Posted by Mark Paredes
“Jews outside the church need to see a Jewish reality inside the church. We don’t evangelize, but if Jews are able to preserve themselves within the church, it will open the floodgates for Jews to come into the church.”—David Moss, President of the Association of Hebrew Catholics
Two gatherings this week highlight different approaches taken by churches on the sensitive issue of Jewish converts to Christianity who wish to affirm their post-conversion Jewishness. Of course, mainstream Jews reject the notion of Christians who somehow remain Jewish, and they understandably take offense when many of their former co-religionists target them for conversion to their new faith. Nevertheless, there are thousands of Catholic and Mormon converts who insist just as fervently that they are fully Jewish; indeed, some claim that their Christian baptisms have made them “complete” Jews. Whether a given church adopts the St. Louis model or its Utah counterpart could decisively affect its ongoing relations with the organized Jewish community.
The Association of Hebrew Catholics (AHC) is holding a three-day conference in St. Louis, and local Jewish leaders are none too pleased. Although the group’s stated purpose is to “preserve the identity and heritage of Catholics of Jewish origin within the Church,” many of the scheduled speakers at the conference have made statements indicating their desire to convert Jews to Catholicism. What really bothers Jewish officials in the Gateway to the West, however, is the past and present involvement of officials from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Vatican in activities sponsored by AHC, which is listed as an official organization on the website of the archdiocese. A monsignor, a priest, and an auxiliary bishop will be celebrating Mass at the conference, and an interview with senior Vatican prelate (and former Archbishop of St. Louis) Archbishop Raymond Burke will be shown to the attendees. [Archbishop Burke helped the AHC to relocate from Michigan in 2006]. Pope John Paul II gave an apostolic blessing to the AHC in 1998.
By way of contrast, the semiannual gathering of B’nai Shalom (“Children of Peace”) was held in Salt Lake City last Thursday. Founded 43 years ago, its purpose is to “promote greater understanding of Jewish culture, heritage and traditions, and encourage, assist and promote Jewish genealogy.” Twice a year Jew-loving Mormons, including many Jewish converts, attend a presentation on some aspect of LDS-Jewish relations and/or Jewish culture. This year’s speakers were LDS Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and renowned LDS composer and filmmaker Michael McLean. I addressed the group a few years ago (after ensuring that they did not target Jews for conversion), and have rarely felt such pro-Jewish fervor in an audience.
What was missing at the LDS gathering, however, was any sign of official sponsorship by the church. Indeed, on the home page of the group’s website is this prominent disclaimer: “B’nai Shalom is NOT an official organization of the Church and is NOT sponsored by the Church in any way. This web site is not owned, controlled by or affiliated with the above church. All research and opinions are the sole responsibility of members of B’nai Shalom, and are not official statements of Church doctrine, belief or practice.” Although B’nai Shalom is currently headed by two Jewish converts who believe that they are still Jews, their church neither encourages nor discourages their efforts to increase knowledge and appreciation of Judaism among Mormons.
I don’t take a position on whether Jewish converts to Christianity remain Jews; this is not a debate that I need to join. Both sides make claims that are hard to refute: individuals have a right to define their religion and/or ethnicity, and ethno-religious groups have a right to exclude people. [One would think that the theological antithesis of Judaism would be atheism, not Christianity, but I digress]. As I see it, the problem in St. Louis stems from unmet expectations on the part of Jewish interfaith leaders, many of whom seem to believe that post-Vatican II Catholicism accepts the validity of God’s ongoing covenant with the Jewish people, making their conversion to Christianity unnecessary. Unfortunately, this belief is not supported by the plain language of the text of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s groundbreaking statement on interfaith relations issued in 1965. After denouncing anti-Semitism and acknowledging the Jewish roots of Catholicism, the Vatican made the following declaration: “It is, therefore, the burden of the Church’s preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.”
The most philo-Semitic Pope in modern times, John Paul II, had this to say about Catholic-Jewish relations: “Love involves understanding. It also involves frankness and the freedom to disagree in a brotherly way where there are reasons for it.” If I were the Archbishop of St. Louis, I would make one of the following statements at a meeting with local Jewish leaders: 1) In order to preserve our close relationship with the Jewish community, we will adopt the LDS B’nai Shalom model. In the future, archdiocesan officials will not lend official support to AHC, and we will neither promote nor hinder its activities; or 2) Friends must be honest with each other. There is nothing in Catholic teaching that requires Jews to abandon their Jewish identity upon conversion to Catholicism, and there is no prohibition on converting Jews to our faith. Given AHC’s communion with Rome and adherence to Catholic teaching, it is as entitled to our support as any other community that enjoys the Vatican’s juridical approval.
It is my fervent hope that Jewish-Catholic relations in St. Louis and elsewhere will continue to be strengthened. In the case of AHC and similar organizations, I think the B’nai Shalom model is the way to go.
I am indebted to Mary Pedersen, Acting Executive Director of Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls in St. Louis, for alerting me to this story. Many thanks also to Tim Townsend for his original reporting on the conference, which can be found at the following links: http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/article_5c762b8d-0908-5eb7-b374-d9bce2ab3fc8.html, http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/tim-townsend/article_1bd38b58-765b-5dad-81ea-5a164e74cebc.html
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September 29, 2010 | 12:54 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
“And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” – Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79
During a meeting that I attended at one of the leading Orthodox synagogues in Los Angeles, a rabbi educator stood up and declared that Orthodox Judaism was the only religion that required its members to become scholars of its own doctrine. According to him, all other religions trained a select group of ministers in their theology, while average members in the pews had no obligation to read their holy books or study their doctrines. Even other Jewish movements were lax in teaching their followers the principles of Jewish theology and practice. I approached him after the meeting and informed him that Mormons had a lay (not professional) clergy and five books of scripture to master, which of necessity required them to become scholars of their own doctrine. He didn’t seem too impressed, and I quickly changed the subject.
I’d love to track that rabbi down today and share with him the results of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey released this week by the prestigious Pew Forum. More than 3,400 respondents answered 32 questions on the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, world religions, religion in public life, and atheism and agnosticism. Atheists and agnostics had the highest average total score (20.9 questions), followed by Jews (20.5) and Mormons (20.3). White Evangelicals (noted Mormon-bashers) were a distant fourth (17.6).
The breakdown of the scores understandably led to a lot of backslapping in the Mormon blogosphere. Mormons knew more about both testaments of the Bible than any other religious group. They also scored highest in knowledge of Christianity, and were second only to Jews in knowledge of Judaism. Mormons knew more about Mormonism than others polled (sigh of relief), followed by atheists/agnostics and Jews. Only Jews and atheists/agnostics scored higher in knowledge about world religions and general knowledge questions. To summarize: Jews, atheists and agnostics have a greater general knowledge about religion, while Mormons are more familiar with the Bible and Christianity than members of other faiths. Mormons also know more about Judaism than members of any non-Jewish faith group. This is very encouraging to those of us who are actively promoting LDS-Jewish ties.
The emphasis that both of our communities place on education and study is evident in the survey’s results. Jews are known worldwide for their academic accomplishments, and have established many first-class institutions of higher learning in the U.S. and Israel. Every week Jews study the Torah portion in their synagogues, and many Jewish communities run Jewish schools for their children. In this country, the LDS Church currently operates three universities (BYU, BYU Hawaii, BYU Idaho) and a business college in Salt Lake City. In addition, Southern Virginia University, while not officially sponsored by the Church, actively promotes an LDS environment on campus. Speaking of campuses, it is rare if not impossible to find a major college or university without both a Hillel chapter and LDS Institute program. Most Mormon teens begin college after having studied the scriptures every weekday before school for four years, in addition to the hour they spent in Sunday School each Sunday.
Given that we have multiple books of scripture to master, I’m very proud of the Mormons’ performance on the Pew survey. That said, there is clearly room for improvement: we need to learn more about non-Jewish/ non-Christian world religions. This may be easier to do in large cities like Los Angeles, where Buddhist and Hindu temples are a short drive away, than in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, followers of a religion that believes “the glory of God is intelligence” and that requires its members to study all things (see scriptural quote above) need to find a way to learn more about their brothers and sisters of all faiths – and none.
September 27, 2010 | 9:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“There is in England a saying that an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary.” – Israeli President Shimon Peres
It’s too bad that Mr. Peres didn’t accompany me earlier this month to London. And Edinburgh. And Leicester. Had he done so, he would have seen a thousand Brits – mostly Mormons—take time out of their busy schedules to listen to a speaker sing the praises of Jews and Judaism, a subject dear to their hearts. The same dynamic occurred in Copenhagen, Budapest, Bucharest, and Chisinau, the hometown of the current Israeli Foreign Minister. Of the many things that I learned during my third pro-Jewish speaking tour of Europe, the principle that has become an axiom in my mind is that stereotypes about European anti-Semitism should not be applied across the board and in fact can often be jettisoned. This is especially true when dealing with the continent’s growing LDS community.
Case in point: Hungary. There was standing room only in the lovely chapel in Budapest last Wednesday evening. Hundreds of Mormons and their friends had come from several cities in Hungary not because they knew the speaker (indeed, I had never met any of them before), but because they knew that he would be speaking about Jews in Magyar, their melodic native language. I have found that advocating support for Jews in German, Magyar, and Polish creates an intimate, emotional connection between the speaker and the audience, some of whom are old enough to remember a time when Jews were rounded up in their cities and deported to death camps. Speaking in American English to Americans just doesn’t have the same dynamic. Not only were the Hungarians extraordinarily gracious and respectful, but several of them told me that they had never heard a public speech in Magyar advocating respect and support for Jews. I was assured that there were many more Hungarians who shared their love and admiration for the Jewish people. If I were a Jewish leader in Hungary, I’d figure out a way to reach them.
I have now visited 15 countries and spoken in 8 languages on the importance of LDS-Jewish collaboration. I am often asked why I expend so much time and effort to make these trips. The simple truth is that I know that things are not going to get better for Jews living outside of the U.S. and Israel. Prophets can see over the horizon, and I’m certainly not a prophet. However, for some time now I have been viewing the dark clouds gathering on the horizon. I feel impressed to leave my testimony of the importance of supporting the planet’s 14 million Jews with people of goodwill in the U.S. and abroad. Ultimately, I believe that only divine intervention and grace have saved and will save many Jews from utter destruction at the hands of their enemies. However, we mortals also have a responsibility to educate people around the world on the beauty and relevance of Judaism and Jewish values. I do not want it to be said of me that I was a passive observer who sat around and did nothing while anti-Semitism continued to metastasize around the world.
It is my hope that Mormons and other philo-Semites will find a way to contribute to the ongoing revival of Jewish life in Hungary, Poland, and other Central and Eastern European countries. In order for them to do so, local Jewish leaders should be encouraged to extend a hand of friendship to them and build bridges of friendship, trust and understanding. Joint Passover seders, Shabbat dinners, and service projects are good places to start.
This hope was buoyed by the events that bookended my last day in Budapest. I arose early to make my way to the Danube River and pay my respects at the bronze shoes memorial to Holocaust victims designed by Gyula Pauer. As I knelt down to view the shoes more closely, I was surprised by a young bearded guy wearing a kippah (the only identifiable Jew I saw in Budapest) who appeared out of nowhere and asked me if I could read Hebrew. When I nodded, he knelt down beside me, placed the kippah on my head, and asked me to recite a psalm with him. Afterwards, he took the picture that accompanies this essay. It’s transcendent moments like this that let me know that I’m not alone on these trips.
As I made my way to the hotel to take a taxi to the airport, I was approached on the street by a lovely young girl (also pictured) who worked for a company that sold sightseeing tours to tourists. When I motioned that I wasn’t interested, she smiled and told me in excellent English that she had attended my presentation the previous evening. She said that she and her family had always had a great deal of respect for Jews, and that she in particular had always felt close to them as a Mormon in an inexplicable way. Her name? Rebecca Abraham.
September 9, 2010 | 11:26 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Random thoughts on the eve of my departure for Europe to promote Mormon-Jewish ties in six countries:
1) Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman’s poignant essay in this week’s issue profiles a Jewish musician who was helped by a Mormon in his time of need: http://www.jewishjournal.com/rob_eshman/article/you_dont_know_jack_20100908/
2) Pastor Terry Jones’s 15 minutes of fame expired long ago. It’s scary to see how an idiot with 50 followers and a harebrained scheme can come to the attention of some of the most powerful people in the world. The best news I’ve heard all week is that the webhost for the pastor’s “world outreach center” has shut its website down, along with the accompanying “Islam is the Devil” site. It’s time for the nation’s media and pundits to pull the plug on this story as well. I don’t have children, but I’m told that brats don’t throw too many tantrums when no one is around to notice.
3) The second-best news I’ve heard all week is that Fidel Castro strongly denounced anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial by Iran’s president in a revealing conversation with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Of particular interest to me were his comments concerning theology-based anti-Semitism:
4) I will be sans cell phone and laptop during my trip, which will be a welcome vacation from gadgets and technology. I hope to have interesting tales to relate in two weeks’ time. In the meantime, I wish my Jewish friends a Gmar Chatimah Tova as their fates are sealed in the book of life next week on Yom Kippur.
September 7, 2010 | 12:23 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
This week Jews worldwide will observe Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of both the new Jewish year and the Days of Awe period that ends with their names being sealed in God’s book – for better or worse – on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is a sabbath of introspection and repentance, and Jews are encouraged to reflect on the previous year’s sins, make amends wherever possible, and resolve to do better in the coming year. Moreover, they get what many Christians would love to have: a special 10-day period during which they can try to alter the divine decree for them in the coming year. God pencils in our fates on Rosh Hashanah, and after observing our repentance, prayer and charity during the Days of Awe, He sometimes pulls out an eraser before finalizing everything with a permanent marker on Yom Kippur. I’m sure that this belief alone has inspired people to sign up for an Intro to Judaism course.
The holiday’s themes definitely resonate with Latter-day Saints, who enjoy mini-Rosh Hashanahs on 48 Sundays of the year (churchwide and local conferences take up the other 4 Sundays). Mormons are expected to reflect and repent prior to partaking of the sacrament (blessed bread and water) during the main Sunday worship service. In this way they renew the covenants that they made with God at their baptism. If they do not repent and therefore feel unworthy on any given Sunday to renew these covenants, they are supposed to decline the bread and water when they are passed to them. We don’t blow shofars during our services (alas!), but we do listen intently to the words of the sacramental prayers, which remind us of our obligations as members of the Church. [While the Bible is silent on the meaning of the shofar, many interpret it as a call to repentance and introspection].
Pulpit rabbis are expected to speak to their congregations at this time of year; indeed, their sermons are eagerly anticipated and often parsed for deeper meanings. A similar dynamic happens in the worldwide LDS community each fall. Because of the Jewish lunar calendar, the two days of Rosh Hashanah can coincide exactly with the fall session of General Conference. The largest annual gathering of Mormons in the world, it is held on the first weekend of October (a spring conference is also held in April). Church leaders give talks on spiritual topics that are transmitted via satellite around the world, and huge crowds of the faithful fill the 21,000-seat Conference Center and other buildings in Salt Lake City. How appropriate that modern Jews gather on Rosh Hashanah to hear their rabbis and shofars call them to repentance and introspection around the same time that their Mormon brothers and sisters gather to hear their prophets preach similar themes.
I wish all of my readers much happiness, love and spirituality in the coming new year.
September 2, 2010 | 11:08 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“You know, there are no people in the world who understand the Jews like the Mormons.” – David Ben Gurion to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (and future LDS Church President) Ezra Taft Benson
For Mormons who love Jews, yesterday’s headline on the LDS Church’s website couldn’t have been better: “Church and Jewish Leaders Resolve Concerns Over Baptisms.” “Mormons, Jews in New Pact on Baptisms” was the header for The Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt’s upbeat assessment of a final agreement between the Church and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants concerning LDS proxy immersions for the dead. I have included my recent blog post on this issue for those needing a little background: http://www.jewishjournal.com/jews_and_mormons/item/mormon_proxy_immersions_for_the_dead_39100728/
These headlines would have hardly seemed possible two years ago. A prominent member of the American Gathering publicly expressed his frustration with the implementation of the group’s 1995 agreement with the Church, and it appeared that the two sides were going to have to agree to disagree on the feasibility of eliminating all improper name submissions of Holocaust victims. Thanks largely to the efforts of former New York State Attorney General Bob Abrams and other Jewish leaders, meetings were arranged in the past year that generated the goodwill that eventually led to this breakthrough.
It was apparent that the Church’s new computer system for submitting names for temple work was an important component of the agreement, so I contacted David Rencher, Chief Genealogical Officer for Family Search, the Church’s family history website. It would be hard to find a happier (or more helpful) man in Salt Lake City right now. I asked him what the Church was doing to prevent the unauthorized submission of names of Holocaust victims for temple ordinances (Jewish leaders have agreed that “authorized” submissions can be made by Mormons who are direct descendants of Holocaust victims or have written permission from a victim’s direct descendants to submit the names).
First of all, he pointed out that the Church has assumed more of the burden of flagging and eliminating these names. The 1995 agreement had placed the burden of identifying the names on the Jewish side, with the Church agreeing to eliminate any names that were brought to its attention. Now, armed with databases of names of Holocaust victims, a team of dedicated LDS volunteers regularly scans lists of submitted temple names to ensure that no Holocaust victims are included. If a name is found, Rencher said that the pedigree for the name (currently required for all submissions) will be examined closely to see whether the person submitting the name is a direct descendant. If there is a question, the person will be contacted. If the name is found to have been wrongly submitted, it will be deleted from the database. If Jews find names of Holocaust victims on Family Search, they can also ask to have them deleted from the database. Finally, Mormons who have written permission from victims’ families to submit their names to the temple (undoubtedly a small group) must send this documentation directly to the Church, which will review it before authorizing the submission of the names. Mormons found violating Church policies on name submissions will be contacted and asked to cease and desist. It is hard to fully express the pride that I feel as a Latter-day Saint after hearing the lengths to which my Church is going to address the concerns of Jews and to honor the memories of Holocaust victims.
Of course, it is important to realize that the law of unintended consequences is in play here for Jewish genealogists. Family Search is an important research tool for genealogists, including Jewish ones, and the deletion of Holocaust victims’ names from its database could complicate individual efforts to fill in Europe-based family trees. When asked about this, Rencher acknowledged this reality, saying that it was a tradeoff that the Jewish leaders were willing to accept.
As someone who helped to launch an ongoing LDS-Jewish theological dialogue in Los Angeles and actively seeks to duplicate this effort in other cities around the world, it is important to me that Jews and others take LDS theology seriously. When it comes to Jews and Judaism, I believe that we have the most comprehensive and complete theology of any church. It is therefore necessary to clarify assertions that were made yesterday in Jewish media that this agreement makes Holocaust victims “the only category exempt from Church doctrine that calls for vicarious baptism for the dead,” and “Out of all humans who ever lived, the Church has carved out Jewish Holocaust victims as the only exception to a universal doctrine.” While it is true that Holocaust victims are the only category of people whose names the Church has agreed to delete from its genealogy database, it is also true that Mormons who are direct descendants of Holocaust victims are still under the same religious obligation to perform temple ordinances for them. As I have pointed out before, this obligation is as binding on a Mormon as circumcising newborn sons is for observant Jews. Nothing in the agreement prevents a Mormon from fulfilling this religious obligation, though it may make it harder for her to track down her relatives who were victims.
The text of yesterday’s statement gives us reason to hope for increased cooperation in the future. Jewish leaders quoted in The Jewish Week echo my sentiments exactly. Bob Abrams reminded everyone that “we need as many friends and allies as possible,” and an American Gathering official observed: “we are living in a very difficult and critical time, and as an American Jew, I felt we shouldn’t keep on fighting a church that principally is very friendly to the Jewish community and has created an important center in Israel.” For its part, the official statement begins by noting that “Goodwill and friendship have marked the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jewish people” and closes with an expression of finality and optimism: “It is gratifying that the good faith efforts undertaken over the years to deal with an important issue of sensitivity to the Jewish Holocaust survivor community have eliminated a source of tension between our two groups, enhancing our ability to cooperate, including in important programs of humanitarian aid across the world.” Amen to that.
I am willing to host guest bloggers during my upcoming pro-Jewish speaking tour of Europe (Sept 10-24). If you would like to have your essay published on this blog, please submit it (along with a photo, if desired) by September 8. The topic should be of interest to both Jews and Mormons. Thank you.
August 30, 2010 | 12:48 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
I’m currently conducting a job search, and have finally found the perfect position for someone with my background: if you’re looking for a prognosticator for the latest round of Israeli –Palestinian peace talks that kicks off this week, I’m your man. I don’t need an advanced degree in political science or a crystal ball. Having served as a U.S. diplomat in Israel at a time when leaders were talking and buses were exploding, I need only to apply the central lesson of the failed Oslo peace process: if you don’t have a negotiating partner, you can’t make peace.
I’ve never understood why Israeli and American leaders tried to convert the terrorist Yasser Arafat into a peace partner, let alone a Nobel Prize recipient. As far as I could determine, the only difference between Arafat and Hitler in terms of anti-Semitism was their ability to act on their beliefs. I once served as a note-taker for a senior State Department official during a detailed security briefing by the head of Israeli military intelligence. When the official remarked that what he was hearing caused him to believe that neo-Nazis were heading the Palestinian Authority (PA), the military chief asked him what he thought would happen if the balance of military power were reversed for a week (i.e., if Arafat and the PA had Israel’s military capacity and vice versa). I’ll never forget the State Department diplomat’s answer, delivered after a rather pregnant pause: “I guess there would be 6 million fewer Jews in the world.” There was no good reason to talk peace with Arafat; the Oslo process was stillborn. U.S. Presidents Clinton and Bush, along with Israeli Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak and Sharon, all learned the hard way that when you don’t have a partner across the table, you can’t create one.
The current Middle East face-off pits right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu against Mahmoud Abbas, former President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). In order for Israel to make meaningful concessions on the major issues (Jerusalem, borders, refugees) and renew a settlement freeze on the West Bank, Bibi will have to face down prominent members of his governing coalition, including hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Such a fight could possibly bring down Bibi’s government and/or force him to govern with a more liberal coalition partner. Even a cursory analysis of Abbas’s political stability shows that there is no incentive at all for Bibi to risk his political future for someone who can’t deliver for his side.
For one thing, Abbas officially holds no power. His term as President of the PNA officially expired in January of 2009, and he unilaterally awarded himself a one-year extension. After the extension expired, he just decided to stay on without a mandate. That’s right: Abbas has absolutely zero authorization to act as president of anything right now, much less to sign peace treaties with Israel. Even the PLO hasn’t authorized him to represent Palestinians: only 9 of the 18 members of the PLO Executive Committee bothered to show up to vote on Abbas’s participation earlier this month, and the PLO charter clearly requires 12 members to form a quorum for such meetings. Abbas’s capable Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, ran in the 2006 parliamentary elections and won exactly 2 seats (out of 132). His number two abandoned Fayyad’s party, leaving him with one seat. Only enormous pressure from the United States and Europe forced Abbas to appoint Fayyad as PM. Who would sign a treaty with these pretenders?
In addition to his lack of a mandate to negotiate for his people (or, for that matter, to be allowed into his office), it must also be noted that Abbas’s illegitimate rule does not extend to the Gaza Strip, whose 1.5 million residents are led by a group of Hamas leaders who forcibly expelled members of Abbas’s political party – their coalition partners—in 2007, killing more than 100 people in the process. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, refuses to recognize Abbas’s extended term as president, and refuses to allow him to negotiate on its behalf with Israel. Since Abbas obviously can’t deliver on any promise he makes to Israel and the U.S. on behalf of all Palestinians, there is no reason for him to be at the same negotiating table with a democratically-elected Israeli Prime Minister.
Unsurprisingly, Abbas is already looking for a pretext to exit the talks. If Israel doesn’t renew a freeze on settlements later this month, Abbas has threatened to end the talks. While I do think that Israel’s policy on settlements is somewhat schizophrenic, this is an obvious red herring. Unlike the PA, Israel has a track record of making painful sacrifices for the sake of peace, including asking Jewish soldiers to evict fellow Jews from their homes. Israel has evacuated settlements from the Sinai Peninsula (as part of a peace treaty with Egypt), from the Gaza Strip (a unilateral action that seems ill-advised in hindsight), and from the West Bank (sporadic police actions to remove isolated outposts). There is every indication that Israel would act to remove settlers from the West Bank again in order to comply with the terms of a final peace agreement. Refusing to negotiate such an agreement because there are more Jews currently living in the West Bank than one desires is illogical.
Not only was Einstein correct (see above quote), but so was Santayana: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. With the peacemaking circus making a stop in Washington this week, we can expect to see more collective amnesia on display. Jews, Mormons, and other people of goodwill continue to pray for peace in the Middle East and a solution to this decades-old conflict, but this prognosticator is betting that their prayers are not likely to be answered as long as the central lesson of Oslo continues to be ignored.
If you would like to be a guest blogger during my September 10-24 European speaking tour, please send me your submission by September 8, along with a photo (if desired). The topic should be of interest to both Mormons and Jews. I will notify you on September 9 if/when you will be published. Thank you.
August 28, 2010 | 12:06 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. – Exodus 31:16
If you ask a typical Mormon which Jewish practices she most admires, chances are she’ll mention Sabbath observance. We have enormous respect for the Jews’ honoring of the Sabbath day throughout centuries of persecution, and Mormons who have sat at their Jewish friends’ Sabbath tables do not soon forget the glowing candles, childrens’ blessings, challah, and warmth on display. The setting aside of one day a week for worship and rest is an opportunity for members of both faiths to recharge their spiritual batteries and give thanks to G-d. In addition, it is such an important commandment that Sabbath observance serves as an informal indicator of dedication and devotion in both traditions: just as a Jew who drives on Friday nights would not be considered Torah-observant, a Mormon who chooses to work, shop and attend sporting events on Sundays is generally viewed as less devout than Mormons who do not.
Unlike Judaism, Mormonism allows some flexibility on Sabbath scheduling where it is necessary in order to align members’ worship schedules with the local workweek. While Sunday is the Sabbath for Mormons in the United States and in most countries throughout the world, members of the three LDS congregations in Israel go to church on Saturdays, and those in Muslim countries observe the Sabbath on Fridays.
Like observant Jews, Mormons spend the Sabbath day attending worship services (ours last three hours), visiting family and friends, and engaging in scripture study and personal reflection and prayer. In addition, Mormons participate in a 24-hour fast (no food or water) on the first Sunday of each month, and give a donation representing the cost of the meals that they would have consumed – and sometimes much more—to a fund to help the poor.
Unlike most other Christian churches, we do not hold worship services to celebrate Christmas unless it falls on the Sabbath, our day for worship. When Christmas falls on any other day, I usually attend a religious service at another church, usually a traditional Catholic mass or Episcopal service. I must confess to being somewhat jealous of both my Christian friends who can attend services on Christmas every year and my Jewish friends who have many other religious holidays to celebrate throughout the year. For Mormons in the U.S., worship services for holidays are limited to Easter (which always falls on a Sunday) and Christmas when it is on a Sunday. We do not celebrate other Christian feasts like Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday.
Observant Jews set an exemplary model of respect for the Sabbath. In preparation for Friday evening, they change into clean, pressed clothes, clean the house, prepare a special meal, light candles, gather their families together, and bless their children. Although our Sabbath is not as structured as the Jewish one, most Mormon families I know go to church as a family and have a family meal on Sundays. It is an axiom in my mind that respect for the Sabbath has protected and preserved both faiths, and I pray that we will all continue to promote this perpetual covenant as a way to draw closer to our G-d and our families. Shabbat shalom.
I will be delivering pro-Jewish speeches in Europe September 10-24, and would like to publish the essays of at least a couple of guest bloggers during that time. If you are a Jew or Mormon and have a short essay with a topic of interest to both communities, please submit it by September 8 with a jpg picture (if desired). I will notify you on September 9 if your submission will be published. Thank you.
August 25, 2010 | 12:49 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
While attending a training course for Foreign Service officers in Washington, DC, I met a lovely couple at a reception held at the Turkish Embassy. He was a Turkish businessman, she an American writer. I attended a party at their suburban home a week later and immediately noticed large American and Turkish flags atop an imposing flagpole in the front yard. When I paid them a farewell visit months later prior to beginning my first diplomatic assignment in Mexico, I noticed that the Turkish flag was gone. My friends calmly explained that their new neighbors were an Armenian-American couple, and during their initial over-the-fence conversation with the wife, she had told them that she and her husband had both lost great-grandparents in the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish government. The woman made no mention of the Turkish flag, but my friends decided after much discussion that while they certainly had a right to fly the flag on their property, it was more important to them to forgo that right and avoid offending their nice new neighbors. Several days after they took down the flag, a box of Armenian pastries was placed on their doorstep.
I dearly wish that my Turkish friend had gone on to become an imam in New York. As I listen to the heated debate surrounding the proposed building of a mosque and Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks carried out by radical Muslim terrorists, I wish that the mosque’s proponents would stop proclaiming their right to build and focus instead on this question: is it the right thing to do?
Let me be clear: had I been on the zoning board, I would have voted for the mosque because I believe in religious freedom. However, I would also have urged the imam to look for another site. Ordinarily I don’t care a great deal whether people take offense at the construction of religious buildings, whether it be Mormon temples or mosques in Temecula and other cities. However, the site of the greatest mass murder in U.S. history is hallowed ground for our country. If your stated goal as an imam is to promote unity and understanding, it seems to me that you’re undermining that effort by alienating thousands of victims’ survivors (including some Muslim ones) and tens of millions of Americans across the country. Something is wrong when your opponents include both Islamophobes and decent everyday people who do not hate Islam or Muslims but want you to find a different site for your building. I don’t know whether the concept of a Pyrrhic victory exists in Islamic law, but I fear that this will become one for the Muslim community.
I can’t help but reflect on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a 9/11 attack in Mormon history with a similar dynamic of radicals committing atrocities. On September 11, 1857, a renegade militia of local Mormon leaders in southwest Utah brutally murdered 120 men, women and children who were emigrating west from Arkansas. They mistook them for enemies of the Latter-day Saints, and the corpses were left to rot on the ground for two years. Although the church as an institution played no role in the massacre, it continues to be a source of disbelief and shame for thoughtful Mormons. In 2007, a 150th anniversary commemoration ceremony was held at the site, with an LDS apostle in attendance.
Mountain Meadows happens to lie in the Dixie National Forest, which one can assume is not zoned for religious construction. What if the LDS Church decided to ask for a special federal permit to build a chapel next to the site in order to heal wounds and promote understanding? The very idea is inconceivable. Even though more than 150 years have passed, I believe the request would encounter much opposition in the majority-Mormon state. It would simply not be the right or decent thing to do, regardless of whether Utah’s congressional delegation could ultimately obtain a federal permit for the church.
I am heartened to read that moderate voices are now calling for dialogue on the mosque issue. If Imam Rauf’s goal really is to promote tolerance and unity, he should find another site. Not because he has to, but because it will help him to attain his goal and promote goodwill towards his community. While I don’t believe that every objection to the mosque’s location is reasonable or defensible, I’m pretty sure that the 9/11 victims’ memories are not honored by division and animosity in the country they loved.
I’ve finally caught up with the 21st century, and would invite you to follow this blog on Twitter (“jewsandmormons”), where it will be retweeted (I’ve been told that that’s a word). Thank you for your readership.
August 23, 2010 | 1:39 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“WHEN the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee… thou shalt make no covenant with them… Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son… For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. “ – Deuteronomy 7:1-3, 6
“Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world. Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory…f ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.”—Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-16, 33
I’ll never forget the first Orthodox rabbi I met in the LA Jewish community. I approached him at a reception and started making small talk with him in Hebrew. When he discovered I was Mormon, he immediately switched to English and became much more animated. It seems that the daughter of a non-Orthodox Jewish friend was contemplating marriage to a Mormon, and this was definitely not kosher with the rabbi. “I don’t get it,” he exclaimed. “Isn’t marriage outside the faith forbidden to Mormons too? Why don’t we work together to prevent this from happening?” We spent the next 30 minutes comparing notes on our faiths’ embrace of endogamy, a distinguishing feature of covenant peoples throughout history. I’m glad that I had my first conversation about this sensitive topic with an Orthodox Jew; although intermarriage is strongly discouraged in both the LDS and Jewish communities, the theological implications of a Mormon marrying outside the faith can only be understood when compared to those surrounding the marriage of an observant Orthodox Jew to a Gentile.
An Orthodox Jew who selects a non-Jew as a life partner almost always has to abandon the Orthodox community, at least on a spiritual level, since it is difficult if not impossible to keep many of the mitzvoth (commandments) that are required of observant Jews (e.g., maintaining a kosher home). The Jewish spouse is rendered unable to live a full Jewish life. While I know many Jewish couples with differing levels of observance, I have yet to meet an observant Orthodox Jew with a non-Jewish spouse (though I am not denying that such couples exist).
As we move to the more liberal Jewish spectrum, the theological implications of intermarriage become much less dire as long as the children are raised Jewish. Regardless of whether a rabbi will officiate at an interfaith wedding (Conservative rabbis will not, while some Reform and other liberal rabbis will), children born to a Jewish mother are considered to be Jewish. As long as the husband will allow the children to be raised Jewish (i.e., celebration of Jewish holidays, no Christmas trees), I do not see how a serious theological objection can be raised to these relationships from a Reform or Conservative point of view. The Jewish mother and her Jewish children get to practice (non-Orthodox) Judaism to their hearts’ content with the support of their non-Jewish husband and father, who can choose whether and how to participate in synagogue life. If a Jewish man espouses a non-Jew, his children can undergo a conversion ceremony and be recognized as Jews. [If he is a Reform Jewish man, his children will be considered Jews without a conversion ceremony as long as they are raised Jewish]. Once again the Jewish spouse and kids get to practice their religion with the support of the non-Jewish parent. I am not arguing that intermarriage for Reform and Conservative Jews is the ideal. I am merely arguing that there is no major theological objection to such unions as long as the children are raised Jewishly (which is obviously not the case in many homes). Judaism has not engaged in active proselytizing efforts for 16 centuries, and has no expectation that non-Jews should become Jews.
For Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, intermarriage cuts to the heart of our relationship as a people and as individuals to God. We have an expanded understanding of the Abrahamic covenant outlined in Genesis, and that covenant is the source of spiritual protection in this life and salvation in the next. It is also the central theme of LDS temple worship. A Mormon man is expected to marry another Mormon woman who is worthy to be married in a temple, where the couple is “sealed” to each other and to any children they may have for eternity (that is, for this life and the next). The temple sealing ceremony is the highest expression of our faith on earth, and is the goal of every believing Mormon. Children born to a sealed couple are said to be born in the covenant of Abraham, and the couple is promised that if they honor their marriage they will continue to have children in the eternities just as Abraham was promised that his seed would be as the “dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16).” We believe that God has a similar marriage, and that only sealed couples will reach the highest heaven and dwell in God’s presence forever with their family.
The promise of being sealed to one’s children forever is particularly comforting to LDS couples whose children predecease them. They strongly believe that they will be reunited with them in the next life thanks to the sealing power of the temple ceremony. Mormon parents who are not sealed to each other do not have the promise of being with their departed children in the next life, though like grieving parents of all faiths they hope for such a reunion.
Given the importance of a “celestial” marriage to the eternal spiritual development of the individual and the family, Mormons are actively discouraged from marrying both non-Mormons and Mormons who are not worthy to enter our temples (while we worship in chapels on Sundays, temples are reserved for members who meet certain standards of moral worthiness). Temple sealings cannot be performed for interfaith couples, no matter how wonderful the non-Mormon spouse may be. However, deceased couples (including interfaith couples) who were not sealed on earth and who are relatives of living members can be sealed to each other using live proxies in temples. The hope on the members’ part is that their dead ancestors will accept the sealing ordinance in the next life and remain a couple in the eternities if they so choose.
A growing number of Mormons are marrying outside the church, and each active Mormon who does so must come to terms with the theological implications of his or her choice. There is no question that the fullest expression of our faith is a celestial marriage, and Mormons like me who have not yet been sealed to a spouse are reminded of this every time we participate in temple worship or sit in the pews during Sunday services and observe a family with two active LDS spouses seated with their children. As with intermarried Orthodox Jews, unless you are sealed to a spouse in a temple, you are not fully practicing the Mormon faith.
Mormons do not shun or excommunicate members who marry outside the faith. In fact, every effort is usually made to welcome the non-member spouse and include him or her in the activities of the congregation. It is not uncommon to have non-members hold callings in the church (e.g., scoutmaster) that allow them to share their talents with members. My favorite example of this acceptance is an LDS woman’s Jewish husband who sings in our congregation’s Christmas choir every year. This inclusivity is also evident in the increased efforts by synagogues in recent years to welcome interfaith couples and invite non-Jewish spouses to explore Judaism.
Although a marriage “until death do you part” holds no eternal promise for believing Latter-day Saints, I share the hope of those members who do enter such marriages that their non-member spouses will eventually convert and live in such a way that they can be sealed in a temple. If they don’t convert, I have no doubt that a merciful and just God will richly reward in the next life those of all faiths who were loving spouses and parents in this one. Finally, I share the hope of countless other single Mormons that I will someday find myself kneeling across an altar in a temple gazing into the eyes of a beautiful eternal companion. A Mormon one.
August 20, 2010 | 12:18 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
If I needed a blood transfusion in Israel, I would ask to receive Valeria Gannon’s. For years this outgoing, dedicated employee of ARMDI (www.afmda.org), the American fundraising arm of Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross), has helped to raise money to provide Israel’s entire pre-hospital emergency needs, including 100% of the blood requirements of the IDF (Israeli Army) and 95% of the blood needs for Israeli hospitals and the general population. She told me that she wanted to dedicate her professional life to a cause, and couldn’t think of a better one than humanitarian aid for Israel. As you will see in her essay, she is not the first person in her family to work for the benefit of the Jewish people. ARMDI’s western regional office is lucky to have her.
I cannot hope to improve upon Valeria’s own words, so I will gladly grant her guest blogger privileges. Shabbat shalom.
My name is Valeria Gannon and for the past 8 years, I have been working for ARMDI (American Friends of Magen David Adom), a non-profit, fundraising organization for Israel’s 911 Disaster and Blood Service Provider. Being raised as a Mormon in Los Angeles, I have always had a great love of the Jewish people and have had many cherished associates, neighbors and close friends who were Jewish or of Jewish descent. I come by this love naturally, as my grandfather, Thomas Gannon, Sr. was a strong advocate for Jews, writing several articles in Chicago, IL for an Anti-Nazi movement propaganda magazine entitled “The Resolute” circa 1935-1936. This magazine was used to start Anti-Nazi movements in Germany before Hitler came into power and was in direct response to his book “Mein Kampf.” My grandfather’s closest friends were Jewish and because of his support and work on their behalf he later received an honorary membership from B’nai B’rith.
Being LDS I am proud that the Mormon Church is well known for its generous humanitarian and financial support for emergency relief efforts across the globe. In August of 2006 during the Israel-Lebanon War, the Church gave $50,000 for emergency medical supplies to American Friends of Magen David Adom. An additional $30,000 was sent directly to Magen David Adom in Israel in 2007.
David Ben-Gurion said when speaking to Elder Ezra Taft Benson, LDS Leader and former U.S. Secretary, “There are no people in the world who understand the Jews like the Mormons.” There are many similarities between Mormons and Jews: Tradition, Family, Patriarchal Order, Prophets, Temples, Covenants and other choice teachings. This is why we share a love and understanding of the Jews.
I believe in and support the future of Israel. I love working with the Jews because I have come to realize that I am one myself in spirit and relate to them on many levels. They are truly my brothers and sisters and I know that I was meant to work with them so that I could know G-d’s people. I am most grateful for their love and acceptance towards me and for the opportunity of working on the staff of AFMDA, but most particularly, for the privilege to work with Ellen Rofman and Lisabeth Lobenthal, which has been a joy and pleasure. I consider them my friends.
In closing, I would like to quote the following scriptures that state the love G-d has and the promised blessings He has made to Israel:
Isaiah 41:10-13(KJV): “Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
“Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.”
“Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.”
“For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not: I will help thee.”
Zephaniah 3:17-20(KJV), referring to Israel: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
“I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.”
“Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.”
“At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord.”
August 17, 2010 | 7:40 pm
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.