Orthodox Big Love for Mormons

I had heard that Rabbi Steven Burg, of the OU had proposed at the recent OU convention setting up a Mormon style mission for young Orthodox adults. [This was updated for the correct attribution.] Burg said all he has to provide is transportation. I was puzzled on many accounts. How did he know of the Mormon mission system? Did he realize that it requires those who go on mission to live simple lives without the distractions of materialism, entertainment, or that even email is allowed only once a week? (We have taken the gap-year in Israel programs and made sure no one is derived of their materialism and creature comforts.) Finally, did he realize that mission is the “Torah” of Mormons and was he going to move the Orthodox religious imperative from Torah and mizvot to mission?

I then discovered that the LA Jewish Journal has a non-Jewish Mormon regular columnist Mark Paredes who writes “Jews and Mormons” about his explorations in Judaism, especially Orthodoxy. It seems our Mormon friend is a regular at the OU conventions. And yes, Mormonism is discussed, and Rabbi Steve Weil, head of the OU was willing to tolerate an inner orthodoxy of commitment and ethics, rather than an outer ritual one.(If he accomplishes this it will create a very different Orthodoxy, one even more Americanized.)

From the Mormon side of things, there seems to be a Mormon –Orthodox Jewish dialogue going on. It may not discuss the revelation of the book of Neppi to the latter day saints but it certainly discusses religious values. I have known that Rabbi Bleich and others have given legal presentations about halakhah at Mormon institutions but the nature of this discussion was much more religious life. From Mark Paredes’ account and the OU call for Mormon mission one gets a sense that the Rabbis are being transformed from their discussions with him and other Mormons; a new era of acculturation into American religion.

As a side point, it was interesting that Burg expresses what the recently departed archbishop of Stockholm and interfaith expert Krister Stendehl called “holy envy.” That I can appreciate something in another faith and wish to explore adapting what I learn in another faith for Judaism.

The Orthodox Union on Christmas Eve:
Posted by Mark Paredes
Since I will be celebrating Christmas with my family next week in Michigan, I decided to spend Christmas Eve with observant Jews attending the annual Orthodox Union’s Torah Convention. The first Christmas Eve OU event that I attended was a 2006 debate on Orthodoxy between Dennis Prager and my good friend Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Tonight a few dozen people gathered at the regal home of Dr. Steven Tabak and his better half Linda to hear two of America’s great rabbis share their thoughts on defining Jewish values. They discussed several topics that are of interest to Mormons, and the LDS Church was mentioned several times. The discussion lasted two and a half hours, and was so wide-ranging that the rabbis only managed to address one of three questions that the eloquent moderator, Rabbi Adir Posy, had planned to cover. No one present seemed to mind.

Rabbi Steven Weil, the OU’s National Executive VP, began his presentation by identifying Jewish parents as being primarily responsible for the transmission of Jewish values and moral character to their children, with schools and synagogues serving as concentric circles around the parents. This responsibility requires parents to behave in an ethical manner so that their children will be drawn to Judaism; hypocrisy on their part will cause their kids to leave the faith. Rabbi Weil went on to say that it is ethical behavior, not outward signs of Orthodoxy like Sabbath observance, that truly characterizes an Orthodox Jew. He could have easily made the same speech to Mormon parents.

The rabbis were kind enough to include me in the discussion by mentioning that both of them have engaged in dialogue with LDS leaders and praising Mormons’ desire to work with Orthodox Jews on school vouchers and other issues of interest to both communities (the LDS Church does not take an official position on vouchers). They also mentioned Mormons while addressing two issues: tithing and excommunication of unethical members of their community. Both rabbis appeared to advocate an arrangement of lifetime tithing for the Orthodox in exchange for the provision of certain services, including tuition for their children at Orthodox day schools. They pointed to the LDS Church as a model to be followed in this regard (i.e., the building of chapels, temples, universities).

When an audience member asked whether Mormons debate similar issues, I was asked to respond. Read the rest here.

Below we have an Orthodox rabbi teaching our Mormon about the faith of Judaism.

The Jewish tradition doesn’t interpret scripture literally, but it sure loves science. Those two principles formed the basis of last week’s “Torah on Tuesdays” lecture delivered by Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Director of Special Projects at the Sephardic Educational Center in Los Angeles. I think that it’s important for everyone to study the Torah with a rabbi whenever possible, and I will be learning from Rabbi Bouskila this semester. Given the erudition and passion on display at Congregation Magen David last Tuesday, it will be time well spent.
Rabbi Bouskila’s free lectures on Jewish interpretations of the great stories in Genesis have the potential to do far more for the promotion of Jews and Judaism than the redundant conferences and lectures on the dangers of radical Islam that somehow manage to capture the attention (and dollars) of many wealthy Jews in this city.
I was happy to learn that all Jewish movements, including Orthodoxy, embrace science. Rabbi Bouskila proudly listed the concepts that his daughter would be studying this year in her biology class at a Modern Orthodox day school, and they included evolution and the scientific method. Jews have always valued learning, both religious and secular. In this they are similar to Mormons, whose church-sponsored universities produce graduates in biology, physics, chemistry and other sciences. Read the rest here.

Here is a Mormon plea to be part of Shabbat Across America of NJOP

Many thanks to fellow LDS-Jewish blogger Christa Woodall for reminding me of the upcoming Shabbat Across America, the annual promotion of Sabbath observance sponsored by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP).

To my Jewish readers: please invite an LDS friend or family to accompany you to Sabbath services and to dinner if possible. This is a wonderful opportunity to show them how meaningful Jewish traditions are to you and your family. If you have children, your Mormon friends will have an opportunity to experience a very spiritual moment when you bless them at the table.

To my Mormon readers: if you don’t have a Jewish friend to accompany to services, consult the NJOP’s website to see which area congregations are participating in the program. If you would like to experience a Sabbath dinner, call the synagogue. Often there are families that volunteer to host out-of-town visitors for Sabbath meals, and they may have room for you. Be sure to arrive in time to see the children blessed. You may want to reciprocate by inviting your Jewish friend to a Monday evening Family Home Evening.

Here is our Mormon explaining to his Rabbi friends that he is not a Noahide, rather an Israelite from the tribe of Ephraim.

Do rabbis believe that Mormons are Noahides? Rabbis who understand our beliefs would undoubtedly apply that label to observant Mormons and other practicing Christians. However, there are good reasons for Mormons themselves to reject it.

Mormons certainly have no theological objection to any of the Noahide laws…When Mormons are asked by Jews whether they are Noahides, they almost always answer yes.

When asked, I always tell rabbis that I consider myself to be an Israelite, so I can’t be a Noahide. Faithful Mormons are given special blessings (patriarchal blessings) that declare in which Israelite tribe they will receive their spiritual inheritance. The tribe may or may not correspond to their blood lineage, but the tribal designation is very real to Mormons, who strongly believe that they are Latter-day Israelites. My patriarchal blessing goes one step further by informing me that I am a direct descendant of Ephraim, the son of Joseph.
For this reason, I believe that a Mormon who claims to be a Noahide—outside the covenants of Abraham and Moses—is implicitly denying his Israelite identity. Read the rest here.

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13 responses to “Orthodox Big Love for Mormons

  1. As a Mormon colleague supposedly once said to my father at a meeting:” to us, all these other folks are gentiles.”

    (Q: has Mr. Paredes heard the song “Yerushalayim is not for sale”?)

  2. Wow. I’ll bet that many observant Jews are unaware, as I, that any of this LDS love-fest is going on. I admit that at first thought, it gives me the creeps. Are these rabbanim aware of some of the less-discussed but standard beliefs of the Mormons?

  3. Mordechai- I think you may be onto something that I did not grasp at first. I doubt that most of the Orthodox rabbis know that most Christians do not consider Mormons Christians. They probably think they are another brand of Protestantism. I also doubt that these rabbis know that Mormons think God has an actual body, can impregnate people, was once a person, was not God for all eternity. (There is lots of subtleties, apologetics, and modern readings of these concepts). Their definition of God would be more questionable halakhicly than these rabbis realize. ve ACM”L

    • The idea that the OU wants more to do with the Mormon Church and is trying to develop Jewish mission is so strange.
      Weil’s line about integrating ideas from other faiths is fine, but did he elaborate upon the reason for wanting to incorporate mission?
      ould you elaborate upon what it is Weil admires about mission and why it should be integrated into Orthodox Judaism?
      As you pointed out – the mission model is not Torah Tours.
      Do you think he meant that he wants an Orthodox yearlong camp Ramah?

  4. I think the lovefest speaks to the discomfort with mainstream Evangelicals felt even by evangelical, family values Orthodox Jews.

    Mormons aren’t trying to make America a Mormon country where many Evangelical streams have a strong anti-pluralist, monocultural Christian agenda for America. (It’s telling that it’s the most Zionist of rabbis — Riskin — who is making the deepest connections with the evangelicals.)

    Ultimately, the bond of minority status is more important than non-corporeal theology. (Though I would think that Michael Wyschogrod might be able to find a profitable theological niche to exploit here.)

  5. I think the lovefest speaks to the discomfort with mainstream Evangelicals felt even by evangelical, family values Orthodox Jews.

    Mormons aren’t trying to make America a Mormon country whereas many Evangelical streams have a strong anti-pluralist, monocultural Christian agenda for America. (It’s telling that it’s the most Zionist of Modern Orthodox rabbis — Riskin — who is making the deepest connections with the evangelicals.)

    Ultimately, the bond of minority status is more important than non-corporeal theology. (Though I would think that Michael Wyschogrod might be able to find a profitable theological niche to exploit here.)

  6. To amplify Mordechai’s point: Do these OU rabbis know that the Mormons hold to a strong replacement theology? At different levels of their development, many/most boys/men are known as Aaronide Priests and then Melchizedek Priests. There may be a third intermediate level called Abrahamic priesthood.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchal_priesthood
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priesthood_%28Mormonism%29

    Debbie (Mrs. B) has read a number of books about Mormonism, as it is the original American (in many senses) Religion based on a bad SF novel, as well as Masonic rituals. E.g. the special underwear is basically a t-shirt with the Masonic Square (a V) over one breast and the Compass (a caret) over the other.

    • Jon – Unfortunately, you have no idea what you’re talking about re replacement theology and Mormons. Here’s my blog post on the topic:
      http://www.jewishjournal.com/jews_and_mormons/item/replacement_theology_mormons_and_the_amish_39101204/
      Also, your priesthood terminology is off, and our faith is not based on Masonic rituals. One of the main temple rituals involves the washing and anointing ritual administered to Aaron and his priests, which is explained in Exodus. Just curious: would you like a Mormon to poke fun at the tallit katan on a website? I’m very disappointed to see such profound ignorance on display on a Jewish website, even if it is only a silly comment. As the saying goes, a little learning is a dangerous thing.

      • Mark,
        Thank you for the correction. Is there anything that you wish to add about how you see the Orthodox community having an affinity to cordiality with yourself and your fellow Mormons?
        How would you characterize the current state of the encounter between the groups?

  7. Mormons are polytheistic religion and believe that JHWH is a subgod to a Godhead called Elohim. Elohim has his residence near an unknown star called Kolob.
    Elohim has a wife, too. All human beings have been gods before being born and will be again. Mormons also say that the Hebrew Bible verifies all this.

    Has the fact that there is only one God, not myriads, any importance to Judaism ? One can choose friends among football fans or swimmers without much thought to their beliefs, but talking about relations between religions, it would be well to remember what one stands for. Otherwise it might even make ignorant people think that as religion Judaism and Mormonism are like, even though they differ like day and night.

    • M. There are a few points of LDS doctrine, in which you are misinformed. We don’t believe that JHWH is a subgod. He is a member of the Godhead. Do you believe that other religions consider JHWH a subgod because he is a member of their trinity? Elohim or God the Father is also a member of that Godhead, but is not the godhead. The Godhead is composed of G-D the Father, his son JHWH, and the Holy Ghost….similar to the trinity, but also different. But in no way do we consider JHWH to be a subgod. We also don’t believe that “all human beings have been gods before being born and will be again”. We believe that all humans existed before this life, but we were not gods, we were spirit children of our heavenly father (Elohim). We also don’t believe that all humans will become gods. We believe that this life is a chance for us to become like G-d. And that if we obey his commandments, through the atonement of Christ, can become like our Heavenly Father. Not too difficult or outrageous of a claim, doesn’t every parent seek for their children to have all that they have? Doesn’t every parent want their children to be like them (well the good characteristics :-) ?

  8. Sean McLaughlin

    How gratifying to hear that there are friendships being forged, discussions taking place. Mormons who are deep into their faith tend to have a great deal of respect and feel a kinship with the Jewish faith, traditions, teachings, and practices. We embrace truth where it is found, and in our eyes, there is no room for anything but admiration and respect for the truth of Judaism. We may have “our take” on things of course, but in the way of family, heritage, and core values and beliefs, we have much to share together and celebrate together. Love and respect!

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