Posted by Mark Paredes
Did you hear the one about the Jew who moved to Salt Lake City because he wanted to feel what it was like to be a Gentile? Actually, Mormons don’t regard Jews as Gentiles, but they are fascinated with Israel. In fact, more than one rabbi has remarked that Mormons seem more interested in the Hebrew Bible than most Jews.
For Jews, the concept of Israel as a covenant people began with Moses and Sinai. For Mormons, it began in the premortal existence when we lived together as spirits and will continue after death into the eternities. The concept of Israel is central to LDS theology, and Mormons believe they are members of the House of Israel either by blood or adoption (through baptism). Moreover, they believe that Ephraim became the birthright tribe in Israel after Reuben’s misdeeds (1 Chr. 5: 1-2; Jer. 31: 9), and claim that there are two gatherings of Israelites going on today: the physical gathering of Judah to Israel and the United States, and the spiritual gathering, beginning with Ephraim, the firstborn tribe. Special blessings given to Church members by men called as patriarchs reveal in which tribe of Israel the recipient will claim his spiritual blessings. [FYI, an Ephraimite is authoring this column].
I don’t know of any patriarch in the Church who has thought more about this subject than Dellas Lee, a retired law professor who currently serves as a volunteer ordinance worker at the LDS Temple in Lubbock, Texas. His 1,792-page book “Israel The Lord’s Chosen People,” a comprehensive treatment of covenant Israel, was published last year and is currently available at Deseret Book and Barbes & Noble. Mr. Lee was kind enough to respond to a few questions about the book, and I know that his answers will be of interest to many readers.
1) Writing a 1792-page book was obviously a labor of love. Was there a particular person or event that sparked your interest in this topic, or was it a process of discovery?
Yes, there was a combination of seminal circumstances and events that led to the creation of “Israel The Lord’s Chosen People.” Without multiplying too many words I will simply say that I had an interest in the children of Israel before serving a mission to Australia (1954-1956). However, when I was called as patriarch of the Lubbock Texas Stake in June, 1981, a sense of the almost overwhelming love the God of Abraham has for Israel, his chosen people, began to settle upon me. This fired my soul, stirred my spirit, and filled my heart with a great desire to learn more about his chosen people. At the same time I was filled with an irrepressible desire to convey a sense of that love to all people. This urged me to research, make notes, and to write my thoughts and feelings – without knowing where it would lead. Also shortly after my call I felt motivated to organize a seminar on Jewish Law at the Texas Tech School of Law, which I then conducted for more than twenty years. I soon came to understand that Israel are the Lord’s eternal inheritance. (See Deut 32:9-10, and ILCP, Chs 6-9, & 44.) This combination of circumstances over a period of some twenty-five years led to the publication of Israel The Lord’s Chosen People.
2) Would you say that Mormons are generally interested in learning more about Judaism and Jewish history?
Because Latter-day Saints understand that the Jewish people are one of the tribes of the Lord’s chosen people, we do have a natural interest in Judaism and Jewish history. But our interest in the people themselves is greater. By this I mean we feel a kinship to you. We are very sensitive to the fact that we have common grandfathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Judah and Joseph were brothers, so we feel a brotherly friendship toward the Jews as cousins, and we pray for the good of their spiritual and temporal welfare.
3) What are the book’s main themes?
Specific themes might best be described by listing some of what I call the objectives or missions of the book. I point them out here, because a glance at the table of contents (as enlightening as that is: see IsraelTheLordsChosenPeople.com) might miss the mark:
a) The first and foremost mission of the book is to convey to the children of Israel a sense of the God of Abraham’s great love for them and for all mankind – the same sweet spirit of love I felt as I was writing the book.
b) A second overriding mission of the book is to help prepare Israel and all mankind for the Second Coming of the Savior. [Or the First Coming of the Messiah, if you prefer - MP].
c) Third: to connect latter-day Israel with ancient Israel and the fathers. It establishes a sense of kinship and identity between latter-day Israel and ancient Israel and the fathers.
d) Fourth: to define the house of Israel and who the children of Israel are, their opportunities and responsibilities, and the power that comes into the lives of latter-day Israelites who come to know their true identity.
e) A fifth and important mission of the book is to communicate an awareness of the love and the yearnings of the ancient patriarchs (“ the fathers” – our forefathers and mothers) for their children – the house of Israel.
f) A sixth and exceedingly important mission of the book is that it contains the keys to greater knowledge, greater peace, greater happiness, greater prosperity, greater fidelity between husband and wife, and greater hope for heart-broken wives and mothers and despairing fathers.
4) How did you come to teach Jewish law? Is there a principle of Jewish law that especially resonates with you?
After being ordained stake patriarch, the mantle of that calling turned my attention to all things related to the children of Israel. Although I had been teaching various law courses for almost twenty years, I suddenly noticed that Jewish Law was being taught in various law schools around the country. I could hardly contain myself as I contemplated the possibility of being paid to ponder and discuss matters that were of such great interest to me. I was familiar with the Old Testament, but knew very little about Jewish Law per se. So I obtained various teaching materials from professors who were teaching the subject. I chose the materials compiled by Rabbi Elliot Dorff & Arthur Rosett (Prof. U.C.L.A.), which later evolved into the book: A Living Tree, The Roots and Growth of Jewish Law (1988). This became the basic readings for the class.
Yes, there is a body of Jewish Law that especially resonates with me. I had been teaching Torts for many years. As I ventured into conducting a seminar on Jewish Law I was fascinated to note the similarity of some aspects of Anglo-American personal injury tort law, and the Rabbinic Jurisprudence on the same subject. It became obvious to me that much of our tort law (as well as a number of other areas of law) has its roots in Rabbinical exegesis. I was also fascinated by the careful logic used by the Rabbis to resolve legal problems, and with the techniques of interpretation developed by the Rabbis to interpret the Torah – hermeneutics.
5) What are the responsibilities of a patriarch?
The major responsibility of a patriarch is to give patriarchal blessings. We have precedent for this in the case of father Jacob, who blessed his children. (Gen. 49.) An important element of such blessings is the declaration of lineage of the recipient, along with such other words of counsel, comfort and guidance the patriarch may be inspired to give. Of course father Jacob did not have to declare the lineage of his sons to whom he gave blessings, that was already clear enough. However, after the scattering of Israel and of Judah and Benjamin, today the lineage of latter-day Israel is not obvious and must be revealed through the power of the Holy Ghost. The lineage of all people is explained by their premortal life, and is dependent upon the covenants they entered and honored there. The patriarch will state that lineage in the course of the blessing.
A few Gentiles are also coming into the Church. Through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost a Gentile becomes a son or daughter of Abraham by adoption through divine decree, and thus is no longer a Gentile. Through the power of the Holy Ghost he/she is transformed into the seed and lineage of Abraham. (See Galatians 3:26-29; Abraham. 2:10.) In this case the patriarch will be impressed to declare that the recipient’s blessings will come through Abraham or Israel, but a particular tribe will not be designated. Thus we see that the Lord is no respecter of persons, and that our Father in Heaven truly does love all his children with infinite love.
6) Have you been to Israel?
No, not physically. But sort of by proxy. My wife and I have wanted to go. So last year (as a birthday present for my wife) I obtained reservations to Israel through the Mormon Heritage Touring Association – for two weeks in November/December. Then we discovered that our daughter-in-law appeared to have fallen terminally ill. She had always wanted to go to Israel, so my wife suggested that we give our reservations to our daughter-in-law and son, which we did. They had a glorious time, and reported on their journey verbally and with pictures in such detail that we almost feel like we have been there ourselves.
Let us all pray that this patriarch will be able to visit Israel soon, possibly on a group trip organized by a Jewish organization. My guess is that he’ll have even more to write about upon his return.
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10.13.13 at 11:28 pm | The title says it all
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9.9.12 at 9:30 pm | When it comes to the Book of Mormon, I'll stick. . . (64)
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12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important (33)
August 16, 2010 | 12:27 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
On my first day as the new press attaché at the Israeli Consulate General in Los Angeles, Consul General Yuval Rotem took me into his office and playfully wagged his finger in my face. “You’d better behave yourself here,” he warned, “or I’ll tell [LDS Church] President Hinckley on you.” Utah is in the consulate’s district, and Yuval met regularly with senior Church officials, including the Church President. The LDS Church has had an official relationship with the government of Israel since the establishment of the state, which it supported. Indeed, the Church was the first major Christian church to purchase Israel Bonds.
I was therefore pleased to hear of last week’s visit to Utah by outgoing Israeli UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev, who is returning to Israel later this month. It seems she has made many LDS friends in New York City, and they invited her to visit Utah as part of her farewell tour. She toured Temple Square and the Church’s Welfare Square and Humanitarian Center, which are monuments to the good that religious organizations can do around the world.
Ambassador Shalev is the second high-profile Jewish leader to visit Utah this year. In April Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, traveled to Salt Lake City for the first time, where he met with six LDS apostles and sat down with the editorial board of Church-owned Deseret News, the state’s oldest daily newspaper. He praised the Church’s humanitarian service and genealogy programs, and also noted that Jews and Mormons often encounter prejudice and bigotry. In a moment of inspiration, Mr. Foxman said that Mormons and Jews need to become closer through mutual understanding.
With a Jewish Federation, a Jewish Community Center, and seven Jewish congregations in a state that hosts the headquarters of a major Christian faith, Utah may soon become a new stop on the beaten path for Jewish leaders interested in interfaith cooperation and dialogue. As they travel alongside a river named Jordan that joins saltwater and freshwater lakes, they should feel right at home.
August 13, 2010 | 12:21 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“But Jesus was not a victim. He was a conqueror…Jesus conquered death. He wasn’t victimized. He chose to give his life….If he was a victim, and this theology was true, then Jesus would’ve come back from the dead and made the Jews pay for what they did. That’s an abomination.”—Fox television host Glenn Beck, July 13, 2010
When I started this blog, I resolved to avoid writing about Glenn Beck for as long as possible. I don’t watch him or listen to his radio show, and what I do know of his politics doesn’t exactly inspire me to do either. Nevertheless, after receiving more than a dozen requests by Jews and Mormons to clarify Mr. Beck’s recent comments about Jews and deicide, I feel the need to clarify Mormon beliefs concerning this sensitive issue.
On a personal note, I have always found the claim that the Romans bore sole responsibility for the Crucifixion to be rather disingenuous. I understand why Jewish leaders make this claim, but the New Testament does not support it. Although the Romans carried out the execution of Jesus, Christian scriptures clearly indicate that the Jewish “chief priests,” “scribes,” “elders of the people,” and Sadducee High Priest Caiaphas organized His arrest and trial (Matt. 26:3-5, 47, 57, 59-66; 27:12, 20). If there is blame to assign for Jesus’ trial and execution, then those Jewish officials must receive their fair share. However, many Jews did accept Jesus, including almost all of the apostles and chief followers. Presumably, they played no role in the proceedings and cannot fairly be lumped together with Jesus’ accusers. Ditto for the masses who lined the streets and celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Unlike many professing Christians, Mormons do not have creeds. The closest creedal document in our scriptural canon is the Thirteen Articles of Faith, akin to Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Judaism. The Second Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins…” We aren’t punished for others’ misdeeds, so it is obviously unfair to blame “the Jews” for the actions of a group of scribes and Sadducees. Mr. Beck was in the middle of a broadside against liberation theology when he made the above statement, so I’ll assume that he was so worked up that he simply misspoke. Although I don’t know him, I’m willing to bet that he did not mean to imply that all Jews living at the time of the Crucifixion were guilty of killing the Christian Savior. I’ve heard many sermons and Sunday School lessons in my 31 years in the LDS Church, and have yet to hear anyone state that “the Jews killed Jesus.”
Many times in Q&A sessions following interfaith dialogues I am asked about the generational blood oath uttered by the people in Jerusalem (Matt. 27:25) at the trial of Jesus. This verse has probably caused more Jewish blood to be spilled over the centuries than any other. Thankfully, it is not emphasized in the LDS Church. If Matthew is to be believed (he is the only Gospel writer who mentions the statement), the people gathered at the feast in Jerusalem clamored for the release of Barabbas the criminal and pleaded with Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus. When Pilate washed his hands of the affair, saying that he was “innocent of the blood of this just person [Jesus]” (Matt. 27:24), the crowd declared: “His blood be on us, and on our children.” Pilate then ordered the Roman soldiers to scourge and crucify Jesus. For many centuries anti-Semitic Christians used this scripture to justify exacting cruel “revenge” on innocent Jews living in Europe.
My response? Mormons don’t believe in a God who listens to lynch mobs. This was not the Sanhedrin speaking: there is no indication that the crowd had any authority to represent the Jewish people and their offspring, and it is nonsensical to believe that God would somehow feel obligated to persecute generations of Jews because a group of murderous Jerusalemites had once requested that their descendants be held accountable for the spilling of Jesus’ blood.
It must be mentioned here that the Book of Mormon does have a few harsh things to say about the “priestcrafts,” “iniquities” and “abominations” of the Jews, which caused God to punish them and led them to “stiffen their necks” against Jesus. Moreover, the book includes this ringing indictment: “there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God. For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations they would repent, and know that he be their God.” When these verses are considered in the context of a book that recounts how descendants of Israelites came to the Americas, kept the Law of Moses, built temples, and looked forward to the coming of a Messiah, it is clear that they are not anti-Semitic in nature. Rather, they were written in the same spirit as the lamentations of the Talmudic rabbis who blamed murder, idolatry, and sexual sins for the destruction of the First Temple and sinat chinam (baseless hatred) for the demise of the second one. As for condemning the conduct of ancient Israelites, the Book of Mormon can’t hold a candle to Jeremiah.
I will deal with the Jews’ rejection of Jesus when I address theodicy, persecution and anti-Semitism in a later post. For now, it is sufficient to note that there is nothing in Mormon teaching that supports blaming all Jews, past or present, for the murder of Jesus.
August 10, 2010 | 9:46 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Readers of this blog know that I love to introduce Mormon Philosemites
to the Jewish community. Today the spotlight falls on Jason Olson, a
recent graduate cum laude in Hebrew Bible/Middle East Studies from BYU
who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Israel Studies at Brandeis. Jason
plans to study the development and impact of Religious Zionism in
Israeli political history.
Jason has been involved with Israel advocacy for a long time. He was a
delegate for Arizona at the 2008 AIPAC National Policy Conference,
and was recently appointed a delegate for Massachusetts at the 2010
CUFI National Summit. At BYU Jason was also the Vice President for the
Friends of Israel club and was part of an AIPAC-trained group of students at the university.
He had the good fortune to spend 6 months in Israel in 2007, where he
interned at The Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development and
studied Hebrew at an ulpan. On the academic side, he spent his last
year and a half as a research assistant for the ongoing Joseph Smith
Papers project. He used this opportunity to explore Joseph Smith’s
Christian Zionist theology, and is very much convinced that Smith was
and is the most ardent Christian Zionist in Western history.
I have no doubt that Jason will represent us well at Brandeis, where
he will likely be one of the most passionate Zionists on campus. Here
are his own words:
“Latter-day Saints should be proud of their Zionist history—their
prophets have always taught that the restoration of the Jewish State
on its own land is the fulfillment of God’s will and one of the greatest acts of
redemption in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. God is
definitely not neutral when it comes to the protection and support of His ‘ancient covenant people.’
“As all Latter-day Saints know, prayer and belief alone is not enough
to fulfill God’s will, we must be ‘anxiously engaged in a good cause.’
I believe that we must actively support the Jewish People and their
State by encouraging our Senators and Congressmen to support Israel,
as well as encouraging our communities to tangibly bless and assist
Israel as it strives to survive in a world of hostile enemies.
“O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant
people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have
not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things
upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.” (2
Nephi 29:5—Book of Mormon)
Yasher koach, Jason.
August 6, 2010 | 7:43 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I love to visit mosques. One of the sweetest spiritual experiences I have ever had was when I prayed in a mosque in a remote Turkish fishing village. I have worshipped in mosques in Istanbul, Jerusalem, Cairo and Los Angeles, and like many Mormons I have a generally positive view of Islam and Muslims. I have participated in meetings involving Mormon leaders and the heads of both mosques in West LA, and hosted Usman Madha of the King Fahad Mosque when he lectured to my LDS interfaith class in a Mormon chapel. The proposed construction of a mosque in Temecula, CA has generated a great deal of controversy and revealed a pattern of bigotry there that has targeted both the LDS and Muslim communities.
All decent people should have been outraged by the protest last week against the proposed 25,000 sq ft mosque in a city with over 100,000 residents. During Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley, a small group, some with dogs (regarded by Muslims as unclean), and all with too much time on their hands, showed up to denounce Islam. Their reasoning? “This is America. This is a Christian country, this is not a Muslim country,” said a protester. “They are known terrorists. Read the Koran. They are trained to kill people from the time they’re in their youth.” Thankfully, pro-mosque supporters outnumbered the bigots. A zoning hearing is scheduled for later this month, though it could be postponed.
Just to be sure there wasn’t an underlying legitimate motive behind the protest, I read the blog of the Calvary Baptist Church pastor whose church would be the mosque’s neighbor. After listing what appear to be legitimate zoning concerns (too few parking spaces, multi-story parking structure needed, etc.), he undercuts his argument by revealing his religious bias: “Our secondary issue is regarding Islam itself. Wherever Islam is dominant, we see very different conditions, and we find widespread persecution against Christians. When we see the reports and read the accounts of the results of Sharia law, we certainly find ample cause to oppose the spread of Islam. There are certainly plenty of people who oppose any spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In America, we still have the freedom of speech to do that. Islamic law does not provide that blessed freedom.” So I guess the best way to demonstrate that freedom of speech reigns in this country is by banning houses of worship whose beliefs you find objectionable.
Unfortunately, the good citizens of Temecula have seen this movie before. The last zoning controversy in the city over a religious building involved—you guessed it—the proposed construction of a Mormon chapel near Linfield Christian School in 2003. The objections raised included increased traffic and “concerns that night and weekend activities at a Mormon church would harm their neighborhood’s quality of life.” After a year and a half of heated debate at a series of hearings, permission was finally granted to build the chapel. An ADL official once told me that the anti-Semites of yesterday are the anti-Mormons of today. While this is often true, it is also apparent that many opponents of Islam persecute Mormons as well.
I hope to attend the groundbreaking and dedication of the Temecula mosque. On my way there, I plan to deliver a highlighted copy of the U.S. Constitution to the Calvary Baptist Church.
August 4, 2010 | 12:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“Mormons and Jews have something in common if they don’t repent and surrender their lives to Jesus Christ.” – reader comment on my recent interview with blogger Menachem Wecker
Following a briefing I gave to a havurah group last weekend in Camarillo, I was asked by a cantor why Jews should accept the support of Evangelicals who believe that they will be destroyed in the last days. This is a common objection made by Jews who are uncomfortable with the thought of close collaboration on Israel with right-wing Christians. I believe it is an unnecessary one. Tens of millions of Evangelicals are fervent supporters of Israel and Jews, and in these difficult times their support should be welcomed, not spurned.
To begin with, it is a gross generalization to claim that all Evangelicals believe that Jews will meet a violent end when the Messiah comes again (or for the first time, if you prefer). Some believe that a mass conversion of Jews will take place, while other believe that a special divine dispensation of grace will be extended to the Jews at the last day (I first heard this theory espoused by Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel). Still others are content to leave the Jews’ fate in God’s hands.
As the above quote makes clear, the subset of Evangelicals who believe that Jesus-denying Jews are going to hell after they die almost always believe the same about Mormons (they claim that we worship a “different” Jesus). Condemning people to hell is not in the Mormon lexicon; we teach moral principles, but the consequences of sin and transgression are God’s to impose, not ours. [We also don’t believe in a traditional concept of hell, but I digress]. When these people call down hellfire upon the heads of Jews, Mormons, and most of the world’s people unless they accept Evangelicalism’s Jesus, Mormons dismiss their condemnation as unauthorized, presumptuous, and doctrinally flawed. We certainly don’t believe that Jews and other non-Christians are going to hell, and we don’t like to be lumped with those Christians who do. The good news is that none of these differences matter when it comes to coming together to support the Jewish people – in this life, anyway. There is no need for Jews or Mormons to worry about what these people believe will happen to non-Evangelicals in the future. I for one am willing to take the chance that they’re wrong. When the Messiah comes (again), we can ask Him for clarification.
We shouldn’t require people to have similar theologies in order to accept their Zionism. During my tenure with the Zionist Organization of America, we welcomed Mormons, other Christians, and atheists to our meetings. The only person we turned away was a Messianic Jew. Her Christianity wasn’t a problem, but her insistence on “witnessing” to people whenever she felt moved to do so was obviously unacceptable. Neither the cantor nor anyone else in the havurah believes that Jews are going to become cannon fodder during Armageddon. In all likelihood, they don’t believe in Armageddon to begin with. Whether a fellow Israel supporter believes in “end times” theology is not nearly as important as her belief in a strong, secure Israel.
Some Jewish leaders argue that Judaism should not be seeking converts, that there is nothing wrong with remaining a small, cohesive group of Torah followers. I am not qualified to give an opinion on their religious argument, but Israel advocacy requires a different mindset of inclusion. I’m positive that Jews in previous centuries would have been overjoyed to have the active support of their Christian neighbors, regardless of their end-time beliefs. I have had many interactions over the years with Evangelical pro-Israel groups (e.g., Israel Christian Nexus, CUFI, Eagles’ Wings), and am fully convinced of their sincerity and deep love for Israel. I have never asked any of their representatives what they thought of my theology, and they have never asked me to evaluate theirs. It is my hope that pro-Israel coalitions around the world will strive to follow the admonition of Isaiah: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.”
July 31, 2010 | 10:05 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“We share in the grief of humanity at the passing away of His Holiness
Pope Pius XII. In a generation affected by wars and discords, he
upheld the highest ideals of peace and compassion. When fearful
martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice
of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was
enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the
tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir, 1958
“Only the Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty.
Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel
a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to
struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty.”
Albert Einstein, Time Magazine, 1940
Last month the proposed canonization of the now-Venerable Pope Pius
XII met my “Rule of 5” criterion for inclusion in this blog. If an
issue does not directly involve both Mormons and Jews, at least five
Jews have to discuss it with me before it can be considered. In this
case, I also have a personal connection: my Catholic mother had a
priest baptize me as a baby, and I remained a nominal Catholic until
age 11, when I was baptized a Mormon. Theologically speaking, the
Catholic and Eastern Orthodox claims to represent Jesus’s original
church are the only other ones in Christendom that make sense to most
Mormons, and the Catholic bishops’ positions on many contemporary
social and moral issues are identical to ours. After reviewing both
sides of this controversy, it seems to me that there are two main
questions that should be addressed: 1) Did Pius XII fail to condemn
the Holocaust and other moral atrocities committed during WWII? 2) Is
it properly the business of non-Catholics to seek to influence the
Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli became Pope Pius XII in March of 1939,
following the death of Pius XI on the eve of WWII. No one disputes
that he was a fierce opponent of Communism and an advocate of peace
and reconciliation after the war. However, some Jews have denounced
his professed neutrality during the war (mirroring Benedict XV’s neutrality during WWI) and his alleged role in
refusing to return baptized Jewish orphans to Jewish organizations
after the war. Others have gone so far as to urge the Vatican to halt
his 45-year canonization process until the wartime Vatican Archives
and baptismal records can be thoroughly examined. Supporters of the
pope point to his 1,000 recorded addresses and 41 published
encyclicals, in addition to the authoritative 12-volume collection of
official Vatican wartime documents and archives of Pius’s pontificate
that have recently been released.
Whatever faults Pius may have had, moral cowardice does not seem to
have been one of them. A former nuncio to Germany, he left the country
in 1929 and never returned. Between 1933 and 1939, then-Cardinal
Pacelli issued 55 protests of violations of the special agreement that
the Church had signed with the Nazi government to guarantee its rights in Germany (the Reichskonkordat is still in force today). His was the guiding
hand behind Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (“With
Burning Anxiety”), written in German instead of the customary Latin.
Read from every Catholic pulpit in Germany on Palm Sunday, it
condemned racism, Nazi ideology, and the rejection of the Old
Testament (“Nothing but ignorance and pride could blind one to the
treasures hoarded in the Old Testament”), inter alia. Swift Nazi
retaliation included Gestapo visits to every diocese, the closure of
every publishing company that had printed the encyclical, the
prohibition of Catholic flags at religious ceremonies and the staging
of immorality trials of priests.
A few weeks after the Russo-German partition of Poland in 1939, the new pope
issued his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, in which he publicly
condemned the invasion and ocupation of Poland. Thousands of Polish
monks and priests were subsequently murdered, and millions of Polish
Catholics were killed or displaced by the Germans. Pius was also the
negotiator between Britain and some German generals seeking to
overthrow Hitler and make peace in 1940. Most famously, 80% of Rome’s
Jews were sheltered by Church institutions during the Nazi roundup of
Jews in the city. All sources agree that Pope Pius XII and the
Catholic Church were responsible for saving more Jews from Nazi
persecution (as many as 860,000) than any other person or institution.
As for the issue of Jewish orphans who were baptized to save them from
the Nazis, there is only one recorded instance where the Pope
personally intervened in a case. A devout Polish Catholic woman sought
to keep a Jewish child whom she had sheltered during the war, and
wrote to the Vatican for advice. The Pope’s answer? It was her duty as
a Catholic to return the child to a Jewish organization.
Given the nasty things that I had heard in passing about Pius, I half
expected my research to unearth accounts of the Pope and Hitler
sipping wine in Berlin. Instead, what I found was a conflicted man who
clearly hated the Nazis and had taken public stands against evil, yet
wanted to preserve his church and flock at a time when the outcome of
the war could not have been known with certainty. As many a politician
has said, where you stand depends on where you sit. It’s very easy for
armchair historians of today to criticize Pius for failing to slam
Nazis and Fascists at every turn. In my opinion, it’s not at
all clear that any of us, in the wake of the intense persecution of
Catholics in Germany and Poland following such denunciations, would
have acted differently if we had sat on St. Peter’s Throne. We have all seen contemporary Jewish leaders
wrestle with the question—nearly a century later—of whether to publicly acknowledge the Armenian Genocide
and identify the Ottoman Empire as its perpetrator. The reason for their reluctance, of course, is their desire to protect Israel,
whose only Middle Eastern military ally is (or was) Turkey. I’m not pointing fingers here: while I’d like to think that
I would issue statements denouncing the Ottoman-led Genocide if I were a senior Jewish leader, the reality is that I would probably think
twice—and thrice—before doing so if I knew that those statements would adversely affect people whom I love and lead.
More credible to me than the opinions of modern critics are the beliefs of
Pius’s contemporaries, who presumably were much more aware of the
constraints that religious leaders operated under during the war. As
noted above, Israel’s Foreign Minister lauded him with praise upon his
death in the name of a country that had risen from the ashes of the
Holocaust. After the war, Rome’s chief rabbi converted to Catholicism
and adopted the name of Eugenio in honor of the Pope. Serious
criticism of Pius only began to be aired a generation after the war
following the staging of the anti-Pius play “The Deputy” in 1963 (the
playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, is a noted friend and defender of Holocaust
denier David Irving).
As for the canonization process, all that is needed now is for two
miracles to be attributed to Pius: one in order for him to be
beatified, and one for him to be canonized. The decades-long review of
his life by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints
concluded that Pius led a life that exemplified Catholic virtues,
leading to his veneration by Pope Benedict XVI last year. It is safe
to assume that the Congregation took into account the late pope’s
reforms in canon law and liturgy, along with his infallible
pronouncement in 1950 of the Assumption of Mary to heaven. Moreover,
the record shows that Pius’s relations with Jews were scrutinized as
well: between 1967 and 1974, 98 witnesses who knew the pope personally
were asked to give sworn testimony to the Congregation. No fewer than
42 (including 5 cardinals) spoke of the pope’s concern for Jews. At
this stage of the canonization process, no more testimony is needed,
Of course, people have a right to think whatever they wish about Pius
and his wartime actions (or inaction). If some leaders and historians
think that he exhibited moral failings during the war, they’re welcome
to publicize their opinions. However, I don’t quite understand why
they would seek to delay or defeat the proposed canonization of a
pope. If Pius were being considered for a posthumous Nobel Prize,
their opposition would be understandable. In this case, a church is
trying to determine through a centuries-old process whether God has
already made one of its former leaders a saint, with the corresponding
power to intercede for the faithful before Him. According to Catholic
belief, God isn’t waiting for the current pope’s formal declaration of
sainthood: He’s already made up His mind. While Jews are welcome to
come to their own conclusions concerning Pius and to establish a
consensus “Jewish view” of his papacy once all of the archival
documents are examined, I don’t think that they should try to impose
that view, whatever it may be, on the Catholic Church. It’s not a secret that
Jews don’t believe in saints and won’t pray to them. Neither will I.
But if devout Catholics do pray to Pius expecting miracles, I hope they
get them. At least two, anyway.
July 28, 2010 | 1:14 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Here is a slightly edited version of my essay that appears on Menachem Wecker’s Houston Chronicle blog. Several readers have asked me to address this topic, and I am happy to do so. The essay is longer than previous posts by reason of necessity; this is not a question that can be answered in a few sentences. The last paragraph, written in a tachlis style, properly frames the issue.
MW: As someone who is involved in Mormon-Jewish relations and understanding, what are the Jews who take issue with baptisms of the dead missing? How well do you think the LDS community understands the Jewish concerns about the rite?
ME: Given the rich history of Mormon support for Jews, along with the active outreach to the Jewish community by Mormons in Los Angeles and other cities, I am happy to report that this issue has not been a barrier to day-to-day interaction between the two communities. In Los Angeles, a Mormon has emceed the Israel Festival (the nation’s largest) for three years, a Mormon conducted the bilingual Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) ceremony for the city’s Israeli
community (also the nation’s largest), Mormons have worked or are
working at several leading Jewish institutions, there is an ongoing
LDS-Jewish theological dialogue between a stake president and a
Conservative rabbi, the LDS Church has hosted receptions at the Jewish
Federation and Israeli Consulate General, and we have an excellent
working relationship with Jewish genealogical organizations. In
addition, joint LDS-Jewish presentations have been held in many U.S.
and Canadian cities, Mormons work to preserve Jewish cemeteries in
several European countries, etc.
That said, I have always believed that those Jews who seek an
explanation of this practice are entitled to one. This conviction was
reinforced during my tour of Auschwitz last fall. After visiting a
place where one million Jews were killed because they were Jewish, it
is very easy to understand the outrage felt by their descendants upon
learning that a handful of Mormons continue to defy their Church’s
policy by inappropriately submitting names of Holocaust victims and
other unrelated Jews for Mormon temple rites. In order to do this
issue justice, a little background explanation is necessary.
First a little theology. Mormons believe that we lived as spirits with
God before we came to earth, we believe that we live here on earth
now, and we believe that we will live again in the next life (olam
ha-ba in Hebrew). In each period of existence, we have to make choices
that determine the eternal progress of our souls. In the pre-earth
life, we had to choose to follow God and His plan of salvation, which
involved sending us to this world to be tested. [A third of the
spirits chose to reject this plan, so their progress was halted and
they will not have the privilege of inhabiting a mortal body]. In this
life, we choose every day whether to follow God and keep His
commandments as we understand them. In the next life, we will also be
called upon to make choices. Those who did not have an opportunity to
accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ on earth will be able to do so in
the next life. If they choose to do so—a voluntary choice—then
they will need to be baptized and have other ordinances performed for
them in order to continue their spiritual progress. Ordinances for the
dead can only be performed in temples by living proxies. If the
spirits in the next life do not accept the gospel, than the ordinances
performed in the temples will not be applied to them.
Three points need to be made here: 1) Mormons are required to seek out
their own ancestors and perform temple ordinances for them (including
proxy immersions). They have not been asked to perform these
ordinances for others’ ancestors; 2) These ordinances are not
optional. It is as necessary for a Mormon to perform temple ordinances
for his deceased relatives as it is for a religious Jew to circumcise
his newborn son; 3) Temple ordinances do NOT confer Church membership
on the deceased. Our members need to give consent in order to be
baptized, and the dead cannot give their consent, at least not in a
way that can be objectively measured by us. Therefore, we do NOT
consider them to be members of the LDS Church and do NOT list them on
our membership rolls. The prayer that is recited during proxy
immersions contains language that differs slightly from that used in
baptisms for the living, and it is highly inaccurate to refer to proxy
immersions as “posthumous conversions,” “making Mormons of the dead,”
“baptizing Jews into Mormonism,” etc.
I always use the term “proxy
immersions” to refer to baptisms for the dead, both because it is more
accurate (since not all spirits will accept the ordinances, not all of
them are true baptisms) and because it avoids giving non-members the
impression that the practice confers membership in the church (as do
other baptisms throughout Christianity).
Now for a little history. In the early 1990s, it was discovered that 8
Mormons – out of a total of 12 million at the time – had submitted
tens of thousands of names of Jewish Holocaust victims for temple
ordinances. This was obviously contrary to Church policy, and
concerned Jewish leaders met with LDS authorities to discuss the
matter. In 1995 a memorandum of understanding was signed between the
two groups, and a letter from LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley
asking members not to submit names of Holocaust victims was read from
the pulpit of every LDS congregation worldwide. Mormons agree with
Jews that Holocaust victims should not have temple ordinances
performed for them, except in rare cases where a victim is the direct
ancestor of a living Mormon. Jewish leaders agreed to inform the
Church of improper name submissions, and the Church in turn promised
to delete those names from the temple ordinance database. In addition,
the Church has updated its software for the submission of names for
temple ordinances in recent years to make it harder to submit names of
non-relatives, and all of our family history centers throughout the
world are aware of the Church’s policy on submissions of
non-relatives, including Jews.
No one thinks that more than a handful of Mormons (out of nearly 14
million today) continue to defy the Church’s policy on name
submissions. In other words, we have 99.9999% compliance. While the
LDS Church is hierarchical in nature, it is not a police state. If a
rebellious member insists on submitting the name of a Jewish
non-relative for temple ordinances, his efforts will likely be
successful. When the Church is made aware of the improper submission,
it can and does act to remove it from the ordinances database.
Indeed, this is a special promise made only to Jews, though others
have requested it as well. After all, Mormons should not be submiting
the names of any non-relatives—whether Catholic, Buddhist,
Brazilian or Zulu—for temple ordinances. However, if a Jewish name
is submitted improperly, the name will be removed if a request is
made. This unique arrangement is a testament to the respect and love
that Mormons feel for the Jewish community. Our leaders have had to
walk a fine line between accommodating Jewish leaders’ wishes while
affirming our obligation to perform temple ordinances for our kindred
dead, and I think that they have largely succeeded.
I also believe that most Mormons are sensitive to Jews’ concerns on this issue,
though some Church members do wonder why someone who doesn’t believe
in the temple ordinances, a next life, or (in some cases) God Himself
would care what Mormons do in their temples. As LDS-Jewish cooperation
increases and mutual respect develops, I have no doubt that their
sensitivity will be heightened to Jewish concerns. I also suspect that
even those Jews who demand 100% compliance by Mormons will come to
“agree to disagree” with their philo-Semitic Mormon friends.
A final word to those Jews who insist on bringing up this issue whenever Jewish-Mormon cooperation is mentioned: you have lost the support of mainstream Protestant churches on the Jewish state. Palestinian liberation theology is making
steady inroads in the Evangelical community (e.g., Holy Land Trust). Hate crimes against Jews are on the rise in Europe and in other parts of the world. Most Jews in this country marry outside the faith. Most Christians worldwide believe that the Abrahamic covenant is dead. Israel is facing the prospect of a nuclear Iran and its aggressive proxies Hamas and Hezbollah. With all of these serious issues (and much more) for Jews to contend with in today’s world, the misbehavior of a few Mormons, as offensive as it may be to you and to us, shouldn’t even be on the radar screen of a committed Jew. I am so concerned about anti-Semitism that I regularly travel around the country and the world at my expense to shore up non-Jewish support of Jews and Judaism. I am confident that your beautiful faith, one that has survived for thousands of years,
will not be threatened by the ordinances of a faith whose beliefs you do not share. I understand deeply your resentment, but I tell you as a friend that you have much bigger theological fish to fry right now. If anything is a threat to contemporary Judaism, it’s apathy, not Mormon rites. If a recent survey showing that a majority of non-Orthodox Jews under 35 would not regard the destruction of Israel as a personal tragedy is not a call to action, I don’t know what is.
I am grateful for the opportunity to answer this question, and would welcome correspondence on this issue.