Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Religious liberty’s under threat — on both sides of the pond

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was praised by a Catholic cardinal and then blessed by a Mormon apostle.

The former British chief rabbi was being honored by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based public interest law firm that’s been busy representing clients — such as Hobby Lobby — who say their religious freedoms are being trampled by the government.

[Related: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spends a weekend in L.A.]

The crowd gathered last week at Manhattan’s Pierre hotel may not have shared a dogma — one could spot yarmulkes, Sikh turbans, clerical collars and nuns’ habits in the room — but they did have a common concern. And Sacks made clear that he shared that concern.

“Today, I’m sad to say that that liberty is at risk throughout Europe,” he said in his keynote speech, during which he accepted the Becket Fund’s Canterbury Medal.

Sacks explained:

In Britain, we have seen a worker banned from wearing a small crucifix at work. A nurse was censured for offering to utter a prayer on behalf of one of her patients. The Catholic adoption agencies were forced to close because they were unwilling to place children for adoption to same-sex parents. And as far as Judaism is concerned, religious liberty has been under very serious threat indeed. We have seen shechitah — the Jewish way of killing animals — banned in Denmark. We have seen circumcision banned by a court in Germany. These are liberties Jews have enjoyed throughout Europe for centuries. And this is for me the empirical proof that this deeply secularizing Europe, that the secular societies in Europe are much less tolerant than the religions that they accuse of intolerance.

Sacks noted that the threat from what he called “political correctness” also extended to America.

“Look at what has happened in this country to people merely because they oppose same-sex marriage, or they gave a donation to a body that opposed same -sex marriage,” he said, an apparent reference to the controversy that last month forced the resignation of the newly appointed chief of the Internet company Mozilla.

Sacks recently finished his tenure as chief rabbi and moved across the pond to teach at NYU and Yeshiva University. In Britain, Sacks had used his pulpit and erudition to establish himself as one of the country’s leading public intellectuals, a widely respected voice on issues related to religion and society.

From his reception at the Becket Fund, it was clear that he had garnered some admirers on these shores as well. In his brief speech, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan praised Sacks: “I don’t know of a man who understands the theology of Pope Benedict XVI more than you do.”

Later, Sacks was blessed by D. Todd Christofferson, an member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who praised the rabbi’s work as he offered the event’s closing prayer.

If Romney wins: Five things every Jew should know about Mormonism

1. Devout Mormons can be found all across the political spectrum.

The Mormon Church doesn’t endorse candidates or political parties, and although most American Mormons are Republicans, a Mormon Democrat has served as the Senate Majority Leader for the last five years. Owing to our history of persecution and emphasis on self-reliance, there is also a noteworthy group of Mormons with libertarian sympathies who do not easily identify with either party.

Mormons can be found on all sides of most issues. On immigration, for example, many Mormons tend to be more liberal than other Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). Many of us have served missions abroad, and tend not to be too judgmental of people who come here seeking a better life. Although Mormons generally agree on many important moral issues (see below), there is no consensus on economics and the proper role of government. We all agree, for example, that we have an obligation to help the poor. However, the extent to which government should help meet their needs by taxing others is a point of contention among followers of most faiths, including ours.

2. Mormonism is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) bears the name of the Christian Savior, we believe in the God of Israel, we accept the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as Scripture, we worship in chapels and temples, and we consider ourselves to be covenant Israelites. Mormons follow the Ten Commandments and are Noahides. In addition, the Abrahamic Covenant is central to our faith. Like Jews, the family is central to our faith, and our idea of heaven is to live with our spouses and families for eternity.

3. A Mormon president would not take orders from Salt Lake City.

If Mitt Romney wins, he’ll undoubtedly have the same arrangement with top church leaders that other Mormons have with local leaders: They don’t tell us how to do our jobs, and we don’t tell them how to run the church. Even Romney’s most intractable foes haven’t accused LDS church headquarters of drafting Romneycare in Massachusetts, and it’s safe to assume that church leaders aren’t behind Harry Reid’s shameful promotion of Las Vegas gambling interests in Washington. Mormons are used to looking to their leaders for spiritual advice, not professional guidance. While I would certainly expect Romney to consult with Mormon leaders as part of his general outreach efforts to faith communities (including Jewish leaders), I am confident that he will be his own man when it comes to formulating policies for the nation. I am also confident that Mormons will not be overrepresented in his administration, as Romney has a history of hiring capable people from all backgrounds to work for him.

4. On moral issues, Mormons are not extreme right-wingers.

A closer look shows the views of most Mormons on these issues to be much more nuanced. Let’s take abortion, for example. The LDS church is very much against it but does allow for possible exceptions in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s life or when the baby is not expected to survive childbirth. That’s pretty much Romney’s campaign’s abortion platform.

On gay issues, it is accurate to say that Mormons oppose state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage. However, it is both inaccurate and insulting to say that we are anti-gay. We can and do support many other issues that are important to gays. For example, former LDS Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced a Senate bill that would have added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for hate crimes. Every Mormon I know is opposed to discrimination against gays in education, employment and housing. We also support rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, probate rights, etc., so long as the integrity of the traditional family is not affected. As for theology, the LDS church teaches that homosexuality is not sinful in and of itself, as long as one remains chaste.

Although Mormons tend to have more children than the national average, our church doesn’t take a position on birth control. In addition, the church takes no position on capital punishment, stem-cell research, evolution or global warming. As a result, faithful Mormons are advocates for positions on all sides of these issues. 

5. Mormons are philo-Semites and pro-Israel. 

One of our basic Articles of Faith affirms: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” In 1841, LDS Apostle Orson Hyde offered a prayer on the Mount of Olives dedicating the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews. Israel went on to receive at least 11 apostolic blessings before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. For more than five decades (1870s-1920s), the church seriously considered establishing a Mormon colony in Palestine. Today, Brigham Young University has a beautiful center on Mount Scopus with the best view of the Old City in Jerusalem.

In the United States, Mormon pioneers arrived in the Utah territory in 1847. The first Jews arrived two years later, in 1849. The first Jewish worship service was held in 1864 in Salt Lake City. Rosh Hashanah was celebrated in Temple Square (the city center) in 1865. Brigham Young donated his personal land for a Jewish cemetery in 1866. In 1903, church President Joseph F. Smith spoke at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the state’s first Orthodox synagogue, which was largely paid for by the church. The second and third Jewish governors in the country were elected in Idaho (1914) and Utah (1916), the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. Salt Lake City had a Jewish mayor by 1932, more than four decades before New York City.

Most Mormons in this country are very pro-Israel, and Romney is no exception. He has a close, decades-long personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks likely to be elected to another term. If Romney is elected, Jews and Israelis can be assured that they will have a true friend in the White House.

Mark Paredes writes the Jews and Mormons blog for the Jewish Journal and is a member of the LDS church's Jewish Relations Committee for Southern California. Read the Jews and Mormons blog at

Letters to the Editor: Rachel Corrie, Mormons, Liberals

The Rachel Corrie Debate

Chip Bronson and Stephanie London’s response to the excellent JTA piece on Rachel Corrie saddened me deeply (Letters, Sept. 7). I read the article (“Rachel Corrie Suit Hinged on One Small Question,” Aug. 31) and had a different reaction. I wanted to believe it was all an accident and was relieved that Judge [Oded] Gershon ruled thus. Nevertheless, his choice to use this moment as a soapbox to denounce an admittedly ethically challenged organization reveals his own biases on the matter. I remain unsure whether it was an accident or whether the driver actually saw Corrie and deliberately buried her alive, though I am not yet ready to believe the assertions of Corrie’s parents or her lawyer. We simply don’t know what happened.  

I wonder if it’s possible or even safe to admit this in public in this toxic political environment we Jews find ourselves. Alas, fact takes a back seat to the narrative we want to believe. I love Israel deeply and defend her with zeal to those who would defame her, but I know she’s not perfect. And sometimes she makes some enormous mistakes, as those we love sometimes do.  Because I love her, I remain deeply pained that so many of us are so blinded by hate of the other that we are willing to dance on Corrie’s grave.

Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen

Spiritual Leader, Temple B’nai Hayim, Sherman Oaks

An Insult to Mormons

I disagree with actor Jared Gertner’s comment that “The Book of Mormon” doesn’t disrespect any religion (“Actor Feeds Off ‘Mormon’s’ Racy Humor,” Sept. 7). When a badly costumed Prophet Moroni gives the sacred text to a gormless Joseph Smith, it mocks the Mormon religion. I forgave the show when the two young Mormons set off on their mission — they are a charming duo — until they landed in a poor African village. Here was the worst stereotype of the vacuous black savages of that continent, and we were supposed to find them funny (e.g., Villager: “I have maggots in my scrotum.” Elder Price: “Maybe you should see a doctor about that.” Villager: “I am the doctor!”). 

Naomi Pfefferman writes, “One of the musical’s most hilarious (and scandalous) moments comes when a tribesman … declares that he’s off to copulate with an infant to cure his AIDS.” I also didn’t find the big musical number, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (“F*** You, God”), amusing, even though the audience roared. 

If this is, to quote The New York Times, “the best musical of this century,” and is part of a plan to bring young audiences to Broadway, good luck to them. Gertner says, “People shriek and gasp and laugh because it’s affecting them in such a visceral way.  But there’s so much joy behind it.” Guess I missed the joy part as I fled at intermission. 

Morna Murphy Martell


Innovative Teaching

Amanda Gelb (“Breaking Down Classroom Walls With Resilience Theory,” Aug. 10) gets it right when she says “cross-pollination” is a key to effective education. In DeLeT (huc.edu/delet), our innovative program to prepare Jewish day school teachers, we call this “integration.” 

Mia Pardo, one of last year’s DeLeT fellows, who is teaching at Pressman Academy, developed an innovative approach to teaching first-graders about national symbols by comparing and contrasting America’s and Israel’s flags and symbols. The students became so passionate about the lesson that they began interacting with each other as if they were the symbols. They used songs and other aspects of what they were learning in dramatic renderings. The teacher recorded these improvisations, and later two of the students created a movie out of the videos. We look forward each year to seeing how the emerging DeLeT educators find new ways to make Gelb’s idea of cross-pollination a reality in day school classrooms.  

Dr. Michael Zeldin
Professor of Jewish Education
Senior National Director, Schools of Education
Director, Rhea Hirsch School of Education and DeLeT
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Liberals Unfairly Criticized

In an attempt to show that “liberals” are hypocrites because they feel free to criticize Israel for its own good but won’t ever criticize President Barack Obama, David Suissa creates a straw man and then knocks it down (“Where’s the Tough Love for Obama?” Aug. 24). The straw man is the undefined “liberal” who, in Suissa’s view, criticizes Israel but not Obama. But he doesn’t name even one such person, and prefers to generalize about “liberals.” He quotes from an Atlantic article, but that article attacks only liberals who fail to criticize Obama. Nowhere does that article say that those same liberals feel free to criticize Israel. If these “liberals” who criticize Israel but not Obama exist somewhere outside of Suissa’s mind, he has not shown us where to find them.

Joel Grossman

Los Angeles

Romney, guarded about Mormonism, faces a challenge

Mitt Romney’s Lacrosse moment awaits him.

The Democratic convention in Los Angeles was where Joe Lieberman made history as the first Jewish candidate on a major ticket on Aug. 17, 2000. But two days later, history came to life in Lacrosse, Wis., the little college town where he walked — and pointedly did not drive — to the local synagogue on his first post-nomination Shabbat.

Townspeople came out of their homes to shake the vice presidential candidate’s hand, congratulate him and express their admiration for his adherence to the traditional tenets of Sabbath observance. The Middle American scene affirmed for Lieberman the country’s openness to different faiths, which has informed his career and culminated in his encomium to the Sabbath published last year, “The Gift of Rest.”

By contrast, Romney, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, seems to prefer silence in handling his Mormonism in public. It’s a stark contrast to both Lieberman and Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic who in 1960 famously said he would not take political guidance from the Vatican.

“It’s clear his campaign made a decision that it is not interested in talking about his Mormonism, not its doctrines or theology, his experiences as a church leader, how it shaped his family,” said Patrick Mason, the chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University.

In fact, Romney on the trail has even cut off questioners when they ask about his religious beliefs. His campaign declined to comment for this story.

There was nary a hint of Mormonism during his one term governing Massachusetts, from 2003 to 2007, said Nancy Kaufman, then the director of the Boston-area Jewish Community Relations Council and now the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women.

“It was never an issue — it never even came up during the campaign,” Kaufman recalled of her many meetings with Romney and his staff on issues such as faith-based initiatives, health care, Israel and Iran divestment. “The only thing I ever heard about it was when we went to receptions and there was no wine.” Mormons abjure alcohol.

That lack of conversation about Romney’s religion is clearly no longer the case.

In an e-mail complaint last year to the Washington Post about a story that detailed Romney’s leadership in the Boston-area Mormon community, his Jewish spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, balked. She substituted “Jew” and “Jewish” for Mormon in an attempt to underscore what she depicted as the complaint’s intrusiveness and offense. The New York Times has reported that the Romney campaign challenges reporters, “Would you have written this about a Jewish candidate?”

Some experts on Mormonism say the answer should be yes and add that Romney should welcome the scrutiny, especially because of his deep involvement in his church, as a young missionary in France and then as a bishop in Boston.

Lieberman, who was unable to be interviewed for this article, embraced that lesson. In “The Gift of Rest,” he described how the curiosity of others intensified his own faith.

“In speaking with Christian friends, especially in the Evangelical and Roman Catholic communities, I’ve felt an appreciation for the gifts of Sabbath observance and a desire to spread them,” he wrote.

Romney should be prepared to accept even greater scrutiny because Mormonism is less well-known and much younger than Judaism, said Ryan Cragun, an expert in the sociology of religion at the University of Tampa and a former Mormon.

“Judaism has been around for thousands of years; many people have been familiar with it,” he said. “The same cannot be said of Mormonism. It’s a young religion, it has a number of quirks and oddities, and people want to know more of that.”

Mason agreed, but added that Romney should avoid the particulars of Mormon theology while focusing on broad principles of shared faith with other religious communities. Romney seemed to be doing that last month when he delivered the commencement speech at Liberty University, the Evangelical school in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

“It showed this common language of faith,” Mason said. “When he leaves [specific] theology out of it, he does well with the Evangelicals.”

The approach could be critical for Romney with the GOP’s Evangelical base, whose distaste for Mormonism is rooted in what some Christians view as its aspirations to replace mainline Christian theology and its liturgy that posits, among other things, Christ’s appearance in North America. The strains have been evidenced in Romney’s difficulties in winning primary states in the South this year.

Thomas Terry, a non-Mormon who teaches communications at Idaho State University, a school with a substantial number of Mormon students, wrote last month about his encounters with anti-Mormon bigotry in the South. His article published by Inside Higher Ed generated much attention among Mormons.

One reason Romney — and other Mormons — may be hesitant to share details of their faith is because of the backlash it engenders among Evangelical Christians, Terry said.

“Many of the students here were shocked at the anger against Mormonism that bubbled up four years ago” during Romney’s first presidential campaign, Terry added.

The Anti-Defamation League in tracking anti-Mormon prejudice has found negative attitudes among about a quarter of the population, according to its national director, Abraham Foxman.

“You see some [Protestant] ministers saying ugly things — it’s out there,” Foxman said.

The solution, Terry suggested, was more light. “We all believe in strange things,” he said, urging Romney to emulate Kennedy’s response to personal faith and public life.

Cragun, however, is not so sure Romney can do that without raising even more uncomfortable questions.

Kennedy, he noted, was raised as a Catholic, “but he was not orthodox and strict about it. When he came out and said, ‘I can govern without deferring to the pope,’ people could buy that. The same cannot be said by Mitt Romney [deferring to his religious leaders] — Mitt is an observant, devout, committed Mormon.”

Lieberman, who wears his Judaism on his sleeve, recently offered the Washington Post another warning.

“The reality is that the more you talk about the details of somebody’s religion, the more you encourage voters to vote on the religion rather than on the person and his politics,” he said.

Still, Foxman does not think that Romney can avoid talk of his religion in public.

“As the election gets closer, people will want to know what it means to be a Mormon,” he said. “They will ask at a certain point, how does it influence you when you make a decision?’ “

Opinion: Korbanot, or why Jews should act more like Mormons

Few would describe the book of Leviticus as a page-turner. Its often-turgid descriptions of sacrifices (or korbanot) can be seen nowadays as perfectly calculated to let shul-goers catch up on their sleep. When we as a people lost korbanot, however, we lost something deeply profound — and our relationship with God demands that somehow we recover it.

Modern Judaism replaces sacrifice with prayer. Yet while prayer is necessary, it is not sufficient. Sacrifice integrated people’s lives with their faith in a consistent way, because it demanded that they contribute the fruits of their daily labors. Prayer, as vital as it is, does not and cannot do this.

What, then, would sacrifices mean today? In the contemporary age, when contributions are made with a keystroke, monetary donations cannot serve as an adequate replacement. Consider also that the root of korban in Hebrew signifies that it is something that draws us near to God. For a relatively affluent community such as American Jewry, making financial contributions neither 1) truly qualifies as a sacrifice; nor 2) brings us closer to God — the essential purpose of korban.

Rather, the most profound sacrifice that any of us can make is that of our time. Abraham Joshua Heschel recognized as much, by seeing the Sabbath as a way of turning time from a profane into a sacred entity. Making an offering of time would do the same. Giving of our time also makes clear that all of our time on Earth is quite literally the gift of God and we are repaying that gift. 

Yet we must go beyond occasional volunteerism. Sacrifice is not a hobby; it is a way of life. 

If sacrificing time, then, represents the best form of modernizing the sacrificial system, yet volunteerism is inadequate both on spiritual and practical grounds, what else is left? It is unrealistic to expect Jews to give up their daily lives to service.

Or is it? We need not expect Jews to become lifelong itinerant monks, surviving through the begging-bowl. But we can promote a new idea of korban: two years of service, perhaps upon graduation from college, serving God through serving humanity. 

If this sounds vaguely like the commitment that young Mormons give to two years of missionary work, it should. One profound difference, however, stands out: The mission for Jews on korban will be tikkun olam, not increasing membership. We come close to God by giving of ourselves, not by building institutions.

In an ideal world, of course, Jews on korban would live in some sort of communal arrangement, by which they could rely on a supportive community as well as an intense Jewish experience. This model is beautifully exemplified by AVODAH, the national Jewish service corps (avodah.net). But AVODAH is a small organization, with houses only in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; and New Orleans. (It is indeed embarrassing that Los Angeles does not support its own AVODAH house.)

So while AVODAH’s model is the gold standard, korban could be done in other ways, with Jews on korban working for such organizations as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or Teach For America. The American Jewish World Service runs long-term volunteering programs in the Global South. Israel now boasts a thriving civil society sector that could well use energetic, idealistic volunteers.

All very well and good, you might say, but who will organize this? At first, no one will. Korban need not constitute a formal, single institution (another way in which it will differ sharply from Mormon missions). Implementing korban can begin informally through current Jewish institutions, most prominently synagogues and university Hillels. Young children in shuls grow up thinking about and preparing for their bar and bat mitzvahs. Perhaps teenagers begin thinking about their Birthright trip. Our task is to start saying, as a matter of course, “So if and when you go on your korban, you might want to …” Something can be encouraged without being mandatory: it can emerge bottom-up.

The key is to make committing to korban easy. That might sound contradictory, but it is not.  Because korban can deepen our spiritual lives, we should not expect that young people will necessarily arrive at the commitment before engaging in the practice. Most college graduates are somewhat unsure of what to do with themselves (which is why too many of them go to law school). Research has demonstrated that the “architecture of choice” — how people’s choices are arranged — makes a profound difference in what they choose. For example, people will save vastly more in their 401(k) plans if they are automatically enrolled and have to opt-out than if they have to opt-in. Similarly, graduating college students will choose korban more frequently if the options are placed in front of them.

Any community that can send tens of thousands of young Jews to Israel on Birthright trips can help make korban administratively simple and personally nurturing for Jewish 20-somethings. It can help them understand how crucial korban is for an engaged Jewish life. It can ensure that they know about the variety of opportunities available. It can support them wherever they may be, connecting them with Jewish resources and religious community.

There is no reason to consider korban political or partisan. Progressives, of course, will welcome its substantive focus, but conservatives often stress the need for nongovernmental, civil society solutions to social problems. Korban thus can transcend narrow political ideology during a time of growing U.S. political conflict.

In every generation, the Jewish community is challenged to develop new forms of worship and practice that maintain integrity with Torah. Late antiquity developed Rabbinic Judaism. Medieval Jewry saw the emergence of kabbalah and the first comprehensive codes. The late 18th and early 19th centuries became the time of the Haskalah. Zionism arose in the late 19th and 20th centuries. How will 21st century Jewry strengthen and re-energize Torah?

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Jonathan Zasloff is professor of law at UCLA and a rabbinical student in the ALEPH-Jewish Renewal ordination program.

Opinion: Stop Christian missionaries at Israel festivals

On Sunday April 29, 2012 at the Israel Festival in Los Angeles, many people visited Jews for Judaism’s booth to acquire literature and show their support for our efforts to keep Jews Jewish.

During the day we received numerous complaints about the presence of three different organizations that were granted booths at the festival.

1) The Mormons / Latter Day Saints

2) The Kabbalah Centre

3) The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries

For this report we will focus on Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries even though we share concerns about the Mormons who are a missionary religion, and the controversial Kabbalah Centre that has gone so far as to claim Jesus was a Kabbalist and the potential messiah of his era who was turned over to the Romans for execution by the anti-Kabbalists. (Source: Audio lecture by Yehuda Berg)

The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries booth was located not far from the Jews for Judaism booth. After receiving our first complaint we visited their booth, obtained two pieces of literature and asked their representatives to explain their mission. Their answer was very revealing. “Our mission is to support Israel and proclaim the truth.”

When asked what the truth is, they replied, “Jesus is the Suffering Servant who died for our sins.”

Another representative of Friends of Israel, who happened to be a Jewish convert to Christianity, told us “Jews and Israelis are mostly secular and don’t even believe they are the Chosen people. They follow Judaism blindly out of tradition and can only know the truth by accepting Jesus.”

The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries has been on Jews for Judaism’s radar for many years. They are known for disguising their missionary activity under the banner of being supporters of Israel. However, their website and literature sheds light on their true agenda.

The Friends of Israel website reveals that their approach of “studying the Scriptures with an appreciation for Israel and the Jewish people” has a goal to enhance “opportunities to minister effectively.”

Also found on their website is Friends of Israel’s Statement of Faith. It says they believe in the Trinity and that Jesus is God. They also believe that mankind is born into spiritual death and can only be saved by accepting Jesus. Whoever fails to accept him will suffer eternal punishment.

The Friends of Israel literature distributed and the Israel Festival is also quite revealing.

In their Israel My Glory magazine the majority of articles are preaching the Gospel.

Additionally, several articles are written by Jews who have converted to Christianity.

Here are some of the most disturbing statements in this magazine:

1) The Jewish Prophet Isaiah alluded to the Trinity and clearly all three entities are God… Page 8

2) Buy the book Zechariah by messianic Jew David Levy and discover that “Zechariah is second only to Isaiah and his prophesies include the future Tribulation and glorious return of the Lord…” Page 12

3) God is a Tri-unity… Page 18

4) We must seek and call on [Jesus] to receive redemption… Page 19

5) Jesus Christ fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies. Isaiah also revealed the Messiah is a God-Man. He is virgin-born, a descendant of Jesse and King David and the Suffering Servant…” Page21

6) Friends of Israel writer and messianic Jew Steve Herzig wrote, “More than 700 years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah prophesied that God would send a unique sin-bearer, born of a virgin… Do you have trouble? No one can help you like He can…” Page 33

7) The book of Hebrews was written to provide evidence of Jesus Christ’s divinity … and the law has been abrogated in Christ…” Pare 36

Friends of Israel also distributed another brochure at the Israel Festival. Entitled Five Facts You Should Know about Israel, the brochure included the following statements:

1) “Messiah will not crush Satan and reestablish God’s rule over the world system until the nation of Israel repents of its rebellion against God. This repentance will involve accepting Jesus as the Messiah Savior…” Page 9

2) “One third of Israel will repent when they see Jesus Christ in His glorious Second Coming and recognize that he is their Messiah…” page 10

There is abundant evidence that The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries is a missionary organization. As their name implies their mission is to spread the gospel to the Jews.

It is our opinion that Friends of Israel and other missionary organizations pose a threat to Jewish survival and continuity. They should not be provided a forum to share their message at community Jewish events or allowed to distribute their literature to unsuspecting Jews.

In conclusion, we have two recommendations:

1) Implementation of a community policy that groups seeking to actively proselytize Jews through deceptive means should not be allowed to participate in Jewish community programs. By allowing them to participate gives de facto communal support for their deceptive activities.

2) Prior to community events, organizers should actively seek to determine if a particular group is problematic. This can be facilitated by investigating the group in consultation with Jews for Judaism, the Board of Rabbis or the BJE who can help evaluate if the group has a hidden agenda that is inconsistent with the goals of the Jewish community.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is founder and director of Jews for Judaism www.JewsForJudaism.org

Mormons limit genealogical access to stop baptisms of Shoah victims

The Mormon Church is restricting access to its genealogical records relating to Holocaust victims in a move to protect their names from posthumous baptisms.

“The church is committed to preventing the misguided practice of submitting the names of Holocaust victims and prominent individuals for proxy baptism,” church spokesman Michael Purdy said this week, according to The Associated Press. “In addition to reiterating its policy to members, the church has implemented a new technological barrier to prevent abuse.”

Access to names flagged as not eligible for proxy baptism would be denied, according to Purdy.

The move comes amid embarrassing revelations that Holocaust victim Anne Frank and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal had been baptized in Mormon temples. The baptisms fly in the face of a church policy prohibiting proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims unless requested by one of their descendants.

Daniel Pearl baptized in Mormon proxy ritual

Daniel Pearl was baptized in a Mormon proxy ritual in another case of a prominent deceased Jew discovered to have been baptized posthumously in recent weeks.

Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and executed by terrorists in Pakistan in February 2002, was baptized by proxy on June 1, 2011 at a Mormon temple in Twin Falls, Idaho, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday.

“Danny was Jewish and his last words were ‘I am Jewish,’ Pearl’s mother, Ruth Pearl, said in an interview with The Journal on Wednesday. “It was inappropriate and insensitive to posthumously baptize him.”

The rite was discovered by Helen Radkey, a former member of the Mormon church who has become a whistleblower on such activity.

Only Mormons have access to the church’s genealogy database, which also can be used to submit a deceased person’s name for proxy baptism.

The discovery comes in the same month that it was discovered that the parents of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal were posthumously baptized last month, and Anne Frank was posthumously baptized earlier this month.

Also earlier this month, the names of the father and grandfather of Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel were found to have been submitted for proxy baptism.

Pearl’s parents, Judea and Ruth, told the Boston Globe that learning of the proxy baptism was “disturbing news.”

“To them we say, we appreciate your good intentions but rest assured that Danny’s soul was redeemed through the life that he lived and the values that he upheld,” the Pearls told the newspaper in an email. “He lived as a proud Jew, died as a proud Jew and is currently facing his creator as a Jew, blessed, accepted and redeemed. For the record, let it be clear: Danny did not choose to be baptized, nor did his family consent to this uncalled-for ritual.”

Pearl’s widow, Mariane, who is a Buddhist, called the posthumous baptism “a lack of respect for Danny and a lack of respect for his parents,” and echoed Wiesel in calling for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a Mormon, to apologize on behalf of the church.

Danny’s parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, reflect on his life and last words in this webcam video shot 1/18/2007 in the kitchen of their Encino, CA home.

Daniel, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was murdered in Karachi, Pakistan on February 1, 2002.

In a widely-circulated video, Danny proudly affirmed his identity as a Jew and Zionist, last words that have inspired books, movies and music.

Maybe they’ll inspire you.

For more information, visit the Daniel Pearl Foundation at DanielPearl.org.

Video by Dennis Wilen for JewishJournal.com

Editorial cartoon: The Church of Latter-Day Aints*

Mormon church apologizes for proxy baptism of Wiesenthal’s parents

The Mormon church has apologized for the posthumous baptism of the parents of Simon Wiesenthal.

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last month submitted the names of Wiesenthal’s parents for posthumous baptism, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Wiesenthal was a Holocaust survivor who died in 2005; his mother was killed in the Nazi death camp Belzec in 1942.

Posthumous baptism, which is done by proxy, is also known as “baptism for the dead.” It allows members of the church to stand in for the deceased to offer them a chance to join the church in the afterlife. 

In 2010, the church agreed after meetings with Jewish leaders to halt the proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims unless the names were submitted by their direct ancestors.

The church said Monday in a statement that it “sincerely regret[s] that the actions of an individual member … led to the inappropriate submission of these names,” which were “clearly against the policy of the church,” the newspaper reported.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, participated in many of the high-level meetings between Jewish leaders and Mormon officials.

“We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon Temples,” he said in a statement on the organization’s website. “Such actions make a mockery of the many meetings with the top leadership of the Mormon Church dating back to 1995 that focused on the unwanted and unwarranted posthumous baptisms of Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.”

Meanwhile, some members of the church have submitted the name of Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel for proxy baptism, who is still living, the Huffington Post reported.

The submission was uncovered last Friday by Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who lives in Salt Lake City. Wiesel’s father, who died in the Holocaust, and his maternal grandfather also were proposed for proxy baptism, according to the report.

A church spokesman said Wiesel’s name was submitted for inclusion in the church’s massive genealogical database, not for baptism.

Hundreds of missionaries targeting Jewish neighborhoods

Wednesday afternoon I answered my door in Pico Robertson to discover three young people, ranging from 18 to 22 years old. They wanted to talk to me about “Israel Restoration.” For a moment I thought they were talking about rebuilding Israeli forests. However, the moment I saw their literature, I knew they were Christian missionaries.

I welcomed them into my home and proceeded to give them a two-hour lesson about the spiritual beauty and integrity of Judaism. I also answered their questions, including who I thought Jesus was.

I left them with some things to ponder and they left me with a DVD Testimonial of their “boss,” Tom Cantor, and a Hebrew-English New Testament.

It turns out that Cantor is a multi-millionaire Jewish businessman who converted to and became part of the 70-million-strong evangelical Christian movement. He produced the DVD about his conversion to Christianity and hired 200 young Christians to spread the Gospel in Jewish neighborhoods including Encino, Westwood, Beverly Hills and Hancock Park.

My encounter was cordial and respectful; however, the average individual would not be as prepared as I was for such an encounter. I, in fact, would not mind having a face-to-face discussion with Tom Cantor himself, if for no other reason than to dispel the negative Jewish stereotypes on his DVD as well as some of his glaring theological mistakes.

There is a good chance you or your children will encounter missionaries. More than 85% of high school and college students report they have been approached. This may happen in person; however, the internet has become the more popular and effective arena for proselytizing, giving missionaries easy access into homes and dormitory rooms.

To prepare you for an encounter, whether in person or online, I have a few suggestions. Firstly, be aware that the best response may be to politely and firmly say, “No thank you.” If you do choose to engage in dialogue, don’t assume the missionaries are correct simply because you don’t have answers to their questions, and don’t feel pressured to give an answer on the spot. There are always two sides to every argument. If you apply good Critical Thinking skills you will take time to research your replies.

Secondly, turn to your rabbi for answers or visit the JewsForJudaism.org website, which has an extensive library and free literature for download.

Finally, be aware that many missionaries give away free Bibles that are replete with misleading and incorrect translations of the Hebrew original.

Unfortunately, 80% of today’s North American Jews are unable to read or understand Hebrew. An accurate and trustworthy English translation of the entire Jewish Scriptures is vital to making an informed study of Judaism, and now there is a new and important tool that meets this need.

ArtScroll Publications has released a new English translation of the complete Jewish Bible, and I was one of several consultants who fine-tuned the commentary notes, using my specific expertise to provide insights into passages that have frequently been distorted or mistranslated in non-Jewish Bibles. 

This new Bible, “The ArtScroll English Tanach,” is a wonderful resource for the English-speaking Jewish community, and especially for unaffiliated Jews and students. The easily accessible knowledge it contains will certainly prove to be a valuable asset for those using vital Critical Thinking skills to evaluate the often cleverly deceptive claims of missionaries.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the Founder of Jews for Judaism international. He can be reached at 310-556-3344 or {encode=”LA@JewsforJudaism.org” title=”LA@JewsforJudaism.org”}.

Marty Kaplan: Mitt Romney’s “South Park” primary

Egypt makes Mitt Romney look good – at least compared to other Republican presidential hopefuls.

As Egypt’s pro-democracy movement showed its first peaceful signs of life, there was former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee telling a Knesset meeting that the anti-Mubarak protests “could threaten the world.” He demonstrated his grasp of the fragility of the moment by joining right-wing Israeli officials and activists at the laying of a cornerstone for new Jewish housing on contested ground in East Jerusalem.

There was former UN ambassador John Bolton likening the “idealistic student demonstrators” to hippies (“We are not on the verge of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in Egypt if only the demonstrators get their way”), ridiculing those who would “toss away lightly” the upside of standing by our man Mubarak “against the promise, the hope, the aspiration for sweetness and light and democratic government.”

It took former Alaska governor Sarah Palin a week to say anything about Egypt, and when she did – speaking in Reno, Nevada to 2,500 hunters at the annual convention of Safari Club – her angle was what Egypt meant for Sarah Palin, victim. She said that a recent call by a Washington Post columnist for journalists to ignore her “sounds good, because there’s a lot of chaos in Cairo, and I can’t wait not to get blamed for it – at least for a month.”

If Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) broke her radio silence on the Egyptian crisis during its first three weeks, whatever she said was under Google’s radar.

So simply by echoing President Obama’s call for a managed transition in Egypt – the kind of nonpartisan support during international crises that a White House once could count on – former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney now leads the pack. In a CNN interview with Piers Morgan, Romney’s only misstep was his clumsy attempt to distinguish between calling Mubarak a dictator (which he wouldn’t), and calling him a “monarch-like” figure (which he would), which unfortunately recalled his clumsier attempt to tap-dance away from the mandate that everyone buy health insurance that he put at the heart of his own state plan.

Romney’s vulnerability on the signature Republican issue – he’s the godfather of Obamacare! – has his staffers tearing their hair out trying to write a better answer than the one he’s giving.  Compared to his flip-flops on abortion, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” gun control, campaign finance and immigration, his touting the Massachusetts mandate as “a model for getting everybody insured” is proving way trickier to explain to GOP primary voters. 

But there’s another issue that could well steal center stage from Romneycare: religion.

On February 24, previews begin on Broadway for “The Book of Mormon.” A musical by “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, as well as Robert Lopez, co-writer of “Avenue Q,” the show is a spinoff of a 2003 episode of “South Park” called “All About the Mormons?”

Even within the “South Park” tradition of making savage fun of everything, including other religious denominations, “All About the Mormons?” is particularly brutal.  It basically says that you have to be dumb or crazy to believe the foundational story of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Joseph Smith translating ancient glyphs on golden plates that an angel led him to), or to believe the sacred story told on those plates (the resurrected Jesus preaching to the Indian descendants of a pre-Columbian civilization whose founders emigrated from Jerusalem to America).

In 2007, Romney gave a speech about religious liberty, religious tolerance and the role that faith would play in his presidency.  It hit many of the same notes as John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech about religion, politics and his Catholic faith.  In it, Romney refused to “distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction….  That I will not do.”  Like President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, Romney said in his speech that he believes “that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.”  To go beyond that and discuss LDS doctrine, he said, “would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.”

That speech put the religious issue to bed for the 2008 primary season, and it’s likely that he’ll cite and recycle it at key moments in his campaign for 2012.  But I wonder whether the high-profile skewering of his religion on Broadway will require some new Qs & As in his briefing book.  The easy Q is what he thinks of the attack; the A to that is the wisdom of the First Amendment.  The hard Q is whether he believes that the story of the golden plates and what was written on them is literally true—factually accurate history. 

Perhaps he can just repeat what he said in 2007 and rule the question constitutionally out of bounds.  But Broadway may raise the bar on what his answer needs to accomplish, both for fundamentalists who are looking for someone more electable than Sarah Palin, and for more secular voters who want to know what Romney’s made of and might be disappointed by his ducking.

At the end of the “All About the Mormons?” episode, Gary, a Mormon kid whose family moved to South Park, says this:

“Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that.  The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people.  And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it.”

Mitt Romney doesn’t agree with Gary, so that tack isn’t an option.  Still, just as he desperately needs a better answer to the mandate issue, the pop culture assault on what he holds to be true may require upgrading his answer on the religious issue to version 2.0. 

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Reach him at {encode=”martyk@jewishjournal.com” title=”martyk@jewishjournal.com”}. 

LETTERS: Torah Battle, Mormon Official, Ethics

Ethics Certificate

I heartily agree with David Suissa and his reservations about the new certificate indicating that Jewish businesses uphold labor laws (“Laboring for Ethics,” March 6). If the Rubashkin scandal [Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse] is what prompted the certification idea, it is hardly the most noxious scandal in the Jewish community.

Why are we not issuing certificates to money managers to avoid other Madoff-style swindles? Why do we not certify that rabbis in our community aren’t molesting children and avert scandals like the one that hit the National Conference of Synagogue Youth? Why single out the Jewish shopkeeper?

California has an exorbitant minimum wage, and aggressive labor regulation. If the rabbis involved in the certification movement believe that shops along Pico Boulevard are in violation of these regulations, they should report the store owner to the authorities, not engage in feckless, feel-good activism.

Janet Fuchs
Beverly Hills

Battle Over Torahs

Your article, “Public Court Battle Erupts Over Possession of Torahs” (March 13) is a horrible display of the decision making skills of your management and editing team.

I am a student of Rabbi Samuel Ohana. He is doing my wedding; his wife is catering it. I learn with him, and he has welcomed me into his home.

He has dedicated his life to serving the community and is a man of great moral and ethical standing. The slant on your reporting was not just slight, it was disgustingly obvious.

You offered a venue for lashon ha-ra (bad gossip) to be spoken about this man, and that makes you just as guilty as the person who is speaking it.

I do not care if the L.A. Times feels that this story is worth publishing, but how can we be a light unto nations when we will stoop down and publish the same filth and slander?

I do not know the details of the case, and as far as I can tell, it is just a dispute of ownership. What you and the lady involved have done is of greater notice and deserving of as much criticism. I hope that the community can see the misrepresentation that you have made.

Michael Sachs

Surviving Bernie

Yes Mr. Eshman, Bernard Madoff is a criminal and an evil man who hopefully will spend the rest of his life in prison (“Surviving Bernie,” March 13). Where, however, is the outcry against the people of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation in Israel responsible for investing its entire endowment, $14 million, with Madoff Securities that is now all gone?

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Different Religion

I was not at all disappointed to see professor David Myers attacked for his notorious right-wing views (“20th Century Zionist Asks: ‘Has Jacob Become Esau?’” March 6). For the record, however, we should note that Esau, as referred to by Myers and by Rawidowicz, was Christianity, not Islam. After all, Rawidowicz was writing in the first post-Holocaust years.

Michael Berenbaum
via e-mail

Money for the Arts

In this economic recession, I feel that Cheryl and Haim Saban should be embarrassed to donate $5 million so that their name will be on a theater marquee. (“Sabans Donate $5 Million to Theater,” March 13).

This money could be better spent: scholarships for children to receive Jewish educations, Jewish aged under the poverty line and housing for Jewish disabled. The list goes on.

Laurie Saida
via e-mail

Editor’s note: As our story made clear, the theater houses the Temple of the Arts synagogue, which Cheryl Saban credited with playing an important role in their lives.

ZOA Mormon Official

How wonderful to be able to read news about the L.A. Jewish community while I sit at my computer in Israel! (“Zionist Organization’s New Mormon Director: Q&A With Mark Paredes,” March 6).

The appointment of Mark Paredes to the directorship of the Zionist Organization of America office in Los Angeles is great news. I met him when he worked at the Israeli Consulate and saw this bright and inspiring man in action.

Chana Givon

Building Bridges

On behalf of the American Muslim community, I applaud the efforts of Rabbi [Reuven] Firestone and The Jewish Journal in building bridges of understanding between the American Muslim and Jewish communities. (“An Appreciation of Islam: Q&A With Rabbi Reuven Firestone,” March 13)

Both Judaism and Islam have much in common — moral values emphasizing family ties and tending to the less fortunate, speaking up for justice and human rights and being good citizens of society.

While we may hold different legitimate political views, even within our own communities, let us continue to strengthen bonds between American Muslims and Jews, shun voices of extremism and together be a force of positive change in the broader society.

Munira Syeda
Communications Coordinator
Council on American-Islamic Relations,
Greater Los Angeles Area

Thank You Rabbi [Reuven] Firestone for your book presenting Islam to Jews and non-Muslims in a fair and more accurate manner.

Thanks to The Jewish Journal for being involved in this.

As a Muslim I always thought that there are much more things in common than differences between Jews and Muslims. I hope this will be realized by more people.

Majed Ibrahim
via e-mail


Marty Kaplan’s “Stem Cell Slippery Slope Fallacy” (March 13) tells us that the world is full of bigots. Live and let live has been abandoned in favor of our way or the highway, leading to hatred and violence: the religious fundamentalism of ultra-Orthodox Jews disdaining all other denominations, Islamists stoning to death a 13-year-old rape victim charged with adultery and lots of Christians wishing to disenfranchise our gay population.

Then we have the haters of anyone not like them, including white supremacists, anti-Semites and animal rights advocates who feel that the lives of laboratory-bred rats are more important than the lives of human beings.

Now we know of evil greedy people who worship money and think nothing of stealing from the needy. What a world.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

Shoah group halts talks with Mormons on posthumous baptism of Jews

A Holocaust survivor organization has broken off negotiations with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) over its practice of posthumously baptizing Jewish victims of the Nazis.

At a news conference Monday, leaders of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, seated in front of panels listing names of Holocaust victims they say were baptized by the Mormons, said that 14 years of quiet negotiations have proven fruitless.

“We felt we had come to the end of the line,” said Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering. “There is no further point in meeting with them.”

Mormon leaders reacted with surprise to news of the American Gathering’s decision. In a statement, the church said it stood by its 1995 commitment to stop baptizing Holocaust victims and remove their names from the database if they become known — the only remaining question was how best to do so. As recently as Nov. 6, the church wrote to Michel to describe further steps to allay the concerns of survivors.

“We empathize with the depth of feeling of all Jews regarding the Holocaust,” the church said in the statement. “It is our regard and empathy that have kept us talking for so many years.”

The concern of Holocaust survivors stems from the Mormon belief that individuals retain the opportunity to accept or reject church sacraments, including baptism, even after death. Under church policy, members are supposed to submit names only of their relatives. The church has become a global leader in genealogical research to facilitate the research of family histories.

In 1995, the church agreed to remove the names of Holocaust victims from its database, known as the International Genealogical Index, or IGI — a rare suspension of church practice, the church says, done because of the singular nature of the Holocaust and the sensitivities of survivors.

Michel claims, however, that new baptisms continue to be performed and new names submitted to the database, though he acknowledges the complexity of preventing new submissions. Millions of church members submit 30,000 new names a day, the church says, and improper submissions are always expected. A new system under development would make it easier to flag submissions as Holocaust victims for whom temple ordinances should not be performed.

“That’s their problem; it’s not my problem,” Michel said. “They put them in; they got to take them out. That’s the bottom line.”

Jewish communal leaders have been reluctant to back Michel’s campaign, saying that at a time of mounting challenges on several fronts, the internal practices of another religious group — offensive as they may be — should not be a top Jewish agenda item.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said Michel expressed interest in discussing the matter with him. But the Reform leader said that he does not see making it a high-priority issue. Yoffie said the internal processes of the Mormon Church are something over which Jews have no control.

“I don’t think this is going to become a major focus of the Jewish community, which now is dealing with a whole range of issues,” Yoffie said. “I wish them well in their efforts.”

But Michel, who frequently stresses that his negotiations with the Mormons have always remained polite and respectful, said the practice is hurtful to Holocaust survivors. He also worries about the uses to which Holocaust deniers may some day put the Mormon records.

“They tell me that my parents’ Jewishness has not been altered,” said Michel’s prepared remarks for the news conference, which was held on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. “But in 100 years, how will they be able to guarantee that my mother and father of blessed memory, who lived as Jews and were slaughtered by Hitler for no other reason than they were Jews, will some day not be identified as Mormon victims of the Holocaust?”

It can’t happen here

A coalition of black and Mormon leaders have begun laying the groundwork for a 2012 California ballot initiative that would ban Jews from marrying Jews.

Flush from the passage of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state, the leaders say they want to extend the ban to Jews whose emphasis on in-marriage, they say, contravenes Scripture and promotes intolerance and segregation.

“In-marriage is against Scripture,” said one organizer. “We are all God’s children. It sends a message that one group’s blood is too good to mix with another group’s blood.”

“What are we,” the organizer added, “chopped liver?”

Defending what is bound to be a controversial measure, the organizer said strong support for the passage of Proposition 8 in the black, Latino and Mormon religious communities proved that, in four years, more “so-called civil rights” could be reshaped by popular will.

As evidence, he cited pro-Proposition 8 statements from Dr. Frederick K.C. Price, who leads the 22,000-member Crenshaw Christian Center.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Price on behalf of Proposition 8. “Let us stand with God in saying the definition of marriage must not change.”

At the urging of their church leaders, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, donated an estimated $22 million to promote Proposition 8 and backed Web sites urging voters to support it.

A letter sent to Mormon bishops and signed by church President Thomas S. Monson and his two top counselors called on Mormons to donate “means and time” to the ballot measure.

“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children,” Monson wrote.

The authors of the anti-Jewish marriage initiative say when leaders believe they have Scripture on their side, they can get their followers to fix any flaws in any constitution.

“People choose to remain gay, and people choose to remain Jewish,” said an organizer. “Why should the majority of us be forced to honor that choice?”

The Jewish prohibition against intermarriage is commonly attributed to a biblical passage, Deuteronomy 7:3: “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.”

But one church leader said they have an entirely different interpretation of this passage.

“It only applies to Hitties and Amorites,” he said, “and I don’t see a lot of them around.”

By his calculation, the Torah only prohibits intermarriage if the children that result from such a union are turned away from their Jewish faith.

“Moses married Tziporra, who was the daughter of a Midianite priest,” said the preacher. “Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was a convert. Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from Haman in the Purim story, was married to the Persian, non-Jewish King Ahashverus.”

“Don’t tell me the Bible doesn’t understand intermarriage.”

Asked whether he wasn’t simply asking voters to impose their interpretation of the Bible on a minority group, one black church leader countered, “Well, what do you think we did with Proposition 8?”

The organizer admitted that the initiative to ban Jewish-Jewish marriage was the first step toward other initiatives to ban kosher slaughter and ritual circumcision, two widespread Jewish practices that the Christian gospel does not follow.

Defending this plan, one organizer cited Pastor Beverly Crawford of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International’s defense of her support for Proposition 8: She wasn’t saying no to gays, she told the press, but “yes to God” and doing what “the Lord Jesus Christ” would do.

“We think the same rule should apply to all laws, not just marriage laws,” said one organizer. “We’re not saying no to Jews. We’re saying yes to Jesus.”

Organizers know they will face a tough battle — but just among Jews. Some 78 percent of Jewish voters in Los Angeles opposed the ban on gay marriage, and just 8 percent supported Proposition 8, according to exit polling by the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

Meanwhile, a relative handful of Mormon, black and Catholic leaders stood against their churches on Proposition 8. Contacted by The Journal, these leaders said their position was rooted in Scripture and the principle of the separation of church and state. They said they hoped their small example would convince more of their church members to oppose future attempts to curtail civil rights.

But Proposition 8’s supporters said they feel the wind at their backs, and they are going forward with their next initiative. Asked how he could possibly succeed in denying the civil rights of a minority based on one narrow interpretation of the Bible, one organizer summed up the feelings of the Jewish-Jewish marriage opponents.

“We did it once,” he said. “We can do it again.”

Yes, this is satire. No such proposition is in the works, or even a gleam in any group’s eye. The Jews have not been singled out for discrimination, just homosexuals. So why worry?

Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention: ‘It can’t happen here!’

Chabad finds possible solution to land-use problem in Pacific Palisades

Two weeks ago, Rabbi Zushe Cunin, head of Chabad of Pacific Palisades, believed he would be facing a protracted and difficult battle before he might hear the joyous voices of youngsters playing at Chabad’s new location for Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center in Pacific Palisades.

Since April, homeowners surrounding the school’s proposed new site, as well as officials of the nearby Getty Villa and the Mormon Church, have expressed strong opposition to the relocation to a leased vacant building off Los Liones Drive. The building sits on private property located below a ridge of expensive homes in the Castellammare Mesa area, adjacent to a Getty Villa service road and to property owned by the Mormon Church.

These opponents have voiced concerns about noise, safety and traffic. But more problematic — and a possible showstopper — they claim Chabad does not have the right to access the building via the Getty’s private service road, the church’s property or the hillside backyard of the building’s owner, off Bellino Drive.

But the recent discovery of a long-overlooked legal document could substantially alter the situation, potentially allowing for a public street to be constructed that would lead directly to the entrance of the proposed site.

“It’s major,” said Cunin, explaining that the public street would cross part of the Getty’s private road as well as portions of the Mormon Church’s parking lot. Chabad is preparing to have the area formally surveyed.

The document, “an irrevocable offer to dedicate,” which was recorded on Jan. 4, 1973, was uncovered during a preliminary title search on the Mormon Church property by David Lacy, founder of Senior Realty Advisors of Covina and himself a Mormon, who has been an adviser to Chabad for its real estate acquisitions for more than a decade.

The document designates a strip of land 25 feet long with variable widths that ends, according to Lacy, at the entrance to the 3,000 square-foot vacant building at the foot of a steep 1.64-acre hillside property belonging to longtime resident Gene Gladden. Chabad is renting this building from Gladden, having signed a three-year lease with a 20-year option last January.

Additionally, the 25-foot easement is shown crossing both the Getty Road and the Mormon property and is shown on a parcel map dated Jan. 19, 1973, which Lacy also found.

The controversy arose after Chabad of Pacific Palisades was forced to find a new preschool location when it received notice that the lease on the current Temescal Gateway Park site would end in June 2008. Cunin was making preliminary preparations on what he believed was the ideal new site for the preschool’s nature-based curriculum when, in early April, he received a letter from Getty Trust attorney Lori Fox denying Chabad access to the building via the Getty Villa’s private service road.

Additionally, members of the 141-family Castellamare Mesa Home Owners Association protested Chabad’s right to enter the property through Gladden’s hillside backyard off Bellino Drive. The Mormon Church also denied a request from Chabad to approach the building through its parking lot, which abuts Gladden’s property. Church officials cited inconvenience for its members as well as potential liability,

Cunin, along with real estate adviser Lacy, believes the potential public street could resolve the thorny access issue. But others, including Chabad’s attorney, Benjamin Reznik, a partner at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro, expressed caution.

“It is still being investigated,” Reznik said. “We have to look at it ourselves.”

Additionally, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has been meeting with the involved parties, said, “The city will obviously do its own research,” stating that it’s the city’s role to determine the validity of the claim.

For the Getty, according to Julie Jaskol, the Getty’s assistant director of media relations, the potential public roadway is a nonissue.

“It’s not actually an easement,” she said. “It’s an offer to dedicate that has been standing for 30-some years and that only covers part of the road.”

The history of this potential public street is complicated. According to Chabad adviser Lacy, it can be traced back to 1932, when the then-property owner, whose name is not known, placed certain easements on property owned in that area, providing for roadways, sanitation and utilities for possible future subdivision and development.

The easements were still in place when the consequent property owner, Garden Land Investment Corp., whom Lacy believes may have acquired the land in the 1950s, sold a three-acre parcel to the Mormon Church in 1970. As part of its conditional-use permit to construct the building, the Mormon Church agreed in the document, signed Jan. 4, 1973, to “an irrevocable offer to dedicate” to the city of Los Angeles an easement for public street purposes, should it ever be required.

The Mormon Church does not want to lose any more land, according to Keith Atkinson, West Coast spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Atkinson, who said he only recently learned about the 25-foot easement, claimed that if the public road were implemented, the church would lose up to 10 spaces in its parking lot, for which he believes the church must be compensated.

Over the years, the Mormon Church has granted two easements to the Getty Trust to use its land for a private roadway. Atkinson believes one was granted in the 1970s, for use by emergency vehicles. The other was granted in January 2001, when the Getty Villa was undergoing an extensive expansion and renovation. Atkinson said he believes Getty officials told Mormon Church representatives at that time that the construction of the paved and widened private road would make the city of Los Angeles less likely to request the full easement for the public street.

While many people question the feasibility of the city of Los Angeles financing a public street in that area, Lacy believes there are several good reasons that this might occur. For one, a public street, as opposed to the Getty Villa’s private service road, would offer additional street parking for visitors to Topanga State Park, located across the street from the Mormon Church. It would also improve access for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles in the area.

“It provides for cleaner use of the property,” Lacy said.

Missionaries impossible

When I walk into the Santa Monica restaurant, it’s easy to spot the Sisters, as they are young, fresh-faced, sitting straight backed, looking expectantly at the door.

They’re not nuns, but missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which means Mormon by the way, although I know as little about their religion as they know about mine.

I promised a Mormon friend I would meet with them. They had met with some Orthodox rabbis, but my friend thought I could give them a broader, nondenominational perspective on Judaism.

“We wanted to understand your religion,” says one of the sisters in a lilting South African accent. Incongruously, she works Beverly Hills and Bel Air.

“There are a lot of Jews there,” she says ruefully implying that it’s not easy for a black, South African Mormon missionary to go cold-calling there.

“We want to know about all religions,” says the other, a blonde-haired, rosy-cheeked 22-year-old straight from Central Casting (Salt Lake City).

What they want from me is a basic understanding of Judaism.

“Why?” I ask.

“We don’t want to say the wrong things, come at the wrong times. We want to know who we are talking to.”

“Talking to about what?” I ask.

“The message of Jesus,” they say.

Duh. They’re missionaries.

It’s at this point of the lunch that many others would walk away, or maybe start a covert disinformation campaign (“Jews have horns and worship the grass and they eat shoes”) just to thwart them.

But I don’t. Hasn’t Borat done enough?

Besides, aren’t Jews meant to be a light onto other nations?

They pull out their questionnaire.

“What are the fundamentals of the Jewish faith?” they ask.

Hmm. Good question.

“What’s a fundamental?” I ask.

“What do Jews think about the afterlife? Do they believe in reincarnation? What do they think about the Messiah?”

“Did you ever hear the phrase, ‘Two Jews, Three Shuls?'” I say.

They shake their heads keenly, as if I am about to pass on a most important tenet of my faith. I consider telling them the joke about the Jews stranded on the desert island (the one with the punch line: “that’s the synagogue I don’t pray in.”) but I could tell from their earnestness they aren’t ready for the subject of Jewish humor, cynicism and a long tradition of apostasy, Jesus being the prime example.

Even though I can readily explain the concept of the World to Come (“Did you hear the one about the rabbi in heaven posted next to the blonde in the bikini?”), eschatology isn’t my really my strong point, and I’m not sure it’s the point of Judaism.

“The point of being Jewish is here on this earth: To follow God’s commandments, create a Jewish family, contribute to the Jewish community, make the world a better place,” I say.

God help me, I’m beginning to sound like them, I think. On the other hand, my rabbis would be proud.

“There’s so much to learn,” Sister Salt Lake City gushes.

Oh, you don’t know the half of it, sister.

Sister South Africa looks slightly overwhelmed, like she didn’t know how to use any of the information I’d given her in the tony neighborhood of Beverly Hills.

“Are there any times I shouldn’t go into a Jewish house?” she asks.

I decide to be honest with her, poor girl. First apartheid, now this. Why didn’t they send her to an easier neighborhood, like South L.A. or Watts?

“Look, it doesn’t matter when you knock on someone’s door, because if they’re Jewish they’re probably not going to talk to you no matter what,” I say. “They see your name tag, and the words ‘Church’ and ‘Jesus’ and the door will slam.”

She nodded miserably. The past week she’d spent four hours in a Jewish neighborhood and didn’t get invited into one home.

“Jews don’t like missionaries,” I explain. “We’ve had centuries of being persecuted, corralled and decimated — often by the Catholic Church or its adherents — and so we’re not about to convert to Christianity.” (Mormonism is a sect of Christianity, apparently. Who knew?)

“But I don’t want to convert them — I can’t hardly convert Christians. I just want to get the message across,” she says. “And I want to get to know them.”

Hmm. Get to know them. Why would a Jew want to get to know a missionary?

“Well, maybe you could tell them that,” I say. “That you know they’re Jewish, and they don’t like missionaries, but you wanted to have a discussion on the tenets of your faiths,” I offer this though I doubt it will work. But if they only need to say their message, not convert anyone, then who knows? It’s like taking a flyer from an underpaid temp on the street. Even if you’re going to toss it, it helps them.

She looks cheered at the prospect of a new tactic. She recalls some successes: a group of teenagers in Beverly Hills, an old Jewish man who said he didn’t believe in any religion. Nothing to get into heaven with, if you ask me.

As we walk down Colorado Boulevard, they with copious notes they plan to hand out to other missionaries, Sister South Africa wonders aloud why she hasn’t been sent to some place easier, to Kenya, for example, where “my own people are.”

But, “Los Angeles is a strange place,” she says. “There are a lot of lost souls here.”

I don’t know whether I’ve helped her or hindered her, helped my own people or set myself on a path straight to our version of hell, but on this one point, if no other, I have to agree.

Roseanne Shares Secrets and Jibes

Roseanne Barr says she has two secret ambitions. One is to celebrate the bat mitzvah she never had as a youngster growing up in Salt Lake City.

The other is to become prime minister of Israel, a sort of Golda Meir II.

“My family won’t listen to me, but otherwise I know every solution to every problem,” she said.

Surely laudable goals for a 53-year-old grandmother who got her religious start as a child preacher in Mormon churches.

Couldn’t she do more good by replacing the current president of the United States, a visitor suggested.

“Nah,” she replied, “I’ve given up on that.”

Her fanciful, serious and sarcastic thoughts ricocheted off the walls of her personal Full Moon and High Tide Studios during an interview as she unveiled her new DVD for kids, “Rockin’ With Roseanne.”

“I love to work with kids and I love to dress up in costumes,” she said.

The one-time “Domestic Goddess,” whose popularity exploded as a lower-middle-class Lucy in Middle America with nine stormy seasons of “Roseanne,” said she will never act in sitcoms again. She hosted a talk show, “The Roseanne Show,” for two years before it was canceled in 2000, and followed up with a reality television show and a cooking show, both of which met with premature ends when she fell ill in 2003.

Last year, she returned to her first love, stand-up comedy, toured much of the world and recently did a two-night stint in England, where she wowed the natives.

In her new stand-up routines, Roseanne frequently predicts that “unless people wake up” the whole world is going to blow up, and she means it. But even so, there is a silver lining.

When Armageddon arrives, she predicts, thin people will die first and fat people will walk over their bones.

What is striking about Roseanne today is her more youthful looks. Her cosmetic surgeon had done a commendable job, as had her salon colorist, and she had shed numerous pounds from her still ample frame. She was also less frenetic, more in control and, at times, pensive, although with frequent flashes of her trademark bawdy wisecracks.

The star who was booed in 1990 for mangling the “Star Spangled Banner” for laughs before a baseball game, remains Hollywood’s anti-celebrity. Her storefront office is on Main Street in El Segundo, and she wears jeans, flowered shirt and glasses.

She and the closely knit clan, all raised Jewishly, live in the South Bay area, far from the ritzy digs of Beverly Hills and Bel Air (“too many Jews there”).

“I need to be in a quiet place, I need to know all the neighbors, to walk down the street and talk to people,” said Roseanne, who last month sold a vacation home for $3 million. “I love the outdoors, the beaches and to go hiking and camping.”

Roseanne’s Jewishness, heightened by her well-publicized association with the Los Angeles Kabbalah Centre, is as much part of her persona as her loud stage voice, fat-lady jokes and liberal political bias.

Like many American Jews, Roseanne defines her ethnic and religious identity by her own personal standards, which in her case often leads into uncharted territory.

Asked about the basis of her Jewishness, she cracked, “An overwhelming desire for carbohydrates.”

Turning more serious, and mystical, she added, “It’s part of my genetic memory. When I hear stories from the Bible or about Judaism, I think that they are about me, that I am part of them, like I was personally at Mount Sinai with Moses.”

Then the comedienne resurfaces.

“Of course, this may be some kind of mental illness,” she pondered. “Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a fine line between being Jewish and being crazy.”

She has another go at the question of religion. “I try to develop an international consciousness, to look at people in an inclusive, rather than exclusive way,” she said.

Her rather eclectic views on religion may have their roots in her childhood years in Salt Lake City, surrounded by Mormons, during the 1950s and early ’60s.

There were only 50 Jewish families in the city and there was a lot of anti-Semitism, which sometimes expressed itself violently, she recalled.

Her grandfather, descended from a long line of rabbis, had changed his name from Borisofsky to Barr when he arrived from Russia, while her father was a door-to-door salesman of sundry household goods, including a ready supply of crucifixes.

To protect her children, Roseanne’s mother kept their Jewishness secret from the neighbors, and took the family to Sunday services at a Mormon temple.

There 6-year-old Roseanne discovered her first public stage, lecturing on the faith to Mormon congregations throughout Utah and becoming “like a little preaching rock star.” She was even elected president of a Mormon youth group.

One story, which her mother had told her, always brought down the house and Roseanne recited it once more.

“When I was 3 years old, I got Bell’s palsy on the left side of my face, so my mother called in a rabbi to pray for me, but nothing happened. Then my mother got a Mormon preacher, he prayed, and I was miraculously cured.”

Many years later, Roseanne learned that Bell’s palsy was generally a temporary affliction, so the rabbi arrived too early, while the Mormon came at exactly the right time.

Meanwhile, Roseanne’s devoutly Orthodox grandmother, who knew nothing about her granddaughter’s Mormon escapades, took her to synagogue for Shabbat services. There the little girl was unable to duplicate her stage success, although when she reached 13, the resident cantor introduced her to the mysteries of the kabbalah.

Roseanne never had a bat mitzvah, but is now giving serious thought to catching up.

“I was recently at my niece’s bat mitzvah, and she talked about helping other people in the world,” Roseanne said. “I love to be involved, and that really turned me on. Yes, I would like to have a bat mitzvah, that would be cool.”

She thinks that her 72-year-old mother might join her as a fellow bat mitzvah girl.

When she was 16, Roseanne was hit by a car and the accident left her with a “traumatic brain injury,” whose after-effects she still feels occasionally.

At 17, she became pregnant, gave up the baby girl for adoption, but has since reclaimed her as part of the family. She now counts three ex-husbands, three daughters and two sons, ranging in age from 10 to 35, and two grandsons, named Ethan Zion and Cosmo Dexter.

Roseanne revels in the role of family matriarch and excused herself during the interview to pick up her 10-year-old son, Buck, at a nearby school.

“I love being a nosy neighbor, an interfering mother-in-law and all those wonderful things,” she said. “I started doing everything wrong with my children, but have spent the last 15 years trying to make up for it.”

In recent years, Roseanne’s name (and those of Madonna, Britney Spears, and others) has been closely linked to the Kabbalah Centre, which is frequently criticized for its alleged high-pressure tactics to extract money from its followers and the sale of “blessed” bottled water as a cancer cure.

Roseanne said she is not a member of the center, hasn’t given any money, is not “a joiner or follower of anything” and visits mainly to check out its library books.

Although she left home before finishing high school, Roseanne reads widely.

“I like all kinds of esoteric reading and thinking,” she said.

Among her favorite subjects are mysticism, philosophy, comparative religion, science and current events.

She also supports liberal politics, traveled with iconoclastic filmmaker Michael Moore during the last presidential election, and as part of a recent show she diagnosed President Bush as having attention deficit disorder.

Besides supplying books, she credits the Kabbalah Centre with showing her the power of meditation, which has given her greater control over her emotions and made her “a lot nicer than I used to be.”

At the end of the interview, The Journal asked Roseanne for some parting words of wisdom for the Jewish world and beyond.

She raised her voice, looked solemn, and intoned, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”


Paredes Found

Without much fear of contradiction, Mark Paredes observes, "I think I’m the only biracial Mormon representing the state of Israel abroad."

Paredes, a personable bachelor in his early 30s, appointed earlier this year as press attaché at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, has other claims to distinction.

He speaks seven languages fluently (English, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Portuguese), served as a U.S. foreign service officer in Mexico and Tel Aviv, and studied at Brigham Young University, University of Texas and the Moscow University of Steel and Alloys.

Paredes was born in Bay City, Mich. (otherwise famed as Madonna’s birthplace), the son of a white mother and a black father, though he was raised by a Chilean stepfather. He joined the Mormon Church at age 11, later served as a missionary in southern Italy, and, in line with his religious upbringing, has never had an alcoholic drink, never smoked a cigarette and doesn’t swear.

However, it wasn’t necessarily the latter virtues that convinced Consul General Yuval Rotem to hire Paredes as spokesman and liaison to the African American and Christian communities.

"When I first came to Los Angeles in September 1999, I realized that to promote Israel’s interest in as diversified an area as this city and the southwestern region of the United States, I had to reach out beyond the Jewish community," Rotem says.

The need to add to his staff people with a natural feel for non-Jewish communities struck Rotem when he visited Utah, where the Mormon Church is a key influence, during an initial trip to the states within his jurisdiction.

His first non-Jewish hire was Dr. Lauren Foster, whose roots are in the Mormon Church. Foster was selected as Rotem’s liaison to Utah, on top of her job as the consulate’s director for academic affairs.

Next, Rotem turned his attention to Los Angeles’ Latino community, the largest in the United States, which is playing an increasingly crucial role in California and national politics. He appointed as his community affairs specialist Naomi Rodriguez, a young woman savvy in the ways of Latino culture and politics. One of the fruits of her labor was last month’s yacht cruise, which brought together 100 Latino leaders, and an equal number of their Jewish counterparts, for a casual evening of Jewish and Mexican cuisine, Israeli and Latino music and transethnic networking.

One of the participants was Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who observed, "It’s funny how it took a foreign diplomat to put this together."

Rodriguez is leaving to work for Mayor James Hahn, but Rotem has been so impressed by the effectiveness of her work, that he is already interviewing for her successor.

Paredes got a quick start on his job when he arranged for the consular staff to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the AME Church, the city’s premier black church.

Police Chief Bernard Parks and other top African American officials participated in the event. "We received a terrific welcome, it was unbelievable," Rotem says.

Paredes, who worked in the economic section of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv between 1994 to 1996, after taking an intensive six-month Hebrew course, may be the only person who can compare the working styles of American and Israeli diplomacy from the inside.

"In the U.S. foreign service, the rules are very clearly defined," he says. "The Israeli service is less hierarchical, more open and has more flexibility."

This flexibility is clearly part of Rotem’s modus operandi. Since his regular budget does not provide for the special community liaisons, he pays their salaries through some judicious local fundraising.

He says his unorthodox initiative has been warmly endorsed by his boss, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and, following his example, the Israeli consulates in Houston and Miami are considering the employment of Latino liaisons. Rotem notes: "I think it reflects Israel’s growing sense of maturity that there is room for non-Jews to represent us."