Nu? What's New?
Volume 7, Number 13 | August 27, 2006
Mormon/Jewish Controversy: The Problem That Won't Go Away: This is Emes
The Hebrew word for "truth" is "emes" (pronounced in the Ashkenazic dialect like the letters "MS"). It has carried forward into Yiddish where it has the same meaning. But Yiddish is a language of nuances and to say "this is emes" means not only that this is the absolute truth, but also "this is the way it is."
At the annual meeting of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) held in conjunction with the annual conference, I gave a report to the membership of the association about a meeting that was held on August 7, 2006, between officials of the Mormon Church and representatives of the Jewish Organizations. The Board of Directors of IAJGS tried to prevent my report from being given, but they were overruled by the membership.
What I have to say about the August 7 meeting is my perception of what happened and is not any official version. There never will be an official version. The meeting ended with handshakes, not because the parties agreed that the matter has been solved, but more that each group better understood the position of the other. It is unlikely there will be further meetings between the two groups.
These were my conclusions of what happened. This is emes.
Members of the Mormon faith will continue to posthumously baptize any person related to them no matter how distantly related. This is Church policy and they will not yield on this point even though the 1995 agreement limited the practice on baptizing Jews to direct ancestors. I stated to the senior Church official at the meeting that I have spent the past 25 years documenting the Mokotow family and placed all the names and vital information--a total of 1,200 people--on the Internet at the Family Tree of the Jewish People site on JewishGen. Was he saying that if my fourth cousin twice removed converted to the Mormon faith, it would be proper for this distant relative to use my research to posthumously baptize all deceased persons on my family tree who were born more than 95 years ago? The official said "yes."
The 95-year consideration refers to a Church policy that individual Mormons may not posthumous baptize any person who was born in the past 95 years without the permission of the individual's closest living relatives. What this means, in my case, is it would not be proper for a distant Mormon relative of mine to baptized my deceased father (born in 1914) but it would be proper for him to baptize all four of my grandparents (born in the 1880s).
A new rule of the Church is that individual Mormons will be limited to performing temple ordinances on relatives only. A relative is any descendant of an ancestor. Previously, Mormons would submit lists of people not related to them for temple ordinances. Examples of past submissions are (1) 128,000 German Jews murdered in the Holocaust; (2) all the persons in a register that happened to include an ancestor; (3) famous persons such as Anne Frank, Adolph Hitler and Groucho Marx. Still open for discussion is the practice by individual Mormons to baptize all deceased persons with the same surname from the same small town on the grounds that, while it cannot be proved they are related, it is assumed they are because of the identical surname. I noted to one of the Mormon officials this does not necessarily apply to Jews. Since Jewish surnames are a relatively new phenomenon--less than 200 years old--two Jews named Schneider from a small town in Eastern Europe are not necessarily related but may merely represent that they are descended from two men who were tailors ("schneider" means "tailor" in Yiddish).
The Church is serious about these new restrictions on members of their faith. The acts of individual Mormons in baptizing non-related persons are the ones that make the news media and are an embarrassment to the Church who considers posthumous baptism a sacred doctrine.
The Church plans to enforce these rules through education and discipline. Literature about entering names in TempleReady, the data entry program through which deceased people are proposed for temple ordinances, will include the rules. Mormons using TempleReady will be educated in the process. The TempleReady data entry program will have messages describing the rules. Most importantly, members of the faith who violate the rules will be disciplined if they fail to follow the rules. Using TempleReady requires password entry. Chronic offenders will have their password withdrawn. Those who try to get around the password restriction may have even further measures against them.
Enforcing the rules will be made easier, because the Church plans to have a computer program screen the names submitted through TempleReady prior to submission for temple ordinances. Names will have to get past many rules, or they will be flagged as suspect. Warning signs may include (1) submission of too many names by one person; (2) non-lineage linked names; and (3) names of famous persons. In the past, it was generally agreed by non-Mormons that the rules were often ignored. As I noted at the meeting, having a speed limit law does not keep drivers from driving over the speed limit. It is the police car with flashing lights on the side of the road with a passenger car in front that makes people obey the law.
All the above involves the Church policy regarding acts of individual Mormons. In reality, this probably represents less than 5% of the deceased persons on whom temple ordinances are performed. The vast majority of people are affected by the Church's Extraction Program. The Church, using the name Genealogical Society of Utah, collects copies of records from repositories all over the world, brings them to Salt Lake City and then distributes these records to Mormon volunteers who extract the information through TempleReady. Here is how the Extraction Program affects deceased Jews.
The Church still plans to acquire Jewish records, but they will not be used as part of their Extraction Program. They state this was stopped immediately after the signing of 1995 agreement. Jews posthumously baptized through the Extraction Program were found as late as 2004. The Church explained that they were individuals for whom the extraction process started prior to May 1995 and that the total process can, indeed, take years. It appears they made not attempt to recall records after signing the agreement.
The Church is amenable to working with the Jewish Organizations to develop a method of identifying Jews in the prescreening process by analyzing their names. This is potentially a very sophisticated analysis, because many Jews living in lands where they are accepted into main-stream society tended to change their given names and surnames to more assimilated names. Gershon Tartasky may be clearly Jewish, but Harry Tarson may not. If such a screening program is implemented, it will be imperfect, but will at least remove some Jews.
At the meeting, the senior Church official noted that the Church recognized that Jews are particular sensitive to the posthumous baptism of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. They stated that the 95-year rule would apply to any Holocaust victim independent of when the victim was born. Therefore, a Mormon who had relatives murdered in the Holocaust must get permission of the closest living relatives of the victim before baptism can be performed. If this rule is strictly adhered to, few Holocaust victims would be baptized. Consider the extreme case of a grandson of a Holocaust victim who converts to the Mormon faith. I interpret the Church's gesture to mean that this person could not baptize the victim, who is a direct ancestor, unless he obtained the approval of all the closest living relatives to perform the rite. Only in the case where the Mormon was the only closest relative would permission not be needed. Removal of Holocaust victims already in the International Genealogical Index (IGI) was discussed, but there were no conclusions. It was suggested that the IGI be purged of all persons whose death place was shown as a concentration camp site such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, etc. The Mormon participant who had the most technological knowledge claimed it could not be done. I disagreed, and nothing was formally concluded.
The Church will continue its practice of removing from the IGI Jews who are non-relatives of Mormons if a request is sent to them. The Church will research how the name got into the system, and if it violated any of the rules noted above or reached the IGI through the Extraction Program, the name will be removed.
The Church has future plans to combine their religious index (IGI) with their genealogical collections in what is being called the Combined Index. In 2005 the Church stated that it would be possible for a non-Mormon to tell whether a temple ordinance was performed on their relative because those entries would be flagged in the Combined Index. The Church is now saying this may not be true in the final system due to considerations that have nothing to do with the Mormon/Jewish controversy.
Why did the Church refuse to honor its commitment made in the 1995 agreement to limit baptisms to direct ancestors? In my opinion, it was because they came to realize they should never have signed the agreement in the first place. The 1995 agreement violates Church doctrine and policy, and no religion will violate its doctrine and policy.
This Mormon/Jewish controversy has not been put to rest; it is still a burning ember. It is highly likely that, in the near future, an incident will occur, such as the baptism of Holocaust victims which triggered the current controversy. It will fan the flames again. The Church will claim at that time that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives it the right to involve other people's families in the Mormon religion, because their stated mission is the salvation through Jesus Christ of the entire human race both living and dead.
Stephen P. Morse Given Lifetime Achievement Award
Stephen P. Morse, creator of the One-Step Site, was award the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies at the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy held in New York. IAJGS noted that the award is normally given to individuals who have served Jewish genealogy for numerous years, but Morse's mere five-year presence in Jewish genealogy has been so outstanding that they felt the award was appropriate.
Morse has developed at his site, http://www.stevemorse.org, more than 100 portals to other Internet sites that are superior to those offered by the host sites. He began his efforts in 2000 when the Ellis Island Database was made available online. Morse, with a strong computer background, developed a significantly more powerful portal to the database. The regular Ellis Island search engine at http://www.ellisisland.org often requires many steps to isolate specific individuals. The Morse portal accomplishes in only one step. Hence, he referred to his site as the One-Step site.
After receiving overwhelming acceptance of his Ellis Island One-Step site, he branched into portals for other sites that contained immigration records, census, and vital records. He also developed a number of utilities such as those that transliterate Hebrew or Russian to the Roman alphabet and vice versa.
Morse's latest edition to his web site is a utility that permits users to key in a calendar date represented in Hebrew characters--for example from a tombstone--and the system returns the Hebrew and Secular dates. It is in the Jewish Calendar Conversion section of the site identified as "Decipher Tombstone Dates."
International Conference on Jewish Genealogy a Success
The recently completed conference on Jewish genealogy was a great success. Only the attendance figures were a letdown; about 1,500 people attended--2,000 were anticipated. The high cost of hotel rooms and transportation may have been the limiting factor.
I doubt if anyone who attended the conference would call it a disappointment. There was so much to do; lectures, tours, visits to Jewish cemeteries, computer training sessions, resource room, cybercafé, Special Interest Group meetings, Birds-of-a-Feather meetings, a wealth of resources in the New York City area and, most importantly, networking. This was their fifth conference in 26 years for the host organization, Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc., and their expertise in conference planning showed.
Next year's conference in Salt Lake City will not come close to the New York attendance. The 2000 conference in Salt Lake City attracted only 650 people. A number of attendees at the New York conference indicated they were planning to boycott the 2007 conference to protest the Mormon practice of posthumous baptism. At the 2000 conference, the keynote speaker was the head of the Church Family History Department. He spent the first two-thirds of his talk speaking about the Mormon religion. The only resource of note in Salt Lake City is the Mormon Family History Library. They have few records from Eastern Europe, because they were not permitted to microfilm during the Soviet Union era. What they have acquired since is primarily in Cyrillic script and unindexed.
The 2008 conference is planned for Chicago.
Jewish Genealogy Blog Started
Schelly Talalay Dardashti has established a Jewish genealogy blog as part of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), a major supplier of Jewish information to news media. Called "Tracing the Tribe," the blog is located at http://tracingthetribe.blogspot.com and also accessed through the JTA home page, http://www.jta.org. It went live in conjunction with the recent 426th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.
Dardashti plans to make posts to the blog information about new resources, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic; methodology; events, etc. Readers are free to add comments to individual articles and ask research questions.
Dardashti wrote a Jewish genealogy column called "It's All Relative" for the City Lights/Metro weekly and Online Edition of the Jerusalem Post for more than five years. She mow is the Jewish genealogy contributor for www.ynetnews.com (the English sister website of the Hebrew site of Israel's largest daily Yediot Ahronoth). According to Dardashti, recognizing the growing popularity of Jewish genealogy, the Jewish Telegraph Agency asked her to begin what is currently the only Jewish genealogy blog.
First Genealogy Skypecast Held
To add to the various ways the Internet can be used to communicate, the first computer-to-computer voice "conference call" for genealogy occurred on Thursday evening, August 10. It was sponsored by Dick Eastman, author of a popular genealogy newsletter. It was accomplished using Skype, a free Internet service that allows voice conversations to be held over the Internet using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology. At one time, there were twenty people from around the world talking to each other. Eastman claimed that the first use of this technology proved that it will work well for genealogy lectures or the electronic equivalent of a classroom. All participants could be electronically silenced while a lecturer is giving the talk. Those in the audience could ask questions by first "raising their hands" by clicking an icon. The lecturer or moderator can recognize that person by turning on only that person's microphone for a question/answer exchange. He noted there are many other applications, including society meetings when the membership is in diverse locations and even as part of a family reunion.Participants in the first Skypecast were from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Additional information can be found at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2006/08/first_genealogy.html
New Offering: New Encyclopedia of Judaism
How do you compress 3000 years of Jewish history into 856 pages? The Association of Jewish Libraries thinks it was accomplished with the New Encyclopedia of Judaism. It gave it the "Best Reference Book of the Year" award for 2002. The publisher has deep discounted the book and Avotaynu is making it available for only $60.00. That's $11.95 less than Amazon.com is charging. The book's publisher states it is a comprehensive one-volume encyclopedia that presents every aspect of the Jewish religion and represents current thinking among scholars in the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements. This revised and expanded edition updates the original thousand entries and adds nearly 250 new ones. Magnificently illustrated, it also contains a new introduction, a guide for usage, new illustrations, as well as a new annotated bibliography. Its compilation was overseen by the late Geoffrey Wigoder, best known as the Editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Judaica. Further information, including how to order, is available at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/encyclopediajudaism.htm.
New book: Grandeur and Glory (of Galicia)
Rabbi Meir Wunder, author of Meori Galicia, is now preparing a four-volume work providing information about the towns of Galicia. The first volume of the series, which is called Grandeur and Glory, is now in print. It covers towns of Eastern Galicia from the letters A-O. Towns include Barysz, Belz, Bilcze Zlote, Bohorodczany, Bolechow, Bolszowce, Borszczow, Borynia, Boryslaw, Brody, Broszniow, Bobrka, Buczacz, Budzanow, Bukaczowce, Bursztyn, Busk, Bialy Kamien, Brzezany, Brzozdowce, Czernelica, Czerniejow, Czortkow, Czortowiec, Delatyn, Dobromil, Dobrotwor, Dolina, Drohobycz, Dunajow, Felsztyn, Gliniany, Gologoory, Grabowiec, Grodek Jagiellonski, Gwozdziec, Grzymalow, Halicz, Horodenka, Husiatyn, Kalusz, Kamionka Strumilowa, Chocimierz, Chodorow, Cholojow, Chorostkow, Chyrow, Knihynicze, Kolomyja, Komarno, Kopyczynce, Korolowka, Koropiec, Kosow, Kozlow, Kozowa, Krakowiec, Krechowice, Krukienice, Krystynopol, Kulaczkowce, Kulikow, Kuty, Krzywcze Gorne, Lanczyn, Lanowka, Laskowce, Leszniow, Lomna, Lopatyn, Lwow, Lubien Wielki, Lysiec, Magerow, Mariampol, Medenice, Mikolajow, Mikuliczyn, Mikulince, Monasterzyska, Mosciska, Nadworna, Marajow, Nawarja, Nemirow, Nizankowice, Nizniow, Nowe Miasto, Nowy Witkow, Nowy Jaryczow, Obertyn, Olesko and Ottynia.
The history of town is often brief. Almost all towns show at least one picture of Jewish life, usually the synagogue. Many of these synagogues no longer exist.
Avotaynu is offering it at a special price of $40.00. It regularly sells for $70.00. Additional information can be found at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/wunder1.htm.
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