Hey, Mormons — leave dead Jews alone!

Print More

"Mormon tabernacle camp on their arrival in Utah," from Charles Mackay's The Mormons, or Latter-day saints: with memoirs of the life and death of Joseph Smith, the "American Mahomet" (1851)

(RNS) — They’re at it again.

They said that they would stop, but apparently, someone didn’t get that memo.

I am referring to the news that the Mormons are once again baptizing dead Jews — effectively making them posthumous Mormons.

That list of “new Mormons” comprises a veritable “who’s who” of contemporary Jewry. On the VIP list: the late Lubavitcher rebbe and his father; the grandparents of Carrie Fisher and Steven Spielberg; and the theologian Martin Buber.

Not to mention: hundreds of Holocaust victims, including Anne Frank.

I realize that this practice is rooted in Mormon theology, but that doesn’t mean that we have to like it any better.

Frankly, it is contemptible. It demonstrates an ongoing disrespect for people of other faiths and ethnic groups.

It teaches that the only way those people can achieve eternal life is to be (dead, unwitting, unwilling) members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When it comes to Holocaust victims, it’s even worse — much worse.

Because there is already an ongoing debate on how many Jews died in the Shoah.

What happens when, in years to come, the numbers are diminished even further — because the Mormons now claim our dead as their own?

What happens, a century from now, when some less than competent researcher comes to believe that Anne Frank was actually Mormon?

Here is the really sad thing about this — at least, for me.

You see, for years, I kinda sorta admired the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

First of all, for nothing else, I admired their sense of humor about themselves.

If you have ever seen a production of the musical “The Book of Mormon,” you have to marvel at this — that it didn’t provoke acts of Mormon terror, or fevered articles in newspapers (at least, none that I saw).

Ask yourselves: if the show had been “The Five Books of Moses,” with the lampooning of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history — how long do you think it would have taken before the ADL (rightly) got into the act?

I’m guessing: before intermission, on opening night.

So, that this group that falls outside of the mainstream of contemporary American religious life can take a joke as well as they did — well, that’s pretty admirable.

But, it wasn’t only their sense of humor. It was their history of persecution — a history that paralleled the Jewish experience in Europe, transplanted right here to America.

It was their sense of religious faith and commitment.

Some years ago, in New York, I shared a cab on a crosstown trip with a couple of Jewish women. One of them was a high school teacher. She was Jewish, and after she discerned that I was a rabbi, she started a conversation with me about two of her students, and how they had spent their summer.

“Those kids are Mormons,” she said, “and they worked all summer, earning money, which they then turned over to their church. Outrageous!”

“Hmnn,” I said. “Were the kids upset that they had to do that?”

“No! They did it willingly! How do you explain that to me?”

“It’s easy. It’s called commitment. It’s called sacrifice. That’s their religious culture. They work as missionaries for their church.

“You’re Jewish, right?” I continued. “Many Jewish kids go to Jewish summer camps.

“But, imagine if we had thousands of Jewish kids who were doing something in the name of Judaism — like building houses, or doing various social justice projects. We have our share, but imagine if we had as many as the Mormons do.”

The woman thought for a moment.

“Yes,” she said, that would be great. That would totally change the Jewish world.”


So, yes — I have admired that.

A second story.

Years ago, a colleague and I visited the LDS temple and conference center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

First, of course, I had to check out their genealogical records, which are world famous for their accuracy.

I found my late grandmother’s Social Security records (and if I ever find out that Harriet Jacobs Salkin is now a Mormon, I will go totally ballistic).

But then, we sat in the theater, and watched the infomercials that the LDS had created for late night television — infomercials on Mormon values, designed to woo people to the faith.

On the way out of the theater, I said to my colleague: “You know, we need commercials for Judaism.”

He said to me: “I have good news, and bad news.”

“OK, give me the good news first,” I said.

“The good news is — there are commercials for Judaism. They are already exist.”

“Oh,” I said. “So, what’s the bad news?”

“The bad news is — we’re the commercials.”

He was right, of course. All people of faith are essentially commercials for their faith — both for better, or for worse.

So, tell me please, my LDS friends:

How could it possibly be that baptizing dead Jews is a good commercial for your religion?

Please. Just. Stop.