Posted by Mark Paredes
Not many people were aware before today that one of the country’s leading anti-Mormons has been running for the Republican presidential nomination. Fred Karger, whose signal electoral exploit so far is having beaten Ron Paul in Puerto Rico, was the brains behind the “Californians Against Hate” group that targeted the LDS Church for its opposition to gay marriage during the Prop 8 campaign. He has criticized Mormons and the Mormon Church on many occasions, and his recent campaign trip to Utah was a good indication of why few people in the country have faith in his ability to exercise good judgment.
In an effort to challenge Mitt Romney in the upcoming Utah primary election (sure to be a nail-biter), Mr. Karger chose to spend a few days in the state. Being Fred, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit southern Utah, a bastion of Mormonism, and publicly call on the Mormon Church to stop funding efforts to oppose state-sanctioned gay marriage. Some folks down in Utah’s Dixie took offense at his message, most notably the wife of the county’s Republican Party chairman. Following her husband’s meeting with Karger, she sent him a homophobic e-mail calling him a “radical idiot” who can’t procreate. For good measure, she followed-up with more idiotic statements to the press (e.g., “the only reason he’s running for president is to find more partners.”)
Unfortunately, Karper’s public response revealed a similar level of ignorance: “This is what the Mormon Church preaches to its members.” If Fred can find similar statements in official church literature or speeches, I’d like to see them. I’ve been attending LDS services for three decades, and have yet to hear anti-gay language preached from the pulpit. I’m just curious: If I went to San Francisco or West Hollywood and made public speeches calling on gays to stop supporting gay marriage, what kind of e-mails would I be likely to receive? My hunch is that they’d make the Utah woman’s message look like a love note by comparison. Clearly Karger’s goals were to increase his name recognition and to make the LDS Church look bad. It’s a shame that he’s succeeded on both fronts.
Of course, there is no excuse for the woman’s homophobic rant. If she really is a member of the LDS Church, then she believes that we are all children of God who lived together before we came to earth and chose to live here on earth with each other. By the grace of God, we’ll spend eternity together as well. Her bigotry is her own, and shouldn’t be imputed to the 14 million members of her church worldwide. Are there Mormon homophobes? Unfortunately, yes. Are there anti-Mormon gays? Of course. If Fred Karger really wants to demonstrate some presidential mettle, he’ll stop trying to play “gotcha” with Republicans who disagree with him on gay marriage, quit telling churches what they should do, and start engaging in a serious public discussion of non-gay issues. By now it should be obvious to everyone why even gay groups have distanced themselves from him.
5.4.13 at 12:17 am | I read with great interest Naomi Schaefer. . .
4.21.13 at 10:49 pm |
4.14.13 at 11:26 pm |
4.6.13 at 12:39 am |
3.30.13 at 9:39 am | Dr. Deandre Poole's outrageous anti-Christian. . .
3.24.13 at 10:53 pm | Palestinians don't "deserve" a country, and Obama. . .
11.18.10 at 1:47 am | A monument to the prophet in Israel is an idea. . . (60)
9.9.12 at 9:30 pm | When it comes to the Book of Mormon, I'll stick. . . (40)
6.5.12 at 11:26 pm | Marlena Tanya Muchnick, a Jewish convert to. . . (37)
June 12, 2012 | 12:27 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
It is openly stated in books written by the founders of Zionism that the means by which they planned to establish a state was by instigating anti-Semitism … They intentionally infuriated the German people and fanned the flames of Nazi hatred, and they helped the Nazis, with trickery and deceit, to take whole Jewish communities off to the concentration camps, and the Zionists themselves admit this… Here are two replies given by Leaders of the Zionists during World War II, when they were asked for money to help ransom Jews from the Nazis. Greenbaum said “One cow in Palestine is worth more than all the Jews in Poland.” (G-d forbid). Weitzman said, “The most important part of the Jewish people is already in the land (of Israel) and those who are left, are unimportant” (May we be spared). – Official Neturei Karta website
We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society… We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience. – Doctrine and Covenants, chapter 134
After years of working in the Jewish community and studying Judaism, there are only two Jewish ideas that remain incomprehensible to me: Jewish atheists and Jewish anti-Zionists. [Until recently, I would have added “same-sex Jewish marriage ceremony” to the list. However, enough thoughtful Reform Jews have discussed this topic with me that now I can at least understand their reasoning].
I was reminded of the anti-Zionist fringe this morning when I heard about the anti-Israel graffiti that was spray-painted onto various monuments at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. “Hitler, thank you for the Holocaust” was among the phrases written in impeccable Hebrew by the vandals. Although most people suspect that the perpetrators were Israel-hating ultra-Orthodox Jews, no arrests have been made. I won’t point fingers here, but even if Orthodox fringe groups were not involved in these despicable acts, their twisted theology got me thinking about Mormon views of earthly governments and our responsibilities towards them.
Both Mormons and the Neturei Karta crowd believe in a future Messianic age. For Mormons, this will be ushered in by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, who will rule over the earth from both Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem (Zion), located in Missouri (please see Isaiah 2:3). The anti-Zionist Orthodox sects believe that the Messiah will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people, in part by reestablishing a strong Jewish state, and they don’t support the creation of a secular Jewish state. Fair enough. I have no problem understanding the belief that the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state should be left to the Messiah. However, when these Orthodox sects pray for the destruction of Israel and heap praise on the greatest enemies of the Jewish people in modern history – Hitler, Arafat, Ahmadinejad – then they have crossed many red lines that no Jew (or thinking person) should cross. The Messiah hasn’t asked Neturei Karta rabbis to destroy Israel, and they have no business supporting groups or individuals that are trying to do so.
Do LDS beliefs support the seditious behavior of these fringe Orthodox groups? As noted above, Mormons (like Jews) generally believe in sustaining earthly governments and leaders, imperfect though they may be. In return, they have the right to expect their “inalienable” rights to be protected by governments and rulers (something that has not always been done for Mormons or Jews). Citizens who enjoy these protections should not rebel against their governments.
Since Israel protects the religious and civil rights of ultra-Orthodox Jews, including those who hate the country, there is little justification in Mormon thought (as well as mainstream Jewish thought) for Orthodox Jews who meet with Israel’s enemies, publicly call for Israel’s destruction, and praise political leaders who hate Jews and Israel. It’s a shame that excommunication sentences aren’t given to traitors in contemporary Judaism, because the anti-Zionist Orthodox fringe would be prime candidates for them.
It is very hard for me, as an interested outside observer, to imagine contemporary Judaism without a Jewish state. That a small group of Jews, however sincere they might be, would pray for its destruction is simply unbelievable. May the God of Israel grant them the wisdom to see the error of their ways is my prayer – this shanda fur die goyim has gone on for far too long.
June 5, 2012 | 11:26 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
The proverbial “third rail” issue for a Christian blogger on a Jewish website is Jewish conversion to Christianity. It is one of the few issues that unites practically all Jews, and well-funded organizations (e.g., Jews for Judaism) have been set up to keep Jews from converting. Although many Jews who know me well have asked why a Jew would become a Mormon, I have declined to blog on the subject because I considered it too sensitive.
Until now. After more than two years blogging for the Jewish Journal, I’m pretty confident that readers know that my purpose in writing this column is not to convert Jews. A few weeks ago a prominent Jewish leader asked me why Jews decide to become Mormons. I decided to pose a series of questions to my friend Marlena Tanya Muchnick, a well-known Jew-turned-Mormon speaker, author, and researcher. Marlena travels around the country making presentations on Jews and Mormons. I am grateful to her for taking time out from her Baltic cruise to compose her answers. She and her wonderful husband Daniel live in the Seattle area.
Q: How old were you when you converted to the LDS Church?
A: I often contemplated the gifts promised the human family in the Tree of Life mentioned in Genesis 2. The Hebrew life giving tree motif I found in a copy of Kabbalah (esoteric Judaic writings). It stirred in me a deep curiosity about the mysterious connections of all things in earth and heaven. I read of covenants, oaths, the patterns and behaviors of men –blessings received, curses endured. Always the connection of God to His children was tested and tried. The Hebrew people have always been engaged in a love story (often also a tryst!) with their Father/Lord. So, in a fashion, I was being spiritually prepared for my transformation at age 47 – from Orthodox/Conservative Jewess to a temple-attending Latter-day Saint.
Q: Jews believe the Abrahamic covenant still applies to them. Mormons also believe that the Abrahamic covenant is applicable today. Why is there a need for a Jew to become a Mormon if the Abrahamic covenant is still alive and well?
A: Being raised an observant Jewess, I trusted that the everlasting Avrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 28) was the blueprint for every life. An agreement between mankind and God, it is unconditional in its nature to bless the tribes of Israel (see Genesis 12:2-3). Nations and kings were to descend from that patriarch who would become father of a “great nation”, receiving special blessings for their faithfulness, including the Mashiach’s (Messiah’s) return into their midst. Many Jews believe in these future events but have little idea of the profound meanings implicit in them. Spiritual truth often lies in mystery, but to ignore that tantalizing search is to remain dead to the potential for life that waits hopefully within each soul.
Fortunately for me, through the teachings of the missionaries, I discovered that Mormons understand covenants better than anyone, because they realize the importance and urgency of gathering members of the house of Israel through the restored, latter-day Gospel teachings as reintroduced through the Prophet Joseph Smith; his translation of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the restoration of the temples of God to the earth.
[According to LDS belief] Jews are the “chosen” people according to God’s covenant with Abraham. [Mormons believe that] Abraham wanted to regain the true priesthood and gospel principles that had been lost through apostasy. But neither the Jews nor anyone else can be automatically saved. The Latter-day Saints have been charged with finding those who are lost and teaching them the essential news of the restoration of ancient priesthood powers which God has covenanted to them unconditionally on His part. But individual faithfulness and action are required to bring fulfillment. [I believe that] Judaism is the foundation of Christianity, not the final product.
Q: What was it that attracted you to Mormonism?
A: How does a proper Jewess cross the seemingly uncrossable line to Christianity, then venture further to the hallowed country of the Gentilic, gentle Saints? For me, it was the hardest work my rebellious soul has EVER done! I was 14 and just confirmed from Hebrew school when I realized something was missing from my synagogue experiences. My parents thought me mad. I was told to get over it. It was 1954.
Arriving at age 40 I found myself alone and poor, a victim of many abuses as a child and teen. During my growing years as a female in a traditionally male cultural setting, I sought in the synagogues for a deeper and especially a personal solace. Synagogue prayers are praises to God and petitions for Israel - our traditional way of approaching Deity. But I needed a personal witness. Finally, pleading with God before the opened Torah scrolls, I challenged Him to bring me what He knew I needed; then I determined to find it myself, if it took this lifetime to do so. It took several years longer.
My only sibling, a younger brother, eventually accepted the Gospel more or less against his will. Mark had married a Tongan whose father translated the Book of Mormon into Tongan for the country’s royalty. Mark’s wife and family were, of course, devoted Mormons. In 1975, he brought me a Book of Mormon, to share the joy in the Gospel that he had found. I immediately rejected it.“I have Torah. Why would I need another book? No, thanks. I prefer to remain a Jew. Is this what our people have fought to become? I think not.” I put the book in my bookcase and left it there for years. Many years later, in 1985, I moved to Oregon from L.A. to assist with care for my now widowed brother’s children. Senior Mormon missionaries lived next door!
I was quite disturbed by this new and sudden interest of these Christian people in my background and my beliefs as a Jew. Having been taught by my parents that non-Jews (Gentiles) were off limits to me, I’d never learned Christian ways or beliefs. They couldn’t pronounce the gutteral ch. They didn’t like Jewish food, they didn’t know Hebrew history or celebrate any Jewish holidays. But I was attracted to them in ways that stirred my soul.
1. I found those Mormons I met and who befriended me to be genuinely caring about each and every person and were gentle and forgiving folk. They were genuinely kind to me and they related all their life experiences to faith and love of God and Christ. What impressed me so much was their close relationship with God. That gave them satisfaction I had only dreamt of finding. They listened to my denials of Christ, asked me about Judaism, and were genuinely interested in comparing religions through scripture and through their own understanding. And then there was the “look” in their eyes. Was it joy? True happiness? Their constant relationship with the mysterious Holy Spirit? I wanted it!
2. They patiently spoke of New Testament gospel writers, pointing out that most were Jewish men, including the apostles of Christ. I had never thought that important. I confess that at first I only allowed them to entertain me with these things because my brother had earlier brought me that book which claimed our ancient Jewish ancestors truly came from Israel to these American continents and – would you believe – accepted Jesus as the Christ? They told me that Jesus came to fulfill the Law of Moses (Matt 5:17) and create a new covenant between God and his people, that he visited the American continents (Book of Mormon, 3Nephi 11-28). The Book of Mormon is a sign that the gathering of Israel and the fulfillment of his covenants with them was beginning.
3. These apostles learned there was a higher law than the Aaronic/ Levitical priesthood: the higher or Melchizedek priesthood. This man, Melchizedek (Heb 7:2) was a notable prophet and leader who lived about 2000 BC. He was the first individual to be given the title of Kohen (priest) in Torah. Father Abraham paid tithes to him. Melchizedek is mentioned in many places in Torah and in latter-day scripture. Mormons claim that these two priesthoods have been restored in our day, along with prophets, temples, baptism and other ordinances by priesthood authority, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost and other blessings, and proxy work for the dead. I was finding a unity between our two faiths; that we are connected by many things. Mormons have more in common with Judaism than any other religion because Judaism laid the foundation for Christianity and through the LDS church the fullness of many covenants God made with the nation of Israel will be realized. These include the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3, 15), Edenic (Gen 3:16-19), Palestinian (Deut 30:1-10), Davidic (2Sam 7:8-16, Luke 1:32-34), and the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34).
4. I was attracted to the notion that prophets and seers were once again on the earth. In Torah many prophets are mentioned, some true, some false. The greater ones were usually disbelieved and hated for their unpopular messages. Some met with an untimely death. The last Hebrew prophet, Malachi, lived at the end of the 70-year Babylonian exile. Judaism today does not recognize anyone as having the voice to speak for them. But the Mormons claim Joseph Smith was a prophet and seer and that these chosen men of God will never again be taken from the earth. Thomas S. Monson is regarded as the current seer and prophetic voice among the Saints and he has two counselors. Together they form the First Presidency of the church. Their writings, in my mind, equal and often surpass those of many scholarly Talmudic sages.
5. The Mormon view of the afterlife attracted me greatly. Jews believe there is an Olam Haba – the world to come after death. Torah [the 5 books of Moses] emphasizes immediate, concrete, physical rewards and punishments rather than abstract future ones. See, for example, Lev. 26:3-9 and Deut. 11:13-15. However, there is clear evidence in Torah of belief in existence after death. Indicated in several places the righteous with their loved ones will be reunited after death, while the wicked will be excluded. Ideas about resurrection and reincarnation are accepted, but there is much room for personal opinion, because Torah does not mention this subject directly, though the early temples practiced cleansing and vivifying rites. I was very concerned with what hope there was for mine and my family’s death. Mormons have revealed knowledge through prophets that explains and clarifies much about the spirit world before and after mortal life, and I found it reassuring.
6. The missionaries read with me the Book of Mormon, enlightening my understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Q: According to one of your websites, you engaged in five months of “secluded studying” of Hebrew and LDS scriptures before converting. What did you learn from this experience?
A: I learned, in essence, through totally independent study and prayer that the Gospel as taught in the LDS church is completely correct. I found my personal answers to the questions: Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going?
There is room here for several specific examples.
1. I learned about the priesthood of God, its purposes, duties and ministrations. See Exodus 40, a detailed account of Aaron and his sons receiving the Aaronic priesthood. After the fall of Herod’s Temple in 70 AD, that and the greater priesthood were lost, the Jewish nation scattered. In these latter days that most precious gift has been restored to the earth and all of us are blessed through the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood of God in these latter days.
2. Exodus 34 gives the story of Moses (Moshe) receiving God’s commandments. Moses asks the Lord to pardon the iniquity of his people, to which the Lord replies in part (v.14) that the Jews shall have no other god but the Lord, “…whose name is Jealous…” All others are said to be false, and to Jews, that includes Jesus. But the New Testament history of Jesus and his times is compelling. He converted thousands of Jewish followers. This is not mentioned in Torah or Talmud. Why not?
3. When the missionaries told me that Joseph Smith received his visitation from our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in April of 1820 and that the LDS church was established in April of 1830, I discovered these dates coincided with the Jewish Passover. Joseph’s visit by the angel, Moroni, and additionally when he visited the place the golden plates were buried and retrieved them four years later - these occurrences came during the annual Feast of Sukkot in September, 1823 and the Jewish New Year of 1827. Coincidences? These and numerous other occasions in LDS history helped to convince me that the history of Jews and Mormons was intertwined in the mind and heart of God and an important clue to my understanding of how God works with mankind.
4. I learned through the Book of Mormon that God spoke directly to the descendants of the Jewish people in America, introducing them to Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son. Since I do believe that God is in charge and can do as He wishes, I understood and accepted that the history of the Jews in the lands of America included the visitation and teachings of Christ in the Americas. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 29:31-33, I read that Heavenly Father’s works are without end. This made sense to me.
5. I learned that both religions honor their ancestors and place them in high esteem. Both believe in the principle of fasting and both have a set of dietary laws that are sensible and spiritually conceived by Deity. Both religions honor God and His commandments. Both revere and celebrate the Sabbath and believe in keeping it holy. There are many similarities between Jewish and LDS beliefs and religious observances, but much has been lost of ancient truths through time.
6. Ezekiel 37 in part refers to the prophecy of combining the “two sticks”, that of Joseph, by which is meant the Book of Mormon, with the stick (record)of Judah – meaning the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible –. The LDS “quad” contains those scriptures in one volume that also includes more scripture, much of it dictated by Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith. I learned that this is a further evidence of the message for unity between Mormons and Jews.
7. The Book of Mormon opened my eyes to profound teachings, truths about the history of my Hebrew ancestors in the Americas, the true nature of the spirit of mankind, Jesus in America. It is testimony to how the Holy Ghost works in our lives, the divinity of Jesus Christ and presents undeniable evidence that the book was translated by the gift and power of God. It is truly a second witness of Jesus Christ and contains the fullness of the Gospel that Jesus tried to teach the Jews in Israel millennia ago. I could not deny its truthfulness. The Holy Ghost testified of these things to me in an undeniable way, even to the extent of giving me a vision, words from an angelic source, and a transformation of spirit.
8. Importantly, I discovered the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of scriptures containing revelations from the Lord Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith. This book amazed me. It is not a translation but claims to be a witness of Jesus Christ. Indeed, as I read the first section, dictated to Joseph by the Lord Himself, I was amazed that I had not known of this book. I now had the problem of believing or denying that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of the world! The book proclaims that the heavens are open again. It contains revelations for LDS church governance and the essential beliefs of the organization of the Saints. While reading it I realized the voice of Jesus was the same voice I read and felt in Torah. Now it became impossible to deny that Jesus was the one who made the Exodus from Egypt possible.
9. The Pearl of Great Price is another enlightening collection of scripture that is invaluable in understanding the way Heavenly Father works with humanity. The Joseph Smith history is also undeniably true, and from it I learned of the First Vision. The book of Moses and book of Abraham teach the doctrine of plurality of gods. I read about the doctrine of exaltation and learned of its significance to us. Jewish canon does not include any of the information found in the Pearl… This is a vast treasure trove of information that really opened my eyes to the mysteries of God.
10. The most important thing I discovered in my reading, pondering and praying was that God is in charge. Consistently, in all scripture, He tells us that. He does what He wants in His time. He is not subject to human rules or traditions, whims, requests, threats, pleadings, etc.
Q: You’ve said that personal revelation has inspired you to facilitate mutual understanding between Jews and Mormons. In what ways do you do this?
A: My mission, bestowed upon me in 1989 under a priesthood calling, was to “be as an Esther to my people” by bringing the Jews to God’s true church, mainly through the tribe of Ephraim – the preponderance of members of the LDS church are of that tribal affiliation. I am to teach them about the genesis of their religion and how to fellowship and understand their Jewish neighbors, thereby to “help them come to the salvation of their souls through their Mashiach, Jeshua, even Jesus their Christ.”
To this end I have embarked upon a mission: writing books for the Mormon reading public: about my conversion to the church, about the Jewish people - their history, beliefs, culture and language. I also have published fiction that highlights their plight in America and in Eastern Europe. I give firesides, lectures and classes to LDS congregations on these subjects, as well as maintaining several blog and websites featuring many useful articles on Jewish life. I point out the many similarities and connections (see listing) between the two religions and cultures. I tell my audiences to reach out to their Jewish neighbors, embracing their culture and making as many connections as possible with them in various settings.
Q: Has the Jewish community been receptive to your work? How do Mormons react to your presentations?
A: The work that I do is strictly for the LDS population. Jews do not want me to speak to their congregations because I have embraced Christianity, though many Jews are fond of Mormons. Having a Jew convert to “the other side” of the Jewish world and, in effect, become a “Gentile” (a non-Jew) is anathema to a Jew. My conversion makes them very uncomfortable.
Happily, those to whom I have spoken and written are very pleased with my books, blogs and presentations. Many Mormons are genuinely interested in their Jewish neighbors and have lots of questions I help them to answer. I tell them I am only a messenger. They must do the real work of investigating and understanding to make the connections.
Q: You’ve written “A Mormon’s Guide to Judaism.“What is one thing that every Mormon should know about Judaism? What should every Jew know about Mormonism?
A: Through the years I have asked many fellow Jews why they do not wish to believe in Christ. Their responses span their range of involvement in religious worship. By far, their responses included an avowed devotion to Judaism alone - showing little or no interest in any other religion. I have also noticed that relatively few Mormons have any more than a surface understanding of other religions and do not investigate the similarities and differences between their religion. This puts them in the same category with most Jews.
So, in my view, it is essential that Latter-day Saints become aware of the underpinnings of their belief system; Jesus was a Jew. The original Gospel evolved through Mosaic Law. Judaism is the language and belief system that propelled Christianity into being, though it was soon and continually corrupted by many factors. A knowledge of Jewish prayers, group and individual worship, holidays, culture, language, dietary laws and other elements of their sub-civilization should be sought after by the LDS population. This will increase Mormon understanding and appreciation of their own religious life.
As for my first people, I would advise them of the many similarities of the Hebrew religion and current Jewish congregations to LDS ways of life and urge them to investigate these. The Jews are increasingly positive about the LDS church and generally believe Mormons to be helpful, accepting, loyal, supporting and who accept their Israelite progenitors as brethren without prejudice or anti-Semitism. That is especially helpful in the present dangerous political situation in Israel and elsewhere in the world. I would ask them to consider learning of Christ with an inquiring and searching spirit, rather than to be forever satisfied with their centuries-long traditions. I think that the Jewish people in the main resist Christianity because of centuries of persecution, forced conversions and ostracism.
It is important for the Jewish people to understand that the ancient tribal identities and relationships have been restored; that those who are descendants of the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, Babylon, etc. , and now scattered throughout the earth – are in the process of being gathered again, according to ancient prophecy (Isa 54:7, Ezek 11:17, Jer 50:4 and others). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pursues the literal gathering of Israel throughout the world and the restoration of all the tribes (families) of Jacob prior to the coming of the Mashiach. The fullness of the early Gospel taught by our first prophets is here upon the earth today and available to each of us. Without the birthright tribe (holding the priesthood keys through Christ and his church) of Ephraim, the lineage of Judah (protector of the temples and the people) is as a sword of undirected energy.
Q: You speak often on the symbolic connections between Mormon and Jewish worship. What is the most important connection?
A: That is an easy answer. It would be our holy temples, those that once stood in Jerusalem and those built by the Latter-day Saints. It was and is now Beit YHVH or YHWH, the house of the Lord. The history of the temple in Jerusalem begins in 957 BC with King Solomon’s construction. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice more. It was the center of Jewish civilization and all things in life revolved around that holy shrine built to God. In the temple, offerings were made, blessings and benedictions pronounced, ritual cleansings performed. Isaiah spoke of the importance of prayer in the Temple, calling it God’s “holy mountain”. The loss of the temple in a.d. 70 brought on the Diaspora of the Jews which has lasted to this day. Jews believe they no longer have a temple in which to worship, but that is no longer the case.
The first temple structure built by the Mormon people was in Kirtland, Ohio. It was dedicated in March 1836 and the Lord accepted it. As of May 2012 there are 137 operating, 15 under construction, 14 announced temples. See http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/temples/.
These houses of the Lord are clear and direct links between Judaism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They provide a place set apart for eternal covenants, a place that is sacred and suitable for the performing of holy ordinances that bind on earth and heaven. They provide ordinances for living and dead that assures the possession and association of families, worlds without end and exaltation for ourselves and our families in the kingdom of God. They contain emblems of ancient Judaic worship. When I first saw these, my heart jumped and I knew I had finally “come home”. LDS temples are based on the fact of the atonement of Jesus Christ, without whom all mankind would be irretrievably lost. In ancient and modern times, the “work” done in Mormon temples is binding, the “glory and honour” referred to in Psalm 8:3:
“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? …For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” .
[At the suggestion of Jewish Journal editors, a few edits have been made to Marlena’s interview in order to clarify Judaism’s beliefs]
June 3, 2012 | 12:27 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. – Jacob 4:10 (Book of Mormon)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9
In his most recent Jewish Journal article, Dennis Prager claims that arguing with God “is not only Jewishly permitted, it is central to the Torah and later Judaism.” Since he added the qualifier “later” to “Judaism,” I’ll let his assertion go unchallenged. However, if modern Jews truly believe that they have the right – indeed, a religious obligation – to argue with God, then their view of their relationship to God is fundamentally different from the Mormon one.
Truth be told, I’m not too sure that most Jews, even religious ones, agree with Dennis on this point. The famous Oven of Aknai story from the Talmud teaches that God’s role vis-à-vis the Torah was to give it to Moses, with the rabbis left to interpret it without His help. Every time that I mention the story in a presentation to Jews in order to illustrate one of the differences between Jewish and LDS theology, several audience members make it a point to talk to me afterwards and make sure I know that Jews still value God’s opinion more than man’s.
In LDS theology, God is literally the Father of our spirits and is a perfect, omniscient being. In order to argue with God, a mere mortal would have to believe that he either knows something that God doesn’t, or that his judgment is superior to God’s. There is no place for either possibility in the Mormon belief system, since there is nothing that God doesn’t know. As the above-cited passage from the Book of Mormon suggests, Mormons are supposed to receive counsel from God, not attempt to counsel Him. This is in keeping with the spirit of Isaiah, who reminded the ancient Israelites that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours.
For Mormons, prophets are special people chosen by God to carry out His work on earth. The fact that Moses and Abraham may have questioned God in a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else is able to do likewise, just like everyone is not able to part the sea or to receive engraved tablets from Sinai’s summit.
Of course, Mormons experience disappointment, sadness, tragedy, and loss during this life. Sometimes we scratch our heads and wonder why God does what He does, why He seems to abandon us on occasion, why He allows injustice and evil to thrive and prosper. I know from firsthand experience what it is like to be angry with God following the death of a loved one. However, using my limited mortal reasoning and logic to argue with Deity is something that I have never attempted to do.
In his article, Dennis Prager asserts that arguing with God is a Jewish virtue. However, he neatly avoids answering the obvious question: Has arguing with God brought Jews closer to Him? Abraham and Moses were obviously very close to God, but I’d be interested in learning how virtues like argumentation and debate with the God of Israel can improve one’s spirituality. I suspect they can’t.
May 31, 2012 | 12:32 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
I would be remiss indeed if I did not take this opportunity to note the recent passing of two important figures in the LA Jewish community, both of whom I had the honor of knowing.
Gen. Shimon Erem (bio), the “patriarch” of our city’s Israeli community, was one of the pioneers in Jewish outreach to Evangelical Christians. He realized before many other Jewish leaders did that Christians needed to be welcomed into the pro-Israel fold, and traveled around the world to promote Jewish-Christian ties. I spoke with him privately on a few occasions, and was blown away by his passion, energy and vision. He told me several times that he held Mormons in high esteem, and regretted that he was not able to conduct meaningful outreach to the LDS community due to anti-Mormon sentiments expressed by some of his Evangelical supporters. Shimon was a mensch, and I will miss him.
LA Activists on the left side of the Israel debate have generally mastered the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable (e.g., David Pine of Peace Now). This was not a priority for Arthur Stern (bio), the co-chair of Peace Now’s LA chapter. He and I debated once at a dinner sponsored by the Hillel students at CSUN. Neither the students nor I found his arguments particularly convincing, and he refused to shake my hand afterwards. When he saw me on another occasion after I had started working for the ZOA, he used an ugly epithet to describe my new employer. However, I found it impossible to dislike Arthur. As far as I was concerned, a Holocaust survivor who attended two Jewish seminaries before coming to this country and enjoying remarkable success in electronics was entitled to hold whatever views he wanted on the peace process.
One of the things I love about the Jewish community is its passionate debates about all aspects of Jewish life, including Israel. Two irreplaceable voices on both sides of the Israel debate have now been silenced. I have no doubt that Shimon and Arthur are now resting from their many labors in the olam ha-ba. May their memories be a blessing for all of us.
May 28, 2012 | 12:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?
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.
Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? – 2 Nephi 29:4-5 (Book of Mormon)
This year more Jews than ever have asked me whether Shavuot has any meaning for Mormons. It may be that the Romney campaign is causing more members of the tribe to want to learn more about LDS beliefs and practices. After all, if Mormons believe that they’re latter-day Israelites, doesn’t the giving of the Torah to Moses have deep meaning for them? Indeed it does.
I have often said that while history shows it is possible to read the Old and New Testaments and still be an anti-Semite, it is impossible to read the Book of Mormon and the Bible and remain a Jew-hater. As the above verses in the Book of Mormon suggest, Mormons have enormous gratitude and respect for the Jews’ role in bringing Torah truths to the world. If it were not for their role in preserving the Hebrew Bible, both Jews and Gentiles would be spiritually impoverished.
Like many Jews, Mormons believe that Moses came down from Sinai with the first set of plates, saw the golden calf, broke the plates, and came down a second time from Sinai with a different set of plates. I’ve been unable to pin down exactly how Jews believe the second set of plates differed from the first, but for Latter-day Saints the plates represented a different set of laws and commandments for the Israelites.
The first set of plates (pre-calf, that is) contained commandments tied to the laws of the higher priesthood, named after Melchizedek. These are the laws that govern LDS priesthood, temples and worship today. Since the Israelites showed that they were incapable of living the higher law, God gave them commandments tied to the lower order of priesthood, named after Aaron. They involved animal sacrifices in temples and other rituals designed to point Israelites toward the ultimate blood sacrifice, which Mormons and other Christians believe was made by Jesus Christ.
There’s no question that most Mormons would be very supportive of a holiday that encourages Jews to read from and celebrate the Torah, the foundational text of both of our faiths. My wife and I are planning to read the Torah this year once again, only this time I’ll be reading it in Romanian. Hag sameach to all of my Jewish friends on a holiday that I wish were universally observed.
May 22, 2012 | 1:50 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
The speakers at Citi Field said that if improperly used, the Internet can destroy families, with gambling, pornography and other addictions. But mostly, surfing the Internet is a colossal waste of precious time young people could spend working or studying. – Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, Brooklyn
I raise an apostolic voice of warning about the potentially stifling, suffocating, suppressing, and constraining impact of some kinds of cyberspace interactions and experiences upon our souls. The concerns I raise are not new; they apply equally to other types of media, such as television, movies, and music. But in a cyber world, these challenges are more pervasive and intense. I plead with you to beware of the sense-dulling and spiritually destructive influence of cyberspace technologies that are used to produce high fidelity and that promote degrading and evil purposes. – Elder David Bednar, an LDS Apostle
When my wife told me that tens of thousands of religious men had gathered at a stadium in New York yesterday to hear sermons on the dangers of the internet, I was sure that some kind of LDS priesthood meeting had been held. It turned out to be a gathering of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, and the speakers were rabbis instead of apostles and prophets. Nevertheless, the unprecedented event highlighted the desire of religiously observant leaders throughout the country to warn their congregants of the downside to a wireless world.
In recent years it seems that at almost every large LDS conference, at least one speaker condemns online pornography. When my former stake president (= Catholic bishop) began his service, one of the first things that he did was to establish a pornography self-help group for members of the stake (= diocese). He had been a bishop (= rabbi) for many years, and after counseling many pornography addicts he had decided to help them.
Of course, Mormons are avid users of the internet (as are many ultra-Orthodox Jews). The LDS Church itself has a large online presence, and Mormons use the internet to promote their values and beliefs to a worldwide audience. However, we are regularly reminded by our leaders to be careful about the websites we visit and the online contacts that we make. If the Jewish gathering in New York is any indication, our mutual concern over internet abuse may lead to fruitful collaboration in the future between the LDS and Orthodox communities.
As a postscript, I’d like to add my firm belief that the extension of First Amendment protection of political speech to pornographers is one of the greatest legal fictions of our time.
May 14, 2012 | 12:42 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it.
Ye shall observe to do therefore as the Lord your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.
The recent decision by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem to admit gay and lesbian students is about the best example of Mormon/Jewish divergence that can be found in contemporary Judaism. The Conservative seminary’s statement affirmed that it is “bound by Halacha [Jewish law], whose inclusive approach allows for a variety of halachic opinions.” In other words, Schechter considers itself bound by Jewish law, which for millennia has condemned homosexual behavior, while also considering itself free to invent new Jewish law to which it will be bound. Mormonism and contemporary Conservative Judaism diverge widely on this issue, which highlights the role of continuing revelation (or the lack thereof) in the development of a religion’s theology.
To begin with, let us state the obvious: Schechter is free to make whatever admissions and ordination decisions it wants. It’s not for me to say whether the seminary should admit gay Jews, pork-eating Jews, or atheist Jews. Some of the most energetic and passionate rabbis whom I have met are gay, and I have no doubt that they will make significant contributions to Jewish life wherever they serve. I write a blog about religion, and am primarily concerned about the theological justifications used to back the change. In this case, I was very disappointed.
A recent interview conducted by Jewish Journal writer Shmuel Rosner with Professor Hanan Alexander, the chair of Schechter’s board of trustees, is very revealing. When asked how exactly the seminary’s decision is compatible with “religious Jewish law,” the professor inexplicably (and inaccurately) states that “Jewish law has always allowed for the possibility that more than one interpretation is correct.” Alas, this principle is completely absent from the Hebrew Bible, where prophets were the only ones authorized to declare God’s word. No authoritative dissenting interpretations of Jewish law are recorded from Genesis to Malachi. From the time of Moses (~1400 BCE) until at least the time of the Mishnah (200 CE), halachic pluralism did not exist. By way of example, the Pharisees and Sadducees may have promoted contradictory halachic interpretations, but they viewed the other movement’s views as erroneous and even heretical. It is correct to say that Rabbinic Judaism has always allowed for halachic pluralism, but it is erroneous to assert that Jewish law has always done so.
For Mormons, the question for Conservative rabbis who support the liberal shift on issues related to homosexual conduct is whether they claim that God has inspired the movement to do this. Is it God’s will that Conservative rabbinical courts approve gays and lesbians for ordination? If the answer is yes, then there’s nothing more to say. However, to my knowledge no Conservative rabbi has made this claim. Unlike Mormons, Jews don’t believe in continuing revelation – for them direct revelation from God to prophets stopped over two thousand years ago. While I understand this, it’s still hard to understand why a Conservative seminary professing fealty to Jewish law would claim the right to override a biblical prohibition on conduct that Leviticus called an “abomination” that defiled nations and the land itself. Many years later rabbis would put homosexual conduct in the category of “gilui arayot,” sexual acts that are forbidden to both Jews and Gentiles.
The Conservative movement has adopted two responsa, or rabbinic onions, on homosexual conduct: one upholds the traditional ban in Jewish law, while another overrides it by claiming that all male homosexual conduct except for a specific sexual act were not prohibited by the Bible but by rabbis. The responsum goes on to argue that a rabbinic, though not a biblical, ban can be trumped by consideration for “human dignity” and “respect for others.” This mirrors the evolution on gay issues in the Reform movement, whose leading rabbis wrote opinions opposing gay marriage until the 1990s, when they stopped citing Jewish law and began appealing to justice and equality (please see this useful database on the website of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation if you doubt this). The difference is that Reform Judaism does not regard Jewish law as binding; Conservative Judaism does.
Of the three major Jewish movements, the Conservative position on homosexual conduct is the hardest one to respect. Orthodoxy retains the ancient halachic prohibition, and Reform Judaism says it doesn’t care what halacha says about it. Conservative Judaism tries to have it both ways, and the halachic contortions it engages in to justify acceptance of this conduct results in a confusing, schizophrenic policy. When Conservative leaders make a sincere effort to find out what God wants Conservative Jews to do in this regard, I’m sure they will adopt a policy worthy of the movement that produces the most erudite, impressive rabbis in the country.
May 7, 2012 | 9:33 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
On this blog I occasionally profile people whose work should be known by both Mormons and Jews. When I heard that there was a rocket scientist in Alabama who is working on a Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon, I knew that I had to find out more. By day Tom Irvine analyzes shock and vibration data from rocket vehicles for NASA. In his spare time, he translates the Book of Mormon into Hebrew. Since Mormons believe that the book was originally written in “reformed Egyptian” characters by people who also knew Hebrew (leading most LDS scholars to claim that it was written in either Egyptian or in Hebrew using an Egyptian script), this translation project promises to be an interesting one. At his request, I have posted Tom’s comments in full and unedited.
Q: You’re a rocket scientist. Where does your interest in learning Hebrew come from?
A: My Interest in Hebrew developed over a period of many years. I have felt a melancholy emptiness in LDS Church meetings, where most of the membership is drawn from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. I have concluded that Ephraim and Manasseh without Judah is as the sound of one hand clapping.
The Book of Mormon teems with scriptures proclaiming that it must go forth unto the Jews, starting with its very title page. Elder Russell M. Nelson reaffirmed this in his October 2010 conference talk. Elder Nelson is a member of the “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” in the LDS Church.
Like Elder Nelson, I believe that the Book of Mormon can be the instrument for uniting the tribes of Israel.
The prophet Isaiah wrote that the Ephraim and Judah must reunite. Isaiah 11:7 proclaims “. . . and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” The lion represents Judah, and the ox is Ephraim. This chapter is repeated in the Book of Mormon.
Members of the LDS Church must embrace their Hebraic roots in order to prepare their hearts and minds for this reunion.
Q: Why did you decide to translate the Book of Mormon into Hebrew?
A: I set a goal some years ago to read the Book of Mormon in Hebrew. I then discovered that the LDS Distribution Center does not currently offer one. So I decided to make my own translation and share it with others.
Q: How many more chapters do you have to go?
A: I have finished about 2/3 of the translation in terms of a first draft, which I began in August 2007.
Q: Are you being paid to do this?
A: I am not being paid in earthly cash, but the Lord has blessed me in many ways.
Q: Does the LDS Church already have a Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon? Is it sponsoring your translation project?
A: The LDS Church briefly offered a Hebrew Book of Mormon in the early 1980s. But it was withdrawn so that the LDS Church could establish its BYU Jerusalem Center. Ultra-orthodox Jews at the time had protested that the BYU Center would be used for missionary work. So the LDS Church made an agreement that no proselyting would be conducted in Israel.**
The LDS Church is not supporting my translation. Mr. Rob Jex, of the LDS Scripture Committee in Salt Lake City, called me on March 26, 2012 to inform me that LDS Church objects to my translation. He requested that I “pull my website.”
That evening, I took a long walk and prayed about the situation. I received a burning in my heart from the Holy Ghost that I should carry on. Jews will be familiar with the Holy Ghost as the Still, Small Voice which inspired Elijah. (1 Kings 19:12)
I state this only for disclosure. I do not seek controversy. I respect Mr. Jex, and I respect the Church’s position.
I am not making the translation for the LDS Church. Rather I am doing it for the House of Israel.
Q: Have any Jews objected to your labor of love?
A: None has complained.
Q: What have you learned from translating this book of scripture into Hebrew?
A: Jesus the Messiah is the Torah made flesh and dwelt among us. Synthesis of 3 Nephi 15:9 & John 1:14.
The Jews are the Lord’s chosen people (2 Nephi 29:5). He will honor all of His covenants with them.
Members of the LDS Church must embrace the Hebraic roots of their faith. They can begin by praying for peace in Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). They can also learn the Shema which Jesus himself recited in Mark 12:28-29.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad - Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
The theology of the Book of Mormon is richer in Hebrew than it is in English. As one example, the title Lord is stated as YHWH in the Hebrew Book of Mormon. YHWH is a form of the Hebrew Hayah (I AM) and is pronounced as Yahweh. The equivalent name in English is Jehovah.
The Hebrew Book of Mormon should thus be as much value to LDS members as it is for the Jews.
Q: When you complete the translation, do you plan to publish it?
A: I am currently self-publishing the translation in pdf format at my website. I do not have any plans for printing hard copies.
Q: Where can people go to view the ongoing translation? Do you need proofreaders?
A: Yes, I need proofreaders!
The ongoing translation is posted at:
Q: Are you active in any Jewish or pro-Israel organizations?
A: I have participated in Torah studies and Shabbat services in Jewish Temples from time to time. My favorite part is singing the Shema.
Richard N. Holzapfel, a Hebrew scholar, is the current LDS Mission President in Alabama. I once asked him before a church meeting to recite the Shema in his talk. I was delighted that he did so.
I also support Yad Ezra V’Shulamit, which distributes food baskets to families in Israel. I am mindful of scriptures such as Genesis 12:3 and Isaiah 40:1 which remind us to give our support to the Jews.
And I visit cemeteries to place stones on Jewish grave markers. I have posted some photos at:
**There is freedom in religion in Israel, where proselytizing has always been legal. In order to obtain permission for ongoing construction at the BYU Center in Jerusalem in the 1980s, the LDS Church signed an agreement not to proselytize “so long as such activity is prohibited by the government of Israel.” Since the government of Israel does not prohibit proselytizing, the reason that Mormons aren’t preaching in Israel now is because their leaders voluntarily choose not to do so, not because they don’t have a legal right to share their beliefs.
May 6, 2012 | 12:57 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
In a recent article in the Jewish Journal, Professor Jonathan Zasloff proposed that young Jews be encouraged to perform two years of “korban” (tikkun olam, or community service) after graduating from college in order to draw closer to God through altruistic service. There is much in his article to interest Mormons, including its title and references to LDS missionary service as a model to emulate. While I certainly applaud his desire to involve young Jews in an extended period of tikkun olam, as a former Mormon missionary I’m fairly positive that his stated goal – to “strengthen” Jewry and “re-energize Torah” – cannot be realized within his proposed framework. The reason? If you want to connect people to their faith, service by itself is a poor substitute for an intensely religious experience.
Professor Zasloff, a rabbinical student, starts off his essay by trying to define the problem that the korban program will seek to remedy. He certainly draws a chorus of “amens” from Mormon readers with the following statement: “When we as a people lost korbanot [i.e., ritual sacrifices performed in ancient Israelite temples], however, we lost something deeply profound — and our relationship with God demands that somehow we recover it.” So far so good. However, I have no idea why he would write that “Modern Judaism replaces sacrifice with prayer.” Did the ancient Israelites not pray as well? The Book of Psalms is a collection of 150 prayers, and Isaiah says that the temple “shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” The truth is that both ancient and modern Jews use(d) prayer to draw close to God. However, unlike ancient Jews, their contemporary counterparts don’t have sacrifices, temples, priesthood, or prophets. Rabbinical Judaism has replaced them with nothing (indeed, it can’t—how do you replace Moses and the Temple?), and tikkun olam can’t make up for their absence.
I have long advocated that Jews once again become active proselytizers, so I disagree with the professor’s desire to keep the korban program focused on service, not “increasing membership.” For good measure he slams LDS missionary efforts by declaring that “We come close to God by giving of ourselves, not by building institutions.” A greater understanding of the LDS missionary program reveals that it is possible for a young adult to do both at the same time.
As I see it, the primary purpose of the LDS missionary program is to establish a spiritual base for a young man/woman’s life, with a secondary goal of preaching and converting. When I was serving in southern Italy, the average baptism rate per missionary was less than one – for the entire two years. While I didn’t have much success with conversions, the spiritual habits that I developed have stayed with me until today.
Prior to serving a mission, a typical teen attends church for three hours a week, participates in scripture study each weekday morning for four years, obtains a patriarchal blessing declaring his Israelite lineage, is ordained to the priesthood (if male), and performs certain rituals in an LDS temple. During the mission, he gives up dating in order to focus on scripture study, fasting, prayer, and service to current and future members of the LDS Church. Two years later, the results are life-changing. My wife and I are both former missionaries (you’re never really an “ex-missionary” in the Mormon Church), and like many LDS couples we pray together five times a day, study the scriptures together daily, fast together at least once a month, have a weekly family night, etc. Would we be doing these things if we had spent two years in a program that stressed service to others but lacked an intense religious component? I doubt it.
Based on the LDS experience, if the good professor really wants to “re-energize Torah” through korban, he will ask participants to participate in daily hevruta (companion scripture study), deliver lectures to non-Jews on Judaism, fast for others every month, and pray several times a day in addition to the laudable service that they will perform. The Torah will not become re-energized unless it becomes the center of young Jews’ lives. As much as I applaud Professor Zasloff’s idealism and altruism, I’m afraid his proposal is incomplete.
April 29, 2012 | 10:56 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Under the inspired leadership of Director Ron Smith, the Jewish Relations Committee for the LDS Church in Southern California has sponsored a booth at the Israel Festival in Los Angeles for the second time. Thousands of people attended today’s event, and many stopped by our booth to say hello and to thank us for being there. We handed out 250 Mormon Tabernacle Choir CDs (Broadway tunes), along with information on the history of LDS-Jewish ties and BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. With New York’s Salute to Israel Parade and Chicago’s Jewish festival coming up in June, it would be great if Mormons could man booths at those celebrations as well.
This was my Romanian wife’s first Jewish festival and third Jewish event in LA. She was blown away by the energy and organization on display, along with the length of the food lines. For Mormons this was a chance to celebrate the achievements of our fellow Israelites, and it was a beautiful thing for us to see so many people spending their Sunday afternoon in a massive show of support for Israel and the Jewish people.
The LDS community does many things right, but our organized community of lay volunteers would have a hard time matching the output of the organized Jewish community, which is staffed by dedicated (and well-compensated) professionals. That said, I am proud to belong to a church with both a long history of philosemitism and a Jewish Relations Committee in this region. Judging from the comments made by visitors to our booth, more Jews are becoming aware of our bridge-building efforts. It is my hope that these interactions will lead to greater understanding and cooperation between our communities in the future. Am Israel Chai!
April 23, 2012 | 12:07 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
While Mormons may baptize the occasional dead Jew, Jews can at least appreciate the thought and concern. Evangelicals just tell the Jews their ancestors are going to hell. This is probably why Jews prefer Mormons. – online comment on the Deseret News
Whenever I’m looking for a story idea, I make sure to check Jamshid Askar’s latest articles. The Iranian-American LA native writes for the Deseret News, and usually has an interesting take on current events. This week he didn’t disappoint. Under a headline that grabbed the attention of most of his paper’s Utah readers, Jamshid reported the findings of the 2012 Jewish Values Survey. If the survey is to be believed, Jews strongly prefer Mormons to the Evangelical “Christian Right.” In addition, Jews also strongly favor Muslims over Evangelicals. This news has reaffirmed my belief in the intelligence and good judgment of our Jewish friends.
When asked to rate the three religious groups on a scale of 1 to 100, Jews scored Mormons at 47, Muslims at 41.4, and Evangelicals at an embarrassing 20.9. This survey represents a reality check for those prominent Jews who have worked hard for years to convince their coreligionists that Evangelicals are their best friends. However, they shouldn’t be surprised. With all due respect to Messrs. Prager, Medved et al., Evangelicals as a group largely deserve the poor grade they received.
Evangelicals often tout their suppport for Israel as evidence of their goodwill towards Jews. However, the poll clearly shows once again that Israel, rightly or wrongly, is not the number one concern of most American Jews. Once you factor their laudable support for Israel out of the equation, what do Evangelicals have to say to Jews? Apparently not a whole lot. Some writers have pointed to liberal Jews’ disdain for Evangelicals’ conservative Republican politics as the prime mover behind the survey results. However, Mormons are the reddest religious group in the country, Utah is the most Republican state, and the LDS Church has been rather active recently in campaigns opposing gay marriage around the country. None of these “negatives” prevented Jews from expressing over a 2-to-1 preference for Mormons over Evangelicals.
Theological differences in and of themselves are unlikely to turn off large numbers of Jews, who have spent the past 2,000 years living as a religious minority among dominant faiths whose teachings they do not share. Mormons, Muslims, and Evangelicals all have profound theological differences with Rabbinic Judaism, yet it is the latter who now have a huge PR problem with the Jewish community. Given that most Evangelicals are wonderful people who love Israel and do an enormous amount of good in the world (including tikkun olam), to what can we attribute their unrequited love for Jews?
In my opinion, it is Evangelicals’ actions, rather than their beliefs, which have alienated many Jews and Mormons. I could write a book on this topic, but a few contrasting examples will suffice.
Mormons may send out missionaries, but Jews know they are not being targeted by them. If an LDS missionary knocks on a rabbi’s door, he knows that they will also stop by the homes of his Catholic and Methodist neighbors as well. By way of contrast, major Jews for Jesus/Messianic Jewish groups targeting Jews for conversion are Evangelical, and are funded and supported by Evangelical churches. Targeting the Jewish faith in this way demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for Judaism that cannot be overcome by holding pro-Israel rallies. Mormons also strongly believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, yet it is inconceivable that an LDS leader would follow Pastor John Hagee’s recent example and preach Christian doctrine while in an Orthodox Jewish building. Respect for other faiths is a bedrock LDS belief, and it is somewhat lacking in certain Evangelical circles.
Both Mormons and Evangelicals tend to vote Republican, but only the latter impose litmus tests on prospective candidates seeking their vote. During this year’s Republican presidential primaries, several prominent Evangelical groups held public meetings to assess the candidates’ willingness to fight for their conservative agenda before endorsing them. To my knowledge, no Mormon group did this. Mormons disagree with Evangelical theology at least as much as Evangelicals do with ours, yet no Mormon leader has publicly accused a candidate of another Christian faith of belonging to a “cult” or organized a press conference to denounce his church.
Evangelical churches and organizations print anti-Mormon material, publish anti-Mormon books, and sponsor anti-Mormon lectures and conferences. Mormons do not reciprocate in kind. I have known Evangelicals who refused to attend the wedding of a family member because it was held in an LDS chapel (however, they did come to the reception held in a hotel). An Evangelical pastor in California canceled a speech that I was scheduled to give as a representative of the Israeli Consulate after he found out that I was LDS. Evangelical pastors regularly denounce Islam in the harshest terms. I could go on and on. It is clearly Evangelicals’ religious bigotry that alienates Jews, Mormons, and many others. This, combined with the Jewish perception that Evangelicalism represents a threat to their religion, is probably responsible for the survey results.
Of course, the survey also shows that Mormons have their work cut out for them when it comes to strengthening relationships with Jews. After all, 47 points out of 100 isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. That said, Mormons do have a big advantage over Evangelicals when it comes to Jews: Given our belief that we are covenant Israelites, our respect for Judaism is as strong as our support for Israel. When Evangelicals can say the same, they will have more success with Jewish outreach.