Posted by Mark Paredes
Once in a while I set aside Jewish and/or Mormon themes in order to address pressing issues of the day (e.g., whether Lionel Messi plays soccer as well as Diego Maradona did). Such an opportunity now presents itself with the upcoming congressional votes on Syria. Every serious writer in this country needs to take a position on the proposed U.S. response to the latest atrocities allegedly committed by the Assad regime against its own people, and I am happy to do so here.
Unfortunately, there is no good option for the U.S. following the Sarin nerve gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus. If Assad ordered the attack, it clearly crossed the “red line” established by President Obama a year ago as a game-changer for an administration that has been understandably reluctant to insert itself into the fratricidal civil war in Syria. As the President attempts to persuade an increasingly skeptical Congress to authorize an attack on Assad’s regime, we commoners need to consider what the best course of action would be for this country. Although this is primarily a blog about religion, theology does not inform my analysis.
There can be no doubt at this point that the U.S. is on a collision course with some awful, despicable men. Bashar Assad is definitely his father’s son when it comes to brutality, and the mullahs in Iran who are propping him up have been sponsoring terrorist groups for decades. However, lots of countries are headed by despicable men who exhibit a depraved indifference to human life, and they don’t face the threat of U.S. missiles raining down on them. In strictly humanitarian terms, is Assad’s use of chemical weapons more objectionable than North Korea’s prison labor camps, which have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of hopeless prisoners over decades? As much as we may object to the use of nerve gas by Assad to kill his enemies (and innocent civilians to boot) within his country’s borders, I don’t consider that a justifiable reason for the U.S. to go it alone in an attack on Syria.
I’m glad to hear that countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey think that we should use retaliate militarily against Syria. However, if they think that it’s such a great idea, why don’t they do it themselves? I’m sick and tired of wealthy Middle Eastern countries using the U.S. military as mercenaries (anyone remember Kuwaitis partying in Cairo and Europe while U.S. soldiers were dying in Kuwait and Iraq?). We supply the Saudis with plenty of planes and other military aid, yet every time they want a leader in the neighborhood taken out, they ask us to do it while they write checks. The only competence that Saudis have shown in organizing attacks is when 15 of them hijacked planes on 9/11. If they want our soldiers to do their dirty work again, they should be told in Quranic Arabic to put up or shut up.
I initially supported the war in Afghanistan because the Taliban were sheltering Al-Qaeda, which had just killed thousands of people in this country in horrific terrorist attacks. I did not support the war because the Taliban treated women abominably, mutilated their enemies, or blew up priceless Buddha statues. Once the Taliban fled to Pakistan, I thought that we should have left Afghanistan, with a firm warning to future rulers of the country not to harbor terrorists who would harm our country. I have no doubt that following our withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan next year, the Taliban will soon retake power in much of the country. I also have no doubt that they will treat their subjects horribly. However, as long as they don’t harm this country or offer material support to those who do, we should not seek a military solution to their barbarity.
Ditto for Iraq. I initially supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein because I believed that he was harboring WMD and planned to use them to harm our country and its interests. However, after he was captured, I thought that we should have withdrawn as soon as possible and let Iraqis run their own affairs. The daily body counts from sectarian strife and bombings in Iraq are disheartening to those of us who hoped for the best from the U.S. occupation, but in the end we can’t have our soldiers remain in countries because their people can’t stop killing each other.
President Obama was foolish to establish a “red line” with Syria over chemical weapons, and it would be even more foolish for Senators and Congressmen to vote to support his proposed military actions just so he can save face with the rest of the world. Attacking Syria now would simply compound Obama’s initial mistake, with unpredictable consequences for the region. I have heard many commentators state that we need to make good on the President’s threat so that Iran and other rogue states will take us more seriously. Well, anyone who believes that Iran will give up its nuclear program after missiles rain down on Damascus is dreaming. Iran’s mullahs are not as impressionable as Moammar Gadhafi, the late Libyan leader who reportedly abandoned his nuclear program after the U.S. attack on Saddam Hussein.
I have never thought of myself as an isolationist, but in the 21st century, following two long wars conducted by this country in the Middle East, the only compelling reason for me to support our involvement in the civil war in Syria is to defend America and/or Americans from attack. I was going to include Israel, but Israel can defend itself perfectly well against anything Assad sends its way. Given that an undetermined percentage of anti-Assad fighters are anti-American jihadists and even Al-Qaeda supporters, it makes no sense at all for us to help them topple Assad.
In the end, if Assad’s actions really are so objectionable that the President of the United States feels that his country should be attacked, then the only military objective here should be regime change. Limited surgical strikes would be as effective as Bill Clinton’s attacks on Al-Qaeda targets in Sudan were at discouraging the 9/11 attackers from carrying out their nefarious plots. The only reason to lob missiles at Assad is to encourage others to take him out. Given the composition of the anti-Assad coalition, I’m not sure that this is a wise course of action.
I am optimistic that Congress will follow the lead of the American people and reject the Obama Administration’s well-intentioned but imprudent plan to lead us down the well-trodden path to war in the Middle East without a clear objective. I join with my thoughtful Jewish friends in praying that the year 5774 will bring lasting peace, not unnecessary conflict, to the Middle East. Shana tova.
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August 15, 2013 | 10:01 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Lauren Sandler’s recent Time cover story on childless-by-choice couples, The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children, reminded me of my shortest date. I had been set up with a beautiful Mormon girl who was a doctoral student in French, and I took her to a nice quiet restaurant to discuss Voltaire, Gide, and Sartre. Before the entrees hit the table, she had told me that she did not want to have children. It wasn’t that she couldn’t have children; she simply didn’t want any. These were not sentiments that were regularly expressed by LDS girls, especially on a first date, and I immediately asked for the check. She responded by saying that other LDS guys had done the same thing on previous dates. Given our church’s emphasis on having children and creating families, I was not surprised.
Like Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, Mormons take very seriously the biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Moreover, we believe that the family is the basic unit of society and of eternity. According to our beliefs, in the next life we will live together as families – parents, children, grandchildren, etc. – as we strive towards godhood. Righteous people who remain single in this life will have the chance to marry in the next and create their own eternal families.
However, for Mormons it goes even deeper than this. There is a correlation in our theology between having children and our eternal destiny that is absent in other faiths. We believe that God and his wife are populating this world with their spirit children, and that righteous couples will have the chance to do so someday as well. In other words, you can’t realize your full potential in the next life without having children.
So what do Mormons think about childless couples? In keeping with our belief in a God who is just and merciful, we believe that righteous people who cannot have children in this life through no fault of their own will be blessed with offspring in the eternities. As someone who was single for many years and wanted very much to be a father, I found this belief to be very comforting.
While I know plenty of LDS couples who are having trouble conceiving, I do not know any who have let it be known that they are choosing a child-free life. There is something about the childless choice that is antithetical to our beliefs about the purpose of life. Many of our spirit brothers and sisters are waiting to come to earth, and we have a responsibility to provide mortal bodies for them. If all of us chose not to have kids, we would frustrate God’s purposes.
Of course, if a Mormon decides not to have children, she won’t face any sanctions or punishment at church stronger than some raised eyebrows. In the end, the choice is hers, and it’s up to God, not us, to judge such a personal decision. On a personal level, as an excited expectant father I will continue to feel sorry for childless couples, whether by choice or chance. I will also continue to be baffled by Mormons who refuse to create families when they have an opportunity to do so.
August 5, 2013 | 11:53 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. - 1 Corinthians 2:10-14
All of the LDS bishops in the Los Angeles stake (= diocese) will be participating in a pulpit exchange on August 18th, and our assigned topic will be “Why I’m A Mormon.” While seeking inspiration for the talk, I came across a recent profile in The New York Times that has generated significant interest in the “bloggernacle” (Mormon blogging community). Hans Mattsson, a former high-ranking LDS leader in Sweden, was given emeritus (retirement) status following heart surgery in 2005. He then experienced a crisis of faith after coming across information on the internet that shook the foundations of his belief. After listening to a podcast of an interview in which Mr. Mattsson discusses his conflicted feelings about the LDS Church, I reflected on how Mormons and Jews become and remain converted to their faith.
I have found that the reason most often cited by Mormons for their conversion usually causes Jewish eyes to roll, and sometimes leads to Jews not taking the LDS faith very seriously. When asked, most Mormon converts will say that they joined the LDS Church after praying about its scriptures and beliefs and receiving a spiritual confirmation from God through His spirit.
While I have heard Jews like Michael Medved say they believe that God wants them to live life as a Jew, I have never met a Jew who claims to have prayed to know whether Judaism is the true faith (at least for Jews) and received an unequivocal spiritual confirmation. Although there is much spirituality in Judaism, Jews usually appeal to reason, not the spirit, when discussing religious truth. Given the history of interactions between Jews and non-Jews who were sure that God was telling them to persecute Jews, it is quite understandable that Jews would regard reason as a better guide to true belief and practice.
There is no question that reliance on God’s spirit is a bedrock principle of LDS theology. Before I fill a position in our congregation, my assistants and I pray for divine guidance as we consider various candidates. After they meet with me, they will often pray to receive confirmation of their call to serve. During their service, we encourage them to pray for guidance and inspiration to know how best to teach a lesson, organize an event, or comfort a grieving soul. All members are asked to pray several times a day and to seek divine revelation to direct their lives.
That said, there is also no question that many Mormons convert and remain converted to their faith because it is intellectually fulfilling. Mormonism is the only religion that I am aware of whose level of observance rises along with the educational level of its members: A Mormon with a doctorate is likely to be more observant than one with a high-school education. When she was studying with the missionaries, my mother enjoyed the spirit they brought into our home. In addition, as someone with a lifelong fascination with Native Americans, she was fascinated by the story of the Book of Mormon. When she became the mother of a young child with leukemia, she found her church’s explanation of the afterlife both comforting and logical. When I studied the Book of Mormon in college, I focused not only on its spiritual message but also on the presence of chiasmus (a Hebrew literary device) in its pages.
If a Jew stops believing in the tenets of Judaism, he still has cultural, ethnic, and social reasons to remain Jewish. If a Mormon surfs the net and discovers sites that cause him to question his faith, he has only his testimony – the spiritual witness of the truthfulness of LDS doctrines – to fall back on. Since most people will experience doubt at some point during their religious journey, LDS leaders actively encourage members to develop their own testimonies and to share them with others as appropriate.
I hope that Mr. Mattsson receives answers to the questions that have troubled him about his church’s history and doctrine. However, it is an axiom in the LDS world that spiritual truths can ultimately be taught only by the spirit, not by books and websites. My Jewish friends might approach Mr. Mattsson’s spiritual predicament in a different way, but if he is to become a committed Mormon again, he’ll have to rely on the spirit to guide him on what may be a long and difficult journey back to faith. I wish him well.
July 15, 2013 | 12:13 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
After responding to private inquiries sent to me over the last few weeks asking for my view on the Wolpe-Naim Affair, I’ve decided to express my thoughts in this essay. In a nutshell, Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in LA recently announced that his synagogue would begin performing gay marriages. In response, synagogue member Michael Naim circulated a letter harshly criticizing the rabbi’s decision. Mr. Naim also chose to leave the synagogue.
For the record, I happen to know and respect both men, and am sure that their parting was difficult. I recently dialogued with Rabbi Wolpe at Sinai Temple, and have had the honor of spending a Sabbath evening with Michael and his beautiful family. I agree with most of their views on Israel -- to the extent that they converge, I probably agree with all of them -- and on the issue of gay marriage and Judaism they both get points from me: Michael wins on substance, while the rabbi prevails on style.
I agree 100% with Michael that homosexual acts are condemned in Scripture, and that rabbis shouldn’t conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. I’ve read every single Conservative responsum on this issue, and do not find the pro-gay marriage ones terribly convincing. Their basic argument is usually that a newfound respect for human dignity (one that apparently eluded biblical prophets and rabbis for centuries) allows for the sanctification of gay relationships and the setting aside of traditional Jewish teaching on sexual morality.
However, missing from the responsa and from Rabbi Wolpe’s public statements is a declaration that these progressive views represent God’s will. Media reports indicate that the rabbi has simply wanted to do this for a long time, and waited for the right moment to announce the policy change. Nowhere have I read that the good rabbi claimed to have received inspiration from God to make the change. While I appreciate his honesty, the truth is that if Rabbi Wolpe doesn’t claim to receive divine inspiration or sanction to perform gay marriages at his synagogue, then there’s no reason to back his decision.
Having said all of this, I remain baffled by Michael’s letter. His attack on Rabbi Wolpe’s support for gay marriage makes as much sense as criticizing a dog for barking. In the contemporary LA Jewish community, it is an axiom that Conservative pulpit rabbis strongly support gay marriage. I know exactly one Conservative rabbi here who opposes gay marriage, and he has not been a pulpit rabbi for years. Indeed, anyone who discussed this issue with Rabbi Wolpe prior to his announcement (as I did last fall) knew of his views on gay marriage. It cannot have come as a surprise to Michael that the rabbi wanted to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies at his synagogue.
Another reason that I find Michael’s letter puzzling is that Rabbi Wolpe went out of his way to show respect for others’ views on the subject. He did not demonize or condemn those who oppose gay marriage, and tried in recent public presentations on Judaism and homosexuality to make a clear case for his position using Jewish law and tradition. Like Michael, I think that he came to the wrong conclusion, but that doesn’t mean that the rabbi thinks that everyone who disagrees with him is a bigot. Now that I lead a congregation, I think that it might have been better for Michael not to publicize his disagreement but to speak privately with the rabbi, perhaps with a small group of like-minded people at his side.
I wish both of these men well, and I also wish Mr. Naim a swift (re)turn to Orthodox Judaism or to a traditional Sephardic synagogue (Michael is originally from Iran). After all, if he’s looking for a Torah-based shul in LA that will preserve traditional marriage, Orthodoxy is his best bet. Shavua tov.
July 2, 2013 | 12:34 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
"By ruling that supporters of Proposition 8 lacked standing to bring this case to court, the Supreme Court has highlighted troubling questions about how our democratic and judicial system operates. Many Californians will wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong when their government will not defend or protect a popular vote that reflects the views of a majority of their citizens. In addition, the effect of the ruling is to raise further complex jurisdictional issues that will need to be resolved. Regardless of the court decision, the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children. Notably, the court decision does not change the definition of marriage in nearly three-fourths of the states." -- Official statement of the LDS Church on the recent Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage
It’s almost impossible to be a Mormon blogger and not weigh in on last week’s Supreme Court rulings on DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act) and Proposition 8. After all, my church is a prominent foe of same-sex marriage, a position that I continue to support for religious reasons. That said, I do not believe that there is a convincing set of entirely secular arguments that can be made against gay marriage. Given these convictions, I support the majority ruling in DOMA and have mixed feelings about the Prop 8 case.
I don’t think that states should legalize gay marriage, but if they do, I don’t see why it makes sense to tell a lesbian resident of Massachusetts that she is married if she stays in Boston, but becomes single again if she joins the Army. I also don’t think that other states should have to recognize her marriage, but as a conservative I reject the idea that it’s the federal government’s business to favor certain legal marriages over others. If a gay man is legally married and serves in the military or delivers my mail, the government should treat his marriage the same as traditional ones when it comes to tax, retirement, and other benefits.
There is simply no secular case to be made in 2013 for the federal government – which does not issue marriage licenses -- to treat gay marriages differently from traditional ones. Mormons who care about this issue will note that the LDS Church’s brief statement on the rulings (see above), though generally critical, did not mention the part of DOMA that was struck down by the Court.
The same cannot be said of the Prop 8 ruling, which was made even more painful by the presence of Justices Roberts and Scalia in the majority. I am disturbed that the Court allowed our state’s governor and attorney general to thumb their noses at the clearly expressed will of millions of California voters, and find it difficult to understand why a gay federal judge in a partnered relationship failed to recuse himself from the case. However, proper procedure was followed in the case: we lost at the district court level, then a three-member panel of federal judges from the 9th Circuit ruled against us, and finally Roberts and Scalia stabbed us in the back by disqualifying the plaintiffs. Our side received a fair hearing, at least by the last two panels, and we lost.
Faithful Mormons ultimately look to prophets, not Supreme Court Justices, for guidance on moral issues, and our opposition to gay marriage does not depend on well-crafted judicial opinions or legal arguments. However, as citizens of this country we depend on the courts to rule fairly and equitably on issues of consequence. The Supreme Court was correct to strike down part of DOMA, but I do wish that it had not allowed California state officials to shirk their duty vis-à-vis Prop 8. Gay marriage is legal once again in California, though I suspect that most decent people on the pro-gay marriage side are less than pleased at the means used to achieve the end in this case.
June 26, 2013 | 7:58 am
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.
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.