For more than 10 years a dispute has raged between Mormons and Jews over the matter of posthumous baptism. What is sad is that the two groups have very compatible values. I have read President Gordon B. Hinckley's "Standing for Something." I have also read a book based on the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubuvaticher Rebbe, titled "Toward a Meaningful Life." After reading both books, you would think they had the same ghost writer.

Unfortunately friends sometimes step on the toes of friends, causing great pain. This is the essence of the controversy over posthumous baptism of Jews by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The dictionary definition of baptism is "the ceremony or sacrament of admitting a person into Christianity." What can be more insulting to a non-Christian than to perform this religious ritual on their ancestors? Baptism is particularly insulting to Jews because it reminds them of the centuries of persecution against Jews by Christians where their ancestors were given a choice; be baptized or suffer death. There are many Mormons living today who can trace their family history back to people who chose Option 1. Jewish history books are filled with martyrs who chose Option 2.

What could be more inappropriate than baptizing a Holocaust victim; a person who died for only one reason — he was a Jew. Yet Mordechai Anielowicz, the leader of the Warsaw ghetto rebellion, was posthumously baptized into the Mormon faith. He is not an isolated incident. Hundreds of thousands of Holocaust victims — men, women, children and babies — have been baptized. Is it the thought that Holocaust victims can be comforted in their afterlife by accepting the Mormon religion?

Some of my Mormon friends have told me the ritual is an act of love. While this may be true, something that is intended as an act of love that causes the receiver pain becomes an act of cruelty.

The bottom line is that no person has a right to involve someone else's family in their religion. As I have told many of my Mormon friends, to many Jews — including myself — "baptize" is the second ugliest word in the English language. The ugliest word is "gassed." The third ugliest word is "raped."

To many Jews, "baptized" has a greater emotional reaction because to them — and me — to posthumously baptize a Jew is to rape his soul.


Gary Mokotoff is on the board of directors of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and Association of Professional Genealogists.