Proxy Baptism of Jews Under Review

The Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 10, 2002
http://www.sltrib.com/
BY PEG McENTEE, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Two LDS Church leaders are to meet today in New York with the chairman of the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors to discuss a 1995 agreement that Holocaust victims and other deceased Jews are not to be baptized posthumously into the Utah-based faith.

Mormons believe proxy baptisms give the dead an opportunity to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the spirit world.

However, they are encouraged to limit submissions of names to their own ancestors.

On Monday, Helen Radkey of Salt Lake City, whose examination of church genealogical records led to the 1995 agreement between the New York organization and the church, said in an e-mail that “this contract appears not to have been kept, from the Mormon end.”

Radkey did not immediately return a telephone message.

Ernest W. Michel, chairman of the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, could not be reached by telephone Monday.

However, he told The Associated Press that he will be discussing that policy with church officials.

He called the talk preliminary and offered no further comment until after the meeting.

Michel will meet with Elders D. Todd Christofferson of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Monte J. Brough of the First Quorum of the Seventy to discuss “ongoing cooperative efforts to administer the LDS Church’s 1995 agreement with U.S. Jewish organizations regarding posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victims,” church spokesman Dale Bills said Monday.

Under the agreement, the church removed some 400,000 Jewish names from its International Genealogical Index and its leaders forbade temple work for Holocaust victims.

The only exception is for church members with direct Jewish ancestors or when the deceased’s immediate family gives written consent.

In 2001, the church agreed to strip the names of more than 200 Jewish people from its genealogical records, including those of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis; David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel; and more than a dozen relatives of Anne Frank, the Nazi death camp victim whose World War II diary became a staple of Holocaust literature.

At that time, Bills said that with the enormity of the genealogical database — with billions of names and open to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of amateur genealogists — the task had so far proven impossible.

Rabbi Marvin Heir, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said Monday that posthumous baptisms of Jews bespeaks arrogance and insensitivity among those who continue the practice.

“The issue is very simple: These people lived as Jews, died as Jews and left behind offspring,” he said.

Heir said those who baptize deceased Jews may be well-meaning, but “it is arrogant and insensitive because it presupposes that they have the key to heaven . . . that they are acting out Godlike authority. He’ll decide for himself, without any help. He doesn’t need assistance from mortal man.”

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