Over at Pajamasmedia, Rod Rosenbaum proposes a question for Romney:

Did he speak up at all against the shameful posthumous baptism of Holocaust victims?

Ah yes. Those dirty Mormons are daring to make Dead Jews Mormons, so let’s get insulted.

Now, as a “Gentile” ( the Mormons use this for those not a member of their church) it’s not exactly my place to argue either way.

Yet as a doctor who has worked with people of many religions (and none) I’m wondering if Rosenbaum understands why this is being done.

Early Christians worried that those good pagans who died before Christ would go to hell, so started ceremonies to baptise their dead ancestors. Paul sort of frowned on this, and later Catholics just decided they had “Baptism of desire” and would make the cut if they lived a good life, but later reformers went back to those literal passages implying no baptism, no heaven, even for babies.

In 1840, the LDS church reestablished the practice.

The LDS Church teaches that performing baptisms for the dead allows this saving ordinance to be offered to those who have died without accepting or knowing Jesus Christ or his teachings during their mortal lives. It is taught that this is the method by which all who have lived upon the earth will have the opportunity to receive baptism and to thereby enter the Kingdom of God.

 Baptism on behalf of a deceased individual is not binding if that individual chooses to reject it in the afterlife.[3]

So the LDS church is not insulting Jews by baptising them (the “insult” is implying that non baptised won’t get into heaven, but that insult is not limited to Jews).
What they are doing is a mitzvah: A good deed, trying to enable their ancestors and other good gentiles, the ability to be in the highest heaven with the rest of the latter day saints. One side effect of this practics are the large geneological records collected by the church (many collected from the baptismal records of European Catholic churchs).

It would be the equivalent of a Catholic offering a mass for the dead for a dead Jewish relative, or placing a convent of Nuns at Auschwitz to pray in reparation for the horrors committed there: Not as an insult but a way to show solidarity with the Jewish religion, and try in a small way to make up for the wrongs done to them by others, some of whom claimed to be Christian.

Perhaps the best way to put this into perspective is to relate the legend (probably not true) of Brigham Young and the nuns who ran the hospital in Salt Lake City.

Like many small towns in the Midwest and Mountain states, some Catholic nuns were invited to start a hospital to care for the sick in Salt Lake City. One of their patients was Morman patriarch Brigham Young, who was given such good care that he later related to the nuns that he had married them in spirit, so that in the next life he could resurrect them and they could live in heaven as part of his extended family.

The nuns smiled and accepted the act in the spirit in which it was performed: As an act of charity, not as an insult to Catholicism.

When the rabbis should be busy worrying about the loss of faith, active proselytizing by cults, and the large intermarriage rate among their members, worrying about insults where none is meant doesn’t help matters. Indeed, if the LDS church is right, it gets them a free choice after death, and if the LDS church is wrong, it’s merely nonsense and should be ignored.

But if one is Jewish, it brings up the history of forced conversions/baptisms under pain of torture and death, a rememberence of a thousand years of Christian hostility.

Placed into this context, the baptisms are not only an insult but seen as forcing conversion after death (which it is not, since LDS theology allows the soul to refuse the baptism).

So the LDS elders have backed away from and discouraged those who were performing the baptisms, but cannot stop the practice.

After all, both religions see God as merciful and see living in harmony with their brothers as something more important than religious rituals.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Makaipa blog

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