"Holocaust victims were killed solely because they were Jews," fumes Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "And here comes the Mormon church taking away their Jewishness. It's like killing them twice." The Simon Wiesenthal Center, pronouncing itself "outraged," declares that the latest proxy baptisms "make a mockery" of Jewish-Mormon relations. Wiesel himself insists that Mitt Romney, as "the most famous and important Mormon in the country," has a moral obligation to tell his church: "Stop it."
But if anyone should be told to "stop it," it's men like Foxman and Wiesel, whose reactions to this issue have been unworthy and unfair.
For one thing, the Mormon church promptly apologized for the listing of Anne Frank and the others, and firmly reiterated its policy: "Proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims are strictly prohibited." Leaping to take offense at something the church has unequivocally repudiated is cheap grandstanding.
More odious by far is the accusation that a posthumous "baptism" no Jew attaches any credence to is tantamount to a second genocide ("It's like killing them twice"). What an ugly slander. Even to the most zealous Mormon, proxy baptism is simply the offering of a choice -- it gives non-Mormons in the afterlife a chance to accept the gospel, should they wish to. You don't have to buy the theology -- I certainly don't -- to recognize that its message is benign.
As a Jew, I am less interested in what other religions teach about the fate of Jews in the next world than in how they affect the fate of Jews in this world. Rafael Medoff, a scholar of America's response to the Holocaust, notes that Mormon leaders were outspoken supporters of efforts to rescue Jews from Nazi Europe at a time when many mainstream Christians were silent. For example, Utah Senator William King -- among the most renowned Mormons of his day -- strongly backed legislation that could have saved Anne Frank and her family.
Outraged by proxy baptisms? Count me out. As my stunted family tree attests, the Jewish people have very real, very dangerous enemies. Mormons undergoing peaceful rituals in their own temples aren't on the list.
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