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Judaism

by Arnold H. Green

The views of THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints and its members toward Jews and Judaism have been shaped chiefly by LDS teachings and by historical contacts with Jewish communities. These teachings include regarding the Jews as an ancient covenant people with a prophesied role in the contemporary gathering of Israel and in events of the last days, and the contacts include educational activities in Israel and LDS proselytizing efforts outside of Israel.

Latter-day Saints share some traditional Christian positions toward Judaism, such as acknowledging debts for ethical foundations and religious terminology. Moreover, they have adopted stances expressed in Paul's mildly universalistic writings: Bible-era Judaism, based on the Law of Moses and embodying the Old Testament or covenant, was essentially "fulfilled" in Jesus Christ (cf. 3 Ne. 15:4-8), so Christianity became the New Covenant and therefore spiritual "Israel." However, they have tended not to share the anti-Semitic postures of some Christian eras or groupings. Reflecting a more positive view, the Book of Mormon contains such passages as "Ye shall no longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews,…for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them" (3 Ne. 29:8), and President Heber J. Grant stated, "There should be no ill-will…in the heart of any true Latter-day Saint, toward the Jewish people" (GS, p. 147).

Mormons consider themselves a latter-day covenant people, the divinely restored New Testament Church. In this light, they have interpreted literally the Lord's mandate to them to regather Israel. While seeing historical judgment in Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman treatment of biblical peoples, they have viewed the "scattering" as having beneficially diffused the "blood of Israel" worldwide. As a result, the Prophet Joseph Smith said that the Church believes in the "literal gathering of Israel" (A of F 10). This is done principally by missionary work searching for both biological and spiritual "Israelites" among the Gentile nations.

In LDS eschatology, the first Israelite tribe thus being gathered is Ephraim, with which most Latter-day Saints are identified through patriarchal blessings. To this "Semitic identification" has been attributed the substitution of Judeophilia for anti-Semitism among Mormons (Mauss). Indeed, LDS doctrine has envisaged a partnership both in promulgating scripture—in Ezekiel 37:16, Latter-day Saints find allusions to the Bible and Book of Mormon—and in erecting millennial capitals: Ephraim will build the New Jerusalem in an American Zion, Jews ("Judah") will gather in "the land of their fathers" (3 Ne. 20:29) to rebuild (old) Jerusalem, a prominent theme in the Book of Mormon (see 2 Ne. 6, 9-10, 29; Ether 13) and the Doctrine and Covenants (sections 39, 42, 45, 110, 133). Like several post-Reformation evangelical groups, Latter-day Saints have anticipated a return of Jews to Palestine as part of Israel's gathering. Indeed, the Prophet Joseph Smith sent Orson Hyde, an apostle, to Jerusalem, where in October 1841 he dedicated the land and prayed "for the gathering together of Judah's scattered remnants" (HC 4:456). On grounds that "the first shall be last," Brigham Young said that the conversion of the Jews would not occur before Christ's second coming (Green; cf. Ether 13:12). Yet Palestine was subsequently rededicated for the Jews' return by several apostles in the Church: George A. Smith (1873), Francis M. Lyman (1902), James E. Talmage (1921), David O. McKay (1930), and John A. Widtsoe (1933).

The creation by modern Zionism (secular Jewish nationalism) of a Jewish community and then a state in Palestine tested LDS doctrine's equating the Jews' "return" with Israel's "gathering" (i.e., conversion, but in different locations). While Rabbi Abraham Kook's disciples viewed Zionism's success from Jewish eschatalogical perspectives, some Latter-day Saints began regarding it from LDS perspectives: a secular preparatory stage for the messianic era. A latter-day apostle, LeGrand Richards, and some others in effect identified Zionism and the State of Israel as the expected "return," the physical prelude to the spiritual "gathering." Others, such as Elder Bruce R. McConkie, wrote that the Zionist ingathering was not that "of which the scriptures speak…. It does not fulfill the ancient promises." He saw it as a "gathering of the unconverted" but "nonetheless part of the divine plan" (Millennial Messiah, Salt Lake City, 1982, p. 229).

Pre-World War I contacts with Jewish communities were apparently influenced by Brigham Young's dictum. Jews immigrated into Utah after 1864, aligning politically with non-LDS "Gentiles." Yet they related well to the LDS majority, which did not proselytize them. Indeed, to the earliest Jewish settlers in Utah, the LDS Church provided meeting places for services and donated land for a cemetery. Utahans have also elected several Jews to public office, including a judge, state legislators, and a governor (see Brooks, 1973).

An LDS Near East mission (from 1884) was based temporarily at Haifa, where a cemetery contains graves of missionaries and German converts. Teaching mostly Armenians and German colonists, this mission ignored the longtime resident Jews of the Old Yishuv and had few contacts with new Zionist immigrants. After World War I some LDS leaders felt impressed to begin "gathering" Jews. New York Mission President (1922-1927) B. H. Roberts wrote pamphlets later consolidated into Rasha—The Jew, Mormonism's first exposition directed at Jews. In this same vein, Elder LeGrand Richards composed Israel! Do You Know? and then received permission to launch experimental "Jewish missions," the largest being in Los Angeles. This and smaller Jewish missions (Salt Lake City; Ogden; San Francisco; Portland, Oreg.; New York; Washington D.C.) were disbanded in 1959, when the First Presidency directed that Jewish communities not be singled out for proselytizing.

Noteworthy interaction has accompanied Brigham Young University's foreign study program in Jerusalem (begun 1968), based first at a hotel and then at a kibbutz. Seeking a permanent facility, BYU leaders were granted a location on Mount Scopus by Jerusalem's municipal authorities. Construction began in 1984 on the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies and, because it was such a prominent facility on such a choice site, drew opposition; ultra-Orthodox Jews, suspecting a "missionary center" under academic cover, warned of "spiritual holocaust." However, anti-Mormon campaigns failed to halt construction of the center, partly because U.S. congressmen and Jewish leaders, as well as Israeli liberals, defended it. The controversy reached Israel's Knesset, which obliged BYU to strengthen its nonproselytizing pledge. This contest was linked to the larger debate between Israel's secularists, who valued pluralism, and its militant Orthodox, who feared a new alien presence.

LDS contacts with Judaism have led to an exchange of converts. Salt Lake's synagogue Kol Ami has been attended by some ex-Mormons. Perhaps a few hundred Jews have become Latter-day Saints. Like Evangelical Jews, most have continued to emphasize their Jewishness, and fellow Mormons have welcomed them and considered them "of Judah." Convert memoirs have appeared; for honesty and literary quality probably none surpasses Herbert Rona's Peace to a Jew. Jewish Mormons formed B'nai Shalom in 1967 to function as a support group and to facilitate genealogical research.

(See Daily Living home page; Interfaith Relationships home page; World Religions (Non-Christian) and Mormonism home page; Jewish Interfaith Relationships)

Bibliography

For Mormon activities in Palestine/Israel, see Steven W. Baldridge and Marilyn Rona, Grafting In: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Holy Land, Salt Lake City, 1989. On LDS attitudes and behavior toward Jews, see Herbert Rona, Peace to a Jew, New York, 1952; Armand L. Mauss, "Mormon Semitism and Anti-Semitism," Sociological Analysis, 29 (Spring 1968):11-27; Arnold H. Green, "A Survey of LDS Proselyting Efforts to the Jewish People," BYU Studies 8 (1968):427-43; and Juanita Brooks, History of the Jews in Utah and Idaho, Salt Lake City, 1973. For theological dimensions, see Truman G. Madsen, ed., Reflections on Mormonism: Judeo-Christian Parallels, Provo, Utah, 1978.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 4, World Religions

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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