Jews and Mormons

April 13, 2006 | 99 comments
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In some way, Jews and Mormons seem to be kin culturally, whatever the doctrine about our kinship. I first discovered this phenomenon when I was in graduate school: the professor with whom I seemed to have the most immediate collegial kinship was a Jewish professor. He wasn’t of my religion, didn’t have my social background, and didn’t teach an area of philosophy in which I was interested. In spite of that, I felt a kind of immediate friendship.

I’ve experienced the same thing time and again. This time I was reminded of it at a conference on the French-Lithuanian philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas. The philosophers with whom I felt a bond, a relation that didn’t require that we first find ways to get to know each other better and fumble around in artificial friendly behavior, were all Jewish. For example, on the second day we had dinner at a hotel in Kaunas (where Levinas was born). I sat down at a table with three other people who were engaged in a lively conversation. I didn’t noticed that each was wearing a skull cap nor that they were speaking in Hebrew until after I sat down. In kindness to me, they switched to English—a Russian Jew, a French Jew, and an Israeli Jew, all kosher to some degree—and I became as much a part of the conversation as if I were also a Jew. We understood each other’s jokes and laughed at the same things in the broader culture. We talked about Mormon “kosher” and laughed about the waiter’s inability to figure out how to satisfy each of us: one kosher vegetarian, one sort-of kosher Frenchman, one strictly Kosher Russian, and another guy who’ll eat just about anything, but won’t have the wine or coffee. Most dinners with strangers don’t go that well.

One explanation is that each of us is an “outsider.” Existentially we identify with our religion before we identify with our state (one of the reasons that Europeans are nervous about us). Perhaps that is enough to explain cultures that have an affinity for one another. But . . .

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99 Responses to Jews and Mormons

  1. Mark Butler on April 13, 2006 at 1:28 am

    I understand the nervousness about Mormonism and Judaism, but oddly the Europeans do not seem nearly nervous enough about the threat that the culture and politics of radical Islam poses to their society. Quite the opposite rather – so liberal that they won’t take their own side in a fight, as someone once said.

    I do not mean the benign and honorable aspects of Islam of course, but rather the virulently anti-pluralistic and anti-Western aspects of Islamist fundamentalism.

  2. Mark Butler on April 13, 2006 at 1:38 am

    Of course, (trying to stay on topic…), both Jews and Mormons might have a few unusual preferences for civil society as well. I can’t imagine a contemporary Mormon state (on the model of modern Israel) being anything other than a liberal democracy, however.

  3. Kimball Hunt on April 13, 2006 at 2:12 am

    My being basically an “anti-tribalist” by leaning (albeit a touch more of a pragmatist by — well uh pragmatism), Mark, your idea about the nature of a Mormon homeland intrigues me. And until just now I had completely forgot about the “When we all get the call to go back to Jackson County” (or wherever the gathering place) expectations of perhaps a pre-millenial building of a Mormon New Jerusalem. And then the very height of irony is that in Mark’s post just preceding it is mention of whom he terms the islamists fundamentalists who share a parallel vision.

    And what would such a temporal (and TELESTIAL) 21st century, Mormon political “kingdom of God” look like, I wonder? I’m just asking here — as I certainly couldn’t venture an answer!

    But to Jim’s original point I’d agree with the idea of minority religion status being a commonality, most definately (although there’s also the consideration to philosophically account for of Jews raised within a majority in Israel and Mormons likewise in Utah, too, I suppose?)

  4. Mark Butler on April 13, 2006 at 3:04 am

    The irony is intentional, Kimball. Through the proving of contraries truth is made manifest, right?

  5. Jed on April 13, 2006 at 7:25 am

    I have had a similar experience. My best friend in my master’s program was Jewish, curiously, when there were dozens of other students I might have gravitated towards. My favorite professors in graduate school have all been Jewish. And now my advisor, the professor with whom I spend most time outside the classroom, is Jewish. None of these friendships seemed all that conscious on my part.

    I agree with Jim’s explanation for the affiliation and add another. My Jewish friends have all been deeply moral people, whether agnostic, observant, or otherwise. They are interested in wisdom in its broadest sense, a sense that involves community. I think that search for wisdom resonates with our quest for Zion.

  6. Mike on April 13, 2006 at 7:26 am

    I live in an area that is 30% Jewish. I don’t see any connection culturally otherwise and too many contrasts to list.

    I had a Jewish professor at the University of Utah. He was aware of this idea that we had and thought the so-called “Judeo-Mormon connection” was assinine. Entirely a distortion in the minds of the Mormons and he attributed it to insecurity and a subconscious desire for or envy of a religion with a long deep history. Other Jews I have told about this idea are offended by it and yet others have laughed at it to my face and thus have disabused my mind on the subject.

    I say it is rubbish.

  7. BrianJ on April 13, 2006 at 7:29 am

    JimF: your experience sounds like the beginning of a joke: “Three jews and a Mormon walk into a bar….” I’m just not sure of the punch line. As much as you have felt an immediate bond with Jews you have met–and I remember Orrin Hatch talking about a similar thing many years ago–I wonder if Jews typically feel this bond toward Mormons. Not just do they feel kinship to us, but do they feel accepted by us?

  8. Tona on April 13, 2006 at 8:19 am

    I feel like I should be in on this conversation in some way because of my current position… I teach a course on American religious pluralism at Brandeis U (a non-sectarian Jewish university). 12 of 13 of my current students are Jewish of various denominations and stripes. When we talked about Mormonism, one of my students mentioned meeting Hatch in DC and feeling that Hatch assumed they had some kind of instant connection because of the students’ Jewishness. So, he was a recipient of the “bond” BrianJ refers to in #7. He also said that Hatch has a mezzuzah on his office door and wears a phylactory around his neck. (I don’t know if either of these is true, BTW, but my students believed them to be true). I was asked if this might be true of many Mormons, that they adopt Jewish artifacts in this way, and I truthfully said that I thought this was a personal idiosyncracy of Hatch’s – I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on that.

    My students had been assigned an essay by Jan Shipps that brought up Mormon “Israelisms” and mentioned that Mormons call all non-Mormons (except Jews??) “Gentiles.” Most of them had never heard of these kinds of overlapping declarations of cultural identity, and were both intrigued and a little put off (“Where do Mormons get off assuming they are House of Israel,” etc). Many of them attributed Mormons’ affinity for Jews as a kind of sympathetic response to LDS persecution by the US government, as a similar adoption of the stance of a persecuted religious minority that, consciously or not, borrowed from the way Jews feel connected to each other by their common experience of having been persecuted and hunted in their homelands and scattered throughout the world. In other words, Mormons were somewhat self-deluded, if not outright posers, or Jewish wannabees without the same claim on the title. That was my sense anyway – I also would guess that in general, Mormons know (or at least think they know) more about Jews than Jews do about Mormons. None of my students had grown up in the intermountain West, and so had had just about zero contact with, or if educated in Jewish schools, little educational exposure to, what Mormonism was or about its history. So they were a little surprised, and maybe felt a little “stalked” by some Mormons…?

  9. AH on April 13, 2006 at 8:53 am

    Orrin Hatch was interviewed in the same 60 Minutes segment as GBH back in 1996. I do remember him mentioning he wears a Star of David or some other Jewish symbol around his neck.

  10. Eric Russell on April 13, 2006 at 9:10 am

    I think our affinity to Jews originates in the constant references, both in The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, to the House of Israel. There is no doubt, from the scriptures, that the Lord’s people are Israel and that He considers the church that He restored through Joseph Smith to be Israel. Early saints called themselves the Elders of Israel. “Hurrah for Israel,� Brigham and Heber cried.

    Whether or not the modern Jews also fall under this new concept of Israel that the Lord has given us is, I think, a point of some uncertainty. But I sense that, culturally at least, we have included the Jews in Israel, and thus feel something of a bond with them. We are largely the children of Joseph. They the children of Judah. We are one in the Lord’s hand.

  11. Robert C. on April 13, 2006 at 9:47 am

    To support the minority religion, I had similar feelings of kinship with a Muslim classmate. Although there wasn’t the kosher aspect (I don’t remember any dietary restrictions he followed), he would express frustration about misperceptions and biases in the press post 9/11 where people would fail to distinguish between fundamentalists and mainstream Muslims in a manner similar to mainstream vs. fundamentalist Mormons.

    To support the kosher aspect, I had a similar laugh with a visiting Hindu colleague (from southern India) when our waiter got confused about who didn’t drink coffee vs. who didn’t eat meat.

    What’s interesting to me is that this type of kinship seems more natural with non-Christian minority religions than other New Testament believing minorities (e.g. Seventh Day Adventists or Jehovah’s Witnesses), at least that’s my sense. Perhaps Jews and Mormons view each other less like competition? (Since Jews are less proselytizing, I think the concern that this may sometimes be a one-sided feeling is valid.)

    Although I brought up Muslim and Hindu examples, somehow I still think there are more similarities between Jews and Mormons than with other minority religions, but I can’t put my finger on why I think this….

  12. ESO on April 13, 2006 at 10:22 am

    An important similarity that Jews and Mormons can share is a high tolerance for seemingly irrational behavior. The Jews that I have worked with have seemed to gravitate toward me because we understand and accept each other’s restrictions on diet, dress, sabbath observance, and behavior, such as dating within our faith. In mainstream America, these are hard constrictions for many to comprehend.

    I agree that this can be true for followers of other minority religions as well. Maybe it is a connection that we have with anyone else who takes their religion seriously enough to attempt to follow it.

  13. Bookslinger on April 13, 2006 at 10:23 am

    I think a full spectrum of personality types exists in all cultures and religions. But what is often portrayed as stereotypes may have a particle of truth in that it may be over-represented in the group compared to other personality types.

    One stereotype I see where Mormons overlap some other ethnicities, including some Jews, is in being outgoing, ebullient, and gregarious, perhaps as portrayed in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” People of various ethnicities saw themselves in that movie.

    But Mormons also have a large contingent consisting of white-bread, straight-laced WASP culture.

    My Jewish cousins were of the ebullient, gregarious, back-slapping personality. My Presbyterian relatives were mostly straight-laced, long-faced, white-bread WASPs descended from immigrants from Great Britain.

    On the religious side, we’re not the only church in Christendom in which believers claim they are adopted into the House of Israel. Forgetting this has led to much historical anti-semitism in the Christian world. Yet, making a point of it is offensive to the Jews. “Hey, we didn’t adopt you! You all tried to kill us off, remember?”

    Until a Jew makes the connection that Jesus = Yahweh, a Christian claiming to be of the House of Israel is just laughable. (Even most Christians who believe the three-in-one concept think Jehovah/Yahweh was the Father’s manifestation of the Trinity, not the Son’s.)

    Eric: “We are largely the children of Joseph.”
    But let’s not forget that we don’t know, even by most patriarchal blessings, whether someone is a literal descendent or is adopted. It may not be an important distinction to us, because the blessings are the same, but it would be to most Jews when they discuss what it means to be of the House of Israel.

  14. Kimball Hunt on April 13, 2006 at 10:30 am

    Okey dokey: Whether Hatch keeps a mezuzah on his door frame or not (as they would be intended to be for an observant Jew), the Wall Street Journal reports* that mister Hatch, who’s

    ” . . . [a] Mormon law maker recently startled a reporter from the Washington Jewish Weekly by unbuttoning his shirt to display a silver mezuzah, locket-like amulet with a Hebrew prayer in side.”
    ____
    *See http://www.abbc2.com/historia/zionism/aipac_iraq.html.

  15. john f. on April 13, 2006 at 10:33 am

    Jim:

    I have had similar observations. But something has also worried me when I begin to make such observations. It seems likely that we as the Mormons perceive this because of our religious views, which are inclusive of the Jews, while the Jews in whose company you happen to find yourself do not perceive this at all. You felt immediate kinship on a religio-tribal basis; they were being polite to a friendly American who is an oddity to them. They were observing you and you were bonding with them.

  16. Starfoxy on April 13, 2006 at 10:42 am

    I think I agree with Mike (#6) that it is mostly in our own minds. We probably can get along very well with many Jewish people on a one on one basis, for all the reasons you mentioned. I don’t think there is any culture-wide soft-spot in the Jewish heart for Mormons, even among those that are familiar with Mormonism. Though there is definitely a soft-spot in the Mormon heart for Jewish people.

  17. Kevin Barney on April 13, 2006 at 10:51 am

    Yes, Hatch has a mezuzah on his door frame. I’ve never heard of any other Mormon doing this, so I think it is particular to him.

    My experience mirrors that of Jim. I think the reason is grounded in Mormon phil-Semitism. For the historic development of this strain of thought, as well as unfortunate counterexamples, see Steven Epperson’s book, _Mormons and Jews_ out of Signature (which is long out of print).

    I agree with Robert C.’s thought about a less competitive vibe with those of other minority religions as opposed to say other Christian sects.

    An interesting manifestation of this connection has been the work of Lubavitch Chabad in Utah. The SL Tribune ran an article, I think last year, about the guy who came out to Utah to encourage the Jews in the state to more religious observance. President Hinckley told him that he believes in what he stands for, and if he ever ran into any problems to let him know. So the rabbi wants to put up a huge menorah in one of the malls, and the answer is no way. President Hinckley finds out about it, and boom–the menorah goes up.

    I also think it helps that we have a willingness to attenuate our normal proselyting instincts somewhat in the case of Jews. When I was on my mission the church came out with special lessons directed to Jews; they were disaster and quickly pulled. There is no law against proselyting in Israel, but the Church voluntarily does not do so. And there was the 1995 agreement on temple baptisms. It is to be hoped that we have developed some sort of a consciousness of how sensitive an issue proselyting is for Jews.

  18. Kevin Barney on April 13, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure there was an article in one of the Mormon journals within the past few years exploring this question of Jewish attitudes towards Mormons in light of Mormon phil-Semitism. Does that ring a bell with anyone else?

  19. StealthBomber on April 13, 2006 at 11:01 am

    Jim,

    I agree with your sentiment. Last night I attended a wonderful seder at a law professor’s home. I was one of the few non-jews in attendance. The jewish sense of unity/community, their common-sense practicality, and their heritage of enduring immense persecution felt similar to what I experience within the LDS community. To take it further, and to engage in an exaggerated stereotype, there seems to be a “Mormon psyche” that is very compatible with a “Jewish psyche.”

  20. Kevin Barney on April 13, 2006 at 11:11 am

    I think maybe the article I was thinking of is the following:

    Robert A. Goldberg, “A Jewish Perspective,” Journal of Mormon History 28/1 (Spring 2002): 121.

    Since I’m at work I can’t check my JMH collection to see for sure, but I think it is addressing this topic.

  21. Mark B. on April 13, 2006 at 11:14 am

    You may be interested to know that the LDS chapel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the middle of a community of Hasidic Jews, has a mezzuzah on the entry door jamb.

    The building is a large office building, and we rent a part of the first floor. Still, I like the symbolism of having our services in that building.

    Now, when the members of the church start kissing their fingertips and touching it as they pass through the doors — that’s sort of like Brother Orrin, arrogating to himself symbols that aren’t his.

  22. Silus Grok on April 13, 2006 at 11:18 am

    A couple of comments, observations, questions…

    First-off, Senator Hatch feigns a familiarity with everyone. It’s his thing.

    * shrugs shoulders *

    Anyway, I’ve always wanted a mezzuzah of my own, and have never gotten one — not having liked any I’ve found. For me, it’s my way of finding some ritual in my life… which I miss, being LDS. Our rituals are so, um, un-ritualistic. Even temple worship is so perfunctory for many.

    Of course, my “phil-Semitism” is balanced by a marked pro-Palestinian sentiment on many issues pertaining to the state of Israel.

    And I concur with others, that any bond we sense is fairly unilateral.

  23. DKL on April 13, 2006 at 11:28 am

    The Jews that I know don’t feel any special affinity for Mormons per se. They are, however, generally aware that Mormons tend to have an interest in and respect for Judaism, and they appreciate the friendly curiosity that is often expressed by Mormons (even when it’s grossly presumptuous–the Jews I know tend to be better than average at dealing with situations that would otherwise be uncomfortable due to someone’s lack of tact [perhaps another reason Mormons feel comfortable around Jews?]) because it allows them to talk about something that is important to them.

    My guess with Mike’s comment (#6) is that living in Utah can put a Jew past the threshold of saturation when it comes to dealing with Mormons and their (often presumptuous) interest in their religion.

  24. A Nonny Mouse on April 13, 2006 at 11:44 am

    There is no law against proselyting in Israel, but the Church voluntarily does not do so.

    It was my understanding that the Church, through then President Holland of BYU, had to promise to not proselyte in Israel so that they could build the Jerusalem center. So, it might not be illegal, but I don’t know that it’s not contractual…

    Just sayin’…

  25. A Nonny Mouse on April 13, 2006 at 11:44 am

    Oh, of course, the caveat there also is that I might be up in the night. :)

  26. Tatiana on April 13, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Well, aren’t we both covenant peoples? I feel that as the biggest bond. Do other Christians recognize themselves as being covenant peoples? I’m not sure. I was Catholic long ago, and don’t remember that aspect ever being taught or stressed. But I was a child so I may have missed it. I don’t remember hearing my protestant friends talk about their sacred covenants much either, though. When I was talking to a Jewish acquaintence once, he asked what was it about Mormons that made them more Jewish than other Christians and I wasn’t sure how to answer. Though I definitely feel that’s true, that we are. Do you guys feel the same way?

  27. Sarah on April 13, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    I wasn’t really surprised that almost no non-Jews attended the annual Holocaust Memorial Day readings at my university — I was surprised that the only other non-Jew that actually read names, besides me, was another Mormon. And unlike me, he didn’t have family ties to Judaism.

    I don’t know how most Jews feel about Mormons, but most of the kids at Hillel seemed to like me well enough despite my obvious non-observant, my-mother-was-not-Jewish status. But then, they also knew that I went to Passover seders and had a menorah (no candles, I’d have been kicked out of the dorms for that) because of my family history, and not because I thought it was nifty — it might have been different if they thought of me as just a Mormon. I don’t know.

  28. Proud Daughter of Eve on April 13, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Speaking for myself, I feel there’s something of a family bond with Jewish people. Meeting one is like meeting a second cousin at a family reunion. There’s sort of a sense that we’re connected in a deep way and share some of the same history even when there’s no personal connection.

  29. gst on April 13, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Silus Grok (#22): “Of course, my ‘phil-Semitism’ is balanced by a marked pro-Palestinian sentiment on many issues pertaining to the state of Israel.”

    That’s interesting, because most of my felt kinship with Jews rises from my support of the state of Israel, rather than any cultural or religious affinity.

    Though I do belong to the local Jewish Community Center, that’s mainly for the excellent gym, and the occasional pick-up game of chess. (But we are now considering the pre-school, too).

    This is not intended to start a debate on the state of Israel. I’m just sayin’.

  30. Tona on April 13, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Re #26 – actually there are a lot of nondenominational Christian groups that have “covenant” in their name; some Pentecostals use this language too. Just google “covenant church” to see a sampling of the current crop. I’ve never been inside of any of them, so I’m only judging by what they call themselves and by how they represent themselves on the web, but I believe that this concept of being a covenant people is quite widespread among Protestants. Certainly was among the Puritans too…

  31. john f. on April 13, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    re 28: as I said earlier, I fear that such a feeling is entirely unilateral to Latter-day Saints, and perhaps even disliked by many or most Jews.

  32. Robert C. on April 13, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    I failed to confess in my post above that part of my soft-spot and feeling of affinity toward Jews comes from living all my years in grad school in the most charming Hasidic-Jew neighborhood (Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh).

    I think part of the kinship feeling is based on our emphasis of the Old Testament (primarily b/c of temples and Elijah’s appearance to Joseph Smith, but also b/c of Isaiah in the BOM), relative to other Christians. Also, I remember hearing some connection Chaim Potok had w/ Mormons, here’s a quote I found in a Meridian article:

    “Long a Potok fan, I think [The Chosen] is his best novel. . . . I was fortunate to hear him speak at our local university a few years ago. Two things of interest to me: Potok features a Mormon chaplain in another novel of his (Book of Lights)– in fact, he makes the LDS character a very positive one. (I think I read that when he was himself a chaplain in Korea, he had an LDS friend.)”

    I also found Bruce Hafen identifying with Potok’s themes of secular vs. sacred in a University Conference talk: The Dream Is Ours to Fulfill.

  33. Mike on April 13, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    I just had a conversation with my Jewish partner and friend here at work and I think it is pretty typical. I asked if he had any furthur thoughts on the “Judeo-Mormon connection.” I had discussed this with him several years ago. He immediately begain to laugh so hard that the short grey beard on his chin was touching his knees.

    Oh yea. He ridiculed: The first Hebe Abraham, was this cheap skate who got tired of making sacrifices to so many gods, so in order to save money he invented a cult of monotheism. Your Joseph Smith took a monotheistic religion and made it into a polytheistic cult!

    What about the idea that we are both a Zion people, a “cult” if you will, separate and apart from the rest of society? I asked. Yea, he said; we are doing everything we can to NOT be assimilated and you Mormons are doing everything you can to assimilate the entire rest of the world into your faith.

    We both have dietary restrictions, I suggested. He retorted: We Jews only have things we can’t eat, while you Mormons only have things you can’t drink or smoke. And you think you have to actually follow them, but most of us know we don’t. Real similar. (This is in the context of an office party several years ago when he complained that the main dish was ham and later I caught him, red-handed, snitching some if it.)

    Oh, he volunteered, both Joseph Smith and Abraham were polygamists, and they both lied about who they were married to. Great connection. But Abe only had four wives when it was socially acceptable and lied to pharaoh to save his first wife’s a–, while old Joe had 44 when it wasn’t acceptable and lied to keep his first wife from whoopin’ his a– . Exactly the same.

    We at least learned from our bad experiments with polygamy, while you Mormons haven’t and are still practicing it.

    Wait a minute, I said. First, Abraham only had two wives (it was Jacob who had four) and second, those cohabs running around out in the desert have no part of us, we excommunicated every last one of them and they have no connection to us.

    He laughs and says: So you think there is no connection between the polygamists in Utah today and your Mormon faith, but you think you have some connection to Judaism?

    He bounces up on his tip toes and sporting a toothy grin wiggles his thick eyebrows at me with this gotcha expression, exactly like Jerry Lewis used to do. Then laughs some more.

    I can’t even open my mouth without making an idiot out of myself with him on this subject. Usually it is the other way around with us; I am the one spanking him. Of course, this is not the fault of the perfect LDS church; just the fault of an imperfect member, me.

    We’re still searching for that good old Judeo-Mormon connection around here. Right now it goes to a tolerance of our respective quirks and finding humor in it, but no further.

    Seriously, I would advise Mormons to not think this way and definitely not bring it up with any of your Jewish friends. Unless you like to make them laugh at you and be thought an idiot.

  34. Jordan on April 13, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    I brought up this idea of a sort of special “kinship” between jews and mormons to one of my fellow participants at a summer Yiddish Studies program in Vilnius, Lithuania. He was partially offended and partially amused.

    I brought it up again to my Jewish supervisor at the University of Oxford during my masters’ program in Yiddish Studies there. He was more amused by the idea than anything else- but he never was the type to be easlity offended.

    In short, my experiences in the world of Jewish studies have led me to believe that any feelings of special kinship between mormons and jews are entirely one-sided to mormons.

    Not that there is anything wrong with that- after all, we claim to belong to the House of Israel and to be partakers of the Abrahamic covenant. But Jews don’t see it that way, and are either amused or offended by the notion that we are somehow related by bonds of covenant, persecution, or any sort of shared history.

    Just my two cents.

  35. Ed Johnson on April 13, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    The book “All Abraham’s Children” by Armand Mauss has an interesting chapter on Mormons and Jews. On two occassions church leaders decided to make a concerted effort to try to convert Jews, once in the 1950s and again in the 1970s. On both occasions the church ultimately published special missionary discussions aimed specifically at Jews…the second time, this was announced in the Ensign (scroll down). But both times the results were disappointing, and the efforts were halted soon after the new discussions were published.

  36. Proud Daughter of Eve on April 13, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    Mike, I would hesitate to accept the judgement of someone who barely seems to count as Jewish himself by his own admission. “We know we don’t have to.” None of what either you or he have said seem to me in any way to have even a smidgen of love in them and even the Jews feel that the message of the gospel is about love and “not doing that which is hateful to yourself to others.”

    Some people feel a connection. Some people don’t. That’s the way life is. I think there are a lot of similarities in our cultures and our histories. You can perhaps reject the connection but you cannot deny it is there.

  37. Porter on April 13, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    My experiences mirror those of others who have concluded that this affinity is entirely one-sided. My Jewish friends are vaguely aware of this phenomenon, and I think they find it quaint — but they certainly do not have reciprocal feelings towards Mormons.

    My opinion is that we appreciate ohter religious cultures who are peculiar in some way, and increasingly so. Although I have never met any, I certainly feel the same type of affection towards the Amish, who stand out in society because of their beliefs like I do.

    But there are fundamental differences. Being Jewish is more than just a religion or a culture — for most Jews it is literally their lineage, and they are tremendously proud of that. The mothers of my Jewish friends would not let them marry outside of their religion, but I beleive that has more to do with blood than it does with religion. Converting is an oinerous and difficult process. On the other hand, we take everyone!

    Also, I think Mormons are generally obsessed with fitting in with society, while orthodox Jews take great pride in standing out. Here is a good question for your next sunday school class (or a future post): if tomorrow the Church instituted the practice of wearing a yarmulke (or some other outward symbol of your religion), but it was optional, how many people would do it? Personally, I would pass. I won’t even wear a CTR ring.

  38. john f. on April 13, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    well said, Jordan

  39. john f. on April 13, 2006 at 2:13 pm

    re 36 — one could argue that’s what the Word of Wisdom is. Sort of a “wear a green hat” type of commandment.

  40. John T. on April 13, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    Mike’s comments remind me of a joke my brother-in-law (who is Jewish) told me:

    A Jew, a Catholic, and a Mormon went fishing. After awhile, the Jew mused; “Another son, and I’ll have enough to field a basketball team. The Catholic replied, “another child, and I’ll have enough for a baseball team. After a moment, the Mormon volunteered: “Another wife and I’ll have enough for a golf course”

  41. john f. on April 13, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    Let’s put it this way. 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 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.

  42. DKL on April 13, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    LOL, John T. Good one!

  43. Jim F. on April 13, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    I think I must not have been clear enough. I think there can be a kind of connection between Jews and Mormons more quickly than between us and some others, but I realize that any parallels we see are things that we see more than they, if they see them at all. And I’m certainly not in favor of taking over Jewish symbols as our own—except to the degree that there is already overlap between Christianity and Judaism and, so, overlap also of our symbols. On the other hand, my experience has been that many practicing Jews are not offended by some of our traditions: the river Jordan that flows from Utah Lake (the Sea of Galilee is its prototype) to the Salt Lake (with the Dead Sea as its prototype), the use of “Gentile” in earlier Mormonism to refer to everyone not-LDS. (See the link at the American Jewish Historical Society for an example.) Some are amused, some are flattered. I’ve heard that some are offended, but I’ve not seen it myself.

    The connection between Mormons and Jews that I see is more at the level of being friendly or feeling comfortable, not something more than that. At that level, however, I think there is something. If I meet an evangelical, I feel immediately uncomfortable: are we going to have to deal with one another as potential enemies (or converts)? I have to get over that to be friends. If I meet a Catholic, I don’t feel anything like that barrier, but I also don’t’ feel any particular “kinship” in the very broad sense. However, when I meet a Jew, which I must say happens for me most often in academic settings, which may make a difference, I feel some immediate sympathy (in its root sense, “feeling with”) and I find that we get to friendly conversation more quickly.

    It is certainly possible that the phenomenon is something that happens from my side only: I am predisposed to be ready for such conversations and, so, they happen more readily. That’s another explanation. However, I continue to think that there is something else. John pointedc out that there are historical things we can take as our reasons for feeling an affinity. I think there are also cultural things. The Word of Wisdom is certainly not the same as kosher law, but the fact that both the kosher Jew and I have dietary restrictions gives us a common ground from which to begin. Both of us know what it is like to feel like an outsider, though we are outside in different ways, and that is another common ground. There are, I think, probably other such things that make it easier for us to begin to talk more or less openly with one another.

  44. Jim F. on April 13, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    Jordan and John: Most of the conference I attended was also in Vilnius, which I found very charming and hospitable. What was your experience?

  45. john f. on April 13, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Vilnius was stunning. We were there in the summer of 1999 to study Yiddish at the University. We stayed in dormatories close to the Jewish Center and walked to the University every morning. We took the bus over the river to do our laundry. We also made the trek out to Church most Sundays. In short, we got to know the city fairly well and loved being there.

  46. Gina on April 13, 2006 at 3:24 pm

    Yesterday on some NPR show, I can’t remember which, a woman raised in a home with a Christian mother and Jewish father read her essay on her discomfort with Christians doing their own seders, especially with Passover and Easter overlapping this year.

    Christian seders have been discussed many times in other threads, so I don’t want to start another conversation about that, but I was interested that her main concern was the fundamental difference in meaning the seder has to the two groups. To Jews, it means that they will survive, that the slaves can be made free, et cetera. To Christians, it means Jesus – saying the things Jesus might have said, et cetera.

    It seemed to me that her concern was not exactly accurate for LDS people. We have a deep identity with the exodus (making the idea of doing a “Pioneer seder” on July 24th as someone suggested on another thread such a brilliant idea, I think); it isn’t all about Jesus, but about this Old Testament identity we have with how God deals with his people. The Exodus story is, in many ways, far more significant to us as a people than other Christians. I don’t think many Jews understand the deep connection we feel with that story. It is not something we emphasize to the world, so without individual study I don’t know how they would understand that.

  47. Mark Butler on April 13, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    One might consider that Jews look on the way we consider ourselves part of their community the way we look on offshoots who consider themselves part of ours. e.g. our discomfort with the generic use of the term Mormon, among many similar examples.

  48. Jim F. on April 13, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Mark Butler: Do we consider ourselves “part of their community”? I am skeptical. I’m not making that claim, and I’m not sure that anyone else in this conversation has made it either.

  49. Kimball Hunt on April 13, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    If I’m some staid guy taking mystical pride in the wearing of an imaculately ironed, oxford-cloth, buttondown-collar shirts and I notice the computer programmer crowd invading Wall Street lately (or WHATEVER: I dunno, I’m “hippy”) has decided en mass to adopt this one item in order to symbolically affirm their connection to the world, yet these renegades wear their own uniformly ubiquitous button-down oxford-cloth shirts with untucked shirttails and matched with shorts or jeans and tennis shoes: inside I feel mocked — while these renegade newbies are lookin at me and goin, Hey dude! Cool shirt!

  50. Kimball Hunt on April 13, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    business world

  51. RCH on April 13, 2006 at 3:54 pm

    I feel like the odd person out: This special kinship and immediate familiarity everyone else seems to feel with their Jewish friends / acquaintainces, I feel with Roman Catholics. LOL. What does that mean, I wonder? While I would feel presumptuous trying to claim some cultural / social / religious kinship with Judaism — which is the way I imagine they would see it, too (though granted I’ve never asked) — I can’t help but see and feel the commonalities between us and the Roman Catholic faith. Go figure.

    Probably I irritate the Catholics too, lol.

  52. Mark Butler on April 13, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    My apologies for the ambiguous language. I would say rather that from a Jewish perspective, we consider ourselves part of “their” community, i.e. the House of Israel. Even when our claim is taken seriously, our doctrine places us as heirs of Ephraim, a tribe which we consider to have precedence over the tribe of Judah, in this dispensation at least. That is bound to lead to a little suspicion, at a minimum.

  53. Kevin Barney on April 13, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    The newspaper article about Lubavitch Chabad in Utah I was thinking of appeared in the Chicago Tribune (my home paper), not the Salt Lake Tribune, as I erroneously remembered above. Here is a reprint if anyone is interested:

    http://www.religionnewsblog.com/9654-Rabbi_spreads_Jewish_word_in_Mormon_realm.html

  54. Julie M. Smith on April 13, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    threadjack:

    “When I was on my mission the church came out with special lessons directed to Jews; they were disaster and quickly pulled.”

    i just read the bio of the author of these lessons–rose marie reid–which stated that they were far more effective in converting jews than the standard lesson. there were stats, something like 18% of first discussions led to baptism where the ‘regular’ first discussion only led to the baptism (if the person was jewish) 1% of the time.

    However, the book was written by her daughter and you aren’t the first person I have heard to disparage the lessons. (Which, after all, didn’t lead to baptism over 80% of the time . . .) I’ve never actually seen them. So I wonder . . .

  55. Mike on April 13, 2006 at 4:49 pm

    Proud Daughter of Eve #35:

    Barely count as a Jew? Don’t make me laugh. This friend was raised Jewish in Hebrew schools and looks and acts like a Jew to the point anyone who knows Jews could pick him out from across the room. He is seeped in cultural Jewishness; it isn’t possible that he is not. But like most modern American Jews he really doesn’t believe all of it literally, makes little irreverent jokes about his people and won’t keep any of the commandments that are not convenient. It is his history and ethnicity more than just a religion or belief system. He understands it thoroughly and continually spouts off little proverbs from the Talmud or Yiddishisms or wherever. He is loyal to the idea of being Jewish and sends money to Israel, and raises his kids in it; taking them to the temple every week, making them learn Hebrew, doing the mitzvahs, hoping they marry fellow Jews, etc. (Although I heard that over half of Jewish children in the US are growing up in mixed-faith homes).

    My friend is the modern American Jew, so unlike the modern Mormon; who is generally literal minded, serious, obedient, pious, missionary-oriented and not that well-informed about their history or religion. The fact that a Mormon could think of my description of him as hardly a Jew when he is exactly like so many of his people, shouts how absent the connection is between the Mormon and Jewish mind set.

    The Jews have changed quite a bit since the New Testament was written and that is the primary source of what a Christian thinks about a Jew. It might not have even been a very accurate characterization of Jews in the first place.The Book of Mormon does not enlighten us any further on this topic.

    For Mormons religion is about love (or some might say obedience). For Jews it is about being or at least acting smart.

    My Jewish friend and I treat each other like brothers. (Ishmael and Isaac, Judah and Joseph, Esau and Jacob, and Laman and Nephi, take your pick) That is why we kid around like this. How can you say he doesn’t like me when he offered to work Easter for me so I could go to the reindeer egg hunt this year? (“Rabbits? Reindeer? I can’t keep all these Christian holidays straight,” he said).

    He will show up. If he was a Mormon he might be joking and not show up. The ghost of his Jewish mother is more to be feared than the ghost of the molly Mormon mother.

  56. Kimball Hunt on April 13, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    The reference to belief represented by my image of a dark-suited rabbi Zippel’s waiting in some ante room to lobby an also dark-suited president Hinckley for an eight-foot high halachically lighted menorah to be placed right across the street from Temple Square brings tears to my eyes — thanks!

  57. Kevin Barney on April 13, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    Julie, I might still have my set of the Jewish discussions. They came out in the late 70s when I was on my mission in Colorado. I was not in a heavily Jewish area, but I obtained a set just out of personal interest.

    My recollection was that there were three discussions, each with pamphlet summaries, and a general book of explanations and glossary for the presenter. They weren’t badly done; just the whole concept of proselyting Jews specifically was ineffective. Not a lot of baptisms came from that program.

  58. Adam L on April 13, 2006 at 5:05 pm

    As a fairly secular Jew I’d like to weigh in on this subject. One of my dearest friends is Mormon and much of what initially drew me to her is my admiration for her unfaltering religious faith and the way she conducts her life. Jews are largely taught to question everything, even our own religious beliefs, in order to find our truth. I, at least, find it intriguing when I encounter people (of any religion) with such strong convictions and witness the goodness that comes from them; I want to learn more about what’s behind that certainty. As such, I just completed reading the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. While I have only begun to digest what I’ve read (this will be an ongoing process for me), and am far from solidifying my impressions and interpretations, as a Jew, I do feel an element of defensiveness. At some level the entire enterprise seems to be an attempt to appropriate God’s gift to the Jews of being his chosen people. Jews feel that our covenant with God is just as eternal and unchanging as is the one later claimed by Mormons. For us, the covenant goes on unchanged; we pay no validity to the claim (as it would be a late addendum & we don’t believe that things slip God’s mind) that the laws of Moses are fulfilled in Christ (Alma 30:3, 3 Nephi 9:17, 3 Nephi 15:4-5, and elsewhere). Again, I still need to think more about all of this. However, I think the affinity between Mormons and Jews (not necessarily at the individual level, but as collectives) is primarily one of Mormons towards Jews since so much of Mormonism (Christianity generally) finds its foundations in Judaism. Jews (as a religious group) tend to be insular. That is why we don’t proselytize; we were chosen by God and are happy to let everyone else find their own way. I realize that sounds aloof, but it’s a pretty accurate depiction of Judaism’s interest or concern with other religions.

  59. Jordan on April 13, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    Vilnius was magnificent, though there was a feeling of melancholy always present when I considered the fact that prior to WWII, the population was more than 1/3 Jewish- a true Yiddish cultural center before the tragic events of WWII. It was probably because I was there for a Yiddish studies program, but the general lack of Jews in Vilnius seemed to be a tragically unfillable hole in the city. This became especially poignant during strolls through the old Jewish Quarter, which became a deadly ghetto in WWII.

  60. Ed Johnson on April 13, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    Julie & Kevin,

    According to Armand Mauss’ book there were 2 sets of Jewish discussions (see my comment #35). The Rose Marie Reid ones came out in the 1950s. It sounds like the 1970s ones were a different product.

  61. Jonathan Maltz on April 13, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Interesting topic. Jordan and Gina in particular make some excellent points. However, as a Jew who joined the Church in London in 1975, I have to say that part of what attracted me to Mormonism was an appreciation of life-long American members whose attachment to their cultural heritage resonated with my own experience of Judaism. For me, even then, I saw Mormonism as more than simply a belief system, but as an ethno-cultural way of life that had a ‘depth’, a ‘richness’ to it that I could not have imagined finding within,say, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ denomination.

    Unfortunately, no Jews of my acquaintance (other than one or two fellow converts), seemed in the least bit interested in any aspect of Mormonism, whether from a cultural or religious standpoint. It would not, however, be true to say they were all indifferent; there was simply an assumption that Mormonism or Mormons were not worthy of respect. Yet when I set foot in Utah (in 1978) I was treated almost as a VIP! And at Ricks College…the reaction of students and faculty left me breathless. Of course, this may have had something to do with my English accent…

    I would like to think that given the higher profile of Mormons and their culture(s), the situation might be changing slowly. However, as long as Mormons claim to have ‘the one true Church’ it will be an uphill struggle. We can hardly complain of others perceptions of ourselves as narrow and simplified when our leaders seemingly champion a ‘one-size fits all’ approach.

    Similarly, I should also add that the general level of ignorance in the LDS community on matters Jewish was and is, of concern. I have often be ‘told’ by uninformed members what Jews supposedly believe, as if Judaism itself is an entirely homogenous faith. Perhaps, as Mormonism and Mormon culture becomes more diverse it will parallel the development of a more enlightened view of the other on both sides, Jewish and Mormon.

    Jonathan M., Melbourne, Australia

  62. Jonathan Maltz on April 13, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Sorry. 5th line, delete “more than”; it should read “not”.

    Jonathan M.

  63. Julie M. Smith on April 13, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks Ed, after Kevin said the 70s I sensed the dates were wrong but I wasn’t sure.

    Jonathan, with a Jewish background AND an English accent, they must have been swooning. ;)

  64. Jonathan Maltz on April 13, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Great comment, Mike.

    Adam L.: With respect, You don’t particularly sound “fairly secular”. The view you propound seems to belong to those who are traditionally Orthodox Jews…most progressive Jews do not see the Jewish people as “chosen”.

    Jonathan M.

  65. Jonathan Maltz on April 13, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    They were, Julie, they were. Misguided souls!!

    Jonathan M.

  66. Kimball Hunt on April 13, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    Perhaps Adam [L.]‘s belief although not “all the way” to Reform is still Conservative, Jonathan? Although sorry for my presumptive speculation here, Adam, as well as my having initiated this convo about you in the third person.

  67. Jonathan Maltz on April 13, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    Kimball, you may well be right. I really do not wish to offfend you, Adam. That was certainly not my intention, and I enjoyed reading your post and hope you will do so again. It’s just that having grown up Reform, I may be too sensitive regarding those who sound as if they are speaking for all, or at least the vast majority of Jews.

  68. Adam L on April 13, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    I belong to a conservative synagogue and attended Jewish schools growing up; however, I don’t keep kosher, wear a yamulkah, attend daily minyan, or keep the sabbath. I strongly identify with the Jewish community, culture, and history, and I also define myself as intensely spiritual, but I’m quite secular when it comes to following Jewish laws.

  69. Adam L on April 13, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Jonathan (and everyone else):

    Nothing regarding honest, intellectual discussion offends me. Only if someone purposely intends offense do I tend to take it as such.

  70. Kaimi Wenger on April 13, 2006 at 6:17 pm
  71. Robert C. on April 13, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    Kaimi: Thanks for that link, a very interesting discussion. I didn’t see anyone respond to Frank’s first comment, which is how I’ve always thought about this:

    “So maybe it just was not yet time in the 1830’s for the preaching of the Gospel to the Jews. Just as at first, the gospel only went to the Jews. Is not this in line with the meaning of ‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first’?”

    I’m curious if Frank and I are in the minority or majority with this view. And I’m curious if church leaders have said things to this effect over the pulpit (perhaps this is addressed in some of the articles linked to in that thread?), if anyone knows….

  72. aNate Oman on April 13, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    Jonathan M.: I actually use to try to speak Yiddish with an English accent as a way of picking-up on girls at BYU ward socials. It wasn’t terribly effective, alas…

    John F.’s comments come closest to my sense on this. I would frame my ideas about Jews and Mormons through three different experiences I had. The first is work that I did as a research assistant for a Jewish professor, who clearly seemed to have a bit of a philo-Mormon streak in him. In part, I suspect that he was being polite. On the other hand, he knew a bunch of Mormons, had a basic background about the church, and seemed generally sympathetic. He assumed that we would share similar attitudes about law and religion based on our mutual status as members of persecuted religious minorities.

    The second experience was with a Jewish law professor at HLS who sponsored a Torah study group. I went to it because I liked the idea of studying the Torah with a rabbi (the professor was also a rabbi of some sort), and the class was really wonderful. I never knew you could get so much out of passages dealing with things like the construction of the tabernacle. While my Mormoness is what motivated me to join the class, I don’t think that it registered for the professor at all. I was just another Gentile who — by invitation to be sure — had joined the Jewish scripture study class.

    My third experience was with a Jewish student at HLS who had positive contempt for Mormons and Utah, regarding them all as rubes and right-wing wackos. Of course, he was from New Jersey, and I was never sure if his reaction was a Jewish thing or a New Jersey thing. Probably both.

    Final story: My wife’s roommate from college — a Catholic — marries a nice Jewish boy. Heather is a bride’s maid. Jacob and I go to the wedding, which involves a lot of loud and semi-intoxicated hora dancing at the dinner afterwards. Jacob (2 years old at the time) found himself in the center of the circle jumping and dancing with glee, much to everyone’s delight. I am sure that he will grow up with a philo-semitism, they have much cooler wedding receptions than Mormons…

  73. Kimball Hunt on April 13, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    Having New Jersey and rubes considered opposites for a change is refreshing.

  74. Kevin Barney on April 13, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    Ed and Julie, the discussions I was talking about were definitely from the late 70s, so we were talking about different things. Thanks for the clarification. I had never heard of a prior 1950s set before.

  75. ed on April 13, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    On the topic of when it will be time to convert the Jews, let me refer everyone yet again to Armand Mauss’ excellent book. You can even go read the whole chapter on this topic by using Amazon’s “search inside” feature…maybe it will be enough to make you want to buy the whole book. It is interesting to note that on several occasions, certain high church leaders were convinced that the time to carry the gospel to the Jews had come, including Legrand Richards in the 1950s and Pres. Kimball in the 1970s. Both efforts were abandoned when they met with limited success, so I guess Frank is right and the time really hasn’t come yet.

  76. Hellmut on April 13, 2006 at 8:45 pm

    We might be flattering ourselves if we presume that Europeans are nervous about us.

  77. Adam Greenwood on April 13, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    “Although I have never met any, I certainly feel the same type of affection towards the Amish, who stand out in society because of their beliefs like I do.”

    We made some dear, dear Amish friends in the hospital. In fact, thinking back, I think all the parents we made friends with in the cancer ward were at least somewhat religious, although I suspect that is because active, involved parents have a tendency to get at least a little religious when their kids approach death.

    “Here is a good question for your next sunday school class (or a future post): if tomorrow the Church instituted the practice of wearing a yarmulke (or some other outward symbol of your religion), but it was optional, how many people would do it? Personally, I would pass. I won’t even wear a CTR ring.”

    I would wear my Beehive cuff-links, or whatever, with pride.

  78. Kimball Hunt on April 13, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    Beehive cufflinks lol

  79. MikeInWeHo on April 13, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    Rest assured the Europeans are not worried about the Church in any way whatsoever.

    The Amish have no idea who the LDS are. But of course, they call everyone who’s non-Amish “The English.” Gotta love that! That’s better than calling non-members “Gentiles.”

    Hate to throw cold water on this discussion, but as someone who lives and works in a highly Jewish area, I suspect that the vast, vast majority of Jews know virtually nothing of the Mormons. They probably view the LDS as a Christian sect, and might have some associations with Utah and perhaps polygamy. Beyond that, there’s nothing on the radar screen. Maybe I’ll ask around at work tomorrow and report back.

  80. Jim F. on April 14, 2006 at 12:08 am

    Helmut: We might be flattering ourselves if we presume that Europeans are nervous about us.

    Given the anti-cult movements and legislation in France, Belgium, and Germany, it seems reasonable to believe that the Europeans may not be worried about us specifically, but they are worried about us as grouped with other non-traditional religions.

  81. tracy m on April 14, 2006 at 1:32 am

    Once upon a time, I dated and almost married a Jewish man. (his father HATED the fact that I was an unclean heathen ;) While this wonderful man bore no ill-will toward whatever faith I wanted, Mormonism was no more than a blip on his radar, lumped in with all other sects that believed in Christ. I suspect (actaully I am certain) that this attitude is far more prevelent than any “kinship” model. We simply don’t register, and when (or if) we claim “kinship” we make ourselves look like simpletons to a group of people whose history encompasses the millenia.

    This may someday change- but for now, it is what I have seen. And continue to see.

  82. Costanza on April 14, 2006 at 8:17 am

    “He laughs and says: So you think there is no connection between the polygamists in Utah today and your Mormon faith, but you think you have some connection to Judaism? ” BADA BING!!!!

  83. Costanza on April 14, 2006 at 8:24 am

    In my Ph.D. program one of the professors on my exam committee was Jewish and was a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish history. To the extent that he ever said anything about Mormonism, he simply expressed his disdain for what he saw as Joseph Smith’s attempt to appropriate Jewish legend, lore, and scripture (he didn’t specify what he meant and I disn’t ask). As far as the famous Mormon “phil-semitism,” this professor, and several others I spoke to, viewed it as nothing more than the typical Christian approach to the Jews–meaning that the Christians need the Jews as part of their end-times scenarios so they offer a kind of patronizing acceptance, but have little respect for Judaism qua Judaism. I make no comment about whether the professor was right or wrong, but I think his perceptions are worth noting.

  84. Seth R. on April 14, 2006 at 8:53 am

    Skipping the comments again.

    I think the affinity between Jews and Mormons is pretty simple.

    The requirements for most American religions are all in your head.

    Mormons and Jews actually require you to do something concrete with your faith.

  85. Costanza on April 14, 2006 at 11:55 am

    “Mormons and Jews actually require you to do something concrete with your faith. ” What do you mean by “concrete”?

  86. MikeInWeHo on April 14, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Judaism is an incredibly nuanced and diverse faith tradition. A secularized Jew in the Reform tradition lives a completely different lifestyle from a “Frum” (religious) Jew. As I ponder these comparisons, I’m struck by 1. How clueless at least some LDS are about the contemporary Jewish community, and 2. How vastly different these two similarly-sized (in the U.S.) faith groups are. Nobody gets ex-communicated from Judaism for professing the “wrong” things about its history or practice, that’s for sure! The more I ponder this thread, the more amusing it seems.

    Mormonism has similar potential in the long-run with its fascinating history, malleable theology, and communitarian values. But for now the black-or-white, it’s-either-the-true-church-or-it’s-not thinking is fundamentally suffocating, imho. The dilemma, of course, is how to jettison that mindset without throwing the baby out with the bathwater (a la Community of Christ) and winding up with just another bland liberal sect that really isn’t life-transforming. No offense to any CofC members intended, of course.

  87. gst on April 14, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Mike, you should found the Church of West Hollywood Mormonism. Let us know how it goes.

  88. MikeInWeHo on April 14, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    I think I’ll choose to take that as a compliment. The WeHoWoW would prohibit refined carbs, and wearing sleeves would be grounds for excommunication. (Guess that sentence might only make sense to someone who’s visited here….)

    But this is tangental. Back to the Jews.

  89. Seth R. on April 14, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    By concrete, I meant “outward,” “visible,” “tangible.”

    Most other Christian religions don’t seem extremely concerned about behaviors as long as your heart is in the right place (unless it is something blatant like murder, etc.). Neither do they make much of a big deal about participating in ritual as a requirement of being a believer.

    And yes, I can see it coming … Of course this isn’t an entirely fair portrait of Christianity. But I am not speaking of individuals, or even of isolated congregations. Neither am I speaking of what majority Christians actually believe. I’m talking about where a particular religion takes an official stand. Who does or doesn’t belong and how do you define it.

    Mormons define it pretty clearly. Mainline Christianity, not so much.

    I’m sure that explanation won’t satisfy some, but I’m attacking a trend here. The guiding star for much of American Christianity today seems to be “whatever makes you feel good.” That’s the mainline trend (fundamentalist hold-outs notwithstanding).

  90. Seth R. on April 14, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Oh yeah, it’s not a fair portrait of the Jews either.

    So sue me. I don’t have to be fair today.

  91. Costanza on April 14, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    “Mainline Christianity, not so much.” I assume you mean evangelical Christianity, because Catholicism (by far the largest denomation in the U.S.–almost 25% of the entire population) is the most liturgically rich tradition in the country. Additionally, Pentacostals are an exclusivist movement with high demands (6 million of them), Lutherans and Episcopalians both have detailed liturgical systems (combined about 18 million). You are left with some wings of the Baptist and Methodist traditions , although they would certainly object to your characterization of their approach to Christianity. Ironically, most Jews in the U.S. are secular and would probably more aptly fit into your “whatever makes you feel good,â€? category. You’re right, you don’t have to be fair, but your assertions simply don’t fit with the complex realities of the tone and tenor of the American relgious landscape.

  92. Carolyn on April 14, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    In the late 1970′s the church purchased a Jewish synagogue in Montreal. (I believe we were the first ward in the church to meet in a synagogue.) For almost a year we shared the building with the Jewish congregation. They met on Saturdays. We had the building on Sundays. (Not quite as ideal as it sounds as each congregation held social activities on the others’ sabbath day.)

    Just before the final transition took place our bishop shared a story with me. He said that he had been walking through the building with the rabbi admiring the various Jewish symbols and artwork on the walls. The rabbi then told him that in his study of the LDS faith he thought that the only difference between Judaism and Mormonism was the belief in Christ. My bishop found this to be a rather surprising statement especially coming from a rabbi. At the very least perhaps it reflected a desire to find common ground. My bishop responded by saying that the artwork in the building was beautiful and that as far as he was concerned it could stay as is.

    However, when word got back to Salt Lake that we had Hebrew lettering and Jewish symbols on the walls of our building the powers that be ordered that it be taken down. My bishop expressed his regrets that he had been forced to take the artwork down. There was certainly nothing in it that was out of harmony with our faith. In fact he could see it as something that would strengthen us and also strengthen our connection to the Jewish congregation with which we shared a home.

    So here’s an example of them reaching out to us but us taking a big step back.

    My take on this is that our Jewish wannabe-ness only goes so far. We might want to feign a connection to Jewish culture but *NOT* on the walls of our chapels. lol… God forbid an investigator might come in one day and think we were actually Jewish!!

  93. Jim F. on April 14, 2006 at 11:27 pm

    MikeInWeHo (#79): I don’t think that anyone in this thread has suggested that any group of Jews is particularly aware of the Mormons, just as I have seen few in this thread assert anything very strong when it comes to Jewish-Mormon “kinship.” Most have been clear that it is something that we feel rather than something they feel.

    It is one thing to correct people who make incorrect assumptions or claims. It is another to correct them when few are doing so.

  94. MikeInWeHo on April 15, 2006 at 1:05 am

    Jim,
    I see your point, although I really thought that the initial entry by Jim F implied something reciprocal between Mormons and Jews. Many of the other entries argued my same point, btw (6, 15, 16, 31, etc). We may well have been wrong. Fridays at work always lead to careless blogging….

  95. Josh Kim on April 15, 2006 at 4:38 am

    to most Jews, The Mormon “tribe” is a not a part of Israel.

    Case in point, the LDS doctrine of baptisms for the dead. Jews were aghast when Holocaust victims were baptized by proxy and asked the First Presidency TWICE to stop it and yet some overzealous LDS people disregarded that agreement.

  96. Danny Haszard on April 15, 2006 at 4:51 am

    I was born and raised Jehovah’s Witness and they have their own lingo also, it’s called ‘loaded language’.

  97. Jonathan Maltz on April 15, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Re.#86

    Mike, you put it more clearly than I ever could and I heartily concur.

  98. Jim F. on April 15, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    MikeInWeHo (#94): I’m the same Jim F who posted the intial thread and who posted #93–I can tell what you mean about Friday, at least partly because I was sharing it by being in a grumpy mood. I think all of those posters you point to were sort-of wrong. I posted on a particular experience and I tried to avoid assuming that there is some kinship beyond that of perhaps “outsiders” getting together or some thing like that. But I can see how it was easy to read into my post more than that, especially in light of the fact that many Mormons are lovers of all things Jewish in a weird sort of way and assume that they should be–or are–loved reciprocally. I tried to correct that in #43, but, obviously, I wasn’t any better at making my point there than I was in the original post.

  99. MikeInWeHo on April 15, 2006 at 8:15 pm

    No worries, and thanks for clarifying Jim. My observations suggest that in the last few years the LDS population has started to feel more kinship with the Evangelicals, due to similar positions on social issues. Talk about an affinity that will never be returned, and deep irony to boot. That would be an interesting string for someone to start.

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