JEWS & JUDAISM
Jews are an ethnoreligious group, a tribe, and a nation originating in the Land of Israel, descended from the ancient Hebrews and Israelites. This is verifiably true per 3000 years’ worth of archeology, a plethora of genetic studies, and thousands of years of historical record. An ethnoreligious group is an ethnic group unified by a common religion. Much like other Indigenous tribes worldwide, Jewish peoplehood, tribal identity, and religion/spirituality (Judaism) are inextricable from each other.
Judaism is an ethnic, rather than universalizing, religion. Ethnic religions are religions that are specific to a particular ethnic group. Universalizing religions are religions that transcend ethnic, tribal, cultural, and national affiliation. Two examples of universalizing religions include Christianity and Islam. Universalizing religions spread via colonialism, imperialism, and proselytization. Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish People. It is comprised of the ancient beliefs, mythologies, and laws of the Jewish tribe.
The term “Jews” and “Judaism” do not come from a faith but rather, from a place: specifically, the Kingdom of Judah (930 BCE-587 BCE). In Hebrew, Jew is “Yehudi(t),” meaning someone from “Yehuda” (Judah). The term Judaism — “Yahadut” in Hebrew — could be translated as “Jew-hood,” as in “the state of being Jewish.”
The concept of Judaism as a “religion” — rather than the “state of being Jewish” — is rather new, dating back to the aftermath of the French Revolution (1789-1799). In fact, the “religion” as a we know it today is a rather new construct dated to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a construct that Judaism predates by millennia.
LATTER DAY SAINTS
Mormonism is a religion founded in the 1820s by Joseph Smith and is practiced by the churches in the Latter Day Saint movement. 98 percent of Latter Day Saints belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In total, there are about 16 million LDS members worldwide. For comparison, there are about 15 million Jews in the world today.
Latter Day Saints categorize themselves as Christians and believe that Jesus Christ is the literal son of god and messiah; however, most Christians do not consider the LDS movement a part of Christianity.
Though Latter Day Saints believe in the Bible, they consider it incomplete and that those lost truths are restored in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is a central text and scripture of the Latter Day Saint movement, which, according to the LDS, contains the writings of prophets in the American continent from 600 BCE-421 CE. According to Joseph Smith and the narrative of the book, the last prophet to contribute to the Book of Mormon was Moroni, who then buried the golden plates on which it was engraved in Hill Cumorah in New York. He appeared to Smith in a vision in 1827 and led him to the plates, which Smith was instructed to translate. Most historians agree that the Book of Mormon was authored by Joseph Smith.
Israelites are the direct cultural and genetic ancestors of only two groups of people: Jews and Samaritans. This is extensively corroborated by archeological, genetic, linguistic, and historical record.
The Israelites were a confederation of Hebrew tribes that came together eventually to found the United Monarchy of the Kingdom of Israel (1047 BCE-930 BCE).
The Book of Mormon claims that Native Americans are the direct descendants of families belonging to the Hebrew tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. According to LDS doctrine, said families fled Jerusalem and sailed to an unspecified location in the Americas briefly before the Babylonian conquest in 587/6 BCE. The book also tells the story of a group from the Tribe of Judah (which most Jews presumably descend from) that sailed to the Americas some time later. Latter Day Saints believe that adherents to the LDS faith are members of the “House of Israel,” either by heritage or through adoption.
Beyond the fact that the above claims are easily refuted by a mountain of historical, linguistic, archeological, and genetic evidence, this appropriation of Israelite identity is incredibly offensive. Jews and Samaritans have fought to preserve our ancient cultures and identities for millennia; in fact, we were persecuted for it. Jewish (or Israelite) identity is not for non-Jews to hand out at their whim, and it especially shouldn’t be done to erase the unique identities of Native tribes in the Americas, all of them with their distinct histories and cultures. It’s racist, anti-Indigenous, and antisemitic for Latter Day Saints to impose our identity on them.
To Jews, Jerusalem is the most sacred city in the world. The ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem — which was destroyed twice, first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and then again by the Romans in 70 CE — was considered the most sacred place in Jerusalem. Within the Temple itself, a room known as the “Holy of Holies” was the sanctuary and most sacred area at the heart of the Temple. Only the High Priest of Israel was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, bringing incense and carrying the blood of a sacrificial lamb. The First Temple, in particular, contained what is known as the shechinah (“divine presence of G-d”) and ruach hakodesh (“holy spirit*”).
For 2000 years, Jews have prayed for the restoration of the ancient Temple, our most sacred of places. After the Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 637/638 CE, the Arab conquerors built Dome of the Rock atop the ruins of the sacred Temple, so at this time, it would be impossible to rebuild the Temple without triggering a major geopolitical crisis. Nevertheless, to this day, Jews pray at the ruins of our Temple, and even when we pray in the Diaspora, we pray facing the Temple in Jerusalem.
LDS temples, which differ from LDS churches, have been modeled after the holy Temple in Jerusalem, even going so far as to include a Holy of Holies. LDS temples also use Jewish imagery such as Stars of David. This is, of course, cultural appropriation of our holiest of sites, and it’s even more egregious considering the antisemitism embedded into LDS doctrine (see later slides).
**which is different from the concept of the Holy Spirit in Christianity.
The United Monarchy of the Kingdom of Israel was formed by a confederation of Hebrew tribes, including the Tribe of Levi. Members of the Tribe of Levi who claim patrilineal descent from Aaron, the first High Priest of Israel, are known as “Kohanim.” Unlike priesthood in Christianity, the position of a Kohen is inherited. A rabbi — meaning spiritual leader or teacher — is not the same thing as a Kohen.
In the times of the sacred Jewish temples, Kohanim carried special duties, such as performing the daily and holiday sacrificial offerings.
Today, 2000 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, Kohanim still hold special rights and responsibilities within the Jewish community. For example, Kohanim are called to the Torah first. In the Samaritan community, Kohanim, not rabbis, are still the main religious leaders.
Genetic studies on Kohanim show that Kohanim worldwide form a tight genetic cluster with each other, suggesting that they likely descended from a common ancestor that lived during the First Temple period (957 BCE-586 BCE).
The Latter Day Saint movement has appropriated the concept of Aaronic priesthood. Of course, LDS Aaronic priests are not actually descended from Aaron, but the church has appropriated the term and the concept all the same, once again claiming Israelite identity when it’s not theirs to claim.
BAPTISM FOR THE DEAD
Since the 1840s, Latter Day Saints have engaged in a practice known as baptism for the dead. This doctrine is controversial in its own right, as people who’ve passed away cannot consent to such a thing, but what’s especially egregious is that Latter Day Saints have a history of posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims, such as Anne Frank. Adolf Hitler has also been posthumously baptized.
These practices sparked outrage within the Jewish community, and since the 1990s, the church has officially requested that members only posthumously baptize their ancestors or ask for permission from surviving family members before posthumously baptizing people who’ve died within the past 95 years.
In reality, the practice of posthumously baptizing Jewish Holocaust survivors has not stopped. In 2002, an investigation revealed that, since 1995, the church had posthumously baptized some 19,000 possible Holocaust victims.
A Holocaust survivor named Ernest Michel has explained some of the reasons that the practice is so offensive: “They tell me, that my parents' Jewishness has not been altered but…100 years from now, how will they be able to guarantee that my mother and father of blessed memory who lived as Jews and were slaughtered by Hitler for no other reason than they were Jews, will someday not be identified as Mormon victims of the Holocaust?”
The church has stated that, since 1995, it has removed the names of 300,000 Holocaust victims from its genealogical database, but it was revealed as recently as 2017 that the practice of posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims has not stopped.
The antisemitic conspiracy of Jewish deicide — that is, that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus — is a part of LDS doctrine (for more on the conspiracy of Jewish deicide, see my post NO, THE JEWS DID NOT KILL JESUS). The LDS church considers Jews not only collectively responsible for the death of Jesus, but also “wicked.”
The Book of Mormon itself makes the claim that Jesus came to the Jews because Jews were the only nation “wicked enough” to crucify him. LDS scripture describes Jewish texts as “works of darkness” and Jewish doings as “doings of abominations.” The Book of Mormon states that G-d punished Jews with death and destruction due to their wickedness, and that He gave gentiles the “power to scatter the Jews.” Ezra Taft Benson, the 13th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (1985-1994), claimed that the Holocaust was a fulfillment of G-d’s prophecy that the Jews would be punished for their wickedness. Blaming Jews in any capacity for the Holocaust is antisemitic and revisionist.
Joseph Smith himself stated that the generation of Jews that “crucified Jesus” was corrupt. The early LDS prophet Brigham Young took it several steps further, claiming that Jews were in the “middle tier” of cursed lineages, above Black folks but below Native Americans.
The LDS church believes that Jews will be perpetually punished until they accept Jesus, repent, and gather in Israel. According to the late Mormon sociologist and scholar Armand Mauss, as recently as 2003, most Mormons believed that G-d is perpetually punishing Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Philosemitism, also known as Judeophilia, describes an interest or appreciation of the Jewish People. While on the surface philosemitism seems benign, it can very quickly cross over into the tokenization of Jewish People — which is antisemitic. Philosemites see all Jews as one, rather than as 15 million individuals with different experiences and opinions (e.g. a perfect example of this is the idea that all Jews should be collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus). This invokes antisemitic tropes that all Jews are responsible for the actions of other Jews.
Philosemitism more often than not invokes antisemitic tropes, but flips them around. For example, the trope that Jews control the world is twisted into something like “Jews are in positions of power because they are so smart/educated/business-savvy!” No matter how well-intentioned, however, antisemitic tropes are always harmful and perpetuate violence against Jews.
Christian Zionism is an example of philosemitism. Christian Zionism — which differs from Zionism — is the belief that the return of Jews to the Land of Israel and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was the fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy. Many Christian Zionists believe that the gathering of Jews in Israel is prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. Jews will then be faced with the choice of conversion to Christianity or death. Christian Zionism sees Jews as a means to an end; in other words, it’s a form of tokenization.
Similarly, the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, which is a collection of the prophecies of Joseph Smith and other LDS prophets, contains prophecies that the Jews will eventually all gather in Israel. According to this text, after Jesus reveals himself to the Jewish People, Jews will weep over their wickedness. If Jews don’t repent, then the world will be destroyed. Just like Christian Zionism, this prophecy sees Jews as a means to an end, rather than as a people with an ancient culture and belief system that we’ve fought to preserve through 3000 years of violence, forced displacement, forced conversion, and genocide.
The LDS church claims to oppose antisemitism but simultaneously has antisemitic conspiracies and tropes in its doctrine. As such, their denouncement of antisemitism rings hollow at best.
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