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Jewish Interfaith Relationships

by Joseph Rosenblatt

The chief nexus for interfaith relationships between Jews and Latter-day Saints has been Salt Lake City, Utah. A certain amount of contact has also occurred in the State of Israel as well as in cities in the United States with large Jewish populations, such as Los Angeles and New York. Generally, relations between members of the two groups have been characterized by mutual respect and goodwill. Exceptions include sharp differences between Mormons and some Jews on the issue of the purpose of the Brigham Young University Center for Near Eastern Studies in Jerusalem (dedicated 1989; see Brigham Young University: Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies). However, a workable relationship prevails.

One of the earliest direct contacts between communities was initiated by Orson Hyde, an LDS apostle, who in 1841 traveled through Europe to reach the Holy Land. With rare exceptions, instead of seeking audience with European Jewish leaders to proselytize them, he warned them of difficulties that they would experience, and urged them to emigrate to Palestine. Orson Hyde continued on to the Holy Land, where, on October 24, 1841, he prayed on the Mount of Olives to "dedicate and consecrate this land…for the gathering together of Judah's scattered remnants" (HC 4:456-59).

Broader contacts began after 1853 with the arrival of the first Jewish family in Utah. While Jews tended to align themselves politically with non-Mormons, they enjoyed the goodwill of their LDS neighbors. Although some Jewish immigrants into Utah—particularly from eastern Europe and Russia—were ridiculed because of their language and their lack of acquaintance with frontier life, they found no cruelty, no restrictions of movement, and no ugly intolerance. While there were no handouts, charity, or dole, they discovered no restrictions on opportunity among the Latter-day Saints.

In 1900, when Utah Jewish leader Nathan Rosenblatt and his associates decided to build a synagogue for a second congregation, the principal help came from the LDS Church's First Presidency. When the building opened in 1903, Rosenblatt proclaimed his gratitude for the blessing and privilege of living in Utah with the tolerant, understanding men and women of the Mormon faith. He and his associates had always found them to be a people devoted to their own faith, yet a people who respected the Jewish Torah and knew what the noted teacher Hillel meant when he taught, "Do not do to your neighbor what you would not do to yourself."

Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, regularly offers courses that focus on the religion and history of Jews and Judaism. In addition, Jewish scholars have lectured and taught courses at the university, particularly in recent years. In 1921 President Heber J. Grant offered clear counsel to Latter-day Saints against anti-Semitism: "There should be no ill-will…in the heart of any true Latter-day Saint, toward the Jewish people" (in Gospel Standards, Salt Lake City, 1941, p. 147).

An indicator of the reciprocal respect that has existed between Utah Jews and Mormons is the number of Jewish public officials elected to serve the state. These include the state's fourth governor (Simon Bamberger, 1917-1921), a district judge (Herbert M. Schiller, 1933-1939), a mayor of Salt Lake City (Louis Marcus, 1931-1935), and several legislators.

[See also World Religions (Non-Christian) and Mormonism: Judaism; Zionism; Daily Living home page; Interfaith Relationships home page]

Bibliography

Brooks, Juanita. History of the Jews in Utah and Idaho. Salt Lake City, 1973.

Zucker, Louis C. Mormon and Jew: A Meeting on the American Frontier. Provo, Utah, 1961.

Zucker, Louis C. "Utah." Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 16, pp. 33-34. Jerusalem, 1972.

Zucker, Louis C. "A Jew in Zion." Sunstone 6 (Sept.-Oct. 1981):35-44.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Interfaith Relationships

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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