Sunday, January 27, 2013

LDS Stake President Rodney Standage Speaks At A Jewish Synagogue In Troy, New York

The relationship between Jews and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been bittersweet at times. While some Jews such as Mark Paredes have actually joined the LDS Church and work hard to promote greater understanding and build bridges between Mormons and Jews, this has been offset by a prolonged campaign against the Church led by the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors against the Mormon practice of proxy baptism of deceased Jewish Holocaust victims. This group has been egged on by the virulently apostate ex-Mormon Helen Radkey, who has accessed LDS databases to expose the names of dead Holocaust survivors baptized, but her purpose is to inflict damage upon the LDS Church rather than show legitimate concern for the Jewish community. The one bright spot was that it led to the LDS First Presidency issuing an official letter read to each congregation on March 4th, 2012 directing Church members to restrict such activity only to their own ancestral lines.

Now it turns out that a stake president appeared at a synagogue in New York state to give a talk after Sabbath services on Saturday. While there's no report on how it was received, it was Rabbi Robert Kasman, who presides over the Temple Beth El in Troy, who disclosed that he had invited Albany Stake President Rodney Standage to speak there on Saturday January 26th after services around noon. President Standage's talk was intended to be part of the Jewish congregation's series called "Peace — How can people of different religious viewpoints contribute to getting along?" So far, they've featured evangelical Christian, Muslim, humanist and Franciscan faith community leaders for these programs, which are normally scheduled for the first Saturday of each month immediately after services. The Temple Beth El promotes Conservative Judaism; the other major branches are Orthodox, Reform, and Messianic.

Rabbi Kasman's interest was sparked by the fact that during his two decades of service as a rabbi, he never met a Mormon at an interfaith event and did not recall a Mormon ever speaking at a synagogue. He decided it didn't make sense, and chose to take the first step towards rectifying the situation by reaching out. Rabbi Kasman's interest was further fueled after watching the televised Tony Awards that featured songs from "The Book of Mormon"; he was disturbed that one of the songs made jokes about LDS beliefs of Mormons, and made him wonder how he would feel about a show that ridiculed Jewish theology. He was also impressed by the LDS Church's mature response to the musical, in which they followed it up with the message "You've seen the show; now read the Book". Sometimes the soft answer does turneth aside wrath. The Book of Mormon musical seems to be neither pro-Mormon nor anti-Mormon; it's simply entertainment, and if it leads some people to express serious interest in the Church, that's not a bad thing.

Rabbi Kasman specifically wrote the following description of Mormon theology about Jews, which appears to be reasonably accurate:

"Jews hold a special place for the people who call themselves the new Israel. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a complex relationship with Hebrew vocabulary and history of the Israelites. Declaring that the United States was "Zion" and that their leadership has a mission related to the biblical prophets, Mormons identify themselves with Israelite ancestors as do Jews".

He also noted that Mormons had suffered persecution in the past. All this illustrates that Rabbi Kasman is indeed interested in building bridges between Mormons and Jews. Now if other rabbis would just follow his example. It should also be noted that Rabbi Kasman's name appeared on a list of 256 rabbis who have taken a proactive public stance against rabbinical child abuse.

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