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A Couple of Interesting Posts

September 19, 2007

I recently came across a couple of excellent posts on the Mormon Blog, “Times and Seasons” that might be of interest to Two-Sticks readers. Both are from the LDS perspective and both are overwhelming positive toward Jews and Mormon-Jewish relations. Particularly interesting are the comments.

Hopefully we can address most or all of the issues raised in these posts.

The first post, Jews and Mormons” looks at the relationship from the point of view of Mormons who seem to have a natural affinity with Jews. In the post, the author, a Mormon, seems to have his good will return by the Jews he has met. Some of the those commenting though, seem to wonder if the affinity is reciprocated.

I would say “yes,” “no” and then “yes” in that order. Many Jews enjoy a stimulating intellectual conversation and might find affinity with a fellow religious or cultural “outsider” but will be wary of conversations that revolve around religion. Most Jews have little knowledge of Mormonism, let alone Mormonisms penchant for “Israelisms.” Further, many Jews, though enjoying Jewish holidays and having a great sense of “peoplehood” with other Jews, are not “theological” and are simply not interested in conversation about religion.

Secondly, almost all Jews see attempts at proselyting not as a loving offer of a precious gift but as an assault designed to crush the Jewish soul and end our existence as a distinct people. This is a natural reaction, I believe, to centuries of persecution and forced baptisms. (This is the issue at the root of the Proxy baptism controversy between Jews and Mormons as well. More on this in another post). This Shabbat (Saturday), is Yom Kippur and part of the service is devoted to a “martyrology” that recounts the horrendous actions taken by (mainly the Roman Catholic) Church to force Jews to convert and the heroic resistance offered by Jews who gave their lived to avoid baptism. When Jews are approached my missionary-minded Mormons, the natural reaction is to recoil. Even when the goal of the Mormon is to simply learn more about Judaism or to start a respectful dialogue, the Mormon reputation for proselyting creates a barrier that must be overcome before real dialogue can take place.

Finally though, once the air is cleared and it’s clear the proselyting is off the table, I think many knowledgeable Jews (would) find the parallels between Mormonism and Judaism interesting and even stimulating. The idea of Mormons being literal (or, more recently, adopted) members of the tribe of Ephraim, a little odd or even off-putting but, at least for me, after awhile the idea becomes a little endearing. Not something I take seriously at a literal level but kind of “cute” (forgive me, LDS readers) and a point of common embarkation on a journey of understanding. For some reason, the LDS claim seems so much easier to hear than the (thankfully fading) supersessionist idea of the Church (Roman Catholic or generic) becoming the “New Israel.” Your view of adoption (and or literal descent from the lost ribes of the “north countries”) merely add you in, rather than kicking us out of the category of God’s beloved Israel.

Anyway, once a few shockers are out of the way and once the threat of proselyting is off the table, relations can and I believe should, become rather cordial.

The second post follows a different vein. In “What do we think of Jews ” The author speculate on why Mormons tend to feel differently toward Jews than to other non Christians. He correctly affirms that the biggest single issue between us is that of whether Jesus is the Messiah (Moshiach) or not but still, he regard Jews differently than other non-Christians and take the position that Mormons do not and should not go out of their way to proselyte Jews.

The comments on this post are also fascinating. The majority seem to agree with the author. A few raise some quirky issues regarding the prominent Mormon senator from Utah, Orin Hatch, wearing Jewish symbols under his clothing. (?!) I have to admit, I had never heard this before… Fascinating!

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6 comments

  1. Great post — I think it would be very valuable for many Latter-day Saints to read your perspective in this post.

    As I pointed out in the Times and Seasons thread to which you linked, any perceived affinity between Mormons and Jews is almost entirely one-sided in that it is a theological affinity that Mormons see between themselves and Jews and that certainly is not reciprocated from Jews to Mormons:

    I think it would be accurate to say that nearly every single student and professor in the Yiddish studies program at the University of Vilnius that [my brother] Jordan and I participated in thought it was bizarre that two Mormon boys were there with them studying Yiddish language and culture. None of them somehow thought it was natural or logical. Jordan and I, however, relished the exact type of perceived kinship or tie that Jim talks about in his post. Thus, such a feeling was entirely one sided — and Jordan has pointed out the he made the subject explicit at some point only to learn that the idea of it was amusing/offensive.

    But I agree that there is nothing wrong with Latter-day Saints feeling a special affinity for Jews. It stems from our understanding of our own doctrine, and noone can begrudge us that. It also stems from our perspective of our own history, and noone can begrudge our ancestors the real and significant persecution they experienced as victims of America’s own “pogroms”, for lack of a better word, in expelling and seeking to exterminate Mormons from the United States.

    In truth, it seemed like many informed Latter-day Saints on that T&S thread had also made the same observations with regard to their relationships with Jews. The problem is the large number of entirely uninformed Latter-day Saints who feel the kinship from their side and uncritically assume that it must be mutual.


  2. What an excellent idea for a blog.


  3. Thanks for the comment John. I should add that I personally find some affinity (hence this blog) but I am unusual in the I have a lot of exposure to mostly highly informed and well-educated Latter-day Saints. When I talk to less informed Latter-day Saints however, I do sometimes feel a little apprehension. This is even true even though I have, at this point read scores of LDS works (mostly of a scholarly nature as well as a variety of primary documents) and met a number of LDS General Authorities. (Strangely, this apprehension only exits in person, not online).

    This was brought home to me last night, in fact, when I was approached by two missionaries. I was in my car stopped at a stop light. They were on bikes. I had my passenger side window down. They took this as an opportunity and asked me, “Have you heard of the Book of Mormon?” At that point I should have chuckled. In fact, I felt a sort of generic Jewish apprehension at being proselyted. That surprised me. Having some sympathy for them, I suppressed this feeling as said, “Why don’t we go into the parking lot.” I let them give me a quickie version of what is passing now for the first discussion (it was pretty low-key and rather idiosyncratic). I did not give them my number but I did tell them that I taught a course on comparative religion and invited them to drop in on the class. I accepted a Book of Mormon from them with the understanding that I would donate it to our library.

    I’m such a soft touch. I tend to do the same thing when they come by the door (My wife HATES that so it’s more likely if the are by when she’s not home). It’s not that they are going to teach me anything and it’s not that I don’t posses the generic Jewish apprehension. It’s really that I just pity them I suppose.

    I hope that doesn’t sound condescending. It’s not meant to… I also suppose that I want them to know that we Jews exist as real people who have thriving spiritual lives and love being Jewish. That’s not obvious if your only resources are the scriptures and the occasional holocaust documentary.

    Moshe Akiva


  4. I understand that you as a Jew sense a unique type of apprehension at being proselyted. Did you tell them you were a Jew? My sense is that many Latter-day Saints don’t seem to feel an urgent need to proselyte to Jews, that God will take care of them on his own through his own means, as they are the covenant people. I wonder if that is shared by other Latter-day Saints or if that is just an idea that I have gotten into my head and am projecting onto other LDS.


  5. HI John. Yes Did did tell them I was Jewish (in the parking lot) though the conversation quickly turned to the comparative religion course I teach. They were not “high-pressure salesmen” but I’m not sure it was because I’m Jewish.

    Sometime last year Two students in my class who were friends, one LDS and the other Evangelical, decided to write papers opposing each other’s religious systems (an odd choice, but hey, if it keeps them interested…). The paper from the LDS student was much more thoroughly researched than the one from the Evangelical upon which I used quite a bit of red ink. Anyway, the missionaries had recently taught the evangelical who pulled out his research paper during the lesson. Thus the missionaries were already familiar with me from reading my comments. I assume that they took my comments to be “pro-Mormon” because I note quite a few flaws in both his assumptions and reasoning.

    The whole event was rather random, especially given what we had just been discussing!


  6. Nice article and well put.
    It is against my faith (jewish) to try to convert another… in fact, if you try to convert to judism, you will find the path arduous, and they will traditionally reject you three times! So, missionaries are pretty unsettling to us! Lol.

    However, I am in the best relationship I have ever had, with a man I very well may end up marrying, who comes from a very devout LDS background. Once I got over my prejudices, I found many interesting similarities. Although, Jews are always suspect of “new” religions… especially because there are so many artifacts of our faith, and “proof” so to speak to validate the beliefs. Mormons are still digging (literally in some places) for artifacts and proof of theirs.

    There is much interesting discussion to be had between us.

    I am wondering if there are any other Mormon-Jewish interfaith couples out there? I was just searching on the internet when I found this site… would be a good blog.

    Thanks again!



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