Jewish officialdom is up in arms, the Mormon Church is on the defensive and frankly I don't give a damn. I refer of course to the controversial Mormon practice of baptizing deceased non-Mormons into their faith. In 1995, the Mormon Church agreed to stop posthumously baptizing dead Jews. But according to Ernest Michel, a former executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York who helped broker the 1995 agreement, the church has rebuffed attempts to remove Jewish names from its database of 400 million and has violated the agreement.
That may be so. But what a waste of time for everybody involved. It seems incredible that at a time when more Jewish civilians are dying that at any time since the Holocaust, and with the Jewish community in general and the state of Israel in particular needing all the allies they can get, we would waste our time with such trivialities.
I could not care less if the Mormons baptize me after I'm dead. It won't affect me. I'll always be a Jew, in this life and the next. If this is part of Mormon practice and belief, and they do it in the privacy of their own ritual, and it doesn't affect me in the slightest, why should I care? People's beliefs are their own business. It's how they treat others that is everyone's business. What I care about is how much the Mormons support Israel today, not what they do with Jewish souls in what they regard as the afterlife. Far from being my sentiment alone, this is a pivotal Jewish teaching: It is the action (and not dogma) which is most important.
In my first few years as rabbi at Oxford University, I befriended a doctoral student by the name of Michael Taft Benson, whose grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, was president and prophet of the Mormon Church at the time. Not only did Mike become and remain one of my dearest friends, he served as vice president of my L'Chaim Society and regularly brought groups of hundreds of Mormon students to our Sabbath dinners to learn more about Judaism. A great lover of Israel who has visited there more than 10 times, Mike chose to write his doctoral thesis on Harry Truman's support for the creation of the Jewish state. Through Mike, I was granted a meeting with the current president and prophet of the Mormon Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, who is Mike's grandfather-in-law. We spoke about Israel, his admiration for the Jewish people, and the Mormon dedication to Israel's prosperity and survival. I am regularly invited to address Mormon audiences in Utah who thirst for knowledge of all things Jewish and who treat me like a wise elder brother. Mike even arranged for me to launch my book "Judaism for Everyone" at the University of Utah, and he and I are currently planning a Jewish studies center for Snow College, where Mike serves as president. After meeting with Jonathan Pollard at federal prison in Butner, N.C., it was Mike whom I called to ask for his support in meeting the two Utah senators on Pollard's behalf. He quickly arranged for me and Esther Pollard to meet with Sens. Hatch and Bennett of Utah, who received us most graciously.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of 14 books, including "Private Adam: Becoming a Hero in a Selfish Age."