Gary Mokotoff publishes protest letter in AVOTAYNU (a Jewish Genealogical Journal).

Gary Mokotoff

Gary Mokotoff, "The Mormon/Jewish Controversy: What Really Happened," AVOTAYNU, Summer 1995 (reprint)

Gary Mokotoff
J. Richard Clarke, Gary Mokotoff
Reading Public

A Letter is Sent to the Mormon Church

Given the negative reaction by Mayfield to my protest a year earlier, I decided that a person higher on the ladder had to be contacted and made the decision to write to the elder of the Church who was in charge of the Family History Department, J. Richard Clarke. I called Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern to make him aware of the Gedenkbuch extraction and my plans to write to Elder Clarke. Rabbi Stern was dismayed at the Mormon's actions and agreed that a letter should be written. Prior to sending the letter, I showed it to Rabbi Stern who approved of its contents. The now-famous letter, which was published in the Spring 1994 issue of AVOTAYNU, nine months after it was sent to Clarke, stated:

Dear Elder Clarke:

It has come to my attention that well-intentioned LDS members are baptizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust into the Mormon faith. It shows incredible insensitivity to the anguish of the living relatives of these martyrs, some of whom saw their loved ones murdered, to perform a Christian ritual on people who were killed for only one reason; they were Jews.

Baptism is a Christian ceremony that is particularly repugnant to Jews. It reminds us of the centuries of persecution against Jews where our ancestors were given a choice; be baptized or suffer death. There are many Christians living today who can trace their family history back to people who chose option one. Our Jewish history books are filled with martyrs who chose option two.

I have been told that the LDS church does not support this policy; that it is the act of individuals. But the fact that the ritual is performed in a Mormon Temple is tantamount to condoning this practice.

At present, this practice is known to only a few Jewish-American genealogists who noticed the entries in the International Genealogical Index. Once the Jewish world community is aware of the practice, it will seriously strain relations between Mormons and Jews.

Elder Clarke responded positively indicating that the act would cause specific changes in Mormon practice.

Dear Mr. Mokotoff:

Thank you for your letter. I sympathize with the feelings you share in your letter about temple ordinances performed for Jewish victims of the Holocaust without family members' knowledge or consent. I am hopeful this letter can help ease your concerns somewhat.

At the outset, I assure you that temple ordinances are generally performed at the request of a family member. We counsel members to obtain clearance from living family members before performing temple ordinances. Apparently this has not occurred in the cases cited in your letter.

In light of the concerns raised in your letter, we have reviewed our procedures regarding temple ordinances for the dead and have adopted the following refinements: first, that temple ordinances be performed only at the request of family members; and second, that family members wishing to perform such ordinances also have permission from the nearest living relative before proceeding.

Please be aware that, given the nature of computer databases and the number of temples and family history centers operational throughout the world, we cannot guarantee that no work will be done. We are reaffirming our procedures and guidelines and must then rely on our patrons to act in a responsible manner. Realizing that some inadvertent work may appear in spite of our best efforts to communicate with patrons, we do hope that future names will only be submitted in accordance with the above-mentioned directives.

Thank you again for sharing your concerns with us. We appreciate your friendship and hope that the changes outlined in this letter will help resolve the issue.

Based on Clarke's letter, I reasoned that the problem would be solved without involving persons outside the Jewish genealogical community. As additional phone calls and letters reached the office of the Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, I informed each inquirer that the matter was under discussion with Church officials and hopefully it would be resolved shortly.

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