A Mormon Practice That Troubles Some Jews

This opinion piece was first published on the Forward Thinking blog at the Forward.

The Salt Lake Mormon Temple

The Mormon practice of baptizing deceased Jews by proxy is nothing new. The Jews called the Mormons on it years ago, and the Church promised to stop doing it. But recent headlines have indicated that some Mormons, unable to suppress their desire to save the souls of dead Jews, are back at it.

Big names — both deceased and living — have been involved. The parents of the late Simon Wiesenthal and relatives of Elie Wiesel have been baptized. Just the other day word got out that Anne Frank had been baptized…again. As would be expected, the Simon Wiesenthal Center spoke out against this, as did Abe Foxman from the Anti-Defamation League. Wiesel called on GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who admitted to performing these posthumous rituals at one point), as the most prominent Mormon in the country to tell his Church to stop the practice.

As distasteful as this baptism by proxy business seems to me, I had originally decided that I was going to refrain from commenting on it. But when I happened upon two related items in the media almost simultaneously on Wednesday, I thought again.

I completely agree with Jeff Jacoby, who wrote in his Boston Globe column titled, “Mormon ritual is no threat to Jews” that it is odious to equate these posthumous conversions to a second Holocaust, as some have hysterically suggested. I also concur that the Mormons’ highly unusual interest in the family trees of every person who has every walked the earth can be very helpful and meaningful to Jews. My mother, an avid genealogist, has made several “pilgrimages” to Salt Lake City to make use of the Mormon’s vast databases.

I am also inclined to concede Jacoby’s point that the Mormons who conduct these rituals are well meaning, nice people. Some of my best friends are Mormons. Really. (Though, I’ll admit it took my moving to Northern California from my Jewish bubble in New York to meet any.)

But it was the other item I read today that convinced me that I needed to not sweep baptism under the rug or follow Jacoby’s lead in thinking that it is just a benign phenomenon. That other item was a news story stating that the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl had also been posthumously baptized by the Mormons.

Click here to read more.

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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