August 17, 2010
Another Patriarch for Israel
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.
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:
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.
5) What are the responsibilities of a patriarch?
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.