Rabban Gamliel, Mormons, and People Who Aren’t There

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Last night I went to the Mechon Hadar beit midrash  for a session on prayer leaders, and what qualities a prayer leader should have led by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer. One of the sources we looked at was a discussion of whether or not a person leading prayers can discharge the obligation of people who aren’t even present at the place where the prayers are being done. Rabban Gamliel said that even someone who’s out working the fields can fulfill his obligation via the proxy of a prayer leader. This seemed a little ridiculous to me (and to the Sages, who did not hold by Rabban Gamliel’s standards).

Then this morning I saw another article about Mormons who are posthumously baptizing Jews who perished in the Holocaust.  051007_MormonBaptism_vl.small.jpg

Jewish group wants Mormons to stop proxy baptisms
By Deepti Hajela and Jennifer Dobner
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Holocaust survivors said Monday they are through trying to negotiate with the Mormon church over posthumous baptisms of Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps, saying the church has repeatedly violated a 13-year-old agreement barring the practice.

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say they are making changes to their massive genealogical database that will make it more difficult for names of Holocaust victims to be entered for posthumous baptism by proxy, a rite that has been a common Mormon practice for more than a century.

But Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, said that is not enough. At a news conference in New York City on Monday, he said the church also must “implement a mechanism to undo what you have done.”

Baptism of a Jewish Holocaust victim and then merely removing that name from the database is just not acceptable,” said Michel, whose parents died at Auschwitz. He spoke on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-incited riots against Jews.

“We ask you to respect us and our Judaism just as we respect your religion,” Michel said in a statement released ahead of the news conference. “We ask you to leave our six million Jews, all victims of the Holocaust, alone, they suffered enough.”

Michel said talks with Mormon leaders, held as recently as last week, have ended. He said his group will not sue, and that “the only thing left, therefore, is to turn to the court of public opinion.”

The Mormon response to the request was pretty lame:

“We don’t think any faith group has the right to ask another to change its doctrines,” Wickman said. “If our work for the dead is properly understood … it should not be a source of friction to anyone. It’s merely a freewill offering.”

Full story
I’m sorry, but ‘freewill offering’ my tush. Baptizing people who aren’t there–not cool. Way worse than praying for people who aren’t there.

Posted on November 19, 2008

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