By Bernard I. Kouchel
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as the LDS or Mormons) has spent millions of dollars microfilming, indexing and cataloging nearly every document known to man from every country on earth -- including millions of Jewish records. Church members are encouraged to find the names of ancestors to baptize by proxy, which they believe gives the dead the opportunity to embrace the faith in the afterlife.
They say that those who are dead retain their identity and free will and therefore can either accept or reject the rites performed for them.
A hands-on proxy baptism ceremony, called an ordinance, takes place in a Mormon temple, and includes full immersion to wash away sins and commence church membership.
It is supposedly performed, commentators say, for people who had believed in Christ, but had not had a chance to be baptized. To be baptized is to publicly acknowledge one's faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. Originally, the practice was reserved for ancestors of church members, but over the years many other people have been baptized posthumously.
From the founding of their religion in 1830, Mormons have respected Judaism as a religion.
Thus in 1994, Jews were outraged when it became known that members of LDS were posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims and other Jewish dead. Many followers of Judaism find the practice highly offensive, something akin to the forced baptism of Jews practiced for centuries in Europe during the Middle Ages. Some see the practice as an implicit bias, an act of intolerance.
The wrongful baptism of Jewish dead, which disparages the memory of a deceased person is a brazen act which will obscure the historical record for future generations.
It has been bitterly opposed by many Jews for a number of years. Others say they will never stop being Jews, simply because there is a paper saying they had been baptized, that the act of posthumous baptism is unimportant and should be ignored.
We think this to be a narrow, parochial, and shallow view. We will continue opposing this wrongful act which assimilates our dead to the point where it will not be possible to know who was Jewish in their lifetimes.
This author was among the first genealogists to discover the names of thousands of Jewish Holocaust victims in the International Genealogical Index (the "IGI") 1, the official Mormon index of proxy baptisms for the dead, and quickly exposed this misguided practice.
Names are placed in the IGI by individual Mormon researchers or through Church name extraction programs. The names were extracted 2 mainly from two Holocaust memorial books. Gedenkbuch was extracted by individuals; the Memorbuch was part of the Church's 'Extraction Program', an ongoing program that acquired records and distributed them to trained Church member volunteers who then extracted the names and submitted them for posthumous baptism.3
A protest drive initiated by Jewish genealogists escalated it to a nationally publicized issue that was followed by public outcry.
American Jewish leaders considered it an insult and a major setback for interfaith relations. They initiated discussions with the Mormon Church that culminated in a voluntary 1995 agreement by the Church to remove the inappropriate names. Activists continue to monitor Mormon baptismal lists, seeking removal of inappropriate entries.
Has the church done anything to uphold its decade-old agreement with the Jewish community? The bad news is that the Mormons continue to hijack Jewish genocide victims and other Jewish dead. Moreover, when a Jew is baptized, the door is open for all of his deceased ancestors to be baptized as well. Regrettably, their baptismal records place before the public a revisionist view that these deceased Jews were Mormons, a position they would have rejected in life.
A commentator on this topic said that anti-Semites who desecrate Jewish cemeteries want to destroy even the memory of Jews by breaking their tombstones and other symbols whereby we honor and remember them. He concluded that baptism of the Jewish dead is just a more sophisticated form of breaking tombstones.
A blogger wrote: "I don't buy the argument that it's done for selfless reasons. It's not selflessness, it's arrogance. And especially in light of the Mormon Church's agreement in 1995 to stop baptizing Holocaust victims, it's even more reprehensible for them to continue the practice. If a church can't be trusted to keep its word in a matter such as this, then where is its moral standing?"
We want to say this to all well-meaning Christians: We don't want to be saved, redeemed, forgiven, reincarnated, resurrected, or enraptured. We just want to be left alone.
After 2000 years -- is it so much to ask?
We find the idea of Jews being posthumously baptized into the Mormon church to be deeply offensive in the extreme and cannot express our disgust, outrage and revulsion at this practice in strong enough terms.
If everyone has free will, or "free agency" as Mormons say it, why bother with baptizing the dead who chose not to accept Christ? It takes the spiritual hounding of Jews to new lows; not even the grave is a refuge from over-zealous missionaries!
How can Jews be committed to enumerating descendants when the Mormons distort our family ties and our historic links to Judaism? You may wish to include these disclaimers in your genealogy records --
I note for posterity that if future researchers find records of baptized relatives in Mormon databases, know that these wrongful baptisms were inflicted on those relatives posthumously - - those entries do not reflect changes in religious choice or practice of our deceased ancestors.
If having been subjected to the involuntary Rite of Baptism, I hereby publicly revoke any implications of that Rite and renounce the Church that carried it out.