[Paleopsych] JTA: Mormon leaders renew pledge to stop posthumously baptizing Jews
checker at panix.com
Sun Apr 17 16:56:17 UTC 2005
Mormon leaders renew pledge to stop posthumously baptizing Jews
By Chanan Tigay
NEW YORK, April 12 (JTA) They live in different theological universes,
but when a group of Mormon leaders sat face to face with a group of
Jews to address a church practice the Jews considered insulting, some
in the room felt a divine spark uniting them.
A delegation of five Jews met Sunday and Monday in Salt Lake City with
church leaders and historians and agreed to form a committee to
explore issues related to proxy baptisms the Mormon practice of
posthumously baptizing non-Mormons, including Holocaust victims and
We walked in assuming that we were going to be embattled and walked
out realizing that we were on the same side of the table, said David
Elcott, U.S. director of interreligious affairs for the American
Jewish Committee. Indeed, despite the two sides religious differences,
Elcott spoke of experiencing the holy in the encounter.
The process is a rite Mormons believe helps clear the baptized persons
path into heaven.
While members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints view
the practice as a gift, it has proven hard for many Jews to swallow,
especially when applied to Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
Ernest Michel, chairman of the New York-based World Gathering of
Jewish Holocaust Survivors and a member of the Jewish delegation, told
JTA that concerned Jews had considered launching a widespread
publicity campaign against the practice and even had contemplated
But the groups reached detente at Mondays meeting, participants said.
They agreed to convene the committee by June 1. At the same time, the
church recommitted itself to putting a stop to baptizing dead Jews,
except if they were related to Mormons.
In 1995, church leaders agreed to halt the proxy baptisms of Jews, but
Michel said he and his group had traveled to Utah armed with 5,000
pages of documentation proving that the ceremonies had continued,
possibly as recently as this year.
According to our information they have not lived up to that agreement,
In the new agreement, the church agreed not to list the names of
Holocaust victims in its databases, and the recently created Yad
Vashem database, which holds the names of 3 million Holocaust victims,
will not be mined and posted on Mormon databases, Michel said.
The International Genealogical Index, the Mormons primary database,
now lists some 1 billion people who have been baptized posthumously.
The church also publicizes several other databases including one
listing immigrants who passed through Ellis Island with another
approximately 1 billion names, for whom proxy baptisms have not
necessarily been performed.
The recent accord, said Michel whose own parents died in the Holocaust
and were baptized posthumously is an honest effort by the church.
I have cautious optimism, he continued. They are good people. I have
known them now for 10 years. We have a very warm relationship. They
are decent people.
In proxy baptisms, living members of the Mormon church are immersed in
water and baptized as stand-ins for dead people. Among those for whom
such rites are reported to have been undertaken are Anne Frank and
According to Mormon practice, the faithful are only to proxy baptize
their own dead relatives. According to the new agreement, Mormons with
dead Jewish relatives may continue to baptize them.
We continue to emphasize to our members that their focus should be on
only those who are their own ancestors, D. Todd Christofferson, a
member of the churchs Presidency of the Seventy and a member of the
Mormon contingent at the meeting, told JTA.
There are some of our current members who have Jewish ancestors and I
think were all in agreement that its quite appropriate that they would
fulfill that religious obligation, he continued. But those who do not
have Jewish ancestors should not be forwarding names of deceased Jews,
especially Holocaust victims, for proxy baptisms.
Elcott said that we would never question a Mormons right to baptize a
dead Jewish relative.
But Michel said that because Jews sometimes have last names that do
not sound Jewish, and some non-Jews have Jewish-sounding names, some
Jews still could be found on the database and baptized.
It will not be fail-safe, I have to admit, he said. You sometimes have
a Jew by the name of McGillicutty and you have a non-Jew named
Isadore. Therefore it will not be fail-safe. But there is an intent
for them to avoid baptizing Jews, and thats what counts.
23. http://www.jta.org/page_bio.asp#Chanan Tigay
24. mailto:feedback at jta.org
More information about the paleopsych