Being Fred, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit southern Utah, a bastion of Mormonism, and publicly call on the Mormon Church to stop funding efforts to oppose state-sanctioned gay marriage. Some folks down in Utah’s Dixie took offense at his message, most notably the wife of the county’s Republican Party chairman. Following her husband’s meeting with Karger, she sent him a homophobic e-mail calling him a “radical idiot” who can’t procreate. For good measure, she followed-up with more idiotic statements to the press (e.g., “the only reason he’s running for president is to find more partners.”)
Unfortunately, Karper’s public response revealed a similar level of ignorance: “This is what the Mormon Church preaches to its members.” If Fred can find similar statements in official church literature or speeches, I’d like to see them. I’ve been attending LDS services for three decades, and have yet to hear anti-gay language preached from the pulpit. I’m just curious: If I went to San Francisco or West Hollywood and made public speeches calling on gays to stop supporting gay marriage, what kind of e-mails would I be likely to receive? My hunch is that they’d make the Utah woman’s message look like a love note by comparison. Clearly Karger’s goals were to increase his name recognition and to make the LDS Church look bad. It’s a shame that he’s succeeded on both fronts.
Of course, there is no excuse for the woman’s homophobic rant. If she really is a member of the LDS Church, then she believes that we are all children of God who lived together before we came to earth and chose to live here on earth with each other. By the grace of God, we’ll spend eternity together as well. Her bigotry is her own, and shouldn’t be imputed to the 14 million members of her church worldwide. Are there Mormon homophobes? Unfortunately, yes. Are there anti-Mormon gays? Of course. If Fred Karger really wants to demonstrate some presidential mettle, he’ll stop trying to play “gotcha” with Republicans who disagree with him on gay marriage, quit telling churches what they should do, and start engaging in a serious public discussion of non-gay issues. By now it should be obvious to everyone why even gay groups have distanced themselves from him.
June 12, 2012 | 12:27 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
It is openly stated in books written by the founders of Zionism that the means by which they planned to establish a state was by instigating anti-Semitism … They intentionally infuriated the German people and fanned the flames of Nazi hatred, and they helped the Nazis, with trickery and deceit, to take whole Jewish communities off to the concentration camps, and the Zionists themselves admit this… Here are two replies given by Leaders of the Zionists during World War II, when they were asked for money to help ransom Jews from the Nazis. Greenbaum said “One cow in Palestine is worth more than all the Jews in Poland.” (G-d forbid). Weitzman said, “The most important part of the Jewish people is already in the land (of Israel) and those who are left, are unimportant” (May we be spared). – Official Neturei Karta website
We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society… We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience. – Doctrine and Covenants, chapter 134
After years of working in the Jewish community and studying Judaism, there are only two Jewish ideas that remain incomprehensible to me: Jewish atheists and Jewish anti-Zionists. [Until recently, I would have added “same-sex Jewish marriage ceremony” to the list. However, enough thoughtful Reform Jews have discussed this topic with me that now I can at least understand their reasoning].
I was reminded of the anti-Zionist fringe this morning when I heard about the anti-Israel graffiti that was spray-painted onto various monuments at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. “Hitler, thank you for the Holocaust” was among the phrases written in impeccable Hebrew by the vandals. Although most people suspect that the perpetrators were Israel-hating ultra-Orthodox Jews, no arrests have been made. I won’t point fingers here, but even if Orthodox fringe groups were not involved in these despicable acts, their twisted theology got me thinking about Mormon views of earthly governments and our responsibilities towards them.
Both Mormons and the Neturei Karta crowd believe in a future Messianic age. For Mormons, this will be ushered in by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, who will rule over the earth from both Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem (Zion), located in Missouri (please see Isaiah 2:3). The anti-Zionist Orthodox sects believe that the Messiah will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people, in part by reestablishing a strong Jewish state, and they don’t support the creation of a secular Jewish state. Fair enough. I have no problem understanding the belief that the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state should be left to the Messiah. However, when these Orthodox sects pray for the destruction of Israel and heap praise on the greatest enemies of the Jewish people in modern history – Hitler, Arafat, Ahmadinejad – then they have crossed many red lines that no Jew (or thinking person) should cross. The Messiah hasn’t asked Neturei Karta rabbis to destroy Israel, and they have no business supporting groups or individuals that are trying to do so.
Do LDS beliefs support the seditious behavior of these fringe Orthodox groups? As noted above, Mormons (like Jews) generally believe in sustaining earthly governments and leaders, imperfect though they may be. In return, they have the right to expect their “inalienable” rights to be protected by governments and rulers (something that has not always been done for Mormons or Jews). Citizens who enjoy these protections should not rebel against their governments.
Since Israel protects the religious and civil rights of ultra-Orthodox Jews, including those who hate the country, there is little justification in Mormon thought (as well as mainstream Jewish thought) for Orthodox Jews who meet with Israel’s enemies, publicly call for Israel’s destruction, and praise political leaders who hate Jews and Israel. It’s a shame that excommunication sentences aren’t given to traitors in contemporary Judaism, because the anti-Zionist Orthodox fringe would be prime candidates for them.
It is very hard for me, as an interested outside observer, to imagine contemporary Judaism without a Jewish state. That a small group of Jews, however sincere they might be, would pray for its destruction is simply unbelievable. May the God of Israel grant them the wisdom to see the error of their ways is my prayer – this shanda fur die goyim has gone on for far too long.
June 5, 2012 | 11:26 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
The proverbial “third rail” issue for a Christian blogger on a Jewish website is Jewish conversion to Christianity. It is one of the few issues that unites practically all Jews, and well-funded organizations (e.g., Jews for Judaism) have been set up to keep Jews from converting. Although many Jews who know me well have asked why a Jew would become a Mormon, I have declined to blog on the subject because I considered it too sensitive.
Until now. After more than two years blogging for the Jewish Journal, I’m pretty confident that readers know that my purpose in writing this column is not to convert Jews. A few weeks ago a prominent Jewish leader asked me why Jews decide to become Mormons. I decided to pose a series of questions to my friend Marlena Tanya Muchnick, a well-known Jew-turned-Mormon speaker, author, and researcher. Marlena travels around the country making presentations on Jews and Mormons. I am grateful to her for taking time out from her Baltic cruise to compose her answers. She and her wonderful husband Daniel live in the Seattle area.
Q: How old were you when you converted to the LDS Church?
A: I often contemplated the gifts promised the human family in the Tree of Life mentioned in Genesis 2. The Hebrew life giving tree motif I found in a copy of Kabbalah (esoteric Judaic writings). It stirred in me a deep curiosity about the mysterious connections of all things in earth and heaven. I read of covenants, oaths, the patterns and behaviors of men –blessings received, curses endured. Always the connection of God to His children was tested and tried. The Hebrew people have always been engaged in a love story (often also a tryst!) with their Father/Lord. So, in a fashion, I was being spiritually prepared for my transformation at age 47 – from Orthodox/Conservative Jewess to a temple-attending Latter-day Saint.
Q: Jews believe the Abrahamic covenant still applies to them. Mormons also believe that the Abrahamic covenant is applicable today. Why is there a need for a Jew to become a Mormon if the Abrahamic covenant is still alive and well?
A: Being raised an observant Jewess, I trusted that the everlasting Avrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 28) was the blueprint for every life. An agreement between mankind and God, it is unconditional in its nature to bless the tribes of Israel (see Genesis 12:2-3). Nations and kings were to descend from that patriarch who would become father of a “great nation”, receiving special blessings for their faithfulness, including the Mashiach’s (Messiah’s) return into their midst. Many Jews believe in these future events but have little idea of the profound meanings implicit in them. Spiritual truth often lies in mystery, but to ignore that tantalizing search is to remain dead to the potential for life that waits hopefully within each soul.
Fortunately for me, through the teachings of the missionaries, I discovered that Mormons understand covenants better than anyone, because they realize the importance and urgency of gathering members of the house of Israel through the restored, latter-day Gospel teachings as reintroduced through the Prophet Joseph Smith; his translation of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the restoration of the temples of God to the earth.
[According to LDS belief] Jews are the “chosen” people according to God’s covenant with Abraham. [Mormons believe that] Abraham wanted to regain the true priesthood and gospel principles that had been lost through apostasy. But neither the Jews nor anyone else can be automatically saved. The Latter-day Saints have been charged with finding those who are lost and teaching them the essential news of the restoration of ancient priesthood powers which God has covenanted to them unconditionally on His part. But individual faithfulness and action are required to bring fulfillment. [I believe that] Judaism is the foundation of Christianity, not the final product.
Q: What was it that attracted you to Mormonism?
A: How does a proper Jewess cross the seemingly uncrossable line to Christianity, then venture further to the hallowed country of the Gentilic, gentle Saints? For me, it was the hardest work my rebellious soul has EVER done! I was 14 and just confirmed from Hebrew school when I realized something was missing from my synagogue experiences. My parents thought me mad. I was told to get over it. It was 1954.
Arriving at age 40 I found myself alone and poor, a victim of many abuses as a child and teen. During my growing years as a female in a traditionally male cultural setting, I sought in the synagogues for a deeper and especially a personal solace. Synagogue prayers are praises to God and petitions for Israel - our traditional way of approaching Deity. But I needed a personal witness. Finally, pleading with God before the opened Torah scrolls, I challenged Him to bring me what He knew I needed; then I determined to find it myself, if it took this lifetime to do so. It took several years longer.
My only sibling, a younger brother, eventually accepted the Gospel more or less against his will. Mark had married a Tongan whose father translated the Book of Mormon into Tongan for the country’s royalty. Mark’s wife and family were, of course, devoted Mormons. In 1975, he brought me a Book of Mormon, to share the joy in the Gospel that he had found. I immediately rejected it.“I have Torah. Why would I need another book? No, thanks. I prefer to remain a Jew. Is this what our people have fought to become? I think not.” I put the book in my bookcase and left it there for years. Many years later, in 1985, I moved to Oregon from L.A. to assist with care for my now widowed brother’s children. Senior Mormon missionaries lived next door!
I was quite disturbed by this new and sudden interest of these Christian people in my background and my beliefs as a Jew. Having been taught by my parents that non-Jews (Gentiles) were off limits to me, I’d never learned Christian ways or beliefs. They couldn’t pronounce the gutteral ch. They didn’t like Jewish food, they didn’t know Hebrew history or celebrate any Jewish holidays. But I was attracted to them in ways that stirred my soul.
1. I found those Mormons I met and who befriended me to be genuinely caring about each and every person and were gentle and forgiving folk. They were genuinely kind to me and they related all their life experiences to faith and love of God and Christ. What impressed me so much was their close relationship with God. That gave them satisfaction I had only dreamt of finding. They listened to my denials of Christ, asked me about Judaism, and were genuinely interested in comparing religions through scripture and through their own understanding. And then there was the “look” in their eyes. Was it joy? True happiness? Their constant relationship with the mysterious Holy Spirit? I wanted it!
2. They patiently spoke of New Testament gospel writers, pointing out that most were Jewish men, including the apostles of Christ. I had never thought that important. I confess that at first I only allowed them to entertain me with these things because my brother had earlier brought me that book which claimed our ancient Jewish ancestors truly came from Israel to these American continents and – would you believe – accepted Jesus as the Christ? They told me that Jesus came to fulfill the Law of Moses (Matt 5:17) and create a new covenant between God and his people, that he visited the American continents (Book of Mormon, 3Nephi 11-28). The Book of Mormon is a sign that the gathering of Israel and the fulfillment of his covenants with them was beginning.
3. These apostles learned there was a higher law than the Aaronic/ Levitical priesthood: the higher or Melchizedek priesthood. This man, Melchizedek (Heb 7:2) was a notable prophet and leader who lived about 2000 BC. He was the first individual to be given the title of Kohen (priest) in Torah. Father Abraham paid tithes to him. Melchizedek is mentioned in many places in Torah and in latter-day scripture. Mormons claim that these two priesthoods have been restored in our day, along with prophets, temples, baptism and other ordinances by priesthood authority, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost and other blessings, and proxy work for the dead. I was finding a unity between our two faiths; that we are connected by many things. Mormons have more in common with Judaism than any other religion because Judaism laid the foundation for Christianity and through the LDS church the fullness of many covenants God made with the nation of Israel will be realized. These include the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3, 15), Edenic (Gen 3:16-19), Palestinian (Deut 30:1-10), Davidic (2Sam 7:8-16, Luke 1:32-34), and the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34).
4. I was attracted to the notion that prophets and seers were once again on the earth. In Torah many prophets are mentioned, some true, some false. The greater ones were usually disbelieved and hated for their unpopular messages. Some met with an untimely death. The last Hebrew prophet, Malachi, lived at the end of the 70-year Babylonian exile. Judaism today does not recognize anyone as having the voice to speak for them. But the Mormons claim Joseph Smith was a prophet and seer and that these chosen men of God will never again be taken from the earth. Thomas S. Monson is regarded as the current seer and prophetic voice among the Saints and he has two counselors. Together they form the First Presidency of the church. Their writings, in my mind, equal and often surpass those of many scholarly Talmudic sages.
5. The Mormon view of the afterlife attracted me greatly. Jews believe there is an Olam Haba – the world to come after death. Torah [the 5 books of Moses] emphasizes immediate, concrete, physical rewards and punishments rather than abstract future ones. See, for example, Lev. 26:3-9 and Deut. 11:13-15. However, there is clear evidence in Torah of belief in existence after death. Indicated in several places the righteous with their loved ones will be reunited after death, while the wicked will be excluded. Ideas about resurrection and reincarnation are accepted, but there is much room for personal opinion, because Torah does not mention this subject directly, though the early temples practiced cleansing and vivifying rites. I was very concerned with what hope there was for mine and my family’s death. Mormons have revealed knowledge through prophets that explains and clarifies much about the spirit world before and after mortal life, and I found it reassuring.
6. The missionaries read with me the Book of Mormon, enlightening my understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Q: According to one of your websites, you engaged in five months of “secluded studying” of Hebrew and LDS scriptures before converting. What did you learn from this experience?
A: I learned, in essence, through totally independent study and prayer that the Gospel as taught in the LDS church is completely correct. I found my personal answers to the questions: Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going?
There is room here for several specific examples.
1. I learned about the priesthood of God, its purposes, duties and ministrations. See Exodus 40, a detailed account of Aaron and his sons receiving the Aaronic priesthood. After the fall of Herod’s Temple in 70 AD, that and the greater priesthood were lost, the Jewish nation scattered. In these latter days that most precious gift has been restored to the earth and all of us are blessed through the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood of God in these latter days.
2. Exodus 34 gives the story of Moses (Moshe) receiving God’s commandments. Moses asks the Lord to pardon the iniquity of his people, to which the Lord replies in part (v.14) that the Jews shall have no other god but the Lord, “…whose name is Jealous…” All others are said to be false, and to Jews, that includes Jesus. But the New Testament history of Jesus and his times is compelling. He converted thousands of Jewish followers. This is not mentioned in Torah or Talmud. Why not?
3. When the missionaries told me that Joseph Smith received his visitation from our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in April of 1820 and that the LDS church was established in April of 1830, I discovered these dates coincided with the Jewish Passover. Joseph’s visit by the angel, Moroni, and additionally when he visited the place the golden plates were buried and retrieved them four years later - these occurrences came during the annual Feast of Sukkot in September, 1823 and the Jewish New Year of 1827. Coincidences? These and numerous other occasions in LDS history helped to convince me that the history of Jews and Mormons was intertwined in the mind and heart of God and an important clue to my understanding of how God works with mankind.
4. I learned through the Book of Mormon that God spoke directly to the descendants of the Jewish people in America, introducing them to Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son. Since I do believe that God is in charge and can do as He wishes, I understood and accepted that the history of the Jews in the lands of America included the visitation and teachings of Christ in the Americas. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 29:31-33, I read that Heavenly Father’s works are without end. This made sense to me.
5. I learned that both religions honor their ancestors and place them in high esteem. Both believe in the principle of fasting and both have a set of dietary laws that are sensible and spiritually conceived by Deity. Both religions honor God and His commandments. Both revere and celebrate the Sabbath and believe in keeping it holy. There are many similarities between Jewish and LDS beliefs and religious observances, but much has been lost of ancient truths through time.
6. Ezekiel 37 in part refers to the prophecy of combining the “two sticks”, that of Joseph, by which is meant the Book of Mormon, with the stick (record)of Judah – meaning the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible –. The LDS “quad” contains those scriptures in one volume that also includes more scripture, much of it dictated by Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith. I learned that this is a further evidence of the message for unity between Mormons and Jews.
7. The Book of Mormon opened my eyes to profound teachings, truths about the history of my Hebrew ancestors in the Americas, the true nature of the spirit of mankind, Jesus in America. It is testimony to how the Holy Ghost works in our lives, the divinity of Jesus Christ and presents undeniable evidence that the book was translated by the gift and power of God. It is truly a second witness of Jesus Christ and contains the fullness of the Gospel that Jesus tried to teach the Jews in Israel millennia ago. I could not deny its truthfulness. The Holy Ghost testified of these things to me in an undeniable way, even to the extent of giving me a vision, words from an angelic source, and a transformation of spirit.
8. Importantly, I discovered the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of scriptures containing revelations from the Lord Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith. This book amazed me. It is not a translation but claims to be a witness of Jesus Christ. Indeed, as I read the first section, dictated to Joseph by the Lord Himself, I was amazed that I had not known of this book. I now had the problem of believing or denying that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of the world! The book proclaims that the heavens are open again. It contains revelations for LDS church governance and the essential beliefs of the organization of the Saints. While reading it I realized the voice of Jesus was the same voice I read and felt in Torah. Now it became impossible to deny that Jesus was the one who made the Exodus from Egypt possible.
9. The Pearl of Great Price is another enlightening collection of scripture that is invaluable in understanding the way Heavenly Father works with humanity. The Joseph Smith history is also undeniably true, and from it I learned of the First Vision. The book of Moses and book of Abraham teach the doctrine of plurality of gods. I read about the doctrine of exaltation and learned of its significance to us. Jewish canon does not include any of the information found in the Pearl… This is a vast treasure trove of information that really opened my eyes to the mysteries of God.
10. The most important thing I discovered in my reading, pondering and praying was that God is in charge. Consistently, in all scripture, He tells us that. He does what He wants in His time. He is not subject to human rules or traditions, whims, requests, threats, pleadings, etc.
Q: You’ve said that personal revelation has inspired you to facilitate mutual understanding between Jews and Mormons. In what ways do you do this?
A: My mission, bestowed upon me in 1989 under a priesthood calling, was to “be as an Esther to my people” by bringing the Jews to God’s true church, mainly through the tribe of Ephraim – the preponderance of members of the LDS church are of that tribal affiliation. I am to teach them about the genesis of their religion and how to fellowship and understand their Jewish neighbors, thereby to “help them come to the salvation of their souls through their Mashiach, Jeshua, even Jesus their Christ.”
To this end I have embarked upon a mission: writing books for the Mormon reading public: about my conversion to the church, about the Jewish people - their history, beliefs, culture and language. I also have published fiction that highlights their plight in America and in Eastern Europe. I give firesides, lectures and classes to LDS congregations on these subjects, as well as maintaining several blog and websites featuring many useful articles on Jewish life. I point out the many similarities and connections (see listing) between the two religions and cultures. I tell my audiences to reach out to their Jewish neighbors, embracing their culture and making as many connections as possible with them in various settings.
Q: Has the Jewish community been receptive to your work? How do Mormons react to your presentations?
A: The work that I do is strictly for the LDS population. Jews do not want me to speak to their congregations because I have embraced Christianity, though many Jews are fond of Mormons. Having a Jew convert to “the other side” of the Jewish world and, in effect, become a “Gentile” (a non-Jew) is anathema to a Jew. My conversion makes them very uncomfortable.
Happily, those to whom I have spoken and written are very pleased with my books, blogs and presentations. Many Mormons are genuinely interested in their Jewish neighbors and have lots of questions I help them to answer. I tell them I am only a messenger. They must do the real work of investigating and understanding to make the connections.
Q: You’ve written “A Mormon’s Guide to Judaism.“What is one thing that every Mormon should know about Judaism? What should every Jew know about Mormonism?
A: Through the years I have asked many fellow Jews why they do not wish to believe in Christ. Their responses span their range of involvement in religious worship. By far, their responses included an avowed devotion to Judaism alone - showing little or no interest in any other religion. I have also noticed that relatively few Mormons have any more than a surface understanding of other religions and do not investigate the similarities and differences between their religion. This puts them in the same category with most Jews.
So, in my view, it is essential that Latter-day Saints become aware of the underpinnings of their belief system; Jesus was a Jew. The original Gospel evolved through Mosaic Law. Judaism is the language and belief system that propelled Christianity into being, though it was soon and continually corrupted by many factors. A knowledge of Jewish prayers, group and individual worship, holidays, culture, language, dietary laws and other elements of their sub-civilization should be sought after by the LDS population. This will increase Mormon understanding and appreciation of their own religious life.
As for my first people, I would advise them of the many similarities of the Hebrew religion and current Jewish congregations to LDS ways of life and urge them to investigate these. The Jews are increasingly positive about the LDS church and generally believe Mormons to be helpful, accepting, loyal, supporting and who accept their Israelite progenitors as brethren without prejudice or anti-Semitism. That is especially helpful in the present dangerous political situation in Israel and elsewhere in the world. I would ask them to consider learning of Christ with an inquiring and searching spirit, rather than to be forever satisfied with their centuries-long traditions. I think that the Jewish people in the main resist Christianity because of centuries of persecution, forced conversions and ostracism.
It is important for the Jewish people to understand that the ancient tribal identities and relationships have been restored; that those who are descendants of the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, Babylon, etc. , and now scattered throughout the earth – are in the process of being gathered again, according to ancient prophecy (Isa 54:7, Ezek 11:17, Jer 50:4 and others). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pursues the literal gathering of Israel throughout the world and the restoration of all the tribes (families) of Jacob prior to the coming of the Mashiach. The fullness of the early Gospel taught by our first prophets is here upon the earth today and available to each of us. Without the birthright tribe (holding the priesthood keys through Christ and his church) of Ephraim, the lineage of Judah (protector of the temples and the people) is as a sword of undirected energy.
Q: You speak often on the symbolic connections between Mormon and Jewish worship. What is the most important connection?
A: That is an easy answer. It would be our holy temples, those that once stood in Jerusalem and those built by the Latter-day Saints. It was and is now Beit YHVH or YHWH, the house of the Lord. The history of the temple in Jerusalem begins in 957 BC with King Solomon’s construction. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice more. It was the center of Jewish civilization and all things in life revolved around that holy shrine built to God. In the temple, offerings were made, blessings and benedictions pronounced, ritual cleansings performed. Isaiah spoke of the importance of prayer in the Temple, calling it God’s “holy mountain”. The loss of the temple in a.d. 70 brought on the Diaspora of the Jews which has lasted to this day. Jews believe they no longer have a temple in which to worship, but that is no longer the case.
The first temple structure built by the Mormon people was in Kirtland, Ohio. It was dedicated in March 1836 and the Lord accepted it. As of May 2012 there are 137 operating, 15 under construction, 14 announced temples. See http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/temples/.
These houses of the Lord are clear and direct links between Judaism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They provide a place set apart for eternal covenants, a place that is sacred and suitable for the performing of holy ordinances that bind on earth and heaven. They provide ordinances for living and dead that assures the possession and association of families, worlds without end and exaltation for ourselves and our families in the kingdom of God. They contain emblems of ancient Judaic worship. When I first saw these, my heart jumped and I knew I had finally “come home”. LDS temples are based on the fact of the atonement of Jesus Christ, without whom all mankind would be irretrievably lost. In ancient and modern times, the “work” done in Mormon temples is binding, the “glory and honour” referred to in Psalm 8:3:
“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? …For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” .
[At the suggestion of Jewish Journal editors, a few edits have been made to Marlena’s interview in order to clarify Judaism’s beliefs]