By Kent Larsen
LDS Church Will Remove More Jews from Baptismal Records
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- A Salt Lake City genealogist recently discovered the
names of more than 200 notable Jews in the LDS Church's records of baptisms
for the dead, in violation of a 1995 agreement with Jewish organizations.
The discovery has now lead to renewed controversy over the practice and a
new agreement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to remove
the names. Genealogist Helen Radkey discovered the names in her research and
alterted the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which negotiated the
new agreement with the Church.
The list of names includes many notable Jews of the past century, including
Sigmund Freud, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, and
relatives of holocaust victim Anne Frank. Weisenthal Center senior
researcher Aaron Breitbart says that Jews find the baptism of their
ancestors offensive. "These people were born Jews, they lived as Jews and
many of them died because they were Jews," Breitbarttold the Salt Lake
Tribune Tuesday. "They would not have chosen to be baptized Mormons in life,
and there is no reason they would want to be baptized by proxy in death."
Under a deal negotiated with the Church, the names on a list of more than
200 Jews will be removed from the Church' records. In addition, Wiesenthal
Center staff will work with the Church to find ways to prevent the addition
of Jews in the future.
The Church first faced the vocal objections of Jews to posthumous baptism in
1995, when an article in the New York-based Jewish newspaper The Forward
disclosed that many Jews, including thousands of holocaust victims, had been
baptized posthumously. The resulting controversy led the Church to reach an
agreement with several Jewish organizations that called for the names to be
According to LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills, the names removed number in
the hundreds of thousands, and Church genealogists are looking for ways to
filter out Jews from future work. From that time the Church's policy asks
members not to submit the names of Jews unless the names submitted are their
direct ancestors or unless the immediate family members of the deceased
consent in writing. However, the Salt Lake Tribune credited "zealous
mormons" who submit the names of "prominent historical and religious
figures" for the presence of the names in Church records.
Bills emphasizes that with records that number in the billions, submitted
and maintained by volunteers and open to any amateur genealogist,
identifying and removing one class of people is next to impossible. As most
genealogists know, the original records don't necessarily indicate a
person's race, religion or heritage, and the Church's records don't
necessarily include that information in the data collected.
Many Mormons simply don't understand the objections of Jews to the practice.
To Mormons, baptism is a sacred ordinance necessary for salvation, and the
practice of posthumous baptisms simply allows the departed the choice of
accepting -- or rejecting -- the ordinance. In addition, Mormons claim a
kinship with the Jews, believing Mormonism to be an extension of the Jewish
beliefs, along with a belief in a Messiah that has already come. This leads
Mormons to see the practice as important for decesased Jews.
Many Jews, however, find the practice offensive, something akin to the
forced baptism of Jews prracticed for centuries in Europe during the Middle
Ages. Others see the practice as an anti-semitic attempt to diminish the
place of Jews. "During the Crusades, Jewish people were given the choice of
baptism or death. While many chose death, many of them did not get a choice.
They were baptized against their will," says Breitbart. "Though that
occurred in the Middle Ages, it still sticks in our craw."
LDS Try to End Unauthorized Work for Jews
Salt Lake Tribune 2May01 N1
By Bob Mims: Salt Lake Tribune
Mormon church to remove names of 200 Jews baptized after death
Riverside CA Press-Enterprise (AP) 2May01 N1
LDS Struggle to Keep Proxy Baptisms Appropriate