Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Posthumous Baptism

The Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church) has a mechanism that will allow deserving non Mormons a place in the world to come. It is in the form of a posthumous baptism. They believe as do many other Christian denominations that only believing members of their faith can enter heaven.

One of the more recent Jews involved in this controversy was famed Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. Ironically the Mormon Church has a policy of not doing this to Holocaust victims. It was reported in the Boston Globe that Wiesel has publicly asked Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney - a Mormon - to speak out against the practice. Romney’s campaign responded that he should direct all such questions to the church.

The Mormon Church said that Elie Wiesel was not baptized and was merely put on the Mormon genealogical database. However In an interesting footnote the parents of famed Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal were baptized in this way recently. It was done in error and against policy. The Mormon Church apologized.

At first I was upset by this policy. How dare any other religion declare that my Olam Haba is dependent on their beliefs?! But after observing a debate about it on an e-mail list to which I belong, I have come to see the counter argument. What someone else claims to be doing in the name of his religion in a posthumous ceremony has absolutely no bearing on me or on the subject of that procedure. If the Mormons told me they just baptized Moshe Rabbenu, it would mean nothing to me.

Moshe Rabbenu does not need the approval of the Mormon Church or any other church to have gained entry into Olam Haba. If they want to say that this is the only way that Moshe Rabbenu can get Olam Habah - what is it to me? .

They think they are doing us a favor? Let them! They can do anything they want and say whatever they want about the efficacy of what they do. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

And yet it still bothers me. I discussed this with my wife yesterday and she asked me the following. What if someone told me that they were going to baptize my parents posthumously. What would my reaction be?

I have to admit that I would be pretty upset. Even knowing full well that it is a meaningless gesture from the perspective of the Torah. Even though it does nothing to change the spiritual status of my parents. Even though it was done with only the best of intentions. It is nonetheless insulting for others to say that in essence my parents will be damned to hell for all eternity without this baptism.

So in the end I agree with the sentiments of Elie Weisel.

Although I understand their intentions it is nonetheless the height of insensitivity to do this without the permission of the family. I would ask them to consider how they would feel if the situation were reversed?

What if Judaism did not recognize that all human beings on the planet - Jewish or not - can earn a place in the world to come? What if we did not believe that righteous gentiles can earn a place in heaven by virtue of their good deeds alone. What we believed that entry into the world to come required a posthumous and symbolic dip in a Mikva in order for a Mormon to enter Heaven. Wouldn’t they feel the same way?