An­ces­try group backs lec­ture by Mor­mon bap­tism-row leader

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BYLEONSYMONSAND AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER

BRI­TAIN’S LEAD­ING Jewish ge­nealog­i­cal group has de­fended its de­ci­sion to in­vite a mem­ber of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-Day Saints — the Mor­mons — to speak at its an­nual one-day con­fer­ence last week.

On Sun­day at West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue, the Jewish Ge­nealog­i­cal So­ci­ety of Great Bri­tain (JGSGB) gave a gen­er­ous round of ap­plause to Sharon Hintze, di­rec­tor of the Lon­don Fam­ily His­tory Cen­tre, who spoke about Jewish fam­ily-his­tory re­sources.

Ms Hintze is the head of the UK branch of an in­ter­na­tional Mor­mon pro­gramme which col­lects de­tails of dead peo­ple and posthu­mously bap­tises them into the Mor­mon Church.

Mor­mons have been at the cen­tre of an on­go­ing con­tro­versy since the early 1990s when it emerged that some of its mem­bers had sub­mit­ted lists of Holo­caust vic­tims for post­hu­mous bap­tism without re­gard to their ori­gin or re­la­tion to the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand Holo­caust vic­tims had been bap­tised be­fore the prac­tice came to light.

De­spite an agree­ment from the Mor­mons in 1995 that the prac­tice would stop, it has con­tin­ued.

Only last month, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Jewish web­site Avotaynu, Mor­mon of­fi­cials were due to meet rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Holo­caust sur­vivor move­ment in New York on Septem­ber 18 to ex­plain why post­hu­mous bap­tism of Holo­caust vic­tims has con­tin­ued un­abated de­spite the agree­ment.

“At the last minute,” the web­site claimed, “the Church can­celled the meet­ing.” Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions have com­plained re­cently that Mor­mons have been posthu­mously bap­tis­ing not only Holo­caust vic­tims but dead Jews in gen­eral.

JGSGB chair­man Lau­rence Har­ris said af­ter last Sun­day’s Lon­don meet­ing: “My view is, don’t let’s blow things out of pro­por­tion. There have been post­hu­mous bap­tisms that prob­a­bly should not have hap­pened.

“The point is the Mor­mon Church is tak­ing rea­son­able action to pre­vent this hap­pen­ing in fu­ture and my view is that, as they are tak­ing rea­son­able action, I am happy to con­tinue to co­op­er­ate and work with them.

“We would not have been able to go back as far in our an­ces­try without the work they are do­ing and the records they have been given and mi­cro­filmed in the past. Without those records we would not have been able to do it, so we have to be grate­ful.”

Dur­ing her pre­sen­ta­tion, Ms Hintze re­vealed that her cen­tre had been given some records from the New, Great, Ham­bro and Princes Street syn­a­gogues. Ac­cord­ing to Mor­mon web­sites and in­for­ma­tion col­lected by Jewish ge­neal­o­gists in the United States, th­ese records are used to bap­tise posthu­mously mil­lions of dead peo­ple into the Mor­mon faith.

In the past, Jewish fig­ures such as Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gu­rion, Anne Frank, Al­bert Ein­stein, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin have been bap­tised by the Mor­mons.

But Mr Har­ris in­sisted: “It comes back to the tenets of their re­li­gion. They col­lected this in­for­ma­tion for rea­sons in their church. That does not mean we as a com­mu­nity can­not ben­e­fit and they have opened up [the records] to us for our ben­e­fit.”

He said he did not know of any fam­i­lies in Bri­tain whose Jewish an­ces­tors had been posthu­mously bap­tised.

But on the web­site of the In­ter­na­tional Ge­nealog­i­cal In­dex, the of­fi­cial record of those who have been bap­tised into the Mor­mon church, there are thou­sands of Bri­tish names.

They have been col­lated from com­mu­nity and syn­a­gogue records ob­tained by the Fam­ily His­tory Cen­tre.

Gary Mo­tokoff, ed­i­tor of the Amer­i­can Jewish ge­neal­ogy web­site Avotaynu, said in a re­cent post: “It is time for the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter­day Saints to end its doc­trine that their mis­sion is the sal­va­tion of the en­tire hu­man race both liv­ing and dead. No one has the right to in­volve other peo­ple’s fam­i­lies in their re­li­gion.”

The Lon­don Fam­ily His­tory Cen­tre holds be­tween 6,000 and 7,000 rolls of film con­tain­ing records of Jewish in­ter­est, with many from East­ern Europe.

A press release by the Lat­ter Day Saints Church de­scribes how Mor­mon vol­un­teers from around the world use the Fam­ily His­tory Cen­tre’s data­bases and custom-made soft­ware to “in­dex” names out of the old records.

It states: “Church mem­bers par­tic­i­pat­ing in Fam­ily Search in­dex­ing in Eng­land are re­minded that with ev­ery click of the mouse a per­son comes closer to be­ing found and closer to re­ceiv­ing tem­ple or­di­nances.”

In other words, th­ese names are pre­sented to the Mor­mon church for bap­tism.

Ms Hintze stressed that she was a mem­ber of the Mor­mon Church but did not speak for it.

She said: “As far as I know, the Church has never or­gan­ised post­hu­mous bap­tisms. Our re­li­gious be­liefs are that the liv­ing should be bap­tised in wa­ter and that we should be bap­tised for our an­ces­tors who might have wanted it. It is our be­lief that, if you want to meet God in the next life, you must un­dergo bap­tism.

“The in­struc­tions of our Church are that whether for Jewish groups, Lutheran or Ro­man Catholic groups, in­di­vid­u­als are not al­lowed to sub­mit lists of names for post­hu­mous bap­tism.”

PHOTO: AP

PHOTO: AP

Anne Frank and Yitzhak Rabin: both have been bap­tised by Mor­mons

The Hyde Park Re­gional Fam­ily His­tory Cen­tre of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints

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