Rebaptism, Spring 2004

-- During Spring 2004
Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy

Volume XX, No. 1

by Sallyann Amdur Sack, Editor

As I See It

A major cluster of stories in this issue [pp37-40] ... concerns the Mormon practice of baptizing deceased Jews. In 1995 the LDS Church and representatives of the Jewish people signed an agreement that many thought would end the practice. Apparently it has not. Wayne Metcalf, a representative of the LDS church explains why the Mormons do posthumous baptisms; Gary Mokotoff details some history and the nature of the agreement, and Bernard Kouchel presents evidence that terms of the agreement are not being observed. (1)

-- Apr 11, 2005
Jews, Mormons to Examine Proxy Baptisms

Jews, Mormons Agree to Study Database of Those Who Received Posthumous Proxy Baptisms

By MARK THIESSEN Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY Apr 11, 2005 Jews and Mormons decided Monday to jointly scrutinize a Mormon database that includes the names of thousands of deceased Jews including Holocaust victims who were given unwanted, posthumous baptisms.

A committee with members of both religions will study how names get into the massive International Genealogical Index which has an estimated 4 million entries what processes are followed, and how greater order can be brought to the unwieldy listing.

The move lets Mormons "see what we can do that doesn't compromise our core beliefs and practices" while still addressing the concerns of Jewish leaders, said D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, a high-ranking church leadership body. "We're going to do a lot of fact finding, and we will go from there."

"The church did not compromise its principles. The Jewish community didn't compromise its concerns," said David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee in New York, one of five leaders who met with Mormon officials Sunday and Monday.... (1)

-- Apr 12, 2005
National Public Radio

Morning Edition

by Howard Berkes

Mormons Aim to Stop 'Baptism' of Holocaust Victims

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes another [failed] attempt to address concerns of Jewish groups ... (1)

-- During Fall 2005
Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy

by Sallyann Amdur Sack, Editor

Mormon/Jewish Controversy: An Update

....Increasingly, however, rumbles began to be heard in the Jewish community to the effect that names removed from the IGI in 1995 were once more appearing on this list. As examples multiplied, Helen Radkey, a former Mormon living in Salt Lake City, began to research the IGI and to investigate the charges that the Mormons were failing to observe the agreement, sending her findings to Ernest Michel of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. Michel was the person who negotiated the 1995 agreement with the Church.

In March 2005, Michel and three other representatives of Jewish organizationsDr. David Elcott of the American Jewish Committee, AVOTAYNU publisher Gary Mokotoff and Herbert Kronish, a lawyer friend of Micheltraveled to Salt Lake City to present Radkey's evidencethree large crates with a total of 5,000 namesto 10 officials of the LDS (Mormon) Church. The Church asked for time to analyze the items, and both sides agreed to establish a six-person ad hoc committee (three Jews and three Mormons) to study the results of the analysis and to make recommendations to the principals. Mokotoff was selected to create the Jewish contingent. He tapped AVOTAYNU editor Sallyann Amdur Sack and JewishGen vice-president Carol Skydell as the other two Jewish members. In May 2005, the ad hoc committee met in Salt Lake City. The Mormon members were David E. Rencher, Director of the Records and Information; Wayne J. Metcalfe, Director of Acquisitions; Paul Starkey, Manager of Official Temple Records.

Starkey is directly responsible for the IGI. Church Extraction Program

The Mormons clarified their use of names extracted from genealogical records. The vast majority of deceased persons for whom ordinances such as baptism are performed are not related to Mormons. The ordinances are performed as the result of the Church's Extraction Program in which the names of persons from collections they have acquired are submitted for ordinances. An example of this is a current project to extract and seal all persons married in Manhattan (New York) since marriage records were created in this locale. Jews who had ancestors married by 1910 in Manhattan will find their names in the IGI. Another example of the Extraction Program is all Jews born in London, England, in the 19th century, whose births were recorded in the Hambro Synagogue, were baptized by the Church. This occurred prior to the 1995 agreement. What the Church has ceased to do, in accordance with the 1995 agreement, is to initiate projects to extract specifically Jewish records, such as the Hambro

Synagogue birth records.

Still at issue is the statement in the 1995 agreement that the Church would ...discontinue any future baptisms of deceased Jews...where identified or known as Jews.... Consider the marriage record of Fanny Goldberg and Morris Bernstein in New York City. Do their names identify them as Jews? Not necessarily to the thousands of Mormons extracting records at the request of the Church, because they are not familiar with Jewish names. But if the officiant at the marriage is identified as a rabbi, does that identify the couple as Jewish? Similarly, if a Morris Bernstein is among the death records for Massachusetts, his name may not identify him as Jewish, but the fact that he is buried in Beth Moses Cemetery does. These are the problems the ad hoc committee is supposed to resolve. Names Submitted by Individual Mormons

Names may reach the IGI not only because of formally organized Church projects, but because they have been submitted by individual Mormons who are fulfilling their religious obligation to submit names of their own ancestors for what is called church work.

At this point in the ad hoc committee meeting, David Rencher, who was explaining the various practices, dropped a bombshell on the Jewish members of the task force. Rencher explained that the LDS Church interprets the phrase direct ancestors in the 1995 agreement to include all descendants of an ancestor and had done so for decades prior to the 1995 agreement. A Church member can baptize his great-great-great-grandfather (if that person is known) and all of the descendants of that great-great-great-grandfather even though he is not a direct ancestor as the term is generally used.

Thus, when Sallyann Amdur Sack discovered that all of the sons of Rabbi Israel of Rhuzhany, martyred in 1659, had been baptized, she requested that these names be removed. As readers can see from the following correspondence, this was not done.

(From Sack to Paul Starkey, June 5, 2005). I took your advice and managed to find many of the Zaks listed in the IGI even without access to the full list [a computer glich prevents access to the full listEd.]. Attached is a family tree I constructed from the Zak and related Zakheim entries in the IGI.

You recall I had questions about the inclusion of Chaim Zak and Chaim Zakheim. You answered that they had been submitted by a Jewish convert to your church who is now on a mission overseas. Although you apparently have not spoken (or written) to her, you have concluded that the entries must have come as a result of her personal genealogical research.

Please look at the attached tree. You will see that Chaim Zak and Chaim Zakheim descend from two different sons of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhany. This means that both men cannot be your submitter's direct ancestor as required by the 1995 agreement. She may be descended from one of the menfrom either Chaim Zak or Chaim Zakheimbut clearly she cannot be a direct descendant of both men.

In accordance with the 1995 agreement, I request that you delete from the IGI all of the Zak and Zakheim individuals who are not direct ancestors of your submitter.

(Letter to Sallyann Sack from Wayne Metcalfe, June 6, 2005) Thank you for providing the information. The issue of direct has come up in previous instances that I have discussed with Gary. As he and I discussed, according to our beliefs, the family is the core element of our religion. We have always encouraged Church members to submit names in family groups. Thus the two sons of this particular Rabbi would have been submitted in the family grouping per the teachings we have espoused since the submission of names began. Gary didn't agree with the interpretation but did understand the rationale and thought it was consistent with what we believed.

Until we have information from the submitter, I believe that it would be unfair to the submitter to summarily delete these names without further information. I would suggest that we wait until we have that information from the submitter.

(Sallyann Sack to Wayne Metcalfe June 7, 2005) I have shared your message with Gary and Carol. They join me in this reply.

We understand well your position about baptism and about families. David read the Church's policy to us at our May 9 [2005] meeting. We are not questioning it.

Rather, I am simply saying that, under the terms of the 1995 memo, your Church agreed to impose a restriction upon itself when it comes to Jews. Although your policy may be to baptize all of the descendants of an individual's progenitor, under the terms of the 1995 memo, you may not do this when it comes to Jews. In the case of Jews, only direct ancestors may be baptized.

Actually, the word direct is redundant. By definition, ancestor is direct. As any dictionary (or person in the street) will tell you, an ancestor is someone from whom one descends, period.

If youor the Churchdisagrees with this definition, please tell us your definition of direct ancestor.

In other words, if a Mormon claims descent from Rashi or from King David, the LDS Church considers it within the bounds of the 1995 agreement to baptize posthumously every descendant of Rashi or of King David. In June 2007, a family reunion of descendants of King David will convene in Jerusalem. Among those expected to attend are descendants of European royalty which based its claim to rule on the divine right of kings acceding to it from its ancestry with the House of David.

Even if the Church does not attempt to posthumously baptize all descendants of King David or of Rashi, it may create a large loophole to the agreement by virtue of its vigorous proselytizing efforts. The Church has converted a number of Jews who may do as the convert did with the descendants of Rabbi Israel of Rhuzhany. An undated Mormon pamphlet entitled Missionary Training Manual: For Use in the Jewish Proselyting Program shows that the Church has a specific program for this purpose. Among other things, it says in the brochure, Because Jews know so little about their religion, they are easy to convert.

Wayne Metcalfe responded to Sack's June 7 message thanking her for the clarity with which she stated the Jewish committee members' opinion, explaining that resolution of the issue was beyond the purview of the ad hoc committee and noting that it would need to be addressed by the committee headed by Elder Marlin K. Jensen, executive director of the Family and Church History Department and Ernest Michel. In turn, Jensen has referred the matter to the top leadership of the Church. Current Status

As of mid-November, the governing body of the Mormon Church, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is still wrestling with the matter of direct ancestors. (1)

1 - A chronicle of the Mormon-Jewish controversy; The LDS Agreement: A JewishGen InfoFile,

LDS History Chronology: Unconventional Baptisms

Mormon History Timeline: Forms of Rebaptism in LDS History